“I found him on the Paramount lot coming out of his trailer. I'd never met him before, but walked right up to him and spent 20 minutes pitching for the part. Finally he said, ‘OK kid, you've got it.' That's the kind of power John Wayne had!”
Whitman's most well-known film is probably “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” in 1965.
“That was the first big money I made in a movie – $300,000,” he said.
Money, however, was never an issue for much of his later career. From his humble bulldozing beginnings, Whitman went on to make millions from real estate investments.
“I didn't need to act to make a living, but had a real passion for it – I just loved to act.”
After some 200 film and TV roles, Whitman, who turned 86 in February, retired to his 30-acre California ranch.
“I've lived there for 45 years, in between the mountains and the ocean. It's a beautiful spot.”
In 2006, he married his third wife, Julia, a Russian.
The two met when Whitman traveled to St. Petersburg to be best man at a friend's wedding. “After returning to the US, I got a phone call from her saying she was in Pasadena and could we meet,” he said. “I'm sure glad I said ‘absolutely!'”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala. His features and columns have appeared in over 400 newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at his blog: http://getnickt.blogspot.com.