Known for his lengthy career in movies and television, Stuart Whitman, longtime Montecito resident, died March 16 of skin cancer at the age of 92.
Some of his credits include the dramatic “The Mark” for which he was nominated for best actor at the 1961 Academy Awards for his role as a convicted child molester, the lavish aviation comedy, “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” and the cult horror film, “The Night of the Lepus.”
On television, Mr. Whitman was known for his roles in “Highway Patrol,” the 90-minute weekly Western, “Cimarron Strip” and “Superboy,” in which he played the super hero’s adoptive father.
In 1990, he played a recurring role in “Knots Landing” and was seen in several television films and series as well as the big screen for other projects until 2000 but retired from acting after that.
Mr. Whitman, who was a familiar figure around Montecito and Santa Barbara, was interviewed by the News-Press in 2011 when he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
“It was like winning the Oscar, ” he told the News-Press.
With the honor, he joined the likes of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne.
“The list goes on,” he said. “How many guys, and I’m stepping next to them. It’s quite special, and I’m delighted.”
In the article, Mr. Whitman told how he became interested in being a cowboy. When he was 5, he expressed frustration to his parents about not having been born a Native American.
“I’ve always wanted to be an Indian,” he said.
When his father heard this, he told his son, “Well, then, you’ve got to be a cowboy.”
“That’s how it got started,” said Mr. Whitman who was born on Feb. 1, 1928, in San Francisco, one of two sons to Cecilia and Joseph Whitman. His parents traveled frequently, and Mr. Whitman started his education in Manhattan and Poughkeepsie.
“I went to so many schools – 26 in all! – that I was always an outsider,” he later recalled. “It wasn’t until high school that I could REALLY read. I always sat in the back of the room.”
His early love for acting came through when he did three summer stock plays in New York when he was 12, but “nobody took that seriously.”
His uncle Ben thought he had potential as a boxer and secretly trained him for that. When World War II broke out, the family moved to Los Angeles, and Mr. Whitman graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945.
After school, he enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Corps of Engineer and occasionally boxing, winning 31 of his 32 bouts.
Following his discharge in 1948, Mr. Whitman planned to follow his father into law and used the G.I. Bill to enroll in Los Angeles City College. While studying for his minor in drama, he decided law was a “real bore” and decided to become an actor.
“My father wanted me to come into his law firm and dabble in real estate on the side,” recalled Mr. Whitman. “There was a family row about boxing, but nothing like the battle when I told my father I was going to be an actor. He said, ‘If that’s the case, you’re on your own.’ No money from him. And he kept his word.”
His father did sell his son a bull dozer, which he used to support himself in college, hiring it and himself out to others to clear lots, uproot trees and level off rugged terrain. Later, he and his father went into real estate development together.
His career as a developer thrived while he was acting in small roles.
“Because of it, I’ve never worked as an extra,” he said in 1958. “I’ve never accepted a part that I thought wouldn’t advance my career. I’ve never taken an acting job, in movies or TV, which paid less than $250 a week.”
The same year, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote a piece about him which said he could be the “new Clark Gable”: “This is a fresh personality with tremendous impact. He’s tall and lean with a shock of unruly black hair and dark hazel eyes which harden to slate grey when he plays a bad man or turns on the heat in a love scene. When he comes into camera range, the audience sits up and says: ‘Who dat?’ ‘
During the 1960s, he had numerous leading man roles, but in the early 1970s, he worked increasingly in Europe because “Hollywood was getting to be mad mess. . . I thought that in Europe, something better might come my way – and it did.”
On Feb. 1, 1998, Mr. Whitman was included in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His first marriage to Patricia LaLonde ended in divorce. They had four children: Tony, Michael, Linda and Scott. While married to French-born Caroline Boubis, he became the father of a son, Justin. In 2006, he married Julia Vadimovna Paradiz, a Russian woman met at a friend’s wedding in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In 1961, Mr. Whitman said, “I’ve had to battle and say what is an actor? It’s a fellow who plays someone else. But now I realize it’s the image that makes a star. . . My image? I think it’s being free and easy and all man. I say to myself I want to become an actor, I want to lose myself in each role. But that’s not the way to become an actor. . . I didn’t need to act to make a living, but had a real passion for it – I just loved to act.”