You won't see Stuart Whitman's name listed in the closing credits for the 1951 sci-fi classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” But he's there, if only for a few seconds, in an uncredited role as one of the sentries guarding an alien spaceship.
Such was the humble beginning of many young actors in the '50s, appearing anonymously in bit parts hoping ultimately to be “discovered.” It took about a decade, but critics and audiences eventually noticed the handsome, dark-haired Whitman.
While waiting for that big break, young Stuart bought and hired out a bulldozer, to help pay the bills. But it wasn't an entirely odd employment choice.
“My dad was a real estate developer, and I helped him out before I was put under contract with Universal Studios,” he said from his home in Santa Barbara. His patience and perseverance paid off with a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in the 1961 film “The Mark.” Shot in Ireland with co-star Rod Steiger, it was a controversial film for the time, with Whitman playing a recovering sex offender.
“I was living in North Hollywood and heard the nomination on the radio while driving. I was shocked and almost crashed the car,” he recalled.
He didn't win, quite likely because the film's sensitive theme turned off some Academy voters. He was also up against stiff competition that year including Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman and Charles Boyer.
The award went to Maximilian Schell in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”
Whitman's charm and charisma made him a natural for Western roles including the short-lived but popular TV series “The Cimarron Strip” in 1967, and films such as “The Comancheros,” co-starring with John Wayne in 1961.
“Director Michael Curtiz wanted me for the part of Paul Regret in the film, but said it had already been cast. He suggested I go talk to Wayne,” said Whitman.