O'Neal's Full-Course Menu
He could be suave, sneaky and savage on screen, sometimes simultaneously, and actor/restaurateur Patrick O’Neal (1927-1994), born 89 years ago this day, spent 40 years craftily sculpting these qualities into the characters he played, with a career highlight being his Broadway creation of the down-at-the-heels reprobate Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in the original 1961 production of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana. That followed a decade of steady appearances in early TV dramas and a few small movie roles, including the part of Dr. Jim Roper, the society-approved fiancé of rebellious debutante Joanne Woodward, who throws him over for the ambitious Paul Newman in the sizzling adaptation of John O’Hara’s From the Terrace (1960), directed by Mark Robson. Mixed throughout a ubiquitous array of guest-starring roles that classed up many a police, mystery or thriller series on the tube, succeeding years found O’Neal on cinema screens in the company of starry casts for such marquee directors as Otto Preminger (The Cardinal, In Harm’s Way), Edward Dmytryk (Alvarez Kelly), Bryan Forbes (King Rat, The Stepford Wives), Irvin Kirshner (A Fine Madness), Martin Scorsese (New York Stories), Sidney Lumet (Q&A), Woody Allen (Alice), Mark Rydell (For the Boys) and Andrew Davis (Under Siege). One noteworthy movie lead came under the stewardship of veteran director John Huston, who cast O’Neal as a steely Naval Intelligence officer turned double-agent in the wintry and suspense globetrotting espionage caper The Kremlin Letter (1970, available on DVD here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/14942/THE-KREMLIN-LETTER-DVD-1970/). O’Neal capably guides the viewer through a complex study of shifting loyalties and identities in a Cold War world locked in potentially devastating brinksmanship amongst the likes of Richard Boone, Bibi Andersson, Orson Welles, George Sanders and Max von Sydow. For filmmaker Sydney Pollack, O’Neal played a critical role – often at odds with commanding officer Burt Lancaster – among the ragtag squad of eight GIs determined to defend the art treasures inside a strategic Belgian stronghold in the World War II actioner Castle Keep (1969). Knowing O’Neal’s knack for balancing benevolent charm with sinister undertones, Pollack called on him again to play George Bissinger, the initially supportive but ultimately pragmatic film studio executive who controls the career prospects of budding screenwriter Robert Redford, whose humanist ideas may not survive the pressures brought to bear during the notorious Hollywood blacklist era, in the iconic romance The Way We Were (1973, available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26203/THE-WAY-WE-WERE-1973/). Throughout his life O’Neal kept a stake in several New York and Los Angeles destination restaurants, he said, to “take some of the insecurity out of show biz.” Yet today’s birthday honoree added a level of security and serious craft to three Twilight Time DVD/Blu-ray titles as well as a multi-course menu of quality TV work.