Monday, February 11, 2008

"A Perfect Gentleman Through It All": Roy Scheider, 1932 -2008

Rehearsals of Marathon Man in New York. Dustin Hoffman and Roy Scheider are about to rehearse their first scene together. Hoffman has the vehicle role and is the more important of the two, but Scheider, coming off the lead in Jaws, is not chopped liver.

In the story, they play brothers. Hoffman is a graduate student. Scheider, whom he adores and thinks is in the oil business, actually works for the government as a killer and a spy.

Hoffman has just been brutally mugged in the park. He has written this to Scheider. Scheider suspects it was not an accident--bad guys are trying to get at him by threatening his kid brother. So he comes down from Washington to visit.

It's night, and Hoffman is asleep. Suddenly, he realizes he's not alone in his apartment, so he grabs a flashlight from his bed table and points it around the room, trying to catch the intruder. As he does this, he has a line of dialog:

(very James Cagney)
I got a gun, you make a move, I'll blow your ass to Shanghai.

Okay, rehearsal. A mock set is prepared. Hoffman lies down, closes his eyes. Scheider mimes opening a door, bangs his foot down to indicate the closing of the door, and Hoffman springs awake, mimes getting the flashlight, and says his Shanghai line.

Then rehearsals stop.

Hoffman says to hold it and he turns to the director, John Schlesinger, and tells him that he thinks it is wrong for his character to have a flashlight in his bed table.

Schlesinger tells him we'll get to it later, let's continue rehearsing the scene, please.

Hoffman shakes his head...

A lot of people have flashlights by their bed tables, Schlesinger tries.

Hoffman isn't playing a lot of people, he is playing Babe and Babe wouldn't have a flashlight by his bed table.

Schlesinger makes another attempt: You've just been mugged, you're upset, you're taking precautions.

No sale...

Through all this, silent and waiting, stands Scheider.

And that is probably my strongest memory of the situation--it took an hour, by the way--Scheider, waiting quietly, a perfect gentleman through it all.

--William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade

The Siren mourns the passing of perfect gentleman and great actor Roy Scheider. She will treasure his performances as long as she is able to prop herself up in front of a screen, including Marathon Man, The French Connection and the unavoidable, permanent classic Jaws. But her favorite Scheider role will always be Joe Gideon in All That Jazz, the greatest movie musical of the past 30 years.

Edward Copeland has a tribute up. So does Greencine Daily, with accompanying links. Some time ago Bob Westal had a fabulous Bob Fosse blogathon in which he discussed All That Jazz at some length; Bob now has an appreciation up, with a great clip. Nathaniel R also went into great detail on Scheider's fine performance. Kim Morgan also has a tribute post on Scheider, written with her trademark verve and passion. Siren faves Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and the Cinephile also have memorials up. And, via the fabulous Sheila, an incredible series of Roy Scheider-themed posters from the 1970s at Harry Moseby Confidential. Finally, a wonderful personal reminiscence by LowerManhattanite at the Group News Blog. And check the comments for another charming story, from Gerald Howard. And one more, the most thorough of all, from Ferdy on Films.


Uncle Gustav said...

Goldman's story reminds me of Olivier's dealing with Dustin's 'method' on that movie. Fretting over something like the flashlight, Hoffman was unable to "find" his character, screwed up several takes and had something of a hissy fit.

Lost and out of character, he wondered aloud, "What am I going to do?"

Olivier, bored by the whole exhibition, looked up from his newspaper and said, "You might try acting, my boy."

The Siren said...

Flickhead, I had always read Olivier made the remark after Hoffman stayed up 48 hours straight to mimic the effects of torture. It's a classic line, but I am going to commit heresy here and say I prefer Hoffman as an actor.

In his book Goldman went on to say that he always believed Hoffman could justify anything in a script, but that he didn't want his audience to think he was chicken. Scheider, on the other hand, gave a lot of performances where he evidently had no such concern. I am really very sad he's gone, I kept hoping for a great autumnal burst of roles from him.

Patricia Perry said...

I was sad to hear of Scheider's passing. Like you, I will always remember him best as Joe Gideon in "All That Jazz" - one of my favorite movies.x

Greg said...

I watched the making of doc on the Marathon Man DVD and Hoffman tells the Olivier story. It was after Hoffman was awake for 48 hours to simulate the sleepless terror of his character. He says that it is true, Olivier really did say, "Dear boy, why don't you simply act?" but that there was no contempt. In fact, Olivier adored him and gave Hoffman, which Hoffman talks about in the doc, his complete volume of Shakespeare's plays with all the acting notes he had written in them over the years. He had wanted to make sure they went to the right person and upon working with Hoffman in Marathon Man he decided Hoffman was the actor to give it to. Hoffman gets pretty choked up talking about it and it's quite touching. Also, Hoffman explains the real reason he stayed awake for 48 hours was it was a way to party in New York and tell everyone he had to for his performance.

But to Scheider. I think he did great work in everything he ever did and certainly Jaws and All that Jazz rank at the top but I also love him in Sorcerer. He played tension and apprehension so well in that film (and Jaws as well) that I wish he were the only character when I watch it.

WelcometoLA said...

My favorite Scheider role has always been the wound-too-tight CIA man in "The Russia House." I always liked the way he said to James Fox's character: "Honor is due." The same should be said to Scheider.

Bob Westal said...

Campuspe -- thanks for the link. My own RIP post is now up, btw.

Re: Hoffman, Bob Fosse's biographer Martin Gottfried (who I openly distrust) theorizes that a lot of the trouble Hoffman gave to directors in the seventies and on into forever was a sort of reaction to his "difficult" relationship with Fosse on "Lenny." Per Gottfried, Fosse apparently did the worst thing you could ever do to an actor like Hoffman...he ignored him. (He still managed to get one of Hoffman's best leading man performances.)

Though I'm sure they didn't like each other much, I don't buy the theory at all. On the other hand, considering the radically differing relationships of Scheider and Hoffman with Fosse, it may be another level of irony, or something.

Karen said...

See, Siren, THIS is why I love you--because Scheider in "All That Jazz" isn't just Scheider at his best but, perhaps, acting at its best. That is one naked, brutal, balls-to-the-wall performance.

About the Olivier story--Siren's right that it was in response to Hoffman having stayed up for 48 hours. But, if you get the "Marathon Man" DVD, and watch the extras, you learn that Olivier was always sorry that the article that quoted that line of his didn't include the follow-up: that he'd said, "I'm a fine one to talk--I sprained my ankle doing that leap in 'Hamlet'."

There's also footage of the "Marathon Man" wrap party, when the whole cast and crew got together and presented a gift to Sir Larry. Hoffman presented it, and Olivier accepted it from him with such affection, referring to Hoffman as like a son, that it was clear that the disdain that story was meant to convey was not deep-seated.

Uncle Gustav said...

I nearly spilled my coffee at the sight of your new banner photo...whew! Very nice!

Uncle Gustav said...

By the way, Caesar and Cleopatra and The Red Shoes, a blast of color tonight (February 12) on TCM!

Greg said...

Campaspe - as much as I love my online friend Cinephile of Bubblegum Aesthetics I hate to see him get someone else's link. Both Cinephile's name and the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear name take you to Bubblegum-Aesthetics.

And Ray - careful with the coffee okay. That stuff stains.

The Siren said...

Flickhead, thanks. I am not going to identify the photo, I'm waiting for someone to recognize her -- my money is on Victoria of Bois de Jasmin. If he stops by James Wolcott is likely to twig, too. :)

Jonathan, there's a stomach flu rampaging through our house like the Cloverfield monster at the mo and it's a wonder I didn't link everybody to Free Republic or something. Thanks so much for pointing out my Html ineptitude, I shall fix immediately (although the cinephile does indeed deserve this traffic dribble!) On a different note, enjoying your Scanners back-and-forth on the Kael thread.

C. Parker said...

Like your new header graphic, by the way.

Greg said...

Wait a minute - this a game? Why didn't you say so sooner? Now if you have your money on others then I wouldn't want to make a folly out of it by guessing it myself, although I'm sure I could hazard a vera good guess.

The Siren said...

HA! You win, Jonathan! Victoria used to dance herself so it was sort of an elbow-nudge. Amazing still though, isn't it? I am glad people like it. Check out her arm muscles -- most unusual in a star of that period.

Greg said...

Now that the cat's out of the bag I did a search just now to see if there was anything on her and came across this great little site that has a whole post on Vera Zorina and the Goldwyn Follies of 1938 if anyone wants to check it out:

Wet Circuit

The Siren said...

ooh, great link. Even more great pics. It has been ages since I saw the Follies -- I think I was in high school -- but it was a head trip of epic proportions. I should write up my impressions of the movie I saw Zorina in recently.

Brian Doan said...

Hi, Campaspe! Great tribute to Scheider. Thanks for the link (and for the second link, too, at least for awhile! (:), and the kind words. And I hope you and your family are feeling better-- I'm starting to get the beginnings of a bug myself, I'm afraid, so I sympathize.

Oh, and let me add to the chorus of praise for the new banner-- I loved the old one from Grand Hotel, too, but that new one is incredibly fun and sensual.

Unknown said...

Lower Manhattanite at Group News Blog remembers his Roy Scheider Moment of Zen ...

James Wolcott pointed me toward your blog. Good work!

Gerald Howard said...

This is more a New York story than a film story, but what the hell. In the late seventies my best friend and I went to some lousy tourist bar on Broadway in the fifties after work to drown our sorrows over the vicious and insane publishing compay we both worked for as junior editoral victims, The place was pretty empty, but over there at another table was Roy Scheider, instantly recognizable of course, listening oh-so-sympathetically to an attractive young woman, surely an actress expounding on her work.
After about twenty minutes they got up to leave for guess what, and as they walked out the door Scheider gave us a big knowing friendly wink.

A nice New York moment, a very cool guy.

camorrista said...

Much as I admire Scheider's patience and politeness, as somebody who's worked in the movie & TV business for more than 25 years, I assure you those virtues are much more important to those outside the business than those in it (except for producers).

What made Scheider a great actor had nothing to do with "professionalism." Just as what makes Hoffman a great actor has nothing to do with his 'hissy fits' (a term that should be banished from discussions about acting).

In another of his books, Goldman notes that Paul Newman, considered the most "professional" of stars, argued with George Roy Hill for hours about a particular beat in 'Butch Cassidy.' Goldman remarks that the fight was petty and idiotic, but that's what Newman needed to continue the scene. (Just as Hoffman needed to get rid of the flashlight.)

How an actor inhabits a character is both individual and mysterious, and "unprofessional" performers (Monroe, Davis, Pacino) can delight and astonish just often as "professional" performers (Streep, Kline, Eastwood).

What matters in acting is the result. The rest is gossip.

The Siren said...

Cinephile, thanks. The banner seems to be a winner. I figure I'll change it when the mood strikes but will stick with this one for a while.

Yeshe, loved the story and I'm adding it to my links. He really seems to have been a lovely person, which Gerald's story also bears out.

Camorrista, if I cared about an actor's cooperativeness more than his performances, I wouldn't have spent such a lot of time praising Charles Laughton, for one, nor would I confess to preferring Hoffman over Olivier. But when an artist passes away, the whole of the life comes into view. If the personal didn't match the work, courtesy and tradition mean most people gloss over that. If the artist also happened to have grace of character, it is no disservice to the man to mention that also. Hence the phrase, "perfect gentleman and great actor." I don't think it's mere "gossip" to note that in Scheider, the two things coexisted.

Uncle Gustav said...

I regret my unfortunate choice of the term "hissy fit" was so taxing. I'll make an effort not to employ it in future correspondence.

Bob Westal said...

Flickhead -- in future, feel free to use the term "conniption" to replace the outlawed "hissy."

I'm still waiting for word from Funk & Wagnall as to whether "to have a cow" is still permissible.

The Siren said...

I'm thinking Hoffman's tantrum (how's that one grab y'all?) rather took over Mr. Scheider's thread, which is too bad. His shade is standing patiently by, waiting for us to get back to him. Please, everybody go read LowerManhattanite's link (which I've added now) and Gerald's story, I did love them both.

I also need to re-view The Seven-Ups, which some digging makes me realize I did see a long while back. Here's a conundrum for an aging cinephile: as you get older, it isn't just the movies you still need to see. It's also the ones you saw, forgot and now need to see again.

Bob Westal said...

It gets worse. I've gone to see movies that I'd thought I'd missed, only to realize half-way through that I had seen them before.

Also, sometimes I'll revisit a film I thought I knew pretty well and realize I only remembered one or two scenes. (Happened just this weekend with "Winter Kills") I think there are several films in the Scheider cannon that might fit either description for me. He worked a lot at just the time I was starting to see a ton of movies.

The Siren said...

I haven't done that with a movie in a theater but I have done that on DVD, just a few months ago as a matter of fact, with a famous film noir. I had convinced myself I hadn't seen it, realized fifteen minutes in that not only I had I seen it, I could now remember seeing it twice. Also very familiar with the scene conundrum you describe, though that can give some pleasure on occasion as you get reacquainted with the whole of a great film.

I did see The French Connection again, not too long ago, and still relished Scheider, such a great foil for Hackman. Aside from everything else Scheider was also dead sexy, in a very masculine, understated, attainable sort of way.

Operator_99 said...

I wasn't a "current day" musical fan...until "All That Jazz", and it wasn't the music (great), or the dancing (great), it was Roy Scheider, so completely compelling, nuanced, and natural. We are fortunate to have a fine body of work from a truly consummate actor.

Love the banner, and you know we would.

camorrista said...

[Campaspe, I thought I'd posted a response to you a few hours ago, but I don't see it. I'm new to this process, so, with your indulgence, I'll try to re-post. If I have sent dupes, forgive me.]

My first post seems to have rubbed you the wrong way, and I aplogize for anything in my tone or wording that did that. Not for an instant did I mean to imply that you valued docility over genius in an actor.

What got my wind up was the use (in the opening comment) of the phrase "hissy fit"--a comment that nowhere mentioned Scheider and appeared to use him solely as cudgel to beat Hoffman.

As to 'gossip,' well, Goldman's anecdote =is= gossip (not reportage), and at the expense of Hoffman. (Goldman, in other venues, has made no secret of his dislike of Hoffman and his fondness of Scheider.)

Since Goldman wants to make Hoffman the villain of his tale, he doesn't say that Scheider more likely was gentlemanly because he had no choice--he had third billing and an actor with third billing doesn't get to make a fuss when the star is doing his walkabout.

When Scheider was the star, on "All That Jazz," I can assure you he seized all of a star's perogatives--and then some, because he was so cripplingly insecure about whether he could move to Fosse's satsifaction (Scheider had no dance background).

I don't know whether Scheider was a "perfect gentleman" and possessed "grace of character," but a single anecdote from a suspect source isn't enough evidence to persuade me.

But even if the description is true, the puritan in me thinks listing an actor's admirable personal qualities =is= a disservice to him. It has a faint whiff of special pleading. If, say, Meryl Streep retired (or heaven forbid, died) tomorrow, would you write what a perfect lady she'd been?

In any event, rest assured I =am= an admirer, if sometimes a disagreeable one.

Karen said...

I did love that Grand Hotel banner, as you know, Siren, but Vera hits the eye like a ton of bricks, like a golden goddess, like a Diaghilev fantasy. I have to ask, though, all modesty aside, if Ms. Zorina is experiencing a little nip-slip there, to quote the Fug Girls?

The Siren said...

Karen, I can't tell, but I am happy to give so many of my readers the chance to study the possibility at length. Just so long as they remember to read the actual posts. Eventually.

Camorrista, I was irked, I'll admit it, although your kind words mean I'm officially over it now. I picked the excerpt because it was admiring, it was readily to hand, and because I didn't feel up to writing something substantive about the truly great movies he made. The story made an impression on me--and Scheider is very good in Marathon Man. As is Hoffman. And Olivier. Different methodologies, good results all round. The Hoffman/Olivier story was just part of the comments vibe here -- people drop by and spin yarns, sometimes related, sometimes not. I enjoy it.

I do think an actor's conduct can affect more than a producer's pocketbook; grinding down your fellow players may well hurt their performances. But the post wasn't supposed to be about Hoffman's temperament--I wouldn't diss the man, he's given me way too much pleasure over the years. It was just supposed to be a nice anecdote about Scheider, of the kind people tell when someone dies, assuming there's anything nice to say. I probably would mention Streep's famous graciousness if she died, because I tend to want to say good things about the recently deceased. If I suspect the dead actor swerved to run over puppies off-set I would definitely stick to the work, however.

But now that I review that last graf I realize I may be making your point for you, as surely Streep would deserve the work-focus even more than my hypothetical puppy-squasher. So, as a goodwill gesture to a knowledgeable reader, one I hope will visit again, I tell you what. I fervently hope that Hoffman lives well into his 90s and gives many more performances as great as the best he has done so far. But if the man should predecease me, I hereby promise that I won't go NEAR that Olivier anecdote. Scout's honor.

Greg said...

But definitely do the Olivier/Hoffman book story because that shows both sides (personal and professional) - a nice personal story about giving a cherished possession to another actor because Olivier admired Hoffman so much as an actor.

And on the same Marathon Man documentary Scheider talks about bringing in a martial arts expert so that the fight scene between him and the assassin could be better choreographed and more realistically portrayed. It shows that Scheider was an observant enough actor to realized that even a fight scene was important to the portrayal of his character. And how many people think of a fight scene as having anything to do with acting?

So in the end perhaps the Goldman story speaks well to both Hoffman and Scheider and speaks ill of neither. Perhaps (in fact I would lean towards definitely) the reason Scheider said nothing was not because he was third billed or being gentlemanly (although both certainly played into it) but because he understood as an actor how important even the smallest things can be to a performance and he stood by patiently - silently rooting for Hoffman in his head to win the day. I think the story illuminates that no matter how unnoticeable his acting was onscreen (because he was so naturalistic) he was a man devoted to his craft and in full support of others devoted to the craft as well.

The Siren said...

Jonathan, what a splendid summation! Many thanks. They should have had you at the Writer's Guild negotiations, things would have wrapped much sooner. :)

camorrista said...

Campaspe, thanks for your graciousness towards this obstreperous newcomer.

And Jonathan Lapper, though I'm perhaps (after too many years on sets) more cynical about motives than you, I'm content to accept your analysis of Scheider's behavior.

Noel Vera said...

Whoa--Hoffman over Olivier? Over Lord Marchmain, Richard III, Lear, Othello, Crassus, Archie Rice, Ezra Lieberman, Captain MacHeath, Maxim DeWinter, Heathcliff? I don't know, I don't know.

That said, I don't think Olivier would or could do arguably Hoffman's one great film, Straw Dogs.

camorrista said...

Like Campaspe, I'm a heretic. Of the performances Noel Vera listed, only Archie Rice and Richard have worn well for me. Interestingly, Noel doesn't list any of Olivier's (so-called) minor jobs--"Love Among the Ruins," "Bunny Lake Is Missing," "A Voyage Round My Father," "A Little Romance," or, of course, "Brideshead Revisited." I find those his most human and truthful, if not his most dazzling.

More to the point, I'd match Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy," or "Lenny," or "Agatha," or "Papillon," or "Little Big Man," or "Dick Tracy," or "Tootsie," or "Sleepers," or "Wag the Dog," or "Straight Time," or even "Rain Man" against anything any actor of any era has done.

As to "Straw Dogs," well different strokes (or whippings, or beatings, or crushings) for different folks. As strenuously as Peckinpah and Hoffman tried to persuade me, I didn't believe the whole business for a minute. In my experience, the worm turns only in movies; in life, the worm stays a worm.

The Siren said...

I haven't seen Straw Dogs. I am still trying to work up my nerve.

camorrista said...

"I haven't seen Straw Dogs. I am still trying to work up my nerve."

It's Peckinpah, so it's violent, and it has a particularly unpleasant rape sequence (though a bon-bon compared to the 9-minute rape in "Irreversible").

As I mentioned earlier in the thread, I never believed the movie. Both the story, and the pornographic relish in the violence, always struck me as the revenge of the 90-pound weakling (which, by the way, Peckinpah wasn't far from), the one who grew up to beome a famous director who specialized in blood, guts and existential yearnings.

Come to think of it, if anybody is the movie successor to Hemingway, it's Peckinpah.

Noel Vera said...

Peckinpah would make a magnificent Hemingway film.

I prefer Straw Dogs to that 9 minute bore in Irreversible--the former has an awful and cruel poetry the latter--an unimaginative dud--lacks. As for the rest, Midnight Cowboy included, they're pretty good; I don't think they're great. And how on earth could I forget Brideshead (not a fan of Little Romance, but I do love Olivier in Boys From Brazil and Marathon Man).

Noel Vera said...

And here's a little something that suggests there's more to Straw Dogs than meets the eye (more than Noe's stunt, anyway).

The Siren said...

Noel, I was at a bloggers' dinner two years ago where the gentle, literate and charming Maud Newton startled the assemblage by proclaiming her high regard for Straw Dogs. So it is on my list, but as I say, I'm working up my nerve.

Irreversible is on my "would really rather not, ever" list. There are limits to how far my wimpiness can be pushed.

I do think Peckinpah could have been a great temperamental match for a hemingway story though, you're right.

Bob Westal said...

Well, Campuspe, though I have cine-wimpish tendencies myself (mostly about gore and torture) I've seen and was actually not all that impressed by "Straw Dogs," though I don't have much to say about why.

I'm personally a bit intimidated by "Irreversible" mountain myself and it's way, way down my list right now. But Noel was bored by it, so maybe I'm worrying about nothing. (!?!) Right now I'm concentrated on stealing myself for seeing the original "Funny Games" before the remake comes out.

I actually have a never to see list, which includes "Salo" and "Cannibal Ferox" and that movie where Tiny Tim plays a psycho-killer clown.

The Siren said...

I have a similar "never to see" list and both versions of Funny Games are on it, as is Cannibal Holocaust and all of the Hostel-ish movies.

Noel Vera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noel Vera said...

Salo's quite beautiful, I thought. Cannibal Holocaust, what got me was the turtle killing--which was done real, on camera--not the actual acts of cannibalism.

Bob Westal said...

Noel -- "Beautiful" sure ain't pretty, sometimes, I guess. And interesting use of the word "actual." Those actors must have been REALLY desperate for work.

It's actually funny because I have such issues with fake movie gore when it's simulating horribe acts to humans, but when actual animals are killed in films -- "Weekend," "Apocalypse Now", "Babel" come to mind -- it's not a big problem for me. I also seem to be okay with documentary footage of wartime carnage, for some reason. Of course, I'm bothered, but I'm not afraid to see it. That doesn't seem right.

And Campuspe -- I've been trying to toughen myself up about this stuff (just in case anyone ever decides to give me a legit critics job, among other reasons), but, gore aside I have a hard time with any movie with a torture sequence lasting more than a couple of minutes. (Remember when the couple of minutes of it in "Reservoir Dogs" became such a huge deal?) I'm pretty sure I could take it, but why? Why people would find this fun in movies like "Hostel" -- but maybe that's what it takes the scare people these days.

This is why I still haven't gotten around to seeing "Passion of the Christ" by Noel's favorite guy in the world. I wanted to just to see if I thought for myself if it was antisemitic and get some idea of what the fuss was all about -- but the thought of watching Christ being crucified and tortured for most of the movie sounds about as edifying as having a healthy tooth removed.

I mean, why not make a biopic about Socrates -- but half the movie is him gagging on hemlock?

Bob Westal said...

Oh, for the benefit of people who don't read Noel's outstanding, outspoken writing, I should add that "favorite guy in the world" is intended to be extremely sarcastic. Whatever the opposite of a "favorite" it is, that's his view of Mel G.

Unknown said...


Calibra Pictures is pleased to announce the release of the trailer for Roy Scheider’s last film “Iron Cross”.

The revenge thriller, written and directed by Joshua Newton, will be previewed towards the end of the year in Los Angeles, following our Roy Scheider Film Week, dates and location tbc.

The trailer can be downloaded securely from the following link:

We’d be delighted to receive your comments.

Yours truly

The Iron Cross Team