Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day, and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge. His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman's would-be suitor in Tootsie. Durning, who died yesterday at age 89, may be best remembered by movie audiences for his Oscar-nominated, over-the-top role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. A year later, he received another Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in Mel Brooks' To Be or Not to Be. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe as the harried police lieutenant in 1975's Dog Day Afternoon.
The younger Durning barely survived World War II. He was among the first wave of US soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion and the only member of his Army unit to survive. He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg. Later he was bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners. In later years, he refused to discuss the military service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. "Too many bad memories," he said in 1997. "I don't want you to see me crying." Fellow actor Jack Klugman also died yesterday.