Diversity on screen

In the New York Times yesterday, an obituary, “Jon Polito, a Favorite in Coen Brothers Films, Dies at 65” by Daniel E. Slotnik. Beginning:

Jon Polito, a character actor who often played law enforcement figures and gangsters and had memorable turns in many films by Joel and Ethan Coen, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 65.

The cause was complications of multiple myeloma, his husband, Darryl Armbruster, said.

A mustached, balding, husky and burlap-voiced presence onscreen, Mr. Polito appeared in more than 200 films and television series, often as the heavy. He could convey the swagger and haplessness of a two-bit crook, the authority of a hardened homicide detective, the unctuous ingratiations of a yes man — as well as a sense of vulnerability, desperation and weakness.

… He met Mr. Armbruster, an actor, on Oct. 16, 1999, and they married on that day last year.

Polito in a characteristic role:

Two things here: Polito’s sexuality, open for some time now, and the high-masculinity roles that were his specialty. As more and more gay actors come out, we can begin to see the great diversity in the roles they gravitate towards.

(Other actors tweeting about Polito mostly remark on how sweet and funny he was, and how easy he was to work with.)

Sticking to American actors whose sexuality is not (or at least, is no longer) in dispute, we have high-masculinity actors in macho roles, as heroes, romantic leads, or dramatic leads (Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Raymond Burr); a large number of actors specializing in comic or light-comedy roles (Dick Sargeant, Robert Reed, Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Nabors, Dan Butler); a few light-comedy actors especially famous for playing “fussy” characters (David Hyde Pierce, David Ogden Stiers); and some actors continuing an old tradition of playing flamboyant, often explicitly gay, characters (Paul Lynde, Sean Hayes, Nathan Lane).

These men cover a wide range of personas, which is now pretty well matched by the personas inhabited by straight actors, especially since many straight actors have taken on gay roles with gusto: from a much longer list, Sean Penn, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Williams, James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Colin Firth, Hank Azaria, Tom Hanks (and note the great diversity in the characters themselves).

To get back to Polito, a very small sampling of his roles (over 200 of them), from Wikipedia:

Notable television roles included Det. Steve Crosetti in the first two seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street and on the first season of Crime Story. He appeared in several films including The Rocketeer, The Crow and Gangster Squad but was most widely known for his work for the Coen brothers where he appeared in five of their films including Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski.



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