Frank Darabont Eulogizes The Departed Great... James Whitmore...
Hey folks, Harry here... I was going to write up a farewell to Mr Whitmore, but figured Mr Darabont should do it...
Damn. I'm heartbroken that James Whitmore has died.
I know age makes these things inevitable, but still...damn.
He was one of the loveliest men I've ever met, and one of the most professional and dedicated actors I've ever worked with. He was the gold-standard of his profession. The people who were privileged to work with him loved him. To all of us, he was an icon, a living legend. But when anybody tried to call him 'Mr. Whitmore' on the set, he'd say in that lovely growl of his: "Aw, hell, son, just call me Jim."
While filming SHAWSHANK, I was always struck by the fact that he'd sit in his chair as close to the set as possible so he could be the first one in when the actors were called. When cameras were ready and we summoned first team, Jim was always the first actor to hit his mark and wait for "action." He'd beat all the younger guys by a mile.
One day while filming THE MAJESTIC, the conversation came around to World War Two (not surprising given the themes of the film). Jim told me something I hadn't known: that he'd been a Marine who'd fought in the Pacific and survived the battles of both Saipan and Tinian. The Marines were always the first ones on the beaches and the longest in the fighting. I was humbled that day to realize that my sweet old pal Jim was one of those 'greatest generation' heroes we hear so much about. He didn't make a big deal out of it, none of those guys ever do, but he did mention in passing that he almost died of dysentery on Tinian before being pulled off the front lines. Basically, Jim was a tough little son of a bitch who went through the meat grinder of an unspeakable war and survived it. And then he came home and quietly set about doing what he loved doing most, which was acting. What amazed me then...and what has stayed with me since...was that the ugliness of that wartime experience had never embittered him or shaken his faith in humanity. He was a humanist and an optimist to his core, the warmest and kindest of men, and a hell of a raconteur besides.
To me, he'll always be the guy from my childhood who saved the world from giant radiation-spawned ants in THEM. And the orangutan before whose court Taylor was brought in filthy rags for judgment in PLANET OF THE APES. And the father-figure who led a group of survivors and kept everybody's hopes alive (and broke my heart) with his unforgettable tour-de-force performance in Rod Serling's hour-long TWILIGHT ZONE episode, "On Thursday We Leave For Home."
The fact that I grew up to work with this great man twice, and to know him, is an honor that is hard to articulate. I'll miss him and treasure the memory of him always.
I'm very sad today. I'm going to go watch that TWILIGHT ZONE again.