Stuart Whitman Dies @ 92

Via ExtraTV: Stuart Whitman, a rugged, handsome leading man known for his work in westerns and for a Best Actor Oscar nomination, died Monday at 92.

TMZ reports Whitman died of skin and blood cancer.

His son Justin told the site, "Old Hollywood lost another one of its true stars. Stuart Whitman was known for his rugged roles and handsome charm. We were proud of him for his TV, film roles, and his Oscar nomination, but what we will really remember is his exuberant love of his family and friends."

Whitman in the '50s. (Image via movie still)

Born February 1, 1928, in San Francisco, Whitman acted in summer stock as a child, lived in Brooklyn with relatives, and graduated from Hollywood High when his family moved to L.A. in the '40s. Supporting himself clearing properties with a bulldozer his father gave him, he nearly went into law, but was drawn to acting, studying with the Michael Chekhov Stage Society.

Whitman made appearances in film and on TV from 1951 on, but thanks to his landscaping job, was able to refuse any part that did not pay well or interest him as an artist. Things heated up for him when he appeared in The Decks Ran Red, a 1958 drama in which he shared an interracial kiss with Dorothy Dandridge at the height of her fame.

Increasingly known as a handsome man's man in movies like The Sound and the Fury (1959) and Murder, Inc. (1960), he took on the role of a child molester in 1961's The Mark, netting an Oscar nomination.

"I had no idea what the role was gonna be, and no idea what the script was like," he said in 2013. Shooting a bedroom scene as a screen test with Lee Remick, he was called to the phone by his agent and was told, "Don't go back to bed with that lovely girl — don't do that … Richard Burton is tied up in Broadway, and they've accepted you to play in this picture, we're gonna shoot it in Ireland." Trusting his agent, he flew out immediately. "I got to the hotel in London and the place was loaded with press and they wanted to know what I felt about doing this film!"

After he actually read the script, he wondered if he could pull off the part because "it was a real test. The other ones, I'd been fakin' my way through." He did the movie with no idea that it would change his career. Told he might get an Oscar nomination for the role, he thought, "Yeah, right," and described later almost driving off the road when hearing on the radio that he had, in fact, gotten the nod.

Not long after, he appeared in perhaps his most famous role, as Paul Regret in the John Wayne western The Comancheros (1961). In order to get the part, he had to convince Wayne, who wanted to know why he thought he could play it. After Whitman pleaded his case, Wayne — who wound up directing most of the film when its director fell ill — said simply, "You got the part."

He worked again with Wayne in the star-packed The Longest Day (1962).

Other memorable roles came in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), as the lead in the series Cimarron Strip (1967-1968), and in the camp classic Night of the Lepus (1972), a killer-rabbit creature feature he said all but killed his career momentum.

Nonetheless, Whitman worked prolifically on TV and in films, retiring after an appearance in the Chuck Norris TV-movie thriller The President's Man (2000).

Whitman was married three times and divorced twice, and is survived by his third wife, Julia, and by his five children from his first two marriages.

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