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    Happy Bird-day, Telly

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Before on-screen movie and TV fame beckoned, Telly Savalas (1922-1994), born 96 years ago today, was a skilled broadcasting veteran, putting in three years of World War II service as host of the U.S. State Department’s Your Voice of America series and later working for ABC in its news division as an executive producer for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports in the 1950s. But possessed of a unique face that the camera loved, in addition to his sonorously growly voice, he got into acting, first on TV drama series, and soon thereafter transitioned over to movies, with Burt Lancaster mentoring him via a role in director John Frankenheimer’s film The Young Savages (1961). The next Lancaster/Frankenheimer project was another stark, powerful drama that would provide Savalas with one of his most iconic roles, that of jail inmate Feto Gomez, whose cell adjoined that of Lancaster’s convicted murderer Robert Stroud, in the spellbinding Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). It was a role that called on Savalas’s gift for playing innate decency vs. imminent menace, aching vulnerability vs. cruel hardness, and he earned a well-deserved Academy Award® nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Savalas would go on to other meaty and distinguished work in movies as a charismatic heavy – The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Dirty Dozen, The Scalphunters (again with Lancaster), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a definitive Ernst Stavro Blofeld) and Mackenna’s Gold – and crafty, big-hearted palookas – Battle of the Bulge, Kelly’s Heroes and The Muppet Movie. His larger-than-life quality would flower again on TV where it all began, as New York’s top cop Theo Kojak, which won him Emmy® gold and much law-enforcing employment through five series seasons and several TV-movies afterward. Who loves ya, birthday baby? Everybody. The wonder of Savalas – and Lancaster and Frankenheimer – working at the top of their game can be savored via Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of Birdman of Alcatraz, which includes an in-depth Audio Commentary by TT reliables Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman and Paul Seydor about a true story that’s just as incredible as Savalas’s own.