Childhood & Early Life
James Allen Whitmore was born on October 1, 1921 to Florence Belle and James Allen Whitmore, Sr in White Plains, New York. His father was a park commission official.
Young Whitmore attained his early education from Amherst Central High School before being transferred to Choate School on a football scholarship.
Completing his preliminary education, Whitmore gained admission at the Yale University on a football scholarship. However, severe injuries to his knees caused him to stop playing football. Academically, he was training for a degree in law and was a Government major.
With football taking backseat due to injuries, Whitmore turned his attention to acting. He joined the Yale Dramatic Society and learned some acting skills. He became a member of Skull and Bones and was one of the founding members of Yale radio station.
During World War II, Whitmore enlisted himself in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. Meanwhile, he did not give up on his studies and graduated from Yale University in 1944. Following his graduation, he served in the United States Marine Corps in the South Pacific, emerging from the Marines as a Lieutenant.
After completing his service in World War II, Whitmore took up an acting course at the American Theatre Wing and Actors Studio in New York.
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Immediately following World War II, James Whitmore tried his luck in acting. He appeared in Broadway, capping the role of a sergeant, Harold Evans, in ‘Command Decision’. For his performance in the play ‘Command Decision’, he won the Tony award for Best Performance by Debut Actor.
Whitmore’s breakthrough in films came in 1949 with a documentary-styled crime thriller, ‘The Undercover Man’, starring Glenn Ford and Nina Foch. Same year, his second film and the first with MGM titled ‘Battleground’ released. The film was a big success and won him rave reviews.
Though Whitmore did not have the killing looks nor did he possess the oozing charm, yet his acting skills were such that he gained widespread acclaim as an actor. A range of roles kept coming to him, which he did full justice to. From playing the religious, moral minded person in ‘The Next Voice You Hear Above’ to the crispy boy in ‘Mrs O’Malley and Mr. Malone’, the pathetic crook in ‘The Asphalt Jungle’ to a stoic security chief in ‘Above and Beyond’, he was praised and applauded.
Following his successful film career, Whitmore starred in a couple of films including, ‘Angels in the Outfield’, ‘Kiss Me Kate’, ‘Them!’, ‘Oklahoma!’, ‘Black Like Me’, ‘Guns of the Magnificent Seven’,and ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’
‘Give 'em Hell, Harry!’ a one-man show released in 1975 had Whitmore play the titular role of former USA President Harry S Truman. His brilliant portrayal of Truman earned him Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Actor.
In 1994, witnessed Whitmore played the role of a librarian Brooks Hatlen in the critically acclaimed and Academy Award-nominated film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.
In 1996, he starred in the sci-fi film ‘The Relic’. He ended the decade with a role in the 1999 film, ‘Swing Vote’.
In the new millennium, Whitmore appeared thrice on the big screen. These included: ‘A Ring of Endless Light’ (2002), ‘The Majestic’ and ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ (2005).
Whitmore’s acting career wasn’t limited to big screen only. Towards the mid of the 1950s decade, Whitmore had turned to television. His stint in television grew as he did various series one after the other, starting off with as Father Emil Kapaun in the 1955 episode ‘The Good Thief’ in ABC’s religion anthology series ‘Crossroads’.
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Following his debut in television, Whitmore starred in a couple of tele-series including ‘Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater’, ‘Lux Video Theatre’, ‘Kraft Theatre’, ‘Studio One in Hollywood’, ‘Schlitz Playhouse’, ‘Matinee Theatre’ and the ‘Ford Television Theatre’. In 1958, he played the lead role in ‘The Gabe Carswell Story’ of NBC's ‘Wagon Train’, with Ward Bond.
He started the 1960s decade with the ABC’s crime drama television series ‘The Law and Mr. Jones’. Whitmore played the title role in the series.
Year 1963 saw him playing Captain William Benteen in ‘The Twilight Zone’ episode ‘On Thursday We Leave for Home’. In 1965, he guest-starred as Col. Paul J. Hartley in ‘The Hero’ episode of ‘Twelve O'Clock High’, and appeared in an episode of ‘Combat!’ titled, ‘The Cassock’, as a German officer masquerading as a Catholic priest.
In 1967, he guest starred as a security guard in The Invaders episode, ‘Quantity: Unknown’. Same year, Whitmore appeared on an episode of ABC's ‘Custer’.
In 1968, Whitmore appeared as the Head of the Simian Assembly in the ‘Planet of the Apes’. He ended the decade with roles in several notable series, including ‘My Friend Tony’, the classic ABC western ‘The Big Valley’ and the classic NBC western ‘The Virginian’.
From 1972 to 1973, he was seen in the role of Dr. Vincent Campanelli in the ABC medical sitcom ‘Temperatures Rising’.
In 1975, Whitmore appeared in the television film ‘I Will Fight No More Forever’ as General Oliver O. Howard. The tele-film was based on the 1877 conflict between the United States Army and the Nez Percé tribe.
In 1986, Whitmore gave his voice to the character of Mark Twain for the first claymation feature film ‘The Adventures of Mark Twain’.
In 1999, he starred in two episodes of televison series ‘The Practice’. His performance earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.
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In 2007, Whitmore made his last screen appearance in the C.S.I. episode ‘Ending Happy’. He capped the role of an elderly man who provides a clue of dubious utility.
Awards & Achievements
In 1948, he won the Tony Award for Best Newcomer for his performance in the play ‘Command Decision’.
In 1949, he won the Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Supporting Actor for the movie ‘Battleground’.
In 1975, he won Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for ‘Give ‘em Hell, Harry!’
In 1989, he won the CableACE Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in Movie or Miniseries for ‘Glory! Glory!’.
In 1999, he won Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in Drama Series for ‘The Practice’ as Raymond Oz.
Personal Life & Legacy
Whitmore married four times in his life. His first marriage was to Nancy Mygatt, in 1947, whom he met while he was at the American Theatre Wing and the Actors Studio. The couple had three sons and they divorced in 1971.
In 1972, Whitmore married actress Audra Lindley. They remained a couple until 1979.
In 1979, he remarried his first wife Nancy Mygatt. However, his second marriage innings with Mygatt lasted for merely two years as they separated in 1981.
In 2001, he married actress and author Noreen Nash and the marriage last till his death in 2009.
In 2008 Whitmore was diagnosed with lung cancer. He breathed his last on February 6, 2009, at his Malibu, California home, at the age of 87.
Posthumously, the Peterborough Players initiated the ‘James Whitmore Award’, which is awarded every year to an excellent intern at the theatre.