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Interview with George Kennedy

HOLLYWOOD - The supporting actor is always the guy who does the wrong thing and gets the hero in hot water. You can bet Clyde Barrow wouldn't have parked that getaway car. And think of the grief Marty would have avoided if it hadn't been for that wise guy who said, "I dunno, Marty. Whada you wanna do tonight?"

The supporting character who messed up the hero most this year was probably Dragline, who managed to shout a warning just in time to get Cool Hand Luke killed. So why didn't Dragline keep quiet?

"Well," George Kennedy said, "you get a couple of theories on that." Kennedy, who played Dragline, won an Oscar for the role.

"On the one hand," he said, "you get the Judas theory, which is Paul Newman's theory. On the other hand, you get the stupid idiot theory, which is mine."

Luke, played by Newman, has escaped from the prison camp with Dragline tagging along. They get trapped in an old barn, surrounded by guards, and Dragline shouts when he shouldn't of oughta.

"According to Paul," Kennedy said, "Dragline figured the end was in sight, and maybe it would help if he betrayed Luke. So he shouted deliberately.

"I don't agree with that. I think Dragline was sincere but stupid. He thought he was helping Luke. He was an unwitting Judas, I guess. Anyway, Luke really had no place to escape to. It was all over anyway."

Kennedy is a big man, even larger in life than in the movies, and he has a deep voice cultivated during many years on Armed Forces Radio. This has been a good year for him, as supporting actors go. He was highly visible in "Hurry Sundown" and "The Dirty Dozen," got to make love to Kim Novak in the upcoming "The Legend of Lilah Claire," and won the Oscar for "Cool Hand Luke."

Now he stands on the threshold of realizing the supporting actor's dream: he'll get to be the hero, and somebody else will be the idiot for a change. He leaves soon for Madrid to star in "Guns of the Magnificent Seven," a sequel to "The Magnificent Seven." He'll play the Yul Brynner role.

"But I won't shave my head," he said. "I'm getting so bald, there is no way . . ."

He speculated on the "Newman Hero," a character which Paul Newman has apparently been developing in "The Hustler," "Hud," "Harper," "Hombre" and now "Cool Hand Luke." The Newman hero has grown steadily less satisfied.

In "Hombre," for example, he was reluctant to save the helpless travelers and finally got himself shot in the attempt. In "Luke," Newman quit being a hero for the prison camp inmates but got shot anyway.

"It could be that Paul is making some kind of a statement," Kennedy said. "You have to remember that in his position, he gets complete control over the scripts he films, so maybe he's been choosing antihero scripts, consciously or subconsciously."

To be Paul Newman in real life is to get a little tired of being a hero, Kennedy suggested.

"When we were making 'Luke,'" he said, "we were in Stockton, Calif., and on weekends, Paul and I would fly back to Hollywood. I remember once Newman got so fed up with all the fuss that he made the plane reservation in another name. But somehow the airline crew got the word. I was already on the plane, and I saw him coming across the field, with dark glasses on and his collar pulled up; the whole works.

"And the stewardess said, 'is he coming?' And you knew who they meant. Then the captain made an announcement about how great it was to have Paul Newman on board and so on. I can't understand how the really big superstars like Newman can stand it.

"Now that I've been getting some good roles, people recognize me on the street sometimes, but they don't drool exactly. Let's face it, that's not the kind of guy I am. I look substantially the same as I did in high school, and the girls didn't drool then, and they don't drool now. But Newman is a genuine matinee idol. Women fall dead when they see him."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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