Manhattan-based accountant Allen Weisselberg must be a wreck. Weisselberg and his family’s welfare are threatened. As bookkeeper for Fred Trump and then his wayward son, Weisselberg knows Trump’s financial shenanigans. Law enforcement encourages accountants to turn on crooked clients. Mobsters hate that.
In the entertaining movie, “Midnight Run” (1990), accountant Jonathan “the Duke” Mardukas turned against his mob-boss client, channeling millions to charity. Mardukas disappears in Manhattan but gets snatched by Jack Walsh, an ex-cop bounty hunter. Comedic hijinks follow when Walsh (Robert DeNiro) and Mardukis (Grodin) travel cross-country to satisfy the Duke’s big bail bond in Los Angeles.
At an Amarillo diner, DeNiro smokes cigarettes and sips coffee while Grodin petulantly drinks tea. The bounty hunter tells the arrested accountant, “You know Jon, you are in this mess because you’re in this mess. I didn’t put you in this mess. You understand?”
The accountant implores the ex-cop to pity his plight and to focus enmity on their mutual nemesis mob boss. Grodin asks DeNiro what most frightens their adversary, and then answers his own question, “Getting knocked off by his own people. What I know about his financial transactions would not only put him away but every mob guy he ever did business with. That’s why he wants to kill me.”
DeNiro’s acting and movies have won many awards. Grodin performed in films for decades, rarely winning awards, but appearing as a father and/or sidekick professional in many memorable motion pictures. However, some of Grodin’s famous films are better remembered for the return of Warren Beatty (“Heaven Can Wait“), box office bombing (Ishtar), and superstar St. Bernards named “Beethoven.“
He grew up as the second son of a working-class Pittsburgh Jewish family named Grodinsky. Determined to be an actor after watching Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in “A Place in the Sun,” Grodin studied at the University of Miami before heading to Broadway and then to Hollywood.
During his leading man years, Grodin barely missed out on the Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) role in “The Graduate” (1967). In later years, Grodin wrote a book about enduring rejection in his profession titled, “It Would be So Nice if You Weren’t Here: My Journey Through Show Business.” Grodin was a deep thinker and deeply interested in entertaining people.
As great as Hoffman and “The Graduate” (1967) were, I enjoyed Grodin in “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972) even more. Each movie involved a Jewish man relentlessly pursuing the love of a woman despite obstacles. Perhaps I preferred Cybil Shepherd cavorting on Miami Beach over Anne Bancroft in panty hose. “The Heartbreak Kid” is hilarious. You will smile. And cringe.
Neil Simon wrote the screenplay. Elaine May directed. Shepherd was sensational, playing Kelly Corcoran, the gentile goddess winning the heart of self-centered Lenny Cantrow (Grodin) even though he’s on his honeymoon.
Jeanie Berlin, daughter of Elaine May, was superb as Lenny’s jilted, sunburned wife. No one has ever played a furious father better than Eddie Albert (Mr. Corcoran). The movie is free here. It will make you think while laughing. Grodin had the same formula on TV.
Grodin made 27 appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show where he was a challenging interview. Grodin acted aggrieved and unwilling to give pat answers. Unlike most guests, he was unintimidated by the host, often turning the tables on Johnny. Just like Lenny Cantrow, Grodin took chances.
Sophisticated viewers enjoyed this high wire act of two witty entertainers trying to one-up each other. Similar shtick followed in subsequent years as Grodin frequently guested on David Letterman.
Grodin savored commenting on current events and ultimately transitioned to news. He got talk show gigs at CNBC (hired by Roger Ailes) and then MSNBC, before becoming part of the CBS News family. He wrote constantly. Over 50 years ago, Grodin directed Simon and Garfunkel TV specials during their social activist days.
How could the Heartbreak Kid be an old man in his late eighties? It made no sense. This great deadpan actor died last week. Left behind are movies, books, plays and commentaries. Thank goodness for YouTube where we can access scores of Grodin’s talk show appearances.
This was a man of intense introspection. Just as Lenny Castrow had second thoughts, Grodin constantly second-guessed decisions made by himself and others. Grodin wrote an interesting book, with proceeds going to charity, in which famous professional colleagues confessed blunders. The book was titled, “If I Only Knew Then . . . Learning from Our Mistakes.”
Introspection is an outstanding trait. Given his political leanings, I bet Grodin hoped Weisselberg will tell the truth to law enforcement so America might become better. And more truthful.
Grodin moved restlessly through life craving better answers. Five years ago, for “The Carson Podcast,” Grodin relived his complicated friendship with Johnny Carson. He also spoke of his Connecticut life full of writing and plays he still wanted produced. Grodin explained his lifelong approach, “I don’t get cowed by so-called authority.”
Rest in peace, Charles Grodin. Your memory is a blessing. It was so nice that you were here.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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