King of Cool: Christopher Walken

By Victoria Looseleaf

It’s that time of year when we reflect: on life, love, loss, latkes and leftovers. As for us at The Report, we’ve been pondering Christopher Walken recently and would like to take a few moments to pay homage to one of our favorite actors, a thespian who also happens to be a superb song-and-dance man à la James Cagney. We should have scribbled something earlier this year after we’d seen Kill The Irishman, Jonathan Hensleigh’s film about Danny Green, the real life Irish thug who worked for the mob in – gasp – Cleveland, our home town, but Hensleigh missed the Mafioso boat and the flick fell flat.

Nevertheless: The era depicted was the late 70’s, with Ray Stephenson (Rome), playing Green, Walken as Alex “Shondor” Birns, and a host of others, including a bloated Val Kilmer, who was nearly unrecognizable, Vincent D’Onofrio, Paul Sorvino, etal. We wondered why the flick was shot in Detroit, standing in for the mean streets of Cleveland, though there were some recognizable elements. Indeed, what really flabbergasted us was actual news footage of the late Rabbi Rudolph Rosenthal, officiating at the funeral of Birns, a loan shark and nightclub owner. (The rabbi had been part of our family’s life for many years, through confirmations, bar mitzvahs, weddings and funerals, including that  of our late brother.)

But we digress. Walken, who will be 69 in March and won a 1978 Oscar for best supporting actor in Michael Cimino’s masterpiece, The Deer Hunter, does crime guys exceedingly well, especially for director/wildman Abel Ferrara.



He ruled as a drug lord in Ferrara’s The King of New York (1990), and then as the oldest brother in The Funeral, from 1996, a Greek tragedy of a film we recently re-watched and which is what actually precipitated this post. Other stellar performances that come to mind include Chris’ turn in Pulp Fiction, which was nothing less than indelible, as was his maniacal brother portrayal in Annie Hall, from 1977. (Right: a shirtless Chris, just cuz he looked so gorgeous…)



Then came 1981, a big year for Chris. He was on the yacht, The Splendor, with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner the night she died in the cold, cold waters off of Catalina Island. And seeing that this was the 30-year anniversary of Nat’s death, there was some brouhaha about reopening the investigation, a big whoop that went nowhere. (Chris and Nat had become friends while filming Brainstorm, above, Nat’s last film that eventually came out in 1983.)

In any case, back to 1981, when we were mad about the actor in  Pennies From Heaven, not least because Chris’ dancing is to die for, with director Herb Ross making great use of the terpsichore’s tap skills.  It’s only too bad that Chris couldn’t have done a Cagney/George M. Cohan-like leading man character (Cagney won the Oscar for Yankee Doodle Dandy), or a Footlight Parade kind of film in his dancing prime, though Pennies might serve as his Cagney/Shanghai Lil moment.

Ah, the years kept flying by, and in 2000 we were thrilled to have been able to see Chris live on Broadway in James Joyce’s The Dead, though when it came to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles it arrived, sadly, without him. In 2001, he again blew everybody’s mind: Chris Walken won an MTV Video Music Award for choreographing his own moves in Fat Boy Slim’s Weapon Of Choice.

Hey: There’s really not much that Chris can’t do, including playing John Travolta’s hubby in Hairspray, as well as being a regular presence hosting Saturday Night Live. Not only does he have a standing invitation for the gig (and has racked up nearly as many appearances as Alec Baldwin), he’s been wowing us with that wacky, wonderful pimp character, The Continental (left) on the show. And, in a non sequitur, we also love the notion that Chris is married to Georgianne Walken, casting person extraordinaire for The Sopranos (alas, they don’t have kids, cuz we would like nothing more than to have seen some little Walkens running around).


So, until somebody creates a film festival in this dude’s honor, we’ll take it upon ourselves to celebrate him. Here’s to the fantastic Christopher Walken: Long may you act, dance, live, laugh and sport your fabulous hair-dos. We worship at your altar and can’t wait to see what the coming year(s) will bring.


About Victoria Looseleaf

Victoria Looseleaf is an award winning arts journalist and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, KUSC-FM radio, Dance Magazine, Performances Magazine and other outlets. She roams the world covering dance, music, theater, film, food and architecture. Have pen - and iPad - will travel! Her latest book, "Isn't It Rich? A Novella In Verse" is now available on Amazon. Thank you for reading! Cheers...
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