Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Bradford Dillman.

April 14, 1930 – January 16, 2018

It has taken a few days for me to write down my thoughts about Bradford Dillman's passing. It has been difficult for me to find the correct words to express what I wanted to say, and what I needed to say. I will start by saying he was a good actor. Indeed, he was an extraordinary actor--never once giving a bad or uninteresting performance. He seemed to take absolute delight in his work, and it always showed. 

He referred to himself as a "Safeway actor" (anything to put food on the table), but that masks his actual abilities to craft distinct characters out of even extremely poor or bland scripts. He took ridiculous melodrama and made it sublime. He took boring, steadfast characters and hinted at depths of something else--perhaps something just slightly crooked and off-putting. 

Sometimes, all it took was a smile. A perfectly timed, slightly askew smile

That smile took a man who could have been destined for stolid romantic lead roles, and sent him straight into crooked, "wait, is he the villain?!" land. In Bradford Dillman's acting world, there is no overplaying or underplaying--there's just perfectly crafted characters. Each one so unique and utterly entertaining. 

It is certainly true that some actors rely on sheer charisma to build their performances and connect to audiences. Charisma alone can be greatly entertaining--and even powerful. But, then it lacks depths and can lead to monotony. That is the danger of a charming performer: what happens when it just stops being charming? There is nothing else left.

Bradford Dillman never had that problem, because he methodically used his charisma and charm to malicious ends. He brought the audience closer, closer, closer--and then removed his mask and bared his evil smile...or sometimes it wasn't evil at all.  He used it in service of gleeful egotistical murderers, and broken dupes, and trying-to-be-empathetic husbands, and unreliable narrators, and pious saints (hahahahaha!), and adorable architect dates for Mary Richards, and languid supervillains with ridiculous plans, and southern gothic werewolves

These are just a small sampling of the variety of roles Bradford Dillman played with skill and delight. He is one in a line of overwhelming, brilliant, and charming character actors--who can just as easily steal a scene as lead a film. He is the heir to Peter Lorre and the predecessor of Michael Shannon. Perhaps, if he was working today, Bradford Dillman would be enjoying a career like Shannon's--playing complicated good men and complicated bad men in prestige dramas and genre films alike. (It is remarkably easy to imagine Dillman playing Michael Shannon's toxic, complex, and vicious villain in 2017's The Shape of Water.)

Bradford Dillman brought life to mundanity and fun to dullness. He was and remains deeply underrated and even unknown.

That unknown reputation of Dillman's is the reason behind why it took me a few days to write this post. Somehow, it is easier to speak your feelings loud in moments of global, collective grieving. When a beloved famous person dies, everyone gets to say something--and be heard--and no one has to stop and think of the purpose behind their grief. 

But, here, Bradford Dillman died. And aside from a few good friends (most of whom had been indoctrinated in appreciation of The Dill Man by me), no one cared. Suddenly, my sadness at his passing seemed misplaced and self-serving. I did not know him, I never interacted with him, and I dearly hope he never googled his name and found this blog riddled with ridiculous, exclamatory posts and seemingly endless tribute videos. 

Indeed, why was I sad? Nothing in my life had changed. He had already retired from acting just a year after my birth, and he had lived a long and full life--leaving this world surrounded by his family. 

But, there's the source of the grief: he left this world. 

Each human is so deliriously unique and extraordinary, that each loss is of a person who won't exist again. A substance of something that is gone forever. 

I think that is why we so mourn the actors and performers and artists when they die--no matter their longevity. It is perhaps self-focused, but it is to the credit of the person we lose. 

For me, Bradford Dillman wasn't just an extraordinarily talented and individual performer--he is moments in time. He is memories of where I was, and who I was with, and how I felt. He is friendships struck (love you forever, my Dill Man co-conspirator Niamh!). He is thoughts I mulled over, and words I furiously typed at 3AM. (There are posts on this blog mentioning Bradford Dillman that go back to me at age 15.) His performances are not just displays of art or skill or entertainment--they are pieces of the mosaic of my life and personality. 

There is grief, because there was life and art and joy and ridiculousness and power and fun and love and slightly bent evil smiles.

Here's to Bradford Dillman, who never knew I existed (unless he did Google his name and/or actually read that likely very off-putting fan letter I sent him when I was like 13), but has been something of substance in my life nonetheless. Rest in peace and light, cool man. 

^Watch one of my "great" Bradford Dillman tribute videos.


BlanchFury said...

This is a beautiful tribute. I'm so happy that you feel the same way about him that I do. He was, indeed, terribly underrated. Most of my friends know who he is because I made them watch TV episodes that he was in and his movies. My favorite role of his was in The Kitty Pryor Story. I can't even count how many times I've watched that episode.

DKoren said...

When I heard the news of his passing, my first thought was of you, because it was you who had introduced me to his work.

This really was a moving tribute, and it also touched so sagely upon why deaths of people we've never met can affect us so strongly. You are absolutely right. They and their performances are interwoven so strongly into our memories and feelings, of time and places and friends and family. So true.

RIP, Mr. Dillman.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous and heartfelt tribute. A wonderful video as well. He was in everything when I was young, and to discover the reason why --to put food on the table, makes his taking of roles that could so often be written off as a mere stereotype and then add that awkward smile, or the look of desperation, made him sneakily watchable.
Indeed, he is the precursor to actors like Michael Shannon, and one can also imagine him as leading the pack of men such as Bryan Cranston and Jonathan Banks. He was as good as they --only now there is so much more great writing. It's not hard to imagine a young Brad Dillman in Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or even The Walking Dead.
I hope you'll share this with his family. I hope he did read your posts. They're terrific.

kate gabrielle said...

What a beautiful tribute, Millie. I was so sad when I heard he passed, and I never would have even known who he was if it wasn't for you. Through your blog you showed a light on his underrated talent and introduced so many people to an actor they wouldn't have otherwise known. The fact that he called himself a Safeway actor makes me actually hope he *did* google himself and find your blog, because I think he would have appreciated knowing just how much he was loved :)

Also, I love this -- "he methodically used his charisma and charm to malicious ends." Brilliant writing, as always. I hate the circumstances under which you were driven to write a new post, but I will always enjoy reading your words.

Millie said...

BlanchFury: Thank you for your kind comment! I am always glad to hear of another Dillman fan! I have never watched The Kitty Pryor Story. I will put it on my list to watch. Sounds like my kind of thing.

DKoren: Thank you, Deb! I knew you would read this and comment, which made me want to write this even more. So glad I was able to intro you to the great Dill Man. ha!

It's wild how, sometimes, people we never "knew" can have more of an affect on us than actual people in our lives.

Anonymous: Wow. Thank you so much for this truly lovely comment. I appreciate this so much!

I so completely agree. Every time he was able to connect with good writing--the results are fantastic. He would have had a spectacular career in today's anti-hero heavy entertainment.

Kate: Thank you so much, my friend. Your comments encourage me always! So glad I was able to introduce his greatness to you!


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