Friday, July 31, 2009

The Wanderers: Geoffrey Lewis


Here at Cinema Styles I occasionally showcase what I refer to as a wanderer, an actor who goes from job to job, is constantly working and has no major lead role to his credit but at the same time isn't a supporting player with Oscars or recognition like a Thomas Mitchell or Thelma Ritter. These are the actors that don't get the credit they deserve for a lifetime of hard, consistent, quality work. Today is the birthday of one of those actors, Geoffrey Lewis. He's 74 today.

I'd like to write a brilliant essay on the talents of Geoffrey Lewis but all I can get out is that I love the guy. If you watched television or the movies in the seventies through the mid-eighties, you know Lewis. He was everywhere. I probably couldn't say with any accuracy when is the first time I saw him. He guested on The Rookies, Starsky and Hutch, Police Woman, Streets of San Francisco, Alice, Laverne and Shirley, The Six Million Dollar Man, McCloud, Hawaii Five-O and on and on and on. I could have seen him for the first time in any one of those shows and not known I was looking at future favorite Wanderer Geoffrey Lewis.

The first time I remember seeing him was in 1978's Every Which Way but Loose with Clint Eastwood. A good movie? Hardly. But Lewis stood out for me. That face and his almost defeated way of speaking, like the world had destroyed his dreams before the first word even came out of his mouth, stuck with me. I recognized him every time I saw him after that. The most notable occasion would probably be Salem's Lot. The rocking chair, the dirt covered clothes (from Danny Glick's grave) and the line, "Look at me, teacher. Loooook at me." This casting choice fascinated me. It fascinated me because I found Lewis to be so non-threatening as a vampire. I just assumed any vampire played by Lewis would eventually, and quickly, give up on trying to lure and kill human victims and just drink the blood from whatever dead animal he happened across. And in fact his quick exit out the window when confronted with opposition lent credence to this hypothesis. That's because Lewis excelled at playing the guy who's been beaten down by life. The undead life shouldn't be any different.

The Oscars are rarely held up by a cinephile as an actual measure of quality in filmmaking and yet there is a heavy air of legitimacy that hangs over them. An unfair sense of legitimacy that goes to a very few. Even though we can all admit the awards have little actual meaning it doesn't stop me from wishing sometimes that a lifetime achievement award would go to someone who, just once, was never nominated for anything in their career prior, never had a role bigger than a minor supporting role and never achieved name recognition beyond a few dedicated fans but achieved facial recognition the world over. Actors like Geoffrey Lewis, with over 200(!) credits on his IMDB page, who have never disappointed, never phoned it in and never stormed off a set.

Happy Birthday Geoffrey. It may not be an Oscar, but you're a Lifetime Achievement Wanderer as acknowledged by Cinema Styles. And you deserve it.

32 comments:

Flickhead said...

As I recall, he was also in The Wind and the Lion, a film deserving recognition.

Fox said...

I have to admit that I was completely unfamiliar with Mr. Lewis before this post, but the first think I thought of - before reading your post - was that he kinda looks like Tim Conway in that picture.

Greg said...

Flickhead he was. I just watched that again on TCM about a month ago (when Connery was the star of the month) and it was pretty good. Brian Keith was a dead ringer for Teddy Roosevelt.

Greg said...

Fox, his heyday was in the seventies and eighties and by the nineties he was most famous for being Juliette Lewis' dad. I bet you've seen him more times than you know.

kassy said...

I am quite fond of Geoffrey Lewis having seen him in more things than I can remember but I had no idea he was Juliette Lewis' dad. I guess that shows my age.

I need to watch The Wind and the Lion again, I just finished a Teddy Roosevelt biography and had no idea how fascinating he was.

Rick Olson said...

I love Lewis (with a chaste, manly love, of course). I first remember him in the "Loose" film, but watched him when he was a regular on "Flo," he almost made that show bearable. but I didn't know until you told me that he was Juliette Lewis' dad.

As for his religious affiliations, at least he hasn't jumped on any couches lately.

Tommy Salami said...

One of my favorite character actors. I'd no idea he was Juliette Lewis's father either!

So many memorable roles. Most recently he was the best part of Devil's Rejects other than Sid Haig, but I remember him from Night of the Comet, and many more.

Greg said...

Kassy, there are so many actors that traversed the landscape of episodic television when I was growing up that I probably have more actors I know by face from that period than by name. Thanks to Clint Eastwood, Lewis got bigger parts in movies so I learned his name as well.

The Wind and the Lion is pretty good but not much in the way of TR info if that's what you're interested in. But Keith plays him with a strength and vigor that feels dead-on right.

Greg said...

Tommy, I'm surprised how many didn't know he was Juliette Lewis' dad. I remember that being mentioned a lot after her breakthrough role in Cape Fear but then I suppose it wasn't mentioned much after that.

And Night of the Comet - boy, talk about bringing back some memories. I might have to watch that again just for nostalgia's sake.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Awesome post. I love Lewis. I remember him most fondly in all those bad 90's action movies, specifically one with Jean-Claude Vann Damm playing twins on a quest to kill some evil Hong Kong gangsters (of course), and Lewis was their "trainer" or leader or something. I don't remember the name...but I do remember Lewis being extra grizzled in that movie.

God, I was a weird kid...I paid more attention to the character actors instead of acting normal and paying attention to all the gratuitous nudity in those movies...proof that a life of nerdiness was ahead of me.

Great stuff, Greg. I'm glad you're giving this great character actor some much needed due.

Greg said...

Thanks Kevin. I think one of the advantages the movie blogs have is the ability to highlight movies, directors and actors without worrying about hitting all the proper demographics. Of course, I highlight the classic very well known stuff too and always will but people like Geoffrey Lewis deserve recognition too.

Christopher said...

Rob Zombie wisely added the proper atmosphere by casting Lewis in the Devil's Rejects
Geoffrey Lewis is a face I've been familiar with since my Drive-in movie days in the 70s..but wasn't really aware of him till Clint Eastwood started using him more and more...a small list of some of my Faves featuring this fine "good ol' boy"character actor..
Dillinger-1973
Culpepper Cattle Company-1972
Bad Company-1972
High Plains Drifter-1973
MY NAME IS NOBODY-1973
Thunderbolt and Lighfoot-1974
Macon County Line-1974
Silver Saddle-1978
Every Which Way But Loose-1978
and then theres all those TV shows from Bonanza and High Chaparrel to Mork and Mindy and Lavern and Shirley..

Greg said...

I also like him a lot in Bronco Billy as well as the movie itself.

Christopher said...

I love Bronco Billy
"and now..as our friends across the border say...Adios..Amigos"

Roderick Heath said...

Couldn't place him until you mentioned Salem's Lot.

Greg said...

His parts have been so small for the most part he's easy to miss but that's why I highlight them. Like Diane Baker, the first wanderer I did, I try to go with actors who do bit parts and minor supporting at best. The second one I did was a bit of a cheat as James Edwards definitely had some big parts but I'll mainly keep it to the bit players.

BLH said...

You didn't mention Smile. Mention Smile!

Greg said...

Smile.

BLH said...

Thank you.

BLH said...

He's certainly a recognizable face. IMDB tells me I've seen him in at least two dozen pictures, and he's been in a bunch of my favorite films of the 70s. But he must never have made much of an impression upon me, as I couldn't connect him to any particular film or TV role based on his name and picture alone.

I didn't even place him in Smile until I looked it up.

Greg said...

I think that will be the case with many actors profiled here on The Wanderers. Recognizable face, little memory of them in any individual film.

bill r. said...

I like the banner. Roger Deakins. Am I right?

Greg said...

You have an affinity for the filmmakers... as do I. It's from what I believe to be the heavily underrated Man Who Wasn't There. Of course, Sarris, Rosenbaum and A.O. Scott all loved it so I guess it's not that underrated but definitely underknown.

bill r. said...

I just mentioned the odd blank spot in our collective film memories regarding this film over at my blog!! This is getting bizarre.

But it's true. As I remember, the film was kind of a semi-big deal at the time. The Coens won the director prize at Cannes, and everyone seemed to love it. Now it's forgotten.

Greg said...

I have commented further upon that on your blog. And now I must be off. But I shall return!

Really, I shall.

BLH said...

The more I look at the banner, the less I see.

Greg said...

Don't look at the banner, look at the meaning of the banner. But remember, the banner has no meaning.

bill r. said...

Way to go. You guys just changed the banner by looking at it.

Greg said...

I learned that from some guy in Germany. Fritz or Werner or something. I'm uncertain as to the name.

Arbogast said...

It's already been name-checked but the Geoffrey Lewis performance will always be as Eddie Goody in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. He's funny as the gas station attendant in Macon County Line, too. An atypical near-star performance would be as the villain in Human Experiments.

Here he is in a contemporary bit of storytelling, which is one of his big things now.

Greg said...

...

Greg said...

I screwed up the above comment but like the look of lone ellipses so much I can't bring myself to delete it. Anyway...

I had no idea he did that storytelling gig. He does a great job with the accent. Really, on the whole, very well done.