Tuesday, December 15, 2009

VAL AVERY 1924 - 2009

Photo of Val Avery in John Cassevetes' Faces courtesy of Margiana.

Val Avery had one of those mugs. It was a facial landscape that for many of us still emanates from the cathode ray light that cuts through the darkened room of our memories. Yet his long career, which began in live television and continued through frequent and memorable guests spots on TV series such as Columbo, The Mod Squad, The F.B.I., Ironside and Mission: Impossible, made an early segue into film in 1956’s with Humphrey Bogart’s last film, The Harder They Fall. He was one of the many go-to guys from which Hollywood had to choose when they needed a Mafia kingpin or a neighborhood tough, a seasoned law-enforcement administrator or a nails-tough beat cop, and he seeded each of these appearances with wit and truth and a sense of joy for acting that spoke to his sensitivity as a performer, whatever the role. (My kids will always remember him as the traveling haberdasher who argues with undertaker Whit Bissell-- while Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen watch nearby-- for the dignified burial of a recently killed Indian local during the opening of The Magnificent Seven.)

Mr. Avery died Saturday at his home in Greenwich Village of undisclosed causes at the age of 85. In his obituary for the New York Times, William Grimes writes of Avery’s life and unusual swerve, after essaying so many gangsters and thugs, into the stock company of John Cassavetes, ending with a hilarious anecdote that would, I’m guessing, be the envy of any character actor. As another piece of Hollywood history now forever gone, he will be missed. As an actor whom I always enjoyed seeing wherever I could, on television or in the movies, an actor who, as so many of his generation did, often meant the movies to me (and still do), he will be missed even more.