Thursday, 19 August 2010


My obituary of the Canadian-American actor Maury Chaykin will be in Friday's Guardian; it's up on their website now and you can link to it here. It is pretty much as written, but with a number of small cuts made because of the page's obviously limited space, and a couple for reasons less clear, as when I said he died on his 61st birthday, which was changed to the usual 'died aged 61'. I just find something significantly touching about dying on your birthday.

The trims lost a number of small but I thought telling points about Chaykin, but included a fuller list of survivors than usual. If you're curious about the trimming process, here's the copy as I wrote it, with the missing bits in bold (some parts were re-arranged, including the cause of death and his posthumous credits):

The actor Maury Chaykin, who has died on his 61st birthday, was both an American and Canadian citizen, and his career reflected his dual nationality. In the US, he was a familiar face, if not always recognisable name, playing small but telling roles in major films. His breakthrough came providing one of the few moments of ambiguity in Dances With Wolves (1990), as Major Fambrough, who sends Kevin Costner on his frontier assignment, and then kills himself. His only leading role was in a cable TV series as the detective Nero Wolfe, who refuses to leave his house, leaving that to his assistant (played by Timothy Hutton). In Canada, he was something of a national treasure, winning the Genie Award (the Canadian Oscar) as best actor for Whale Music (1994), for playing a Brian Wilson-like burned-out rock star, and for remarkable performances in three films by Atom Egoyan (The Adjuster, Where The Truth Lies, and The Sweet Hereafter). He also won two Gemini awards for appearances in the Canadian TV dramas La Femme Nikita (1992) and At The Hotel (2006). And at the time of his death he was starring in HBO Canada's hit comedy series Less Than Kind.

His appearance, with a fleshy, expressive face and soft body, allowed him to suggest pathos, but he was able to play it with a fierce, often ironic, comic intelligence that made him a natural for more shadowy roles, where a cloak of affability hides dangerous aggression or fatal weakness.
Chaykin was born in Brooklyn, where his American father taught accounting at Baruch College, and his Canadian mother was a nurse. He moved to Toronto in 1974, after studying theatre at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and trying unsuccessfully to make it on Broadway. He worked in theatre in Toronto, and had a part in the 1975 film Me, and in 1978 appeared in King of Kensington, then Canada's favourite telelvision comedy. He had a good part in Riel (1979), a TV movie about the Metis rebel Louis Riel, among an international cast of Canadian-born actors, including Christopher Plummer, William Shatner, Arthur Hill, and Leslie Nielsen.

As that cast list suggests, the cross-border divide is hardly pronounced, though its flow is usually in the opposite direction to Chaykin's. But in the 1980s Toronto became a production centre for American film and television, and Chaykin's ability to imbue a short appearance with real impact kept him busy, with small roles in films like War Games (1983). He played Lt Copernik opposite Powers Boothe's Philip Marlowe in an adaptation of Red Wind for the American series, and made two appearances in the cop show Night Heat (1986), the first Canadian-produced drama sold to an American network.
After Dances With Wolves, Chaykin had notable parts in My Cousin Vinny (1992) where he instructs Danny De Vito about Grits and smaller films like Ed Zwick's much-underrated Leaving Normal and Diane Keaton's Unstrung Heroes (both 1995); he had played with Keaton in Mrs Soffel. Independent films know no borders; Chaykin had bigger roles in two films by the British director Richard Kwientniowski, as a diner-owner in Love And Death On Long Island (1996), and one of his best parts as Philip Seymour Hoffman's bookie in Owning Mahowny (2003). In 2006, Chaykin won the 'Career So Far' award from the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film; Hoffman had received the same award the previous year.

In 2000 he played Wolfe in Golden Spiders, a television movie which led to the series; he later sent up the character as Nerus in the sf series Stargate SG-1. He also played a recurring role in the series Entourage, for America's HBO, as overbearing film producer Harvey Weingard, which led him to quip 'I have never worked for Harvey Weinstein (on whom the character was based) and now I think maybe I never will'.
Chaykin died following a heart valve infection; he had suffered numerous recent health problems. He is survived by his third wife, Canadian actress Susannah Hoffman, who also had a role in Nero Wolfe, and their daughter Rose. Two previous marriages ended in divorce. He will be seen in a cameo role in the Canadian film Barney's Vision, based on Mordecai Richler's novel; in Canadian director Sidney Furie's Conduct Unbecoming, and as Kevin Spacey's mentor in Bagman, George Hickenlooper's film in which Spacey plays the lobbyist Jack Abramhoff.


Peter Temple said...

A wonderful review, Michael: a model. It respects the endeavour but holds it to account in a way that makes you think about stories in general and directors and this director in particular.

Thank you.

Michael Carlson said...

Thanks, Peter, but I'm not sure to which review you refer: The Ghost?--it certainly isn't the Chaykin obit--and I assume from director it's not your book(s) either...

Arnold Lustig said...

A shame to have lost the fact that he died on his birthday. There is a strange and monotonous tic about the Guardian obituaries all beginning that 'so and so has died at such an age'. That is really dull, and of course somebody has 'died': that is why it's called an obituary. Why is somebody's age at death of any great interest? Not something to put up front, I'd say.

Fits said...

Sorry to come so late to the party. but wanted to thank you for a job well done. Recently watched a rerun of "Entourage" and was once again reminded of the acting chops Mr. Chaykin so often employed to great advantage while chewing up the scenery.

Unknown said...

Thanks this longer version. I think he would have liked it and definitely agreed with the circle of life,leaving this world on the same day you showed up.

Susannah Hoffmann