Able to steal scenes as both a character actor and an unorthodox leading man, Charles Grodin racked up a memorable slate of screen appearances over the course of his five-decade acting career. To mark the beloved actor’s passing, we take a look at some of the vivid roles both big and small that he managed to make his own, from the hilarious to the heart-wrenching, sometimes at the same time.
It’s a toss-up which scene in this Oscar-winning horror classic is the most chilling, but for many it’s the one lengthy, harrowing sequence in which a distraught Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) tries to find a new obstetrician for her soon-to-arrive baby after becoming convinced her neighbors have something diabolical in store for her. As the seemingly observant and compassionate Dr. Hill, Grodin makes a strong first impression with an unsettling ambiguity that is resolved only in his final moments onscreen.
After passing on the lead role in The Graduate and getting a substantial supporting role in Mike Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970), Grodin got his first shot at star status in Elaine May’s caustic comedy as the just-married Lenny Cantrow, who suddenly realizes he’s met the girl of his dreams (Cybill Shepherd) and learns the high cost of impulsive behavior. Both a critical and commercial success, the film put Grodin on the map as a familiar fixture at the movies for the remainder of the decade.
A neglected gem in Grodin’s filmography, this slick and entertaining heist film follows a savvy diamond broker who, in collaboration with Candice Bergen, is forced to come up with a plan to rip off London’s biggest diamond exchange. A stellar supporting cast including James Mason, John Gielgud and Trevor Howard adds sparkle to this witty look at modern larceny.
Grodin got to show off his smarmy villainous side to moviegoers everywhere with one of the decade’s biggest event films, a remake of the 1933 monster classic. Here he plays the head of oil company Petrox, whose expedition to the fog-shrouded Skull Island results in a very, very big discovery.
Grodin returned to comedy with this whimsical fantasy in which an accidentally deceased football star (Warren Beatty) is given a new life in the body of a murdered millionaire, which results in a slew of romantic and cosmic complications. Grodin flaunts his sillier bad guy side here as a homicidal schemer who has to deal with his victim’s unexpected resurrection.
In the first feature comedy from Albert Brooks, a spoof of early reality TV programming, Grodin stars as the beleaguered head of a family chosen to be filmed for a year. As documentarian Brooks spends more and more time capturing their every move, their grip on normalcy quickly slips with hilarious and rapidly escalating results.
The second comedic pairing of Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase after Foul Play (1978) throws in Grodin as Hawn’s current husband, who’s none too pleased when her ex-husband, now on the run from the law and trying to clear his name from a bank robbery, takes shelter in their guest house. A fast and funny comedy from Neil Simon, this one might have you rooting for Grodin to persevere at the end. Grodin would get a very different kind of Neil Simon role a few years later opposite Steve Martin in the underrated romantic comedy The Lonely Guy (1984).
The very silly side of Grodin is on glorious display in the second big-screen outing for Jim Henson’s classic felt-covered characters, this time trotting them all to London, where a plot is being hatched to steal the fabulous Baseball Diamond. Grodin has a blast wooing Miss Piggy and even serenading her during a big, splashy musical number.
The best-loved Grodin role for many movie fans came with this impeccably written Martin Brest comedy in which Grodin plays an accountant who stole a big stash of money from the mob and has to be escorted to Los Angeles by bounty hunter Robert De Niro. A balanced blend of action and comedy, the film showed off new sides of both of its stars and remains a much-loved buddy movie.
One of Grodin’s biggest hits is also the one that introduced him to several new generations of kids, here playing a dad whose family contends with its enormous St. Bernard (named Beethoven, of course) and a clumsy plan to kidnap him. The family-friendly comedy went on to spawn no fewer than seven sequels to date, though Grodin returned only for Beethoven’s 2nd (1993).
After well-regarded roles in Dave and Heart and Souls (both released in 1993), Grodin starred in the strangest comedy of his career. Greeted with bewilderment at the time but now enjoying a significant cult following, Clifford casts Martin Short as a precocious 10-year-old (yes, that’s correct) who ends up spending a week with Uncle Grodin and nearly drives him insane in the process.