At the Greenwich House Theater for a memorial for Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Rip Torn, awesome clips revealed the evolution of this legendary actor’s astonishing career that spanned movies, TV, and theater. From Bible epics through roles as a good guy and menacing bad ass, the reel covered his Emmy winning television work on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” and hilarious clashes on “30 Rock” with with Alec Baldwin. A bit from his 1969 “The Bearding of the President” showed him with his “Nixon” nose, his own invention, and at least one friend opined that he would have been an even bigger presence in film and stage but for his politics. (He was publicly opposed to the Vietnam War.)
Still, Torn had a long and illustrious career. He was memorable in everything he did, from “Men in Black” to Albert Brooks’ “Defending Your Life.” On Broadway in his early days, Torn was a Tennessee Williams regular, earning a Tony nomination in 1960 and appearing in several Williams productions. His last Broadway appearance was in 1997’s “Young Man from Atlanta” written by Horton Foote.
But among the ample work that was not screened, was a bit of voiceover in the Oscar winning documentary “Harlan County, USA.” Filmmaker Barbara Kopple needed someone to say, “We’ve got our guns now,” and asked him to say the line so it could be heard. “I’ve never told anyone, but now I am telling you,” Kopple confessed to a crowd of New York friends and family, among them musician David Amram who led the speakers off and concluded with a special song for Rip, and accompanied Rip’s twin sons with late Oscar winner Geraldine Page, Jon and Tony Torn, in a reading of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
This was the second memorial for Rip Torn (SAG had hosted an event in Los Angeles earlier), who died July 9, 2019 at age 88. This celebration was also a birthday celebration (February 6th) which revealed Torn’s love of fishing, family, and his dedication to craft. A blowup of Rip Torn as Hamlet adorned the stage, a remembrance of the time he wanted to explore the character and staged Shakespeare himself at his Sanctuary Theater, housed in this very West Village locale. Back then, Page performed, as did Amy Wright, who would become wife number three, and his widow.
Two nieces read his first cousin Sissy Spacek’s tribute to the New York crowd. Eighteen years his junior, Sissy visited them in the city. Rip, with Geraldine, quickly embraced her, folding her into their Bohemian lifestyle, bringing her to Broadway theaters with the other children as the actors performed in their respective plays. Sardi’s would deliver dinner backstage, with waiters in waiter garb. When Sissy announced she wanted to become an actress, she asked Rip for advice. He said, “1. Do it for the right reasons—not because you want to see your name on a marquee. 2. Study your art. 3. Don’t tell anyone you are related to me. It wouldn’t help.”