Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lost In The Kerfuffle

It was the voice that would grab you.

He passed away yesterday, and he slipped below the horizon too quietly for his talents, lost in a media frenzy over a pointless kerfuffle. The fellow made me smile, and marvel at his talent. He made James Earl Jones sound like Lou Christie. Voices like that, in performance, are rare and wonderful.

What else would Sylvanus and Lovie Browne call their son, but Roscoe Lee? Roscoe was educated in literature and languages, and began his adult life as college professor. He was a little bit of a salesman after that, and then decided when he was in his thirties that he wanted to be an actor. He was always in demand.

Look at his imdb file. He has way over a hundred entries. He was a fixture on TV in the seventies and eighties, a voice over artist of the first rank, a Shakespearean actor. He won awards. He worked.

You can tell that there was a enormous backstop of cultivated talent there. The talent part only gets you so far. People who are really good performers work hard when no one is looking so it will look effortless when the lights hit them. It's the reason why so many people think they'd make a good entertainer if they just got the chance; really good performers make it look easy. You wouldn't. It isn't.

Roscoe Lee Browne could jape with Carroll O'Connor, hit his mark, and deliver his line in the French accent he didn't have to learn because it was catalogued in his head already. He knew from instinct and experience how long to pause before he delivered that final punchline for its full effect. It's a trifle, and I'm sure he knew it, like so many trifles he participated in. But he took trifles seriously. That is the true measure of the entertainer. It's easy to be serious about serious things.

Certain actors can walk to the edge of a stage, and stand there and hold your attention. They are often not beautiful. Roscoe was not a leading man type. He could weave a little story in the air better than most any actor I could name, really.

I remember him always as Mr. Nightlinger, the cook on a cattle drive, in one of the few John Wayne movies that is a real good movie. The Cowboys. He must share a bunkhouse with the pack of young boys that are all that John Wayne can find to drive his cattle to market.

Browne has many impish and serious moments in the movie, but the little vignette when the man, an exotic man, goes in among the boys and tells a wild tale of his heritage, --the boys spellbound, but no more than the audience-- is the best example of his craft I can think of. A man that knew Shakespeare and the Bible as he did knew how to say those lines. You cannot take your eyes from him, and yet you could close your eyes and let his rich, deep voice bring the tale just as convincingly. He was like Babe Ruth was; pitching or batting, doesn't matter.

He got kinda lost in the shuffle yesterday. Someone needs to wish him well. Someone needs to tell him that they watched him in a darkened movie house all those years ago and sat up bolt upright when he boomed in that mellifluous, stentorian voice; "Children, I feel your eyes on me!"

Yes, they were.


Anonymous said...

When ever I heard his voice, I'd stop and take notice- drinking in the way he used his voice as a rare instrument.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

And you've been on a good blogging roll this week!

-Deb in Madison

Icepick said...

"It was that old black magic."


I hadn't realized he had been the voice of the Kingpin in the Spiderman series from a few years back.

In terms of style, his voice reminded me of John Houseman, only much more sonorous and mellifluous.

Icepick said...

More on Roscoe Lee Browne here:

Just skip past the Imus stuff down to the last two paragraphs on the page. There's some on the next page too.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Icepick- Yes, Roscoe Browne is listed as the winner of the AAU 1000 yard indoor sprint one year in the 1940s. That's a killer of a distance. Flat out for ten football fields.

I get all misty eyed when I think of running in feet, yards, and miles. I never ran in the metric system.

Thanks for the kind words, Deb.

Internet Ronin said...

Yes, Browne did kind of get lost in the shuffle, didn't he? Too bad, too, because his was a life worth talking about. One of my all-time favorite character actors. Didn't see The Cowboys - now I'm going to have to! Thanks, Sip!

vlsimon said...

I saw him perform at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven in the mid-sixties in the Man Who Came To Dinner. He played Sheridan Whiteside to perfection. What a performance! He became Whiteside and made us all forget about Monty Wooley.

SippicanCottage said...

It's a testament to the guy's versatility that everyone picks out something different about the guy that struck them as terrific.

Pastor_Jeff said...

It's a testament to the guy's versatility that everyone picks out something different about the guy that struck them as terrific.

Indeed. I loved his rich voice and obvious acting talent in a number of TV appearances (notably, "Soap") and as the narrator of Babe.

Thanks for pointing him out. He will be missed.

peter hoh said...

Not that it reflects on me, but when I looked at Rosoe Lee's IMDB page, the first thing to jump out at me was that he was born in the same town I grew up in. Sorry to say that I had no idea that my town was the birthplace of this fine actor.

SippicanCottage said...

Peter- He was an interesting person. I've always found people who work in the entertainment industry that are not raging celebrities to be more interesting than the name recognition monsters. Details like you mentioned just make their story more piquant.

My nephew works in Hollywood a bit. He was by to visit, and noticed my young son playing a Tony Hawk video game. The next time he came, he brought a poster from Tony Hawk's traveling show, signed by all the performers and stage hands for my son. My son thought it was nifty. My son's friends thought it was some kind of Holy Grail or something. It's the personal aspect of any story that makes it resonate, usually.