Here, Colleen Dewhurst (Mrs. Scott) does a cameo role in The Last Run, starring her husband.
Who--except a Hollywood mogul here, a twitty teenager there and some miscellaneous hyper-sentimentalists--doesn't dump on the Academy Awards? What mammal with half a brain doesn't recognize the sixth-grade idiocy inherent in most Best This-es and Best Thats? But seldom do we who dump get offered what we're dumping on. George Campbell Scott, whose dazzling Patton won him, to the surprise of no one, a nomination for Best Actor, promptly, to the surprise of no one, refused it. Like his previous turndown nine years ago for Best Supporting Actor in The Hustler, this year's refusal, was prompt, courteous and undramatic. Undramatic because Mr. Scott could have milked more publicity out of the refusal by, say, waiting for the most unlikely event of actually getting the Award and, say, doing an on-camera nose thumb. Or he might have executed what I hear is his favorite Award fantasy-sending his dog over to do the acceptance speech. Instead, from Spain (where he's making a movie, The Last Run), he composed the most civilized of cables: ". . . my request is in no way intended to …insult the talented people with whom and for whom I worked on Patton ... I simply do not wish to be involved ...”
Sitting splendidly turtlenecked in his on-location trailer dressing room, he gave, in an oddly matter-of-fact way, his reasons: 'The pubic process of putting actors in competition with each other, when actors are colleagues and must be colleagues in order to survive, is a cruel thing." Powerful pause. "I don't approve of it. I don't approve of all the contrived suspense--the envelope-opening. There's an innate corruption." Someone on location remarked, "After the cable, George was happier than I'd ever seen him." No wonder. George C. Scott did something that few actors get to do: play a hero in real life to an important, usually overlooked audience of one-himself.
It's an acutely clear day, 12 miles south of Granada in the Sierra Nevadas. The snow, smacked by the sun, gleams back. And the plains below stink grandly of freshly plowed earth. In between, at a gas station, they are shooting the most boring scene I have ever seen. The movie is about a reformed criminal (then later, two men and a girl) on the run, and in this shot, the leading character gets out of the car, hands his license to a cop, gets back in the car, and drives away. Yawn, yawn.
Except the main character is being played by George C. Scott. And, somehow, it's not yawn, yawn. Like nothing much happens in the scene, but, as Scott does it, a lot happens. Not that he does a lot of what actors call 'business." On the contrary, he does very little. But what he does do is invested with such tension and purpose that every move is as arresting as a threat. The actor's surface, like the man's, is quiet, controlled. But underneath you sense this undercurrent of watch-out stuff. It's powerful.
Even Alan Sharp, the Scottish screenwriter, admits (with, I must say, a remarkable lack of egocentricity) that Scott is turning The Last Run into "more than just a thriller … He doesn't do much [business], but he takes his coat off, and it's Promethean."
Scott's beginnings in the biz were traditionally gloomy and unspectacular. He was at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, gradually got the message that writing was not for him and just kind of fell into smal-time theatrics nearby. "I was desperate and lonely, so I got into a play and found some kind of comfort in being someone else." For a long time, the "comforts" were few. Then, in '57, a spectacular performance of Richard III with the New York Shakespeare Festival got his stage career going, and both Anatomy of a Murder and The Hustler did it for him in the movies. Scott's work on The Last Run is strictly easy street compared to the rigors of Patton. The makeup alone took two hours each morning, and it involved little things (each morning) like getting his head shaved--so the wig would fit right--and getting his teeth capped--so they would look correctly rotten, like the General's. That is not to mention Scott's tireless study of the General, the actor's fastidious and imaginative building of the character, and his grind through a final performance that kept him on-camera for all but five minutes of one of the longest movies ever made.
Franklyn Schaffner, who directed Patton, speaks of his star in publicity-release words, but they ring oddly of truth: "I can't imagine any other actor playing that part. There's no one with that range, hardness, warmth, power, and just plain endurance. Some actors start out good in the morning, then fade. Scott's there all the time." Scott shrugs off his acting as all technique. "I pre-think everything. It's like you're going from New York to Memphis, and you plan how to go and where to spend the night." Then, with his sideways smile, 'Maybe you call the AAA."
Of Patton: "I wanted to play a multi-faceted person. 20th wanted a dummy general."
They didn't get one.
In The Last Run, Scott (left with costar Tony Musante, and below) plays “a character who's had it, but keeps coming up for air."