With over 80 movie credits, 6 Oscar nods and both an Academy & Emmy award to his name, a convincing argument could be made that Robert Duvall is America's greatest living actor. On his 84th birthday, we remember his list of memorable film roles including The Apostle, The Godfather I & II, Apocalypse Now, The Great Santini, The Natural, True Grit, Colors, Network, Tender Mercies and many others.
All great careers have a beginning and Duvall's was in 1962 as he first appeared on the silver screen in the iconic film adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Cast in the small yet pivotal roll of Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbor of Jem & Scout Finch, Duvall's haunted appearance and fragile portrayal immediately struck a chord with moviegoers and launched his star. He won the part with the help of Mockingbird's acclaimed screenwriter Horton Foote. Lillian Foote (Horton's wife) recommended the young actor to her husband following a stunning stage performance Duvall had recently delivered as a drunkard in Foote's play The Midnight Caller.
Horton scored Duvall an audition and afterward he knew the part had been won when Harper Lee herself sent him a telegram which read simply, "Hey Boo". In preparation for his portrayal, Duvall proceeded to dye his hair a bright shade of blonde and avoided sunlight for six weeks in order to give the appearance of someone who had been locked away all his life.
Years later, Foote and Duvall would again collaborate in making the film Tender Mercies for which they both won Oscars.
Happy birthday to a true American screen legend.