Entertainment Movies No second fiddles: The great supporting actors — Part 2

No second fiddles: The great supporting actors — Part 2

Great supporting actors
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· The great supporting actors: Part 1

Jane Darwell

Born: October 15, 1879
Died: August 13, 1967

Great supporting actors
Jane Darwell in her most famous role, Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, with her onscreen son Henry Fonda. Photo: Supplied

Most famous role

Who could forget Jane Darwell’s role as the matriarch of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Hardly anyone has portrayed as much grief and determination through merely their eyes, as she did in her Oscar winning role. She played the mother of Henry Fonda in the film.

Other film roles

We can’t list all her 100 roles over her 50 year career, but don’t forget she is Jenny Grieg in The Ox-Bow Incident (again opposite Henry Fonda) and Kate Nelson in My Darling Clementine (opposite, yep you guessed it, Henry Fonda).

She also played the gossip-monger Dolly Merriwether in Gone with the Wind.

In her final film role, she bid farewell to cinema with a cameo in one of the biggest films of all time. She is the bird woman who appears during the Feed the Birds song in the 1964 Disney classic Mary Poppins.

Great supporting actors
Darwell in Mary Poppins. Photo: Supplied


By the 1960s Darwell was retired from film and living in the Motion Picture Country Home, when Walt Disney personally visited her to offer her one final role in Mary Poppins. Darwell died three years later at age 87.

Darwell in Gone with the Wind (from 20 seconds in)

Bob Balaban

Born: August 16, 1945

great supporting actors
Bob Balaban has appeared in supporting roles for director Christopher Guest, as well as a brilliant cameo on Seinfeld. Photo: Getty

Most famous role

You most likely recognise Bob Balaban from comedies. Specifically the Christopher Guest directed vehicles Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.

Other film roles

He started his career at the end of the 1960s, as the young student who has sex with Jon Voight’s character in a movie theatre in Midnight Cowboy.

In Close Encounters of the Third Kind he was Francois Truffaut’s english-french interpreter/cartographer who interprets the alien signals as coordinates.

He also had a fabulous cameo as the presdient of US TV network NBC in five Seinfeld episodes.


Balaban produced Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, which gave him an Oscar nomination in the best picture category.

Madeline Kahn

Born: September 29, 1942
Died: December 3, 1999

great supporting actors
Madeline Khan had exquisite comedic timing and died far too young. Photo: Supplied

Most famous role

No one quite delivered lines like Madeline Khan. An actress, comedian and singer – she combined all those skills to perfection as saloon singer Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles. She was Mel Brooks’ muse in three further films Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety and History of the World Part 1.

Other film roles

Her performance in the aforementioned Young Frankenstein , where she is the tightly wound actress who allows herself to be ravished by the monster, is great.

But if you can, seek her out in the wonderful 80s comedy Clue. As Ms White, her delivery of iconic lines like “flames flames flames on the side of my face” is unmatched in a comedy film.


She received two Oscar nominations in successive years  for Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles.

We lost her far too young, at age 57, of ovarian cancer.

Brian Cox

Born: June 1, 1946

Photo: Getty
Scottish actor Brian Cox is one of the supporting actors who commands any scene in which he appears. Photo: Getty

Most famous role

It’s tough to nail down Brian Cox’s most recognisable role — but I’ll choose the CIA deputy director Ward Abbott in The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy.

Other film roles

He can forever put on his resume that he was the first person to play Dr. Hannibal Lecktor on film (that’s how it was spelt back then) — in Michael Mann’s 1986 movie Manhunter.

In Troy, he plays Agamemnon the king of Mycenae, and apart from Peter O’Toole, gives the only interesting performance of that boring film.

Recently in Rise of the Planet of the Apes he manages the primate shelter where Caesar (chimpanzee) is confined.


Dr Who fans will recognise him as television executive Sydney Newman in the wonderfully nostalgic An Adventure in Space and Time tv drama about the creation of the sci-fi series.

Charles Durning

Born:February 28, 1923
Died: December 24, 2012

Photo: Columbia Pictures
Charles Durning, with Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, was acclaimed by critics and colleagues. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Most famous role

Charles Durning received consecutive Oscar nominations in the 1980s as the governor who tries to close down the brothel in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt in To Be or Not To Be, so I best list those.

Other film roles

I will forever remember him as the crooked cop Lt. Wm Snyder in the outstanding The Sting, and as a suitor to the cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.

In Dog Day Afternoon, he played a hostage negotiator whose famous scene with Al Pacino ends with Pacino screaming ‘Attica! Attica!’


He lived a rewarding life for 89 years. Apart from film, he served the U.S Army in World War II and was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

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