Nationality: American. Born: Rodney Stephen Steiger in Westhampton, Long Island, New York, 14 April 1925. Education: Attended public schools in Irvington, Bloomfield, and Newark, New Jersey; studied acting at the New School for Social Research, New York, two years. Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1941–45. Family: Married 1) the actress Sally Gracie, 1952 (divorced 1958); 2) the actress Claire Bloom, 1959 (divorced 1969), daughter: Anna Justine; 3) Sherry Nelson, 1973 (divorced 1979); 4) Paula Ellis, 1986 (divorced 1997). Career: 1947—actor on television, and studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop and the Actors Studio, New York; stage debut in The Trial of Mary Dugan ; 1951—Broadway debut in Night Music ; film debut in Teresa ; 1959—on Broadway in Rashomon ; 1977—in TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth , Hollywood Wives , 1985, Passion and Paradise , 1989, Sinatra , 1992, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City , 1994, and Tom Clancy's Op Center , 1995. Awards: Best Actor, Berlin Festival, Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for The Pawnbroker , 1965; Best Actor Academy Award, Best Actor, New York Film Critics, and Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for In the Heat of the Night , 1967. Agent: Gold/Marshak & Associates, 3500 West Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA 91505–5320, U.S.A.
Teresa (Zinnemann) (as Frank)
On the Waterfront (Kazan) (as Charley Malloy)
The Big Knife (Aldrich) (as Stanley Hoff); The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell ( One-Man Mutiny ) (Preminger) (as Maj. Allan Gullion); Oklahoma! (Zinnemann) (as Judd Fry)
Jubal (Daves) (as Pinky); The Harder They Fall (Robson) (as Nick Benko); Back from Eternity (Zinnemann) (as Vasquez)
Run of the Arrow (Fuller) (as O'Meara); Across the Bridge (Annakin) (as Carl Schaffner); The Unholy Wife (Farrow) (as Paul Hochen)
Cry Terror (Andrew L. Stone) (as Paul Hoplin)
Al Capone (Wilson) (title role)
Seven Thieves (Hathaway) (as Paul)
The Mark (Guy Green) (as Dr. Edmund McNally); The World in My Pocket ( On Friday at Eleven ; Vendredi 13 Heures ) (Rakoff) (as Frank Morgan)
Convicts Four (Kaufman) (as Tiptoes); The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, Wicki, and Oswald) (as destroyer commander); Thirteen West Street (Leacock) (as Det. Sgt. Koleski)
La mani sulla citta ( Hands over the City ) (Rosi)
Gli indifferenti ( A Time of Indifference ) (Maselli) (as Leo)
The Loved One (Richardson) (as Mr. Joyboy); E venne un uomo ( And There Came a Man ; A Man Named John ) (Olmi) (as the intermediary); The Pawnbroker (Lumet) (as Sol Nazerman); Doctor Zhivago (Lean) (as Komarovsky)
In the Heat of the Night (Jewison) (as Bill Gillespie); La ragazza e il generale ( The Girl and the General ) (Campanile) (as the general)
The Sergeant (Flynn) (as Sgt. Albert Callan); No Way to Treat a Lady (Smight) (as Christopher Gill)
The Illustrated Man (Smight) (as Carl); Three into Two Won't Go (Hall) (as Steve Howard)
Waterloo (Bondarchuk) (as Napoleon)
Happy Birthday, Wanda June (Robson) (as Harold Ryan)
Giù la testa ( Duck, You Sucker! ; A Fistful of Dynamite ) (Leone) (as Juan Miranda)
The Lolly-Madonna War ( Lolly Madonna XXX ) (Sarafian) (as Laban Feather); A proposito Lucky Luciano ( Re: Lucky Luciano ; Lucky Luciano ) (Rosi) (as Gene Giannini)
Mussolini: ultimo atto ( The Last Four Days ; Last Days of Mussolini ) (Lizzani) (title role)
Hennessy (Sharp) (title role); Les Innocents aux mains sales ( Dirty Hands ) (Chabrol) (as Louis)
W. C. Fields and Me (Hiller) (as W. C. Fields)
F.I.S.T. (Jewison) (as Sen. Madison)
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg) (as Father Delaney); Love and Bullets (Rosenberg) (as Joe Bomposa); Breakthrough ( Sargent Steiner ) (McLagen) (as Gen. Webster)
The Lucky Star (Fischer) (as Col. Gluck); Klondike Fever ( Jack London's Klondike Fever ) (Carter) (as Soapy Smith)
Lion of the Desert ( Omar Mukhtar ) (Akkad—produced in 1979) (as Mussolini); Cattle Annie and Little Britches (Johnson) (as Tilghman)
The Magic Mountain (Geissendörfer); The Chosen (Kagan) (as Reb Saunders)
Cook and Peary: The Race to the North Pole (Day—for TV)
The Naked Face (Forbes) (as Lt. McGreavey); The Glory Boys (Ferguson—for TV)
Sword of Gideon (Anderson—for TV)
Catch the Heat ( Feel the Heat ) (Silberg) (as Jason Hannibal); The Kindred (Obrow) (as Dr. Philip Lloyd)
American Gothic (Hough) (as Pa); Desperado: Avalanche at Devil's Ridge (Compton—for TV) (as Silas Slaten)
Try This One for Size (Hamilton); The January Man (O'Connor) (as Mayor Eamon Flynn); That Summer of White Roses (Grlic) (as Martin); The Exiles (Kaplan—doc) (as himself); Passion in Paradise (Hart—for TV) (as Sir Harry Oakes)
The Ballad of the Sad Café (Callow) (as the Reverend Willin); In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas ( Midnight Murders ) (Lowry—for TV) (as Gordon Kahl); Men of Respect (Reilly) (as Charlie D'Amico)
The Player (Altman) (as himself); Guilty as Charged (Irvin) (as Ben Kallin); Lincoln (Kunhardt—doc for TV) (as voice of Gen. Grant)
The Neighbor (Gibbons) (as Myron Hatch); Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (as voice)
The Last Tattoo (John Reid) (as Major Gen. Frank); The Specialist (Llosa) (as Joe Leon); Black Water ( Tennessee Nights ) (Gessner) (as Judge Prescott); Seven Sundays (Tacchella) (as Benjamin)
Columbo: Strange Bedfellows (for TV) (as Vincenzo Fortelli); In Pursuit of Honor (Olin—for TV) (as Col. Owen Stuart); Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story (Paul Shapiro—for TV) (as Anthony Comstock)
Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton) (as Gen. Decker)
The Real Thing (Merendino) (as Victor); The Kid (Hamilton) (as Harry Sloan); Animals (Di Jiacomo); Shiloh (Rosenbloom) (as Doc Wallace); Truth or Consequences, N.M. (Kiefer Sutherland) (as Tony Vago); Incognito (Badham) (as Milton A. Donovan)
Modern Vampyres (Elfman) (as Dr. Frederick Van Helsing); Body and Soul (as Johnny Ticotin); Legacy (T.J. Scott)
Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season (Tung) (as Doc Wallace); The Last Producer (Reynolds); The Hurricane (Jewison); End of Days (Hyams) (as Father Kovak); Crazy in Alabama (Banderas) (as Judge Mead)
The Last Producer (Burt Reynolds)
"The Year of the Steigers," interview in Cinema (Beverly Hills), March 1966.
"Cinema Interviews Steiger," in Cinema (Cambridge) December 1968.
"Interview: Rod Steiger," in Playboy (Chicago), July 1969.
"Schauspieler II: Rod Steiger's Method-Cowboy," interview with Delmer Daves in Filmkritik (Munich), January 1975.
Interview in Skoop (Amsterdam), December 1983-January 1984.
Current Biography 1965 , New York, 1965.
Hall, D. J., "Method Master," in Films and Filming (London), December 1970.
Ward, R., "Hollywood's Last Angry Man," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January-February 1982.
Hutchinson, T., "Steiger the Survivor," in Film Monthly (Berkhamsted, England), September 1992.
Biodrowski, S., "Rod Steiger," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 28, no. 7, 1997.
* * *
In reexamining Steiger's riveting tour de force as tortured Sol Nazerman in The Pawnbroker , one searches for signs of the overstatement and histrionic effluvia that have marred much of Steiger's poststardom work. Catching him as a neo-Nazi posing as a garment district merchant on a Commish television movie or dropping one's jaw at his Hispanic crime king in The Specialist , one is embarrassed by a personification of Method Acting's worst excesses. Suiting up with various nationalities that never fit comfortably over his stolid Americaness, stocky Steiger now seems like a poor country cousin to world traveler Anthony Quinn, only Quinn wisely uses the same accent no matter what country's spirit he is suppose to be embodying. Steiger tries to sound different but registers as a party bore doing imitations.
Creating a sensation with that semi-improvised taxicab scene from On the Waterfront , Steiger fired audiences' imaginations whenever he was linked with forthright directors who brooked no nonsense. Although he won an Oscar for the easier role as a bigoted good old boy who sees the light of brotherhood in In the Heat of the Night , his repressed basket case in The Pawnbroker was a more daring piece of work. Since these halcyon years (which also brought forth a scene-stealing villain lending sharp menace to the soft-focus Doctor Zhivago ), Steiger has made curious choices and slipped back into bad habits visible from his pre-stardom days. Huffing and puffing to blow down Jack Palance's career in The Big Knife , his amalgam of Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn is such a screaming meemie no one could take him seriously, and this is the kind of barnstorming acting that follows his Oscar with few exceptions. Throughout his career, for every occasion of welcome restraint ( Back from Eternity ), there are distracting performances in major studio events such as the homespun Oklahoma! in which Steiger is incongruously threatening in a musical that has no ambition to be a rural Othello .
It may be instructive that his applauded work in In the Heat of the Night is suffused with humor, and that Steiger is splendid as Mr. Joyboy in the hit-and-miss screen version of The Loved One and astounding as a one-man screen actor's guild in a film in which he revels in getups while murderously demonstrating the fine art of No Way to Treat a Lady . Unfortunately, the blustery versatility so compatible with comedy becomes unbearable when applied with ten times the force to prestige dramas. Recently, and best when sampled in small doses, Steiger is both scary and amusing in the direct-to-video Black Water as a classical music-loving judge who releases a prisoner from his hellhole on a whim thanks to the accused's knowledge of the legal dictator's favorite subject. But more often, Steiger has miscast his own eccentricity. In W. C. Fields and Me , he misses the point by delivering an accurate caricature but giving no indication of what made that idiosyncratic comic funny.
Dismissing Steiger as a pompous ham is unfair to a talented actor whose erraticness may be unmatched in movie history. For every incisive portrait such as his white supremacist in television's Midnight Murders , there are examples of his scenery-chewing egregiousness such as his Southern officer in In Pursuit of Honor in which Steiger buttonholes General MacArthur less as a dissenting voice against military policy than as a disgruntled upstager determined to milk his one flashy scene for all it is worth. Considering the critical backlash against Steiger yet refusing to abandon his propensity to sweat and strain on camera, he has become something of a Method Acting joke. If he could jettison that stop-and-start line delivery, the multilingual shtick, and the breast-beating, perhaps firm directors will still steer him toward the basics of Strasberg's acting philosophy—to determine a character's inner core through sense memory, not to flagellate your emotions in order to stop-the-movie-because-you-want-to-get-off-on-yourself.