The Daily Telegraph

Ned Beatty

Stocky character actor who took memorable roles in films including Deliveranc­e and Network


NED BEATTY, who has died aged 83, was one of Hollywood’s finest character actors for four decades, and yet he will probably still be best remembered for his film debut in which he was urged to “Squeal like a pig!” while being sexually assaulted by a sadistic hillbilly in the Georgia backwoods.

Beatty, short and stocky, gave a superb performanc­e as Bobby Trippe, one of a quartet of big-city chums whose well-intentione­d canoeing weekend on a wild river turns into a nightmare of survival in John Boorman’s fierce thriller of the great outdoors, Deliveranc­e (1972).

Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, both establishe­d stars, were already cast in the film when they, together with the British director Boorman, went to a theatre in Washington to check out Beatty (on the suggestion of the legendary casting agent Lynn Stalmaster) and Ronny Cox, neither of whom had appeared on the big screen before. They were performing together on stage in The Pueblo Incident, about the seizure of a US spy ship by North Korea in 1968. The quartet for Deliveranc­e was now complete.

The film was, unusually, shot in sequence, and when it came to the rape by a leering mountain man (Bill Mckinney) egged on by his toothless fellow hillbilly (Herbert “Cowboy” Coward), Boorman brought in several additional cameras, knowing that Beatty, stripped to his baggy underpants and grovelling in the dirt on all fours, was unlikely to give him a second (or third or fourth) take.

According to Beatty: “The scene wasn’t going to be particular­ly physical the way it was written. But when we came up to start to getting ready to actually doing it, Mr Boorman said: ‘I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe this guy is gonna drop his laundry and sort of give into this. I want you to run.’ I said: ‘Fine, I’ll run.’”

The actual “Squeal” line was not in the script, but was suggested by one of the film crew on the day, although Beatty did once claim its authorship. Years later, he would contribute movingly to a newspaper article on sexual assault about his feelings of being “a rape victim” as a result of his experience on the film.

Although Beatty made a huge impact in his screen debut it was not until five years later – by which time he had taken small but juicy roles in award-winning films including Robert Altman’s Nashville in 1975 and Alan J Pakula’s All the President’s Men in 1976 – that he earned his first and only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as a cynical corporate “suit” in Sidney Lumet’s Network (1977), writer Paddy Chayevsky’s scathing satire on American television and all its diabolical works.

The memorable film’s most quoted line probably still remains “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more”, uttered by Peter Finch as the deranged former television anchor man, Howard Beale.

Running it a close second, however, is a remarkable speech in which Beatty, as the hard-boiled studio executive Arthur Jensen, outlines the kind of selfish, self-interested America he wants Beale to evangelise on air. To which Beale responds, bemused: “Why me?” “Because,” snaps Jensen, “you’re on television, dummy!”

Born on July 6 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky, Ned Thomas Beatty was a performer from the age of 10, singing locally in gospel choirs and barbershop quartets. “I was part of a Protestant denominati­on called the Disciples of Christ Christian Church,” he recalled. “It was the ‘theatre’ I attended as a kid. It was where people got down to their truest emotions and talked about things they didn’t talk about in everyday life. It’s where you saw some theatrics, some singing.”

He started his acting career in regional theatre, eventually ending up on Broadway at the back end of the Sixties in an acclaimed production of Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.

Following his move into films and television, Beatty would still return to the stage from time to time. Among his projects was, notably, the acclaimed 2001 London production of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in which he played the coarse patriarch “Big Daddy” opposite the Hollywood star Brendan Fraser as his drunken son, Brick, along with Frances O’connor and Gemma Jones.

Many critics singled out Beatty for praise, The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer hailing his “wonderfull­y battered, gravel-voiced” portrayal of Big Daddy.

Beatty appeared in more than 70 films as well as endless hours of television drama, highlights including two Rockford Files stories, opposite James Garner, in the mid-1970s and, in the 1990s, three seasons as Detective Stan Bolander in Homicide: Life on the Street.

On the big screen he regularly teamed up with Burt Reynolds for adventure and comedy movies, both for better – Joseph Sargent’s White Lightning (1973) and John Avildsen’s

WW & The Dixie Dancekings (1975) – and for worse (Hal Needham’s Stroker Ace, 1983).

Probably Beatty’s biggest hits were Superman (1978) and its first sequel, in which he played the bumbling Otis, assistant to Gene Hackman as megalomani­ac villain Lex Luthor, and Toy Story 3 (2010), in which he brilliantl­y voiced the on-the-surface – genial Lotso, a stuffed pink bear who turns out to have serious personal “issues”.

Superman and Superman II brought Beatty to the UK for filming at Pinewood Studios and he returned to work in Britain regularly through the 1980s for films including Ronald Neame’s globe-trotting spy caper Hopscotch; the story of contempora­ry Scottish life Restless Natives; and the Frederick Forsyth adaptation starring Michael Caine, The Fourth Protocol.

In 1991 Hear My Song, co-written by Adrian Dunbar, who also starred, earned Beatty a Golden Globe nomination for his role as the reclusive Irish tenor Josef Locke. He turned up in the American miniseries Gulliver’s Travels (1996) as the Brobdingna­gian farmer Grultrud, and in Paul Schrader’s film The Walker (2007), an unofficial sequel to his American Gigolo.

Ned Beatty was married four times – finally, from 1999, to Sandra Johnson – and had eight children, including four with his first wife, Walda, whom he divorced in 1968.

Ned Beatty, born July 6 1937, died June 13 2021

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 ?? Deliveranc­e ?? Beatty: above, as Det Stanley ‘The Big Man’ Bolander in the 1990s TV series Homicide: Life on the Street; right, as Bobby, with Jon Voight as Ed, in
Deliveranc­e Beatty: above, as Det Stanley ‘The Big Man’ Bolander in the 1990s TV series Homicide: Life on the Street; right, as Bobby, with Jon Voight as Ed, in

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