Christopher Plummer is a Canadian actor, who was born in Toronto, ON in 1929. He is the great-grandson of Canadian Prime Minister John Abbott (1891 to 1892), and the great-great-great-grandson of legendary Anglican clergyman John Bethune. He has English, Scottish, and Irish ancestry.
Until the 2009 Academy Awards were announced, it could be said about Plummer that he was the finest actor of the post-World War II period to FAIL to get an Academy Award. Ironically, he was following in the footsteps of the late great John Barrymore, whom Plummer so memorably portrayed on Broadway.
In 2010, Plummer finally got an Oscar nod for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy in THE LAST STATION (2009). Two years later, the 82-year-old Plummer became the oldest person in Academy history to win an Oscar…… for playing a senior citizen who comes out as gay after the death of his wife in the movie BEGINNERS (2010). As he clutched his statuette he said, “You’re only two years older than me darling, where have you been all of my life?”
Christopher Plummer is considered by many to be the premier Shakespearean actor to come out of North America in the 20th century. Among the many roles he has played were Hamlet, Iago and Lear. However, his Macbeth opposite Glenda Jackson was considered by most critics to have been a ghastly failure. In spite of all the Shakespearean accolades, Plummer will always be remembered as “Captain Von Trapp” in SOUND OF MUSIC, (a film he publicly despised, calling it “The Sound of Mucous.” He claimed that acting with Julie Andrews was like being hit over the head with a Valentine.)
Plummer has won two Emmy Awards out of six nominations, and one Genie Award in five nominations. For his stage work, Plummer has racked up two Tony Awards on six nominations, the first in 1974 as Best Actor (Musical) for the title role in “Cyrano” and the second in 1997, as Best Actor (Play), in “Barrymore”. He is one of the few actors in history to have received the “Triple Crown of Acting” twice: Two Tonys, two Emmys and two Oscars.
His first wife was Broadway star, Tammy Grimes. Together they had a daughter, actress Amanda Plummer. In 1970, Chris, a self-confessed 43-year-old “bottle baby,” married his third wife, dancer, Elaine Taylor, who helped wean him off his dependency on alcohol. They live happily on a 30-acre estate in Connecticut.
I had heard of Christopher Plummer all my acting life. What actor hadn’t? The stories of his escapades on and offstage would fill volumes. So when he turned up in a Broadway musical called CYRANO, I raced to the box office. Although the singing was sketchy, his performance was superb. But it did strike me as odd that he never once looked at “Roxanne.” He sang about her and talked movingly about her, but otherwise completely ignored the actress playing the part. When I mentioned this anomaly to a friend who had worked with Plummer in Stratford Ontario, he explained, “Oh, he always acts alone.” Years later, when I saw Plummer in BARRYMORE, he had gotten his wish. Even though the script called for a stage manager, the other actor was kept well out of sight, reduced to an offstage voice. So Christopher was free to dazzle us, acting alone in a one-man show.
The evening ended on a lovely note. My friend Linda Thorson asked me to meet her after one of his performances. (She had met him during her AVENGER days when they were both in London.) So Linda, Chris and I sashayed over to Sardis for a very grand after-theatre supper. While perusing the menu, he volunteered that he was grateful that his current wife had gotten him off the booze. “So I never drink alcohol anymore,” he purred, “except red wine!” Linda and I did an immediate double-take! When the waiter appeared, he ordered an “amusing little French Bordeaux” with the meal, and drank most of the bottle. He had clearly decided that wine was not alcohol, but a civilized accompaniment to any good meal. Mostly I recall that the delicious evening was peppered with witty banter and salted with backstage gossip.
Christopher Plummer and I did work together. We appeared in the film version of DRAGNET. Dan Aykroyd had pitched the project to Lew Wasserman at Universal (so the story goes) by simply humming the intro to the TV show: “Dum Da Dum Dum.” Aykroyd had the barest outlines of a script, but his pitch was backed by his memorable send up of the character of “Sergeant Friday” on SNL. Lew gave the project the “Okay.” Tom Hanks was brought on as Friday’s buddy. Tom’s performance was so dazzling that he walked away with the movie. It was this performance that launched him into the Stratosphere of Hollywood Filmdom.
The DRAGNET plot involved, among many other things, some Playboy Bunnies. They were played by real Playboy Bunnies, who were as adorable and empty-headed as you might imagine. They were also convinced that everyone was staring at them….which turned out to be quite true. This made the set a noisy place to work on, as the gaffers and grips were forever walking into walls trying to catch a glimpse of the hour-glass attributes of the “Bunnies.”
I played the mayor of Los Angeles, who (as I recall) was in cahoots with Christopher Plummer’s slimey Reverend. According to the script, we were both under the influence of a cult called P.A.G.A.N. To enroll our sympathies, the cult leader had brought in some hot women to seduce us, which is where the “Bunnies” come in. The script was as empty headed as the “Bunnies,” and is almost impossible to synopsize. In fact my part, which was quite large in the script, was practically edited out of the film, including my last big scene with Tom and Dan. “Artistic differences,” I can only assume.
But Chris and I were together in many scenes, so I got to hang out with him, and we talked about Bunnies and all sorts of other wild life. I can report, first hand, that he was very affable and charming. The crew had never heard of him, but at least I knew, that I was in the company of a great Shakespearean actor. We bonded even further, when we both confessed that we were terrified of Elizabeth Ashley (also in the film). Ashley, by this time in her life, had become, what one cast member said, a self-absorbed neurotic. I think the correct medical term is “Crackers.” I remember being stuck listening to one of her many monologues at lunch until, in exasperation, I made an excuse to leave. I looked back to see her alone at the table, still talking in a very animated fashion…to HERSELF.
And then suddenly one day, the Director, Tom Mankiewicz, called it a WRAP, and the shoot was over. No more DRAGNET, no more Bunnies, no more hangin’ with Christopher Plummer. Although, he and I promised to get together after the film ended, we in fact went our very separate ways. And it wasn’t until we had the supper At Sardis after BARRYMORE that I saw him again. Still lovely after all these years.