Rip Torn: All in the Family

Rip Torn was nominated for an Academy Award for  <i>Cross Creek</i>. The actor will induct his cousin Sissy Spacek into the Texas Film Hall of Fame on March 9.
Rip Torn was nominated for an Academy Award for Cross Creek. The actor will induct his cousin Sissy Spacek into the Texas Film Hall of Fame on March 9.

When Rip Torn takes the stage on Friday, March 9, to induct Sissy Spacek into the first Texas Film Hall of Fame, it won't be just one Texas actor honoring another; it will be a family reunion. The Emmy-winning Torn is a native of Temple, and it so happens his mother was Thelma -- Thelma Spacek, that is -- and thus the two Texas talents are related. Although the 70-year-old actor makes his home in Connecticut, his Texas roots are strong and thriving.

Torn's film career is a fascinating patchwork of hardscrabble roles that have won him critical acclaim ... and a bit of a reputation for being an ornery cuss. Torn shrugs it off to being an equal opportunity perfectionist: He demands it from others as well as himself. One hundred eighteen films, countless television and stage roles later, Rip Torn has earned the respect he has long deserved.

It is difficult to single out any one role of Torn's for comment, but here are a few notable castings: In Payday (1972), Maury Dann is a country music rebel in Nashville's pre-cosmic cowboy days. The story holds up reasonably well, though the end is weak. But Torn is absolutely in his element as the hard-living Dann. In Songwriter (1983), Torn plays Dino McLeish, a weasely promoter busily booking bogus concerts for Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Torn steals the movie when he shoots a beer off the head of an underwear-clad Stephen Bruton. In Cross Creek (1983), Torn received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Marsh Turner, a neighbor of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Mary Steenburgen) in the Florida swamps. Coincidentally, Torn lost to Jack Nicholson, whose career was made in Easy Rider -- a role Torn turned down. Torn's career took a turn upward in the Nineties when he started doing comedy. In Defending Your Life (1991), Torn is Bob Diamond, an unctuous defense attorney assigned to help Albert Brooks save his tush in the hereafter.

No role brought Rip Torn more good press than his six years playing Artie, producer of Larry Sanders on HBO's The Larry Sanders Show. It also won him a well-deserved Emmy. "Hell, I picked out Artie's ties, I knew that character so well. I'm a hands-on guy, and that's who Artie was."

Of his participation with the Texas Film Hall of Fame induction, Torn bubbles enthusiastically in support of his Oscar-winning kin. "Sissy's a good girl, a great actress. You know, her father died recently, and he was so proud of her. I think this is a great way for her to be honored."

Not to mention a chance for the family to get together. But let's get back to Artie the producer for a moment. He was such a worldly, sexy character. Why did it take him so long to be portrayed as the ladies' man he proved to be? Torn does not hesitate in his reply.

"Listen. If women ran Hollywood instead of men, I would have had a completely different career."

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