August 10, 2007

Whitmore - Going Strong at 85!

As a few of us have drifted into active “retirement,” I am amazed at those of our elders – a generation older – who show no signs of slowing down.

Such is the case of actor James Whitmore, who – at 85 – has returned to his roots at a summer theatre in New Hampshire as Sheridan Whiteside in the vintage play “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” According to reviewer Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, Whitmore did it like the “youthful trouper” he was when he made his acting debut there after serving in the Marines in World War II.

I am not surprised.

Three decades ago, when I was managing public radio station KOSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma, I was witness to the creativity and professionalism of James Whitmore. One afternoon, OSU colleague John Bissonette and I decided serendipitously to drop in on a campus convocation featuring Whitmore at the Seretean Performing Arts Center. We were disappointed that so few students, faculty, staff or community residents showed up for the event. There were probably 40 of us in the audience.

Did that make any difference to James Whitmore? Not a bit.

Coming on stage despite an injury that caused him to hobble a bit, the diminutive actor with a booming voice engaged the audience in a way I’d not seen before. He talked about acting. He talked about life. He shared anecdotes about his career. In the end, he revealed his “injury” to be nothing more than a grand case of spoofing the audience with body language. It was all make believe.

And nobody does it better than James Whitmore – a real professional.

I first remember him as a cop in the classic sci-fi film “Them!” But he’s appeared in dozens of other great movies like Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate, and Battle Cry. Television credits run into the hundreds – including classic series like Playhouse 90 and The Twilight Zone.” His portrayals of presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman in the 1970s were especially memorable, as was his rendition of humorist Will Rogers.

Bravo, James Whitmore! You’ve entertained millions of people the world over, and you continue to inspire those of us still stumbling around in early retirement.

You’ve demonstrated that keeping active and striving for excellence is a great formula for remaining “youthful troupers.” Well done!

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