In the Heat of the Night
“I wanted to win it. It's important. It gives you greater latitude in the business and that means bigger and better parts. And I need that. I'm only 42. Paul Newman is 43, Marlon Brando is 43, but I look like their father.” Rod Steiger (on winning the Best Actor Oscar for “In the Heat of the Night”)
American actor Rod Steiger, born in 1925, died in 2002, became famous in the 1960s thanks to his Academy Award winning starring turn as Police Chief Bill Gillespie on Norman Jewison's “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), opposite Sidney Poitier. The role also brought him a Golden Globe Award, a Golden Laurel Award, a BAFTA Award, a Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award and a Sant Jordi Award. Steiger received his first Oscar nomination after playing Marlon Brando's brother in Elia Kazan's “On the Waterfront” (1954) and his second nomination for his portrayal of a Holocaust survivor in Sidney Lumet's “The Pawnbroker” (1964), from which he also netted a Golden Globe nomination, a Silver Berlin Bear, a Golden Laurel (3rd place) Award and a BAFTA Film Award. On the small screen, Steiger collected two Emmy nominations for “Playhouse 90” (1958) and “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre” (1964). On April 10, 1997, Steiger was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his motion picture work. Other honors he has received include Stockholm Film Festival's 1996 Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Satellite Awards' Mary Pickford Award, Montréal World Film Festival's 1997 Career Exellence Award for exceptional contribution to the cinematographic art, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival's 1998 Life Achievement Award, Palm Beach International Film Festival's 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award, Cinequest San Jose Film Festival's 1999 Maverick Tribute Award, Method Fest's 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award, Marco Island Film Festival's 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award and Atlantic City Film Festival's 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Steiger had been married five times in his lifetime. He had two children: daughter Anna Steiger, an opera singer (mother: Claire Bloom) and son Michael Winston Steiger (mother: Paula Ellis). He earned the Gift of Life Award after indefatigably speaking out against the social stigma against mental disease, from which he suffered for numerous years.
Childhood and Family:
Rod Steiger was born Rodney Stephen Steiger on April 14, 1925, in Westhampton, New York, to Lorraine Driver and Frederick Steiger. He never knew his father, a vaudevillian who had become part of a traveling song and dance team with Rod's mother, and after his parents divorced, Rod went on to live with his alcoholic mother in Newark, New Jersey. He dropped out of Westside High school at age 16 and then joined the United States Navy, where he served on a destroyer in the World War II South Pacific. After his discharge in 1945, Rod returned to New Jersey and worked at Veterans Administration and joined a civil service theater group before studying drama full time under Stella Adler at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York.
In 1952, Rod married actress Sally Gracie, but they later divorced in in January 1959. Later on September 20, 1959, he married British film and stage actress Claire Bloom. The couple welcomed a daughter, Anna Steiger, on February 13, 1960, but divorced later on June 10, 1969, after having been together for nearly a decade. Rod married third wife Sherry Nelson from April 21, 1973 until January 22, 1980, while his fourth marriage to Paula Ellis lasted for 11 years (from February 1986 to October 1997). He and Paula Ellis shared a son, Michael Winston Steiger (born on February 8, 1993). Rod married fifth and last wife actress Joan Benedict on October 10, 2000. They remained together until his death.
Rod passed away on July 9, 2002 in Los Angeles, from pneumonia and complications from surgery for a gall bladder tumor. He is buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
Rod Steiger kicked off his acting career in theatre and on live television in early 1950s. He made his Broadway debut in “Night Music” in 1951, the same year he had his first film role as Frank in the Academy Award nominating drama “Teresa,” which was directed by Fred Zinnemann and written by Stewart Stern. In 1953, an episode of “The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse ” jump started his career. The episode was the story of “Marty,”which was written by Paddy Chayefsky and on which Steiger played the lonesome title character. The role helped him land a part in the Elia Kazan multiple Oscar winning drama “On the Waterfront” (1954). Playing Marlon Brando's brother, Charley Malloy, Steiger's performance in the film was critically acclaimed, and he was nominated for a 1955 Oscar in the category of Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Following this, Steiger fully made the transition to film.
1955 was Steiger work in three films. He played Jud Fry in the film adaptation of the 1943 musical play, “Oklahoma!,” opposite Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, Stanley Shriner Hoff in Robert Aldrich's “The Big Knife,” with Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey and Jean Hagen, and Maj. Allan Guillion in Otto Preminger's “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell,” starring Gary Cooper. In the following year, Steiger played his first leading role in features in “The Harder They Fall,” opposite Humphrey Bogart. There he played a corrupt boxing promoter named Nick Benko. The same year, he also co-starred with Glenn Ford and Ernest Borgnine in the Western based on novel film “Jubal,” which was directed and co-written by Delmer Daves, and was cast as repentant political assassin Vasquel on the remake “Back from Eternity,” directed by John Farrow.
However, Steiger did not earn first top billing until he was cast as Confederate veteran O'Meara in the Western film “Run of the Arrow” (1957), directed and written by Samuel Fuller. Also in 1957, he starred with Diana Dors in John Farrow's “The Unholy Wife” and starred as Carl Schaffner in the British movie “Across the Bridge,” his first film produced outside the US. After starring with James Mason and Inger Stevens in the thriller film “Cry Terror” (1958), where he was cast as a psychopath named Paul Hoplin, he played the title role on “Al Capone” (1959), a factual biography of gang lord Al Capone following his rise and fall in Chicago gangdom during the Prohibition era. He was nominated for a Golden Laurel for Top Male Dramatic Performance for his performance in “Al Capone.” Meanwhile, on television, Steiger offered a notable performance as Sheriff Harvey Denton in an episode of “Playhouse 90” called “A Town Has Turned to Dust” (1958) and received a 1959 Emmy nomination in the category of Best Single Performance by an Actor for the role.
In early 1960s, Steiger could be seen starring in such films as Henry Hathaway's “Seven Thieves” (1960, with Edward G. Robinson), the German film “The World in My Pocket” (1961), the low key British drama “The Mark” (1961, with Maria Schell and Stuart Whitman), “13 West Street” (1962, opposite Alan Ladd and Michael Callan), Millard Kaufman's “Convicts 4” (1962) and the war film “The Longest Day” (1962, with John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Curd Jürgens, Richard Burton and Peter Lawford). In 1962, he had a leading role on Orson Welles' unusual stage adaptation of “Moby Dick.”
Steiger returned to films after his 1962 theater hiatus by playing a crooked politico in the Italian film “Le Mani Sulla Città” (“Hands Over the City,” 1963), directed by Francesco Rosi. He followed it up with an appearance in another Italian film, “Gli indifferenti” (“Time of Indifference”, 1964), directed by Francesco Maselli, before assuming the lead role of Sol Nazerman, a Holocaust survivor running a Harlem pawnshop, on the 1964 drama film “The Pawnbroker,” which was adapted from Edward Lewis Wallant's novel of the same name. Under the direction of Sidney Lumet, the actor was nominated for a 1966 Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama, in addition to winning the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actor at the 1964 Berlin International Film Festival, a Golden Laurel (3rd place) for Dramatic Performance, Male and a 1967 BAFTA Film Award for Best Foreign Actor. Still in 1964, Steiger got his next Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Mike Kirsch in an episode of “ Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre” called “ A Slow Fade to Black.”
Steiger appeared with Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters and Anjanette Comer in Tony Richardson's comedy, “The Loved One” (1965), starred in Italian biopic “E venne un uomo” (1965), which was directed by Ermanno Olmi, and portrayed Komarovsky in the Academy Award winning drama “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), directed by David Lean. The actor, however, did not enjoy a huge success until two years later when he was cast as Police Chief Bill Gillespie on the mystery film “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), which was based on the John Ball 1965 novel of the same name. Directed by Norman Jewison, he won both an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama for the role, in addition to a Golden Laurel for Male Dramatic Performance, a BAFTA Film for Best Foreign Actor, a Kansas City Film Critics Circle for Best Actor, a National Society of Film Critics for Best Actor, a New York Film Critics Circle for Best Actor, and a Sant Jordi for Best Performance in a Foreign Film (Mejor Interpretación en Película Extranjera). The film grossed over $27.3 million at the box office against a budget of $2 million.
Also in 1967, Steiger starred in the anti war Italian comedy film “La Ragazza e il Generale” (“ The Girl and the General”), opposite Virna Lisi and Umberto Orsini. He continued to star in such films as “No Way to Treat a Lady” (1968, with Lee Remick, George Segal and Eileen Heckart), John Flynn's “The Sergeant” (1968), from which he netted a 1969 David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actor, Jack Smight's “The Illustrated Man” (1969) and the Peter Hall directed drama “Three Into Two Won't Go” (1969), opposite then wife Claire Bloom. The following decade saw roles in such films as “Waterloo” (1970), “Duck, You Sucker” (1971), “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” (1971), “Lolly-Madonna XXX” (1973), “Gli eroi” (1973), “ Lucky Luciano” (1973), “The Last 4 Days” (1974), “Dirty Hands” (1975), “Hennessy” (1975), “W.C. Fields and Me” (1976), “F.I.S.T” (1978), “Love and Bullets” (1979), “Breakthrough” (1979), “Portrait of a Hitman” (1979) and “The Amityville Horror” (1979). In 1977, after many years of absence, he revisited the small screen by playing Pontius Pilate in his first TV miniseries, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Opening the 1980s, Steiger co-starred with Jeff East in the Canadian adventure film “Klondike Fever” (1980), directed by Peter Carter, and was nominated for a Genie in the category of Best Performance by a Foreign Actor for his work. He received another Genie nomination for his portrayal of Colonel Gluck on “The Lucky Star” (also 1980), directed by Max Fischer. Steiger next appeared in Lamont Johnson's film “Cattle Annie and Little Britches” (1981, opposite Burt Lancaster and John Savage), the biopic“Lion of the Desert” (1981, as Benito Mussolini), the story of Omar Mukhtar, an Arab Muslim rebel who fought against the Italian conquest of Libya in WWI, the Jeremy Kagan helmed “The Chosen” (1981), where he picked up the Best Actor Award at the Montréal World Film Festival for his performance as Reb Saunders, and “Der Zauberberg” (1982). In 1983, he played the role of explorer Robert E Peary in his first TV film debut, “Cook & Peary: The Race to the Pole,” opposite Richard Chamberlain as Frederick Cook. In 1984, Steiger starred with Roger Moore and Elliott Gould in the film adaptation of Sidney Sheldon's “The Naked Face,” which was directed and scripted by Bryan Forbes. He then worked in TV programs such as the 1984 TV series “The Glory Boys” (as Professor David Sokarev), the 1985 TV miniseries “ Hollywood Wives” and the TV films “Sword of Gideon” (1986), “ Desperado: Avalanche at Devil's Ridge” (1988) and “ Passion and Paradise” (1989). He also worked in films such as “The Kindred” (1987), “Catch the Heat” (1987), “American Gothic” (1988), “The January Man” (1989), “Djavolji raj” (1989), “Tennessee Waltz” (1989) and “Try This One for Size” (1989).
In the 1990s, Steiger kept on busy working in a number of films, such as “Men of Respect” (1990), a contemporary retelling of “Macbeth” set in the South Bronx, “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe” (1991), “Guilty as Charged” (1991), “Kölcsönkapott idö” (1993), “The Neighbor” (1993), “The Last Tattoo” (1994), “Seven Sundays” (1994), “Captain Nuke and the Bomber Boys” (1995), “The Real Thing” (1996), “Carpool” (1996), “Shiloh” (1996), “Mars Attacks!” (1996), “The Kid” (1997), “Truth or Consequences, N.M.” (1997), “Incognito” (1997), “The Snatching of Bookie Bob” (1998), “Alexandria Hotel” (1998), “Animals with the Tollkeeper” (1998), “Legacy” (1998), “Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season” (1999), “Crazy in Alabama” (1999), “The Hurricane” (1999) and Peter Hyam's “End of Days” (1999, opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollak, Robin Tunney). He played the supporting role of Joe Leon on the action movie “The Specialist” (1994), opposite Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods and Eric Roberts. The role brought him a Razzie nomination forWorst Supporting Actor. Steiger also starred in many TV films during this period, including “In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas” (1991), “ The Final Contract” (1992), “Sinatra “ (1992, as Salvatore 'Sam' 'Momo' Giancana), “ Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story” (1995), from which he received a Gemini nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series, “In Pursuit of Honor “ (1995), “Dalva” (1996) and “Modern Vampires” (1998, as Dr. Frederick Van Helsing, as well as guest starred in such television series as “Columbo” (1995), ““ “The Commish” (1996), “ EZ Streets” (1996) and “ The Simpsons” (1998, as the voice of Captain Tenille).
Entering the new millennium, Steiger played the role of Ahab in the made for TV film “Animated Epics: Moby Dick (2000), Sheri Ganse in “The Last Producer” (2000), a drama directed by and starring Burt Reynolds, Woodrow McCammon in the drama/thriller movie “Cypress Edge” (2000), which was directed and written by Serge Rodnunsky, and Johnny Ticotin in the Sam Henry Kass helmed film “Body and Soul” (2000). In the following he could be seen in such films as “Lightmaker,” “The Flying Dutchman” (2001, TV), “A Month of Sundays” (2001), from which he won New York International Independent Film & Video Festival's Feature Film Award for Best Actor, and “The Hollywood Sign” (2001). Before his death, the actor played the role of Nick in Mars Callahan's drama/thriller movie, “Poolhall Junkies” (2002).
Atlantic City Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award Posthumously, 2002
Marco Island Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002
Method Fest: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002
New York International Independent Film & Video Festival: Feature Film Award, Best Actor, “A Month of Sundays,” 2001
Cinequest San Jose Film Festival: Maverick Tribute Award, 1999
Palm Beach International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, Acting, 1999
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Life Achievement Award, 1998
Montréal World Film Festival: Career Exellence Award, For exceptional contribution to the cinematographic art, 1997
Satellite: Mary Pickford Award, 1997
Stockholm Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996
Montréal World Film Festival: Best Actor, “The Chosen,” 1981
David di Donatello: David, Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero), “The Sergeant,” 1969
Sant Jordi: Best Performance in a Foreign Film (Mejor Interpretación en Película Extranjera), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), “The Loved One” (1965) and “No Way to Treat a Lady” (1968), 1969
Oscar: Best Actor in a Leading Role, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1968
BAFTA: Film Award, Best Foreign Actor, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1968
Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1968
Kansas City Film Critics Circle (KCFCC): Best Actor, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1968
Golden Laurel: Male Dramatic Performance, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1968
National Society of Film Critics (NSFC): Best Actor, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1968
New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC): Best Actor, “In the Heat of the Night,” 1967
BAFTA: Film Award, Best Foreign Actor, “The Pawnbroker,” 1967
Berlin International Film Festival: Silver Berlin Bear, Best Actor, “The Pawnbroker,” 1964