Deadpan. Dry sense of humor. Obtuse. Passive-aggressive. Sharp-witted. He was all of these things. With Charles Grodin, you never quite knew if he was serious or kidding, or both. His expression and tone were the same, so you were not sure if it was put-on or he was offended about something. He brought this style to talk shows, interviews and many of his roles. He could say the craziest thing with a straight face and you had no idea how to receive it.
His appearances on talk shows gave him the opportunity to inject a bit of acting into his “real life” interviews. Instead of a friendly talk with Johnny Carson or David Letterman, he was surly and sometimes aggressive. “I invented a persona of somebody who was always unhappy about something,” Mr. Grodin told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. “It was a joke. Carson and Letterman knew it was a joke, but I don’t think the audience did.”
Grodin was a renaissance man. Reading his obit, I learned a lot about him, even though I was familiar with this career. Besides a fine film career, Grodin also worked on Broadway as an actor, a writer and a director. He hosted a cable talk show for a few years and wrote a newspaper column for about ten years. He also published several books. And he won an Emmy Award, as a writer. He even worked on the reality television series Candid Camera. Where did he find the time?
Grodin spent the 1960s as a young actor on Broadway, episodic television and the occasional film role. Here are some of the best Grodin film roles.
Catch-22 (1970) – Captain Aarfy Aardvark, a member of Mike Nichols’ nutty ensemble film cast of the Joseph Heller novel. Aardvark is an aloof, pipe-smoking secondary character in the film, who rapes and murders an Italian woman.
Capt. Aarfy Aardvark : I only raped her once.
Yossarian : You killed her!
Capt. Aarfy Aardvark : I had to after I raped her, so she couldn’t go around saying bad things about me.
Yossarian : Are you crazy? You killed her! You threw her out the window, she’s laying out there in the street!
Capt. Aarfy Aardvark : She shouldn’t be out there, it’s past curfew.
Yossarian : Why did you have to rape her? Why didn’t you just buy a woman off the street?
Capt. Aarfy Aardvark : Are you kidding? I never paid for it in my life.
The Heartbreak Kid (1972) – This film, written by Neil Simon and directed by Elaine May, put Grodin on the map. This was a starring role for Grodin, the story of a newlywed who falls for another woman on his honeymoon. It was easy to see that Grodin would not be your typical leading man, there was something quirky and unique in his persona.
Heaven Can Wait (1978) – Grodin is the executive assistant to rich industrialist who is about to be murdered (by his wife and the Grodin’s character). Warren Beatty (star, co-writer, co-director) takes over the body of the industrialist who wants to use his body to lead the L.A. Rams to the Super Bowl. A remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Grodin character is in love with the industrialist’s trophy wife (Dyan Cannon) and has fun as the heavy. One of his best dry, deadpan roles.
Real Life (1979) – Grodin stars as the head of an average American family who will be featured in a documentary, a year in the life of the family. Written, directed and co-starring Albert Brooks, it is the story of this family’s life being manipulated by the filmmaker. Grodin is befuddled and put-upon husband/father/veterinarian who’s life is turned inside out.
The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1978) – A television movie, based on the writings of humorist Erma Bombeck, and co-starring Carol Burnett. Life in the suburbs is not always idyllic or what you bargain for.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981) – Falling in love with Miss Piggy. Grodin plays a jewel thief in London out to steal his sister’s jewelry. What you would expect in a fun, musical film with the Muppets. Another delicious bad-guy role for Grodin.
Seems Like Old Times (1980) – Grodin (Ira) plays the current husband of the Goldie Hawn character, who is the Los Angeles District Attorney. Chevy Chase (Nick) shows up as the ex-husband of the Hawn character (Glenda), who is on the run from the law, forced to participate in a bank robbery. Nick needs Glenda’s help to clear his name. A 1980s version of a 1930s screwball comedy. Grodin has his moments as the exasperated husband. Clever dialogue, the film was written by Neil Simon and directed by Jay Sandrich (Mary Tyler Moore Show).
The Lonely Guy (1984) – This is really Steve Martin’s film, but Grodin has a big part as the other “lonely guy” in the film.
Midnight Run (1988) – Grodin is the Duke, an accountant of a crime boss who embezzled millions of dollars. Jack (Robert De Niro) is the bounty hunter hired to bring the Duke back to L.A. It proves very difficult for Jack to get the wily Duke back to L.A. when a rival bounty hunter and the crime boss are also on the trail of the Duke. This was a very successful film and recognized as one of Grodin’s best:
Taking Care of Business (1990) – Grodin is Spencer, a businessman whose life revolves around his Filofax. It gets lost, but found by escaped thief Jimmy (Jim Belushi), who assumes Spencer’s identity. Spencer’s life goes into the crapper without his prize Filofax, while Jimmy is prospering.
Beethoven (1992) – Grodin played George, the head of the family in two very successful films about the dog, Beethoven. At first, George does not like the dog, even when is good for the family, but comes around in the end after rescuing Beethoven from an evil veterinarian.
Dave (1993) – Grodin plays the best friend of Dave, who looks like the President and sometimes works as an impersonator. Dave becomes the stand-in president and asks the Grodin character, Murray the accountant, to help him find money in the federal budget for a project. Murray is suspicious and tries to convince Dave to get out while he can.
Hearts and Souls (1993) – Grodin plays one of the guardian angels from Thomas’ past. In life, he and the other guardian angels have unfinished business and can’t get into heaven. Thomas helps each one, while they help him commit to his girlfriend. Grodin’s character never had the courage to follow his dream and sing publicly.