By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 8, 2023)
No lad who has liberty for the first time, and twenty guineas in his pocket, is very sad, and Barry rode towards Dublin thinking not so much of the kind mother left alone, and of the home behind him, but of tomorrow, and all the wonders it would bring.
-from Barry Lyndon
Oh man, oh God…we’ve lost another one:
Ryan O’Neal, the boyish leading man who kicked off an extraordinary 1970s run in Hollywood with his Oscar-nominated turn as the Harvard preppie Oliver in the legendary romantic tearjerker Love Story, has died. He was 82.
O’Neal died Friday, his son Patrick O’Neal, a sportscaster with Bally Sports West in Los Angeles, reported on Instagram. He had been diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 2001 and with prostate cancer in 2012.
“As a human being, my father was as generous as they come,” Patrick wrote. “And the funniest person in any room. And the most handsome clearly, but also the most charming. Lethal combo. He loved to make people laugh. It’s pretty much his goal. Didn’t matter the situation, if there was a joke to be found, he nailed it. He really wanted us laughing. And we did all laugh. Every time. We had fun. Fun in the sun.” […]
Patrick Ryan O’Neal was born on April 20, 1941, in Los Angeles, the older son of novelist-screenwriter Charles “Blackie” O’Neal (The Three Wishes of Jamie McRuin) and actress Patricia Callaghan. He competed in Golden Gloves events in L.A. in 1956 and 1957 and compiled a boxing record of 18-4 with 13 knockouts, according to his website.
In the late 1950s, O’Neal and his family moved to Munich, and he became infatuated with the syndicated TV series Tales of the Vikings, which shot in Europe and was produced by Kirk Douglas‘ company.
According to a 1975 newspaper account, he wrote to another producer, George Cahan, on the show: “I am six feet tall, and with a false beard I will look as much like a Viking as any actor on the set … I may be the Gary Cooper of tomorrow.”
O’Neal went on to perform as a stuntman on the series.
After appearing on such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Untouchables, Leave It to Beaver and My Three Sons, O’Neal co-starred opposite Richard Egan on Empire, a 1962-63 NBC Western set in New Mexico.
O’Neal would go on to land a choice role on the drama series Peyton Place, appearing in 500 episodes from 1964 to 1969. His big screen breakout was starring alongside Ali MacGraw in Arthur Hiller’s 1970 tear-jerker Love Story; not a personal favorite of mine, but a huge box office hit that assured him movie star status for the remainder of that decade.
Honestly, I wouldn’t call him a method actor…but O’Neal was undeniably a movie star, in the old school sense; I might even venture, “laconic”, much like “the Gary Cooper of tomorrow” that he once aspired to be. A toast to a fine career, and all the wonders that it brought him.
Here’s some recommended viewing:
Barry Lyndon – Stanley Kubrick’s beautifully photographed, leisurely paced adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s rags-to-riches-to-rags tale about a roguish Irishman (Ryan O’Neal) who grifts his way into the English aristocracy is akin to watching 18th-century paintings sumptuously spring to life (funnily enough, its detractors tend to liken it to “oil paintings” as well, but for entirely different reasons). The cast includes Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Leonard Rossiter and Leon Vitali.
This magnificent 1975 film has improved with age, like a fine wine; successive viewings prove the stories about Kubrick’s obsession with the minutest of details were not exaggerated-every frame is steeped in verisimilitude. Michael Hordern’s delightfully droll voice over work as The Narrator rescues the proceedings from sliding into staidness.
The Driver -Walter Hill’s spare and hard-boiled neo-noir about a professional getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) who plays cat-and-mouse with an obsessed cop out to nail him (Bruce Dern) and a dissatisfied customer who is now out to kill him. “Spare” would also be a good word to describe O’Neal’s character (billed in the credits simply as: The Driver), who utters but 350 words of dialog in the entire film. O’ Neal is perfectly cast, exuding a Zen-like cool. Also with Isabelle Adjani. One of my favorite 70s crime thrillers, and an obvious inspiration for Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive (my review).
Nickelodeon -Peter Bogdanovich’s love letter to the silent film era, depicting the trials and tribulations of indie filmmakers, circa 1910. It leans a bit heavy on the slapstick at times, but is bolstered by charming performances by a great cast that includes Ryan O’Neal, Stella Stevens, Burt Reynolds, John Ritter, and Tatum O’Neal. It’s beautifully photographed by László Kovács. Anyone who truly loves the movies will find the denouement quite moving.
Paper Moon -Two years after The Last Picture Show, director Peter Bogdanovich had the audacity to shoot yet another B&W film-which was going against the grain by the early 70s. This outing, however, was not a bleak drama. Granted, it is set during the Great Depression, but has a much lighter tone, thanks to precocious 9 year-old Tatum O’Neal, who steals every scene she shares with her dad Ryan (which is to say, nearly every scene in the film).
The O’Neals portray an inveterate con artist/Bible salesman and a recently orphaned girl he is transporting to Missouri (for a fee). Along the way, the pair discover they are a perfect tag team for bilking people out of their cookie jar money. Entertaining road movie, with the built-in advantage of a natural acting chemistry between the two leads.
Also on hand: Madeline Kahn (wonderful as always), John Hillerman, P.J. Johnson, and Noble Willngham. Ace DP László Kovács is in his element; he was no stranger to road movies (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces). Alvin Sargent adapted his screenplay from Joe David Brown’s novel, “Addie Pray”.
Tough Guys Don’t Dance – If “offbeat noir” is your thing, this is your kind of film. Ryan O’Neal plays an inscrutable ex-con with a conniving “black widow” of a wife, who experiences five “really bad days” in a row, involving drugs, blackmail and murder. Due to temporary amnesia, however, he’s not sure of his own complicity (O’Neal begins each day by writing the date on his bathroom mirror with shaving cream-keep in mind, this film precedes Memento by 13 years.)
Noir icon Lawrence Tierny (cast here 5 years before Tarantino tapped him for Reservoir Dogs) is priceless as O’Neal’s estranged father, who is helping him sort out events (it’s worth the price of admission when Tierny barks “I just deep-sixed two heads!”).
Equally notable is a deliciously demented performance by B-movie trouper Wings Hauser as the hilariously named Captain Alvin Luther Regency. Norman Mailer’s “lack” of direction has been duly noted over the years, but his minimalist style works. The film has a David Lynch vibe at times (which could be due to the fact that Isabella Rossellini co-stars, and the soundtrack was composed by Lynch stalwart Angelo Badalamenti). A guilty pleasure.
What’s Up, Doc? – Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 film is a love letter to classic screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s (the most obvious influence being Bringing Up Baby). Ryan O’Neal and Barbara Streisand have wonderful chemistry as the romantic leads, who meet cute and become involved in a hotel mix-up of four identical suitcases that rapidly snowballs into a series of increasingly preposterous situations for all concerned (as occurs in your typical screwball comedy).
The screenplay was co-written by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton. The fabulous cast includes Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton and Michael Murphy. In his second collaboration with the director, cinematographer László Kovács works his usual magic with the San Francisco locale.
The Wild Rovers – Blake Edwards made a western? Yes, he did, and not a half-bad one at that. A world-weary cowhand (William Holden) convinces a younger (and somewhat dim) co-worker (Ryan O’Neal) that since it’s obvious that they’ll never really get ahead in their present profession, they should give bank robbery a shot. They get away with it, but then find themselves on the run, oddly, not so much from the law, but from their former employer (Karl Malden), who is mightily offended that anyone who worked for him would do such a thing. Episodic and leisurely paced, but ambles along quite agreeably, thanks to the charms of the two leads, and the beautiful, expansive photography by Philip Lathrop. Ripe for rediscovery.