Dullea, Keir


Dullea, Keir
(May 30, 1936– )
   Ironically, Keir Dullea’s most famous screen role, and perhaps the single performance for which he will be remembered best, as Dr. David Bowman in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, is also the most understated in a career in which Dullea has shown a great deal of acting talent. In an interview with the New York Times, Dullea said, “[2001] is a director’s film, not a performer’s. The problems of the role were just as challenging as others, but it’s just not a showy role. ” Despite Dullea’s opinion that the part of Dave Bowman may not have done anything to further his career, he told USA Today, “it’s among the films I’m most proud to be in. ” Dullea went on to hail STANLEY KUBRICK as “absolutely the most fantastic and consistent film genius around. ” And Dullea does not seem to mind being remembered chiefly for this one character, created some 35 years ago, as he told Biography magazine in 1999: “People often ask me, ‘How does it feel being associated with only one film?’ I think they expect me to be upset or bitter, because I’ve done more than twenty features. But I suppose it’s like the model who posed for the Mona Lisa. She might have posed for a lot of good painters, but all we know now is the one hanging in the Louvre for hundreds of years. I think she would consider that pretty terrific. ” Indeed, Keir Dullea apparently has nothing but good to say about 2001: A Space Odyssey and about Stanley Kubrick. In 1965, Dullea told the New York Morning Telegraph that he expected 2001: A Space Odyssey to be one of the most startling pictures ever to be shown on screen. “Believe me, it will be one of the most astonishing pictures you have ever seen. ”He told the World Journal Telegraph, “I find it very difficult to describe [2001]; it’s fantastic. I truly think it will have the same impact that Citizen Kane and the Eisenstein films had. Kubrick is doing things that have never been done before on the screen. He’s one of the four or five great movie directors today, and he is certainly the greatest American director in my opinion. . . . People call the movie science-fiction, but in a way it isn’t. Kubrick actually is trying to show the future as accurately as possible . . . so it isn’t going to have the usual trappings people expect from science-fiction. ”
   Dullea told Films and Filming, “During the shooting, for me it was like being in this fantastic playground, being amongst those incredible sets. Above all, what will remain memorable was working with a genius like Stanley Kubrick. He instilled incredible devotion on the part of his actors. He likes actors. I found him a very gentle director. He’s kind of a benign Napoleon, in the sense that he can get actors to do things that I don’t think they would do for any other director—not by exercising any kind of obvious power in the sense of being on a power trip or screaming at people. Quite the opposite. But he is able to marshal his forces, and people tend to have allegiance to him, particularly the actors. I find the best directors—the ones who have gotten the most out of me—create an atmosphere of safety. Stanley Kubrick was that way. . . . An actor’s got to be able to fail if he’s to create something very unusual. If an actor doesn’t feel safe, then he’ll fall back on things he has done in the past. . . . There are always things you can call upon that you do easily, but that are far less creative than taking a chance and doing something that might even be stupid. You have to be an idiot. It’s part of the nature of the game to be willing to be foolish. That’s what acting is . . . the willingness to be absolutely and totally private—publicly. ” Upon seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, Dullea was most impressed by the “Dawn of Man” sequence. “It made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end when the ape-man was fiddling around with the bones and then suddenly something purposeful enters his motions. ” He saw the film’s meaning as “a kind of Eastern philosophical view of existence, a cyclical view that all things come around again. ” In 1969, Dullea was invited to tape a CBS interview to be used during the historic broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. Arthur C. Clarke was also present in the studio when Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind,” and Dullea couldn’t resist watching Clarke’s reaction. He told USA Today, “When I looked over, he had tears in his eyes. ”
   Early in his career, Keir Dullea was for a while typecast, as he put it, as an “intense, ultra-serious, all-American neurotic . . . a crazed-killer type,” beginning with his 1960 film debut as the punk killer in The Hoodlum Priest, the American film entered into competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The following year, Dullea’s impressive portrayal of a psychotic adolescent in David and Lisa won him the best-actor award at the San Francisco Film Festival, as well as a Golden Globe for most promising newcomer. That performance prompted the Washington Post critic Richard L. Coe to tout, “This wholly controlled young actor reveals with his strong but sensitive playing that he is a major actor of limitless future. ” Other mentally unstable or deranged characters followed, in Mail Order Bride (1964), The Thin Red Line (1964), as a young recruit crazed and brutalized by war, and Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). These stereotypes carried over into some of Dullea’s stage roles of the period as well. In a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1974), which moved to Broadway from Stanford, he played a troubled alcoholic who limped around on crutches and was unable to have sex with his wife. And in another role dealing with infirmity, Dullea originated the part of a blind young man in Butterflies are Free (1969), with Eileen Heckart and Blythe Danner.
   Though born in Cleveland, Ohio, the actor considers himself a native New Yorker, as his Scottish-Irish parents, Robert and Margaret (Rutain) Dullea moved him to the big city when he was three years old. He attended the Grace Church School and the George School, a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania. Then he enrolled at Rutgers University in New Jersey but left after a year, eager to see more of the United States.
   In the spirit of the burgeoning beat generation, Dullea hitchhiked his way across the country to San Francisco. He told Screen Stars, “I took what little money I had out of the bank and headed west. I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t care. I just wanted adventure, escape, freedom, new worlds. And I knew that there was a guy out there somewhere-me—that I had to find and analyze and identify once and for all. ”
   While in San Francisco, Dullea became acquainted with a number of writers and actors, and at the Actors’ Workshop he met Jules Irving, who would later head the Repertory Theater at New York’s Lincoln Center. Dullea found Irving’s influence so exciting that he decided to enroll at San Francisco State University as a drama major because Irving taught there. After a year of study, Dullea’s ambitions for an acting career had crystallized. He reversed his original “go west” impulse and returned to New York to join the famed Neighborhood Play-house, where he studied under Sanford Meisner and noted dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. The following summer he won his first professional acting job as a resident juvenile lead at the Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania. Soon after he made his first Broadway appearance in Sticks and Stones, a revue starring Hermione Gingold. Dullea left Broadway temporarily for stock training periods at the Berkshire Playhouse and at the Hedgerow Theater, but he returned to the New York stage in 1959 in Season of Choice, starring Betsy von Furstenburg and Douglas Watson. During this period, Dullea also made a number of television appearances, ranging from soap opera fluff to characterizations of Sean O’Casey and Ernest Hemingway.
   Other major films of the 1960s in which Dullea appears include the remake of Madame X (1966), starring Lana Turner; The Fox (1968), a lesbianthemed drama also starring Oscar-winner Sandy Dennis, in which Dullea portrays a virile young seaman; and as the title character in Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson’s De Sade (1969), starring John Huston and Lilli Palmer, and written by Richard Matheson.
   For his entire career, Keir Dullea (much like Kubrick in this respect) has preferred to remain independent, and he has never been under studio contract. He told Films and Filming, “I was very prejudiced against being a movie star. I was a New York actor, and there’s a schism between New York and Hollywood. . . . If you were going to be a film actor—let alone a star—you had to move to the West Coast and kiss Broadway goodbye. Well, I wasn’t prepared to do that, and I certainly wasn’t willing to go under contract. Right after The Hoodlum Priest I was offered a contract at MGM and a seven-year contract with Walt Disney, and I turned them both down and went back to New York and did a Broadway play instead. ”
   Having fixed on a preference for acting on the stage over film, Keir Dullea has devoted his career primarily to the theater since the early 1980s. In 1982 he moved to Westport, Connecticut, with his wife, Susie Fuller (now deceased); together they founded the Theater Artists’Workshop of Westport, modeled on Theater East in Los Angeles. In 1999, a few years after Fuller’s untimely death, Dullea married Tony-nominated actress Mia Dillon.
   References
   ■ Bean, Robin,“Portrait of a Young Actor on His Way to the Top,” Films and Filming 12, no. 3 (December 1965): 5–9;
   ■ Cole, Gloria, “Idylls of the Stage: Keir Dullea and Susie Fuller Share a Life in Theater,” Norwalk Fairpress, March 9, 1989, D3;
   ■ Davis, Jeanne, “Keir Dullea voyages back in time for ‘2001’ sequel,” Westport News, June 27, 1984, p. 1+;
   ■ Dorsey, Mikki, “Keir Dullea’s Space Odyssey,”US, December 31, 1984, pp. 48–50;
   ■ “Dullea, Keir,” Current Biography, vol. 31, no. 6, June 1970;
   ■ “For Keir Dullea, a role that transcended the rest,” USA Today, April 1, 1993;
   ■ Gow, Gordon, “Publicly Private,” Films and Filming 23, no. 2 (November 1976): 10–13;
   ■ “Keir Dullea: Biography,” De Sade press book, ca. 1969;
   ■ Klein, Alvin, “Westport Group Nurtures Plays,” New York Times, June 1, 1986, sec. 11, p. 18;
   ■ Martindale, David, “Where Are They Now?” Biography, July 2000, p. 30. Mishkin, Leo, “Dullea High on Space Odyssey,” New York Morning Telegraph;
   ■ Parsons, Louella O. , “Keir Dullea: It Was a Good Gamble,” New York Journal-American, April 14, 1963, p. 3;
   ■ Peper, William, “Dullea’s ‘Fantastic’ Trip Through Space With Kubrick,” World Journal Telegraph, September 25, 1966;
   ■ Quirk, Lawrence J. ,“Keir Dullea: From Greenwich Village to Hollywood,” Screen Stars, October 1964, p. 50+.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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