Bruce Dern - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Bruce MacLeish Dern in Winnetka, Illinois, 4 June 1936. Education: Attended Choate Preparatory School, Connecticut, and New Trier Township High School, Winnetka; University of Pennsylvania; studied acting at the American Foundation of Dramatic Art, Philadelphia, and Actors Studio, New York. Family: Married 1) actress Diane Ladd (divorced), daughter: actress Laura Elizabeth; 2) Andrea Beckett, 1969. Career: 1958—bit part in stage play Shadow of a Gunman ; 1959—in Kazan's production of Sweet Bird of Youth ; 1960—film debut in Kazan's Wild River ; 1962–63—regular on TV series Stoney Burke . Awards: Best Supporting Actor Award, U.S. National Society of Film Critics, for Drive, He Said , 1971; Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actor, Berlin International Film Festival, 1983. Address: c/o K. J. Sparkman, P.O. Box 327, Troy, MT 59935, U.S.A.

Films as Actor:


Wild River (Kazan) (as Jack Roper)


The Crimebusters (Sagal—for TV)


Bedtime Story (Levy)


Marnie (Hitchcock) (as sailor); Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Aldrich) (as John Mayhew)


The Wild Angels (Corman) (as Loser/Joey Kerns)


The War Wagon (Kennedy) (as Hammond); The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Corman) (as John May); Waterhole Number Three (Graham) (as deputy); Will Penny (Gries) (as Rafe Quint); The Trip (Corman) (as John); Hang 'em High (Post) (as Miller)


Support Your Local Sheriff (Kennedy) (as Joe Danby); Psych-Out (Rush) (as Steve Davis)


Rebel Rousers (Cohen) (as "J. J."); Castle Keep (Pollack) (as Lt. Billy Byron Bix); Number One (Gries) (as Richie Fowler); They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Pollack) (as James)


Bloody Mama (Corman) (as Kevin Kirkman); Drive, He Said (Nicholson) (as Coach Bullion); The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (Lanza) (as Roger); Cycle Savages (Brame) (as Keeg)


The Cowboys (Rydell) (as Long Hair); Sam Hill: Who Killed the Mysterious Mr. Foster? (Cook—for TV); Silent Running (Trumbull) (as Freeman Lowell)


Thumb Tripping (Masters) (as Smitty); The King of Marvin Gardens (Rafelson) (as Jason Staebler)


The Laughing Policeman ( An Investigation of Murder ) (Rosenberg) (as Leo Larsen); The Great Gatsby (Clayton) (as Tom Buchanan); Smile (Ritchie) (as "Big Bob" Freelander)


Posse (Kirk Douglas) (as Jack Strawhorn)


Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (Winner) (as Grayson Potchuck); Family Plot (Hitchcock) (as Lumley); Folies Bourgeoises ( The Twist ) (Chabrol) (as writer)


Black Sunday (Frankenheimer) (as Lander)


Coming Home (Ashby) (as Capt. Bob Hyde); The Driver (Walter Hill) (as detective)


Middle Age Crazy (Trent) (as Bobby Lee)


Tattoo (Bob Brooks) (as Karl)


That Championship Season (Jason Miller) (as George Sitkowski); Harry Tracy (Graham) (title role)


Toughlove (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Rob Charters); On the Edge (Nilsson) (as Wes Holman)


Big Town (Bolt) (as Mr. Edwards); Roses Are for the Rich (Michael Miller—for TV); Uncle Tom's Cabin (Lathan)


1969 (Thompson) (as Cliff); World Gone Wild (Katzin) (as Ethan); The 'Burbs (Dante) (as Mark Rumsfield)


Trenchcoat in Paradise (Coolidge—for TV) (as John Hollander)


After Dark, My Sweet (Foley) (as Uncle Bud); The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson (Peerce—for TV) (as Scout Ed Higgins)


Into the Badlands (for TV) (as T. L. Barston); Carolina Skeletons (for TV) (as Junior Stoker)


Diggstown ( Midnight Sting ) (Ritchie) (as John Gillon)


It's Nothing Personal (Bradford May—for TV) (as Billy Archer)


Dead Man's Revenge (for TV) (as Payton McCay); Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight (Simoneau—for TV) (as George Putnam)


A Mother's Prayer (for TV) (as John Walker)


Down Periscope (David S. Ward) (as Admiral Yancy Graham); Mulholland Falls (Tamahori) (as The Chief); Last Man Standing (Hill) (as Sheriff Ed Galt)


Comfort, Texas (Ritchie—for TV); Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western (Morris for TV) (interviewee)


Perfect Prey (McCain—for TV) (as Capt. Swaggert); Small Soldiers (Dante) (voice of Link Static)


If . . . Dog . . . Rabbit (Matthew Modine) (as McGurdy); Hard Time: The Premonition (Cass, Sr.—for TV) (as Ray Earl Winston); The Haunting (de Bont) (as Mr. Dudley)


All the Pretty Horses (Thornton) (as Judge); The Glass House (Sackheim); Madison (Bindley) (as Harry Volpi)

Bruce Dern with Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby
Bruce Dern with Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby


By DERN: article—

"Bruce Dern," interview by J. Delson, in Take One (Montreal), July 1973.

"Bruce Dern: On-set Interview," interview with N.M. Stoop, in Films in Review , October 1980.

"Dern's Lost Drive-in," interview with Terry L. Dufoe, in Outré , vol. 9, 1997.

On DERN: articles—

Actors on Acting , edited by Joanmarie Kalter, 1979.

"Bruce Dern: On-Set Interview," by N. M. Stoop in Films in Review (New York), October 1980.

Crane, W., "Creative Conflict: Bruce Dern and the Making of Coming Home ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Winter 1982.

Singer, M., "That Dern Cat," in Movieline , July 1992.

Diamond, Jamie, "Bruce Dern's Career of Con Men and Killers," in New York Times , 23 August 1992.

* * *

Bruce Dern seems to have been around forever, but it is impossible to come up with a single film by which to center a portrait of a distinguished career. There were plenty of good roles in the career of this Roger Corman-school-trained actor, with the best still being the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's final tongue-in-cheek thriller, Family Plot . But with a brief moment in the Oscar sun (for a nomination for Coming Home ), Dern's time as a leading actor passed, although he continued to be steadily employed as a character actor.

Still Dern's career is dotted with memorable moments. He made his debut in Elia Kazan's Wild River , singled out for his portrait of a country hoodlum. His roles for Roger Corman in The Wild Angels , and for Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie will long be remembered by those lucky enough to have seen those films during their original theatrical screenings. But sadly these two films seemed to set a trend; Dern has never been able to harness himself out of the image of an unbalanced, frighteningly disturbed man. This is due in part to his high, midwestern twang (he hails from an upper-class suburb of Chicago), narrow, almost gaunt face, and wild, unruly curly hair.

But at one point in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s Dern seemed to become a public favorite as "Mr. Demented." He played a deranged dancer in Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? , and a wild-eyed basketball coach in Drive, He Said , directed by Jack Nicholson. This led to his finest roles in Bob Rafelson's The King of Marvin Gardens , Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot , and Michael Ritchie's Smile . In the latter, Dern proved his ability at comedy in the underrated send-up of American-style beauty pageants.

Through the 1980s Dern worked regularly, but in small parts, too often for secondary studios. In 1988, for instance, he appeared as a father in 1969 , a low-budget affair for Atlantic Films in which college classmates go through the times Dern was so much a part of—the late 1960s: dodging the draft, dropping out of school and society alike, splitting apart families. That year he took the lead in World Gone Wild , a low-budget film about a hippie survivor of the apocalypse who brings peace and love to those in a desert community that was blessed with the only water supply left in the world. Dern played the establishment figure who turns violent to repel the evildoers, led by a character played by teen idol Adam Ant. By the end of the twentieth century, roles were fewer and fewer and so sadly, younger fans only knew Bruce Dern as the father of actress Laura Dern.

—Douglas Gomery

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