Classic Movies · Movies · Stuff You Should Know · Television

R.I.P. Donald E. Westlake and Bernie Hamilton

2004 Writers Guild of America, East Awards - Arrivals

In recent comments, both Scott C. and Erica have pointed out that judging from the number of good people going to their greater reward of late, it would appear Death has no plans at present to take a holiday. The Grim Reaper’s even working overtime on New Year’s with the news of mystery novelist/screenwriter Donald E. Westlake’s passing at the age of 75.

Since I’ll plead guilty to the charge of not reading as much as I should, I’ll confess my only familiarity with Westlake’s prolific output lies in the screenplays he wrote and the films based on his books. Among his works in the movies: Cops and Robbers (1973; Westlake wrote the screenplay based on his novel), Slayground (1983, screenplay written under his nom de plume, Richard Stark), The Stepfather (1987), Why Me? (1990) and The Grifters (1990)—which earned him an Oscar nom for his adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel. In addition, classic (and not so classic) movies were adapted from his novels: The Busy Body (1967), Point Blank (1967), The Hot Rock (1972), The Outfit (1973) and Bank Shot (1974), to name a few of the better-known.

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The cast of The Grifters (1990); Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, and Annette Bening. Donald E. Westlake nabbed an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel.

Vince KeenanBill Crider and Craig Zablo have all jotted down personal reminisces about Westlake and his work—I encourage you to give them a read.

Bernie Hamilton, a talented character actor whose film roles include appearances in Carmen Jones (1954) and The Organization (1971), has also passed on at the age of 80.

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Bernie Hamilton and Barbara Barrie in One Potato, Two Potato (1964)

Hamilton started out in films in 1950, with bit parts in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and The Harlem Globetrotters (1951)—he’s even a member of the cast in the 1951 cliffhanger serial Mysterious Island (1951). His work became even more prolific by the 1960s, with roles in noteworthy films like Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960), Underworld, USA (1961), One Potato, Two Potato (1964), Synanon (1965) and The Swimmer (1968). He was also a familiar TV face, doing guest parts on The Alfred Hitchcock HourBen Casey and The Twilight Zone—among many, many others.

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Hamilton in Starsky and Hutch

But Hamilton will probably be best remembered for his four-year stint on the 1970s crime drama Starsky and Hutch, on which he played Captain Harold Dobey—a no-nonsense, by-the-book cop who had constant reason to light into Detectives Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Ken Hutchinson (David Soul). And believe me…no one administered an ass-chewing like Dobey. (The character was later parodied in the short-lived sitcom Sledge Hammer! with Hamilton Page in the role of Captain Trunk.)

R.I.P., Messrs. Westlake and Hamilton. You will be missed.

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