A Tribute to Rod Steiger
Typical of the tough-minded Method actor, Rod Steiger worked right up to the time of his death in 2002, appearing in four films released in 2001, adding to his total of over 120 films and TV movies. Throughout his life he continued to live up to his schoolboy nickname of “Rodney the Rock,” the guy who lied about his age to get into the military during WWII.
Steiger was a contemporary of James Dean (and by some reports was even harder to work with), and trained at the Actors Studio. He got his start on the New York stage, then moved to live television dramas, where his first big part was the TV version of Marty (1953). The following year he appeared in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, getting the first of three Oscar nominations and earning a reputation as an intense actor who would take on tough, unsympathetic roles.
During the course of his career, he played a lot of those kinds of characters, including Al Capone, Napoleon, Mussolini, Pontius Pilate, a serial killer, the evil Jud Fry in Oklahoma! and the damaged concentration camp survivor in The Pawnbroker (1964), for which he received his second Oscar nomination. He proved he could do comedy in The Loved One (1965), and in 1967 finally won a Best Actor Oscar, playing the sheriff in In the Heat of the Night (1967), also starring Sidney Poitier.
After the 60s, Steiger became pickier about his roles, and didn’t seek major stardom. In fact, he reportedly turned down leads in Patton andThe Godfather (both of whom one can easily see him handling beautifully). Instead he did a good job in less visible films such as The Illustrated Man (1969), Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971) Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973), W. C. Fields and Me (1976), Portrait of a Hitman (1977), Jesus of Nazareth (1977), F.I.S.T. (1978) The Amityville Horror (1979), The Chosen (1981), and January Man (1989).
He suffered a long bout with depression in the 90s, but continued to work in both films and TV. His roles increased in frequency beginning in the late 90s, including supporting roles in Mars Attacks! (1996), Shiloh (1997), Truth or Consequences, N.M. (1997), Crazy in Alabama (1999), and The Hurricane (1999). His last lead role was in A Month of Sundays (2001).
It’s difficult to find a modern-day actor who compares with Rod Steiger. One has to go back to the 30s and 40s to find people who brought such consistent energy and strength to character roles. Though his choice of movies was occasionally questionable, and some of his performances over the top, he could never be accused of sleep-walking through a role.
Rod Steiger worked a lot, and with a lot of people. In fact, he is currently the highest ranked performer on The Oracle of Bacon’s Center of the Film Universe list (a rough measure of how many people can be linked to them in the manner of the “Kevin Bacon” game). Pretty impressive.
On the succeeding pages of this tribute article you’ll find links to some sites with more information, biography, interviews, etc. (though he does not yet have a dedicated tribute site), plus some reviews, posters, and sources where you can purchase some of his films.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Rod Steiger Tributes and Other Pages
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find His Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters