Today in History – January 30

Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.

Gene Hackman, one of Hollywood’s most prolific and acclaimed actors for four decades, is born on this day in 1930, in San Bernardino, California.

At the age of 16, Hackman left home to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for a three-year stint. He then studied journalism and television production at the University of Illinois on the G.I. Bill before leaving to enroll in acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Hackman landed parts in off-Broadway plays and summer stock, and had an uncredited role as a policeman in the 1961 film Mad Dog Coll. In 1964, he made his Broadway debut in Any Wednesday; he landed his first substantive film role that same year in Lilith, starring Warren Beatty.

Hackman again played opposite Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), this time in the supporting role of Buck Barrow, brother of the infamous Clyde Barrow. He earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the role, and would garner another nod three years later, for I Never Sang for My Father. In 1971, Hackman delivered a star-making performance as narcotics detective Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (1971), directed by William Friedkin. The film was a breakout hit with critics and at the box office, winning five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Hackman.

Hackman was one of Hollywood’s most visible actors throughout the 1970s, appearing in both acclaimed films, such as The Conversation (1974), Night Moves (1975) and Bite the Bullet (1975) and flops, such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Eureka (1984). He showed his comic side to great effect in lighter fare such as Young Frankenstein (1974) and Superman (1978), in which he played the superhero’s nemesis, Lex Luthor (he reprised the role in two of the film’s sequels). Among the many films Hackman made in the 1980s were Reds (1981), Hoosiers (1986), No Way Out (1987) and Mississippi Burning (1988), for which he earned a second Oscar nod for Best Actor.

Though Hackman initially hesitated to accept the role of Little Bill Daggett in The Unforgiven (1992), the director Clint Eastwood’s take on the Western, the film’s twist on the classic genre eventually won him over. The film was a huge hit, winning four Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for Hackman and both Best Director and Best Picture for Eastwood. Over the next decade, Hackman’s film roles would characteristically run the gamut from Western again in Wyatt Earp (1994) and The Quick and the Dead (1995) to comedic in Get Shorty (1995), The Replacements (2000) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001); from hard-core action in Crimson Tide (1995) and Enemy of the State (1998) to legal thriller, in the film adaptations of John Grisham’s The Firm  (1993) and Runaway Jury (2003).

Though he has not “officially” retired, Hackman said in the spring of 2008 that he no longer wanted to act in films and would instead concentrate on writing. With a co-author, Daniel Lenihan, he has published several novels, including the Civil War-era thriller Escape from Andersonville (2008)

It’s hard to believe that Gene Hackman is 82 years old. In the humble opinion of this writer, he is the most under-rated actor in recent cinematic history. While his performance in Bat*21 (1988) should have earned him an Oscar, he will be long remembered for a hysterically funny bit part he played in Mel Brooks’ classic 1974 parody Young Frankenstein.

Here Hackman reprises the role of the blind hermit from James Whale’s 1932 classic The Bride of Frankenstein:

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