Cinema Queen Anne has requested that we here at the 'Tales From The Woods' editorial board should raise a glass and say “Farewell” to American actor James Coburn who died of a heart attack at his home on the 19th November.
Born on August 31st 1928 and raised on a farm in Laurel, Nebraska in his early years, before the family fled to California during the height of the depression. Studying drama at Los Angeles City College, alternating between television and films in mostly supporting roles during the late Fifties. Coburn, the classic Hollywood tough guy who fought his way back from crippling arthritis to win an Oscar for his stunningly powerful comeback performance with his portrayal of an abusive father in ‘Affliction’ (1999). “Some of them you do for the money – some you do for love” he said in his Oscar acceptance speech. Well, during the course of his long, forty-plus year career he did more than enough for money but we here at the 'Tales From The Woods' editorial board believe his best work stands up well against any actor of his generation.
1960 would be the year he hit pay-dirt, starring alongside his friend Steve McQueen in ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the pair defining a new breed of macho cool which would be repeated when the pair teamed up again for the equally successful ‘The Great Escape’ (1963). The back-up role as army scout in ‘Major Dundee’ (1965) would see the beginning of his buddy relationship with director Sam Peckinpah. There can be little doubt that Coburn was by far the strongest presence in the movie, followed up by a couple of James Bond style spin-offs, ‘Our Man Flint’ and ‘In Like Flint’.
Come 1968 he was treading the ground of counter culture cool in Theodore J Flicker’s satire ‘The President’s Analyst’, which incidentally was produced by Coburn’s recently founded production company. The film became a critical success, pre-figuring the ‘Saturday Night Live’ comic sensibilities. In ‘A Fistful Of Dynamite’ (1972) he played an Irish explosives expert, laughing zestfully through much of the movie. This paved the way for another collaboration with Peckinpah in the form of one of his most impressive performances as the sheriff in ‘Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid’ (1973). Interesting too was his role as the officer-hating warrior in ‘Cross Of Iron’ (1977) that he also co-scripted. The following year saw him co-directing alongside Peckinpah on the road movie ‘Convoy’.
By the time he reached the age of 50 the onset of rheumatoid arthritis would progress as years of ceaseless pain, equally throwing him into work, by his own admission “Just for the money”, often in barely more than cameo roles. However, not all the latter years were totally bad, proved by his performance in Robert Altman’s ‘The Player’ (1992) and, maybe to a lesser degree, in the Mel Gibson 1994 vehicle ‘Maverick’, finally getting it right in the aforementioned ‘Affliction’. During the course of his career he appeared in more than a hundred films, often typecast as a hardened brawler, although he once said, during the course of an interview on BBC Radio 4, in real life he had never been in a fight! Ironically, he died a quiet death, at home, listening to music.
Still on a sombre note, words cannot even begin to express the terrible tragedy that has befallen Paul Harris and his family with the loss of his son through a sudden and what must have been a truly painful illness. What can I say Paul, except to offer our most sincere condolences during what must be a truly devastating time for your family and yourself. Your friends are here Paul, should you need us.