One of the most versatile and respected actors in American cinema, Gene Hackman has enjoyed a prolific career that has spanned over five decades. In 1971, Hackman gathered wide recognition and appreciation with his Oscar-winning, starring role of quirky Popeye Doyle in the successful movie French Connection. For his portrayal, Hackman won such awards as a Golden Globe Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a NATO Award and a British Film Academy Award. Twenty one years later, he took home another Oscar for his fabulous, scene-stealing role of vicious sheriff Little Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992). In addition to the Academy Award, he was garnered with countless awards, including a Los Angeles Film Critics Circle Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Boston Film Critics Society Award, a British Academy Award and a National Society of Film Critics Award.
One of the greatest actors, Hackman also acquired critical acclaim for his dazzling work in The Poseidon Adventure (1972, won a British Film Academy Award), Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974, netted a National Board of Review Award and earned a BAFTA and a Golden Globe nomination), Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1988, was handed a National Board of Review and a Berlin Film Festival, as well as earned an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination), and Geronimo: An American Legend (1994, picked up a Western Heritage Award). In a more recent movie, Hackman drew accolades for his portrayal of the wicked patriarch of a dysfunctional family of geniuses in the all-star cast The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Because of his wonderful acting, he was garnered a Golden Globe Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award, a Chicago Film Critics Association Award and an AFI Award.
The Hollywood legend is also well-known by his fans for his Oscar-nominated performances in the Warren Beatty-directed Bonnie And Clyde (1967) and I Never Sang For My Father (1970), and memorable performances in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974), the critical favorite Night Moves (1975, in which he was nominated for Best Actor at BAFTA), Bite the Bullet (1975), the Superman franchise, Under Fire (1983, earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Role), Twice in a Lifetime (1985, was nominated for Golden Globe Best Actor), Hoosiers (1986), No Way Out (1987), The Firm (1993), and Crimson Tide (1995, opposite Denzel Washington), among others.
Off screen, Hackman has been married twice. He first tied the knot with Faye Maltese in 1956, but the couple later divorced in 1986. With his wife of thirty years, he has three children, a son named Christopher Hackman, and two daughters, Elizabeth Hackman and Leslie Hackman. He later married a woman named Betsy Arakawa in 1991.
Childhood and Family:
Born Eugene Alden Hackman, in San Bernadino, California, on January 30, 1930, Gene Hackman underwent a traveling upbringing before finally settling in Illinois where he was reared by his maternal grandmother Beatrice Grey. His father is Eugene Ezra Hackman, a newspaper pressman, and his mother is Lyda Hackman. His dad left the family when Gene was 13.
A product of a broken home, Gene soon grew bored with school life and decided to quit high school at age 16. Lying about his age, he joined the US Marines and was trained as a radio operator, a job that sent him to China and even landed Gene work as a disc jockey. Relocating to New York after being discharged, Gene took several menial jobs before studying journalism and television production on the G.I. Bill at the University of Illinois. He also attended the School of Radio Technique and spent a great deal of time wandering from town to town working at diverse small radio and TV stations as an announcer. Gene finally recognized that his true calling was acting. He then made his way to California to study drama at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse.
On January 1, 1956, Gene happily married a bank clerk named Faye Maltese. They became the parents of three, a son, Christopher Hackman, and two daughters, Elizabeth Hackman and Leslie Hackman. After a 30-year marriage, however, the couple divorced in 1986. He is now the husband of Betsy Arakawa, a classical pianist whom he married in December 1991. When not working, Gene loves writing fiction and panting.
Impressed by the naturalism of Marlon Brando in the movie A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Gene Hackman knew he wanted to become an actor. After working various jobs, including a radio operator, a disk jockey and a radio announcer, Hackman headed for California and enrolled with the prominent Pasadena Playhouse. In spite of landing a supporting role in ”The Curious Miss Caraway,” which starred ZaSu Pitts, at the Pasadena Playhouse, he was not asked to return to continue his studies. Back in New York, Hackman was discovered working in summer stock and off Broadway. Under the guidance of George Morrison, an ex-mentor at the Lee Strasberg Institute, the struggling actor soon blossomed. After making a New York stage debut with “Chaparral” (1958) and embarking on TV with guest spots in such shows as “The United States Steel Hour” and the premiere episode of the CBS series “The Defenders,” Hackman delivered his first breakthrough in 1961 when he appeared with the improvisational troupe The Premise in Greenwich Village, helmed by Morrison. Hackman further established his status as a stage actor when he debuted on Broadway with Irwin Shaw’s “Children at Their Games,” in which his bright performance netted a 1963 Clarence Derwent for Most Promising Newcomer. A year later, he won lustrous reviews as the young suitor in a Broadway production of “Any Wednesday,” opposite Sandy Dennis.
While enjoying success on stage, Hackman managed to get roles on screen. He appeared on film for the first time with the tiny role of a cop in Mad Dog Coll (1961) and appeared on the made-for TV movie Ride with Terror (1963). Hackman’s good portrayal in a 1964 Broadway play landed him a first major film role as Norman in Lilith (1964), starring Warren Beatty. He went on to pick up roles in films like Hawaii (1966), First to Fight (1967) and A Covenant with Death (1967), but it was the Warren Beatty-directed Bonnie And Clyde (1967) that delivered the actor’s first on screen breakthrough. Playing the brother of Clyde Buck Barrow, Hackman received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He was again nominated for the award for the 1970 film I Never Sang For My Father, wherein he was cast as Melvyn Douglas’ distant son Gene Garrison.
In 1971, Hackman was launched to stardom after being recruited to play the starring role of edgy, tough-as-nails cop Popeye Doyle in the hit thriller The French Connection (1971). Due to his spectacular performance, Hackman was honored with a 1971 Academy Award, in addition to a Golden Globe, a New York Film Critics Circle, a NATO and a British Film Academy for Best Actor. Hackman had another triumph on his hands when he netted a 1972 British Film Academy for his bright turn as Rev. Frank Scott in The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
Hackman starred with Lee Marvin in Prime Cut (1972) and Al Pacino in Scarecrow (1973), before giving an entertaining cameo as the blind hermit in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974). In 1974, he charmed many with the leading role of observation expert Harry Caul in the paranoia classic The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. As a result, he took home a 1974 National Board of Review, as well as earned BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. The following year saw the actor receive nominations at BAFTA and Golden Globe after reprising the Oscar-winning role of Popeye Doyle for the sequel French Connection II (1975). Hackman was also remarkable as Harry Moseby in the critical favorite Night Moves (1975, directed by Arthur Penn), in which he was nominated for Best Actor at BAFTA and as Sam Clayton in the western saga Bite the Bullet (1975).
Unfortunately, his next efforts, Lucky Lady (1975), The Domino Principle (1977) and March or Die (1977), met with critical and commercial disaster. In 1977, he “retired” from acting for four years. In 1978, Hackman displayed his versatility by taking the role of dastardly supervillain Lex Luthor in the blockbuster smash hit Superman, a role that brought the actor a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He returned to the Superman franchise for its 1980 installment Superman II. In 1981, Hackman made a wrong choice when he accepted a comic lead alongside Barbra Streisand in All Night Long.
Hackman played the supporting role of Peter Van Wherry in Beatty’s epic Reds (1981). Working with new energy, he offered such magnificent performances as news anchorman Alex Grazier in Under Fire (1983, earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Role), Harry MacKenzie in Twice in a Lifetime (1985, was nominated for Best Actor at the 1986 Golden Globe Awards), inspiring high-school basketball coach Norman Dale in Hoosiers (1986) and unfaithful Defense Secretary David Brice in No Way Out (1987). After the unsatisfactory Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Hackman was seen in Bat*21, Woody Allen’s Another Woman (with Gena Rowlands), Split Decisions and Full Moon in Blue Water (all in 1988).
Still in 1988, Hackman again attracted attention for his outstanding portrayal of FBI Agent Rupert Anderson, who investigates the murders of civil rights workers, in the controversial drama Mississippi Burning. With Alan Parker directing at the helm, the actor nabbed a National Board of Review and a Berlin Film Festival for Best Actor. He also received nominations for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Hackman ended the decade by playing the lead of a witness in the thriller The Package (1989).
In the early 1990s, Hackman suffered from a near-heart attack and had angioplasty surgery, which provoked a two-year hiatus from acting. He was then paired with Dan Aykroyd in Loose Cannons (1990), had a cameo as a movie director in Mike Nichols’ Postcards from the Edge (1990), starred as Robert Caulfield in the action Narrow Margin (1990) and starred with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as father-daughter lawyers on opposite sides in Class Action (1991).
After Company Business (1991), Hackman’s next big breakthrough arrived when director/actor Clint Eastwood hired the actor to play villainous, sadistic sheriff Little Bill Daggett in the western-drama Unforgiven (1992). Due to his eye-catching performance, Hackman was handed numerous awards like an Oscar, a Los Angeles Film Critics Circle, a New York Film Critics Circle, a Golden Globe, a Boston Film Critics Society, a British Academy and a National Society of Film Critics for Best Supporting Actor. Also in 1992, Hackman returned to his theatrical roots by starring opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Glenn Close in a Broadway play of “Death and the Maiden.”
In 1993, Hackman provided an excellent performance as Tom Cruise’s dishonorable mentor in the big-screen adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm. Hackman was next handed a Western Heritage for his good work in the history film Geronimo: An American Legend (1993). 1994-1998 saw roles in movies like Wyatt Earp (1994), The Quick and the Dead (1995), Crimson Tide (1995, opposite Denzel Washington), the comedy Get Shorty (1995), Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage (1996), Extreme Measures (1996), The Chamber (1996, as Chris O’Donnell’s white supremacist grandfather), Absolute Power (1997), Twilight (1998, opposite Susan Sarandon and Paul Newman) and Enemy of the State (1998, with Will Smith). Hackman also provided his voice for General Mandible in the animated film Antz (1998). Additionally, Hackman got his first credit as a novelist with the release of “Wake of the Perdido Star,” a book he co-wrote with Daniel Lenihan.
Entering the new millennium, Hackman kept busy with his work in the cinematic industry. He was teamed with Morgan Freeman in the thriller Under Suspicion (2000), played football coach Jimmy McGinty in The Replacements (2000), made a cameo in The Mexican (2001), was featured as William B. Tensy in the comedy Heartbreakers (2001), was cast as Joe Moore in David Mamet’s Heist (2001) and appeared alongside Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines (2001).
In 2001, Hackman once more turned heads of film critics with his dazzling role as the rascally patriarch of a dysfunctional family of geniuses in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), for which he picked up a Golden Globe, a National Society of Film Critics, a Chicago Film Critics Association and an AFI for Best Actor. The comedy-drama film also starred Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson.
After two years disappearing from the wide-screen, Hackman returned in the costarring role, opposite John Cusack and Rachel Weisz, in the drama-thriller Runaway Jury (2003). A year later, Hackman starred in the comedy Welcome to Mooseport (2004).