Roy Scheider Would Have Been 90 Today

Roy Scheider (1932-2008) would have been 90 years old today.

Stardom came late to this unique actor (he was nearly 40 when his career hit), which meant that fans only got about 20 years of him in classic mode. After that, he read as an old man, and was mostly relegated to character parts. What’s pretty miraculous is that he was ever a leading man at all. He was good looking, but in an unusual way. Much like George C. Scott he came off as hyper-masculine, with a rugged, tanned, beat-down looking face, in Scheider’s case, due to many years as an amateur boxer. I wish he’d done a boxing film! But, as we say, he was in his 40s when his career got going, and while he was probably fit enough (think of how strenuous All that Jazz must have been as he approached 50), there probably aren’t that many screenplays about there about aging welterweights.

Scheider’s first film had been the low-budget The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) by Del Tenney, the same year he made The Horror of Party Beach. Years of TV guest shots and forgotten films went by before the breakthrough year of 1971, when he was in both Klute and The French Connection. He was second banana to Gene Hackman in the latter, but nominated for an Oscar, and the role gave him the opportunity to reprise it as the lead in the similarly gritty crime drama The Seven-Ups in 1973, and this is what proved that an unusual but real looking guy like him could carry a film. And that’s what got him cast in the star-making role of Chief Brody in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). Not for nothing, that same year Scheider appeared opposite Jeanie Berlin in Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York. Any rational oddsmaker might have said that the latter film was going to be Scheider’s permanent level in Hollywood. But the smash success of Jaws, and Scheider’s excellence in it, changed all that. (I’ve always loved the choice of the eye-glasses, which accentuate the fact that Brody’s a middle-aged small town peace officer, not an action hero. It’s a really three dimensional performance in what is essentially a monster movie).

Sheider remained on top for at least a decade after this, in movies like Marathon Man (1976), Jaws II (1978), All That Jazz (1979), Still of the Night (1982), Blue Thunder (1983), and 2010 (1984), the underwhelming and misguided sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In the ’90s he was in such films as The Russia House (1990), Naked Lunch (1991), The Rainmaker (1997), and RKO 281 (1999), about the making of Citizen Kane. He also starred in the TV series seaQuest DV (1993-95), a show that had more than a little in common with Irwin Allen’s earlier Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. (Scheider came into the bookstore where I worked around this time — I wish I remembered what books he bought. I like to think it was research material for the show. Anyway, my main takeaway from the encounter was that this guy, who looked so big and tough onscreen, was tiny, tiny, tiny. Big head, tiny body. I wouldn’t box him though).

Scheider’s last film Iron Cross (2009) was released posthumously. Interesting fact, a new version of the film was released in September of this year, with restored footage and some new Scheider scenes accomplished with CGI! Cancer took Scheider before scheduled filming for the film, a Holocaust revenge thriller, was completed. He was 75. Fortuitously, Jaws was also re-released in September of this year.