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John Heard, 1945–2017

John Heard has passed away at the age of seventy-two, and both Deadline’s Denise Petski and Variety’s Pat Saperstein are claiming that he was best known as Peter McCallister, the father of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone movies. Well, probably so. But two earlier performances immediately spring to my mind: Charles Richardson in Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter (image above), originally released in 1979 as Head Over Heels with an upbeat ending, and then re-released in 1982 with an ending (and title) that hued closer to that of the Ann Beattie novel on which it was based; and Alex Cutter in Ivan Passer’s Cutter's Way (1981), another film originally released with a different title, Cutter and Bone.

“The Washington, DC native’s acting career began in the 1970s in an off-Broadway production of Mark Medoff’s play The Wager,” writes Petski. “He then segued to television, playing the role of Arthur Dimmesdale in a production of The Scarlet Letter.

As Saperstein notes, Heard would go on to appear in dozens of films, including Paul Schrader’s Cat People (1982), Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985), Penny Marshall’s Big (1988), and Garry Marshall’s Beaches (1988), “and on TV in Miami Vice and The Sopranos, for which he won an Emmy nomination.”

Update: In 2015, Will Harris had an epic conversation with Heard for the A.V. Club about his work in The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015), Valley Forge (1975), Heaven Help Us (1985), The Trip to Bountiful (1985), My Fellow Americans (1996), O (2001), The Great Debaters (2007), First Love (1977), Between the Lines (1977), C.H.U.D. (1984), Awakenings (1990), Sharknado (2013), Cross of Fire (1989), Total Abandon (1983), Radio Flyer (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), The Package (1989), Big,Cat People,After Hours,Cutter’s Way, and the Home Alone movies—and about his TV work, specifically, on The Sopranos,The Client, and Prison Break.

Updates, 7/23: “John Heard was the coolest cat in New York City for about ten straight years, 1974 – 1984,” writes Daniel Stern in a remembrance he’s posted on Twitter. Stern tells a few stories about how Heard looked out for him on up and through his own first film role in Breaking Away (1979). And he adds that “to really appreciate John’s talents, watch Cutter’s Way, watch Heart Beat, watch On the Yard. Too bad his theater performances are gone with the wind because he was absolutely riveting onstage. But nothing was more intense than John’s performance in Life. He lived it hard, fast, and fearlessly.”

“With his squinting blue eyes and clean-shaven good looks, Mr. Heard often embodied the stereotype of the 1980s businessman, bringing a mixture of flustered charm and self-assurance to the roles,” writes Annie Correal in the New York Times.

Back in February, for Episode 310 of the Projection Booth, Bill Ackerman and Daniel Kremer joined Mike White to talk about Chilly Scenes of Winter with Heard, Joan Micklin Silver, Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne, and Mark Metcalf (241’04”).

“His finest hour” for Ryan Gilbey, writing in the Guardian, was Cutter’s Way. “The alcoholic Cutter has lost an eye, an arm and half a leg in Vietnam, and spends much of the picture lashing out with his cane or his tongue. But in his determination to hold to account a local businessman he believes to be guilty of murder, he becomes the film’s motor and its conscience. . . . The studio had wanted Richard Dreyfuss for the part. ‘I went to see Dreyfuss in Othello in Shakespeare in the Park,’ said Passer. ‘The noisy audience was not paying much attention, lying on the grass making love and smoking drugs. Suddenly an actor came on stage and quietened the audience with his voice. It was John Heard as Cassio.’”

Update, 7/29: In a letter to the Guardian,Richard Crane and Faynia Williams, who worked with Heard in a production of Brothers Karamazov on Broadway, recall a chance meeting in Paris thirty-seven years later. “We wandered in Montparnasse cemetery and found a student weeping on the grave of Samuel Beckett, who had cured his depression. Then as the sun was going down, we ate peach melbas on the Left Bank. The next day John was off to see his son in Berlin. We stayed in touch. A year later, he took us to lunch in Los Angeles. He said his back was giving way and also Bernie Sanders, giving way to Hillary Clinton, which could only end in tears. He was the very opposite of the Hollywood actor.”

Update, 8/2: Writing for Little White Lies about Cutter’s Way,Danilo Castro argues that it’s a “blatant disregard for the truth that makes Heard’s performance so damned tragic. Cutter fancies himself a hero who’s taking on The Man, but really, he’s just searching for something—anything—to justify one last fight.”

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