A serious, if quasi-hagiographic, biography—the first—of the famously powerful and charismatic actor.
British film critic Hutchinson (Horror and Fantasy in the Cinema, not reviewed) is a friend of Steiger’s, and his narrative reflects this—for while he addresses Steiger’s wilderness years and encounters with depression, this is not an unvarnished portrait. What emerges is a sympathetic close look at the actor’s larger-than-life personality and seemingly star-crossed career. Steiger never knew his father and grew up chafing under his increasingly alcoholic mother, then found escape serving on a destroyer in WWII. Drifting into the Civil Service, he joined a drama group to meet girls, then studied acting with Erwin Piscator at the New School; he later was drafted into the Actor’s Studio, where he was schooled in the “Method” of naturalistic, inner-directed acting (regarding which Hutchinson takes a leisurely detour). His professional career took off gradually: roles in television theater (like Paddy Chayefsky’s groundbreaking Marty) led to triumphant films like On the Waterfront—and crucial missteps like Oklahoma (which he felt typecast him as a villain). His personal affinity for Steiger aside, Hutchinson provides telling portraits of a mid-century New York (where television and theater were innovative and infused with talent) and of the reckless creative spirit behind early TV and such films as The Pawnbroker. The author also examines the long period when health and circumstance led Steiger to act in many films that were below the standards of his peak performances, and includes a brief but intense selection of Steiger’s poems and a lengthy interview with Steiger (taken from a 1992 event at the National Film Theatre in London).
A comprehensive look at one of American acting’s neglected Grand Masters.