Lawyer and oil tycoon who found minor stardom in Hollywood
Published 07/08/2011 | 05:00
GD Spradlin, who died on July 24, aged 90, was a lawyer and millionaire oil producer before stumbling into another career as a prolific character actor, playing devious authority figures in such films as The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979).
In a showbusiness career spanning some 30 years, Spradlin appeared in more than 70 films and television shows and used his real-life experience as an attorney, oilman and rancher to play men in charge, among them doctors, clerics, judges, military top brass and two American presidents.
His breakthrough came in the mid-Seventies, when he portrayed a corrupt US senator in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II. In the film, the senator is blackmailed by the Corleone family after he wakes up and finds himself drenched in the blood of a dead prostitute.
In Coppola's film about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now, Spradlin was the Army general who assigned Capt Willard (Martin Sheen) to find and kill Col Kurtz (Marlon Brando). He also directed two films himself, The Only Way Home and Outside In, both released in 1972.
The son of teachers, Gervase Duan Spradlin was born on August 31, 1920, at Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. He took a degree in Education at the University of Oklahoma before serving in the US Army Air Force in China during the Second World War. In 1948, having taken a second degree at Oklahoma University, this time in Law, he became an attorney for the Phillips Petroleum Company and later became head of the firm's legal department in Venezuela.
On his return to Oklahoma in 1951, he struck it rich as an independent oil producer, and by the time he was 40 in 1960 was wealthy enough to retire.
Cruising around the Bahamas on a yacht with his family turned out to be unfulfilling. "You still have to have an absorbing interest in life," he told an interviewer in 1967, "something to do to make you feel alive."
Spradlin had taken a third degree, in Latin American studies, and had dabbled in politics, as director of John F Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign in Oklahoma, and as an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Oklahoma City in 1965. But he hit on his second career as an actor only by chance.
After taking his daughter, Wendy, to audition for a local production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Spradlin landed a part in the play himself. He joined the Oklahoma Repertory Theatre in 1964.
In 1966 he moved his family to Los Angeles, to be near the Hollywood film studios, and the following year appeared alongside Jack Webb, who was Joe Friday, in the popular television police series Dragnet. A steady stream of work followed, in television and films.
Spradlin's other film credits include The War of the Roses and Ed Wood, in which he appeared with Johnny Depp and Sarah Jessica Parker. He portrayed President Lyndon B Johnson in the 1985 television miniseries Robert Kennedy and His Times.
Spradlin retired after playing the Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in the 1999 comedy Dick.
GD Spradlin's first wife, Nelle Hulsizer, with whom he had two daughters, died in 2000. His second wife, Frances Hendrickson, and his two children survive him.