Cliff Gorman photo

Cliff Gorman

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Date of Birth:
5 September 1936 Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Queens-born actor Cliff Gorman, who peaked on stage and in film in the 1970s, was a solid New Yorker and well-represented his city through his films. Short statured, with a set chin, slightly askew eyes and dark ethnic looks, his working-class characters reeked of New York realism. Career-wise, it gave him an instantaneously unsympathetic veneer and he took keen advantage of it especially on the award-winning stage and in a handful of strong film/TV roles. His versatility was obvious -- he was often cast to strut about as a smug, obnoxious ladies' man; or berate club patrons as a lewd, below-the-belt entertainer; or portray corrupt cops known for playing by their own rules. He could drift easily into the seamy atmosphere of New York's underbelly anywhere and anytime. Gorman was known for adding an excitingly dangerous quality to any roles he imbued and that made him, at the very least, fascinating even if the storyline wasn't. Even his unflinching anti-heroes were hard to take at times due to their open callousness.Born on October 13, 1926, Gorman attended both the University of Mexico and UCLA during the mid-1950s, but received his B.S. in education in 1959 from New York University. The acting bug finally caught up with him early into the next decade. The first production that merited any critical attention was the off-Broadway drama "Hogan's Goat" with the also up-and-coming Faye Dunaway. A one-time member of Jerome Robbins American Theatre Laboratory, Gorman really turned heads in a decidedly atypical role -- that of the arrogant, sharp-tongued, super flamboyant Emory in the 1968 gay counterculture dramedy "The Boys in the Band". Along with this attention came a well-deserved Obie Award. The ensemble play, which was the first to focus exclusively on gay characters, had a superlative mixture of pathos, bathos, caustic humor and witty double entendres. The show also was ground-breaking in that it presented homosexuals as realistic, three-dimensional characters and not sideshow objects of humor and/or ridicule. Author Mart Crowley smartly transitioned his play into film with his talented ensemble intact, some having never appeared in films before. In turn, director William Friedkin's The Boys in the Band (1970) became a milestone in moviemaking, an instant cult classic that is today viewed as the foredaddy of gay cinema.In 1972, Gorman became the toast of Broadway by dissolving into the depressing world of comedy. His stark, searing, no-holds-barred portrayal of manic blue comedian Lenny Bruce, whose life and career disintegrated into one huge heroin habit, brought the house down and earned him both the Tony and Drama Desk awards. Although having made his film debut in Justine (1969) and despite receiving top billing in the well-received comedy crime yarn Cops and Robbers (1973), Gorman was not a name star by the time "Lenny" was turned into a film. As such, superstar Dustin Hoffman was given the incredible opportunity of playing Lenny (1974). Unarguably the Oscar-nominated Hoffman was amazing in his resurrection of the irreverent, ill-fated entertainer, but it could have been THE film role for Gorman -- one that might have changed the momentum and destiny of his film career forever. A few years later Bob Fosse, in tribute, would cast Gorman in a very Lenny Bruce-like cameo role in his autobiographical film All That Jazz (1979).Gorman ventured on but at a much more sporadic pace. He did make TV infamy with the mini-movie Class of '63 (1973) (TV), in which he played the insanely obsessive husband of Joan Hackett who terrorizes his wife's former beau (James Brolin) at a school reunion, and later backed it up as zealous Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels alongside Anthony Hopkins' Adolph Hitler in the acclaimed mini-movie The Bunker (1981) (TV). On a more compassionate note, Gorman came to the aid of ostracized West Point cadet Richard Thomas in The Silence (1975) (TV) as a writer and publisher who helps abolish an inhumane academy tradition. Gorman also displayed a proper toughness and edge-of-the-seat intensity in various good guy/bad guy crimers, notably several "Police Story" episodes and a spate of mini-movies co-starring Richard Crenna.The bad guy was in top form when Gorman led a Palestinian terrorist group in Otto Preminger's abysmal Rosebud (1975), played a slick and sleazy cad who mistreats poor, vulnerable Jill Clayburgh in the popular feminist weeper An Unmarried Woman (1978), and portrayed a another psycho nemesis for James Brolin in the lurid thriller Night of the Juggler (1980). He also returned to Broadway in fine form. Earning a Tony nomination for his role in Neil Simon's comedy "Chapter Two", he again prodded his more amusing instincts a decade later in both "Doubletake" (replacing Ron Leibman in 1985) and "Social Security" (replacing Ron Silver in 1986). Into the 1990s he was seen here and there, including a supporting mobster in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) and the estranged father of John Leguizamo in King of the Jungle (2000).Diagnosed with leukemia, Gorman died at age 65 on September 5, 2002 in his beloved New York City and was survived by his long-time wife of almost 40 years, Gayle. His last film Kill the Poor (2003), made in 2002, was released posthumously.
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