Dullea, Keir

views updated


(b. 30 May 1936 in Cleveland, Ohio), actor who starred in the 1968 groundbreaking science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dullea is the son of Robert Dullea and Margaret Ruttan, who owned a Greenwich Village bookstore. He studied acting at San Francisco State College and first began to work professionally on the stage at the regional Neighborhood Playhouse. In 1959 he made his off-Broadway debut in New York City's Barbizon-Plaza Theatre, playing the role of Timmie Redwine in Season of Choice, a play that covers decades in the life of Redwine and focuses on his decision to marry a woman he gets pregnant but does not love. In 1960 Dullea married the actress Margo Bennett, whom he divorced in 1968. The following year Dullea married Susan Lessons, a fashion publicist, but the couple divorced a year later. His next marriage, to Susie Fuller in 1972, lasted until Fuller's death in 1998.

Throughout the early part of the 1960s, Dullea honed his craft on television in a variety of roles, including parts on such series as Naked City ("Murder Is a Face I Know,"1961, and "Apple Falls Not Far from the Tree," 1963), The United States Steel Hour ("The Big Splash," 1961; "Far from the Shade Tree," 1962; and "The Young Avengers," 1963), and Empire ("Stopover on the Way to the Moon," 1963). He also appeared in the made-for-television movies Mrs. Miniver (1960) and Give Us Barabbas! (1961).

Dullea made his feature film debut in 1961 playing the neurotic juvenile delinquent Billy Lee Jackson in the Hoodlum Priest, a film based on the true story of a St. Louis priest who devotes his life to helping criminals and prisoners turn their lives around. In 1962 Dullea received wide critical acclaim (including an award for best male performance at the 1962 San Francisco Film Festival) for his sensitive portrayal of David Clemens in David and Lisa. The classic drama focuses on two teenagers who fall in love in a mental institution. Dullea played the troubled David, a phobic who cannot stand to be touched, and Janet Margolin played the schizophrenic Lisa.

Dullea's work in David and Lisa established him as an accomplished actor. With his sensitivity and clean-cut good looks, he was in demand. He soon received roles as Private Doll in the war drama The Thin Red Line (1964), as Lee Carey in Mail Order Bride (1964), and as Aldo in Le Ore nude (also called The Naked Hours, 1964). In 1965 he starred as Stephen Lake in the movie Bunny Lake Is Missing! (1965). The role gave him the opportunity to work with one of the world's most respected actors, Laurence Olivier, and with the legendary director Otto Preminger. Although Dullea had become recognized in Hollywood as a proficient actor, the best was yet to come.

After two more projects, the film Madame X (1966), and the theater production Dr. Cook's Garden (1967), Dullea was offered a role that would forever secure his place in cinematic history. Stanley Kubrick was looking for two leads for a new film he had in mind. Based on Dullea's work in David and Lisa, The Thin Red Line, and Bunny Lake Is Missing!, Kubrick picked him for one of the roles, that of astronaut David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film, based on the short story "The Sentinel," by Arthur C. Clarke, also starred the actor Gary Lockwood as coastronaut Frank Poole. "I was overwhelmed to have been cast in a Stanley Kubrick film," Dullea told Amy Reiter in a 1999 interview for Salon magazine. "A Stanley Kubrick film, even that long ago, was really something." In the film, Poole is murdered by the computer HAL, and Dullea's character Bowman is left to confront the paranoid computer. Eventually, Bowman ends up in another dimension as a very old man living in a bedroom where all his comforts are supplied.

Ironically, the landmark epic drama of space adventure and exploration initially received lukewarm critical reviews, and was often cited as being boring and lacking imagination. Part of the reason may have been that the film featured spectacular imagery and minimal dialogue. However, after repeated theater showings over the next several years, the film finally was recognized for its greatness and is included almost universally on greatest-films lists. Because of his role in 2001, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) television network asked Dullea to come to its new studios and comment on the first moon landing in the summer of 1969. Dullea found himself in the news control room, watching the historic landing with Arthur C. Clarke, who cowrote the screenplay for 2001.

Although Dullea went on to appear in numerous films, he also worked extensively as a stage actor, including starring in the Broadway productions of Dr. Cook's Garden (1967), and Butterflies Are Free (1969 to 1970). In 1971 he went to London for three years to reprise his role in Butterflies Are Free, then returned to New York and Broadway in 1974 to star as Brick in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Despite a long career as an actor, Dullea has remained most widely recognized for his role in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a 1999 interview for Biography magazine, Dullea commented on his feelings about being associated with just one film, despite having starred in more than twenty. "I suppose it's like the model who posed for the Mona Lisa," he said. "She might have posed for a lot of good painters, but all we know now is the one hanging in the Louvre for hundreds of years. I think she would consider that pretty terrific."

Dullea, who married actress Mia Dillon in 1999 and has two stepdaughters, has continued as a "working" actor. He appeared in the sequel to 2001, titled 2010: The Odyssey Continues (1984), and as Audrey Hepburn's father Joseph Hepburn in the television movie The Audrey Hepburn Story (2000). Dullea has worked primarily as a stage actor on Broadway, off-Broadway, and regional theater. He has said that he prefers stage work because of the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience and to explore a character's nuances through repeated performances.

A biography of Dullea can be found in Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television (2002), which includes a comprehensive listing of Dullea's stage, screen, and television credits. The actor was featured in People (28 Jan. 1985). Dullea's views on his career and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey can be found in Salon (29 May 1999), and the "Where Are They Now" section in a 1999 issue of Biography magazine, which is available at <http://www.biography.com>.

David Petechuk