The brilliant, amusingly twitchy and fickle-minded Charles Grodin, 86, has passed on. In my heart and mind Grodin was a mythical actor of the highest neurotic order, and lo and behold he died at his residence in my high-school home town of Wilton, Connecticut.
Knowing he was a Wilton guy somehow adds to my understanding of him. He lived on Chestnut Hill Road…know it well.
I interviewed Grodin once or twice in the ’90s or early aughts…easy guy to converse with. (All my life I’ve gotten along famously with super-smart neurotic Jews, being an honorary neurotic Jew myself.) We also chatted blithely at a couple of N.Y. Film Festival parties in the late ’70s or early ’80s…I forget the particulars.
For me Grodin was defined by five key performances, and his first pop-through didn’t happen until age 32 or 33 when he played Dr. Hill, that kindly, low-key Manhattan obstetrician (John Cassevetes referred to him as “Charlie Nobody”) who betrayed Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby (’68).
The next milestone was his creepily vacant performance as Captain “Aarfy” Aardvark in Mike Nichols Catch-22 (’70), closely followed by his career-defining role as a mentally deranged sporting-goods salesman named Lenny in Elaine May‘s The Heartbreak Kid (’72). The next highlight was his performance as Tony Abbott, the blithe executive assistant to Warren Beatty‘s “Leo Farnsworth” in Heaven Can Wait (’78). The final keeper was his deadpan mob accountant, “Duke” Madukas, in Midnight Run (’88), made when Grodin was 52 or thereabouts.
Grodin is also fondly remembered for his roles in Real Life (’79), Seems Like Old Times (’80), Ishtar (’87) and Dave (’93). Not to mention his many appearance on Late Night with David Letterman (the angry schtick with his lawyer) and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
It was only a week ago when I ran that appreciation of his confrontation scene with Eddie Albert in The Heartbreak Kid, and a couple months ago when I riffed on that great father-daughter scene he shared with Robert DeNiro, Danielle DuClos and Wendy Phillips in Midnight Run.
Grodin’s N.Y. Times obit mentions Beethoven as one of his most beloved films — it is? I never want to see Beethoven again in my life…ever! I barely even remember Grodin’s performance, to be perfectly honest. Okay, he was infuriated and horrified by the big galumphy Saint Bernard…whatever.