James Coburn: American film and television actor (1928 - 2002) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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James Coburn
American film and television actor

James Coburn

James Coburn
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American film and television actor
A.K.A. Coburn, James Harrison Coburn III
Was Actor Screenwriter Film actor Television director Voice actor Television actor
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 31 August 1928, Laurel, Cedar County, Nebraska, U.S.A.
Death 18 November 2002, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A. (aged 74 years)
James Coburn
The details (from wikipedia)


James Harrison Coburn III (/mz ˈkbɜːrrnˌˈkbərn/; August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002) was an American actor. He featured in more than 70 films, largely action roles, and made 100 television appearances during a 45-year career, ultimately winning an Academy Award in 1998 for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction.

A capable, rough-hewn leading man, his toothy grin and lanky physique made him a perfect tough guy in numerous leading and supporting roles in westerns and action films, such as The Magnificent Seven, Hell Is for Heroes, The Great Escape, Charade, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Duck, You Sucker!, and Cross of Iron. Coburn provided the voice of Henry Waternoose in the Pixar film Monsters, Inc.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Coburn cultivated an image synonymous with "cool", and along with such contemporaries as Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson became one of the prominent "tough-guy" actors of his day.

Early life

Coburn was born on August 31, 1928 in Laurel, Nebraska, the son of James Harrison Coburn II and Mylet Coburn. His father was of Scottish-Irish ancestry and his mother was an immigrant from Sweden. The elder Coburn had a garage business that was destroyed by the Great Depression. Coburn himself was raised in Compton, California, where he attended Compton Junior College. In 1950, he enlisted in the United States Army, in which he served as a truck driver and occasionally a disc jockey on an Army radio station in Texas. Coburn also narrated Army training films in Mainz, Germany. Coburn attended Los Angeles City College, where he studied acting alongside Jeff Corey and Stella Adler, and later made his stage debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in Herman Melville's Billy Budd. Coburn was selected for a Remington Products razor commercial in which he was able to shave off 11 days of beard growth in less than 60 seconds, while joking that he had more teeth to show on camera than the other 12 candidates for the part.


Early work

Coburn's film debut came in 1959 as the sidekick of Pernell Roberts in the Randolph Scott western Ride Lonesome. Coburn also appeared in dozens of television roles including, with Roberts, several episodes of NBC's Bonanza. Coburn appeared twice each on two other NBC westerns Tales of Wells Fargo with Dale Robertson, one episode in the role of Butch Cassidy, and The Restless Gun with John Payne in "The Pawn" and "The Way Back", the latter segment alongside Bonanza's Dan Blocker. During the 1960 to 1961 season, Coburn co-starred with Ralph Taeger and Joi Lansing in the NBC adventure/drama series, Klondike, set in the Alaskan gold rush town of Skagway. When Klondike was cancelled, Taeger and Coburn were regrouped as detectives in Mexico in NBC's equally short-lived Acapulco. Coburn also made two guest appearances on CBS's Perry Mason, both times as the murder victim in "The Case of the Envious Editor" and "The Case of the Angry Astronaut." In 1962, he portrayed the role of Col. Briscoe in the episode "Hostage Child" on CBS's Rawhide.


Coburn in Charade (1963)

Coburn became well known in the 1960s and the 1970s for his tough-guy roles in numerous action and western films. He first appeared with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the John Sturges film, The Magnificent Seven, and with Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in The Great Escape, another Sturges film. Coburn played the part of a villainous Texan in the successful Charade (1963). He was then cast as a glib naval officer in Paddy Chayefsky's The Americanization of Emily. Coburn was signed to a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox. His performance as a one-armed Indian tracker in Major Dundee (1965) gained him much notice.

Our Man Flint

In 1966, Coburn became a genuine star following the release of the James Bond parody film Our Man Flint. The following year, he was voted the twelfth biggest star in Hollywood.

In 1971, Coburn starred in the Zapata Western Duck, You Sucker!, with Rod Steiger and directed by Sergio Leone, as an Irish explosives expert and revolutionary who has fled to Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. Coburn teamed with director Sam Peckinpah for the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, in which he played Pat Garrett. The two had worked together in 1965 on Major Dundee.

In 1973 Coburn was voted the 23rd most popular star in Hollywood. Coburn, Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris were pallbearers of Bruce Lee's casket and Coburn was considered to be one of Lee's friends.

Peckinpah and Coburn turned next to Cross of Iron, a critically acclaimed war epic that performed poorly in the United States but was a huge hit in Europe. Peckinpah and Coburn remained close friends until Peckinpah's death in 1984. In 1973, Coburn was among the featured celebrities dressed in prison gear on the cover of the album Band on the Run made by Paul McCartney and his band Wings. Coburn returned to television in 1978 to star in a three-part mini-series version of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel, The Dain Curse, tailoring his character to bear a physical resemblance to the author. During that same year as a spokesman for the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, he was paid $500,000 to promote its new product in television advertisements by saying only two words: "Schlitz. Light." In Japan his masculine appearance was so appealing he became an icon for its leading cigarette brand. He also supported himself in later years by exporting rare automobiles to Japan. He was deeply interested in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and collected sacred Buddhist artwork. He narrated a film about the 16th Karmapa called "The Lion's Roar".

Final years

Because of his severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films during the 1980s, yet continued working until his death in 2002. This disease had left Coburn's body deformed and in pain. "You start to turn to stone," he told ABCNEWS in an April 1999 interview. "See, my hand is twisted now because tendons have shortened." For 20 years he tried a host of conventional and unconventional treatments, but nothing worked. "There was so much pain that … every time I stood up, I would break into a sweat," he recalled. Then, at age 68, Coburn tried something called MSM, methylsulfonylmethane, a sulfur compound available at most health food stores. The result, he said, was nothing short of miraculous. "You take this stuff and it starts right away," said Coburn. "Everyone I've given it to has had a positive response." MSM did not cure Coburn's arthritis, but it did relieve his pain, allowing him to move more freely and resume his career.

He spent much of his life writing songs with British singer-songwriter Lynsey de Paul and working on television series, such as Darkroom. Coburn returned to film in the 1990s and appeared in supporting roles in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, and Payback. Coburn's performance in Affliction eventually earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, he provided the voice of Henry J. Waternoose III in Disney/Pixar's Monsters, Inc.


Bob Bondurant teaching Coburn in 1972

Coburn's interest in fast cars began with his father's garage business and continued throughout his life, as he exported rare cars to Japan. Coburn was credited with having introduced Steve McQueen to Ferraris, and in the early 1960s owned a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso and a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB. His Spyder was the thirteenth of just fifty-six built. Coburn imported the pre-owned car in 1964, shortly after completing The Great Escape. The car was restored and sold for $10,894,400 to English broadcaster Chris Evans, setting a new world record for the highest price ever paid for an automobile at auction.

Cal Spyder #2377 was repainted several times during Coburn's ownership; it has been black, silver and possibly burgundy. He kept the car at his Beverly Hills-area home, where it was often serviced by Max Balchowsky, who also worked on the suspension and frame modifications on those Mustang GTs used in the filming of McQueen’s Bullitt. Coburn sold the Spyder in 1987 after twenty-four years of ownership. Over time he also owned the above-noted Lusso, a Ferrari Daytona, at least one Ferrari 308 and a 1967 Ferrari 412P sports racer.

Death and legacy

Coburn's grave marker

Coburn died of a heart attack on November 18, 2002 while listening to music at his Beverly Hills home. He was survived by his second wife, Paula (née Murad), two children and two grandchildren.

Critical analysis

In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, critic David Thomson states that "Coburn is a modern rarity: an actor who projects lazy, humorous sexuality. It is the lack of neurosis, an impression of an amiable monkey, that makes him seem rather dated: a more perceptive Clark Gable, perhaps, or even a loping Midwest Cary Grant. He has made a variety of flawed, pleasurable films, the merits of which invariably depend on his laconic presence. Increasingly, he was the best thing in his movies, smiling privately, seeming to suggest that he was in contact with some profound source of amusement". Film critic Pauline Kael remarked on Coburn's unusual characteristics, stating that "he looked like the child of the liaison between Lt. Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly". George Hickenlooper, who directed Coburn in The Man from Elysian Fields called him "the masculine male". Andy García called him "the personification of class, the hippest of the hip", and Paul Schrader noted "he was of that 50's generation. He had that part hipster, part cool-cat aura about him. He was one of those kind of men who were formed by the Rat Pack kind of style."



Year Title Role Notes
1959 Ride Lonesome Whit
Face of a Fugitive Purdy
1960 The Magnificent Seven Britt
1962 Hell Is for Heroes Cpl. Frank Henshaw
1963 The Great Escape Fg. Off. Louis Sedgwick, "The Manufacturer"
Charade Tex Panthollow
Kings of the Sun Narrator Uncredited
The Man from Galveston Boyd Palmer
1964 The Americanization of Emily Lt. Cmdr. Paul "Bus" Cummings
1965 Major Dundee Samuel Potts
A High Wind in Jamaica Zac
The Loved One Immigration Officer
1966 Our Man Flint Derek Flint
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? Lieutenant Christian
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round Eli Kotch
1967 In Like Flint Derek Flint
Waterhole No. 3 Lewton Cole
The President's Analyst Dr. Sidney Schaefer Also producer
1968 Duffy Duffy
Candy Dr. A.B. Krankheit
1969 Hard Contract John Cunningham
1970 Last of the Mobile Hot Shots Jeb Thornton
1971 Duck, You Sucker! John H. Mallory Renamed A Fistful of Dynamite for U.S. release
1972 The Carey Treatment Dr. Peter Carey
The Honkers Lew Lathrop Steve Ihnat
A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die Colonel Pembroke
1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Pat Garrett
The Last of Sheila Clinton Green
Harry in Your Pocket Harry
1974 The Internecine Project Robert Elliot
1975 Bite the Bullet Luke Matthews
Hard Times Speed
1976 Sky Riders Jim McCabe
The Last Hard Men Zach Provo
Midway Capt. Vinton Maddox
1977 Cross of Iron Sergeant Rolf Steiner
1978 California Suite Pilot in Diana Barrie's Film on Airplane Uncredited
1979 Firepower Fanon
The Muppet Movie El Sleezo Cafe Owner Cameo
Goldengirl Jack Dryden
1980 The Baltimore Bullet Nick Casey
Loving Couples Dr. Walter Kirby
Mr. Patman Patman
1981 High Risk Serrano
Looker John Reston
1985 Martin's Day Lt. Lardner
1986 Death of a Soldier Maj. Patrick Dannenberg
1989 Train to Heaven Gregorius
Call from Space Short
1990 Young Guns II John Simpson Chisum
1991 Hudson Hawk George Kaplan
1993 The Hit List Peter Mayhew
Deadfall Mike/Lou Donan
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Mr. Crisp
1994 Maverick Commodore Duvall
1995 The Set-Up Jeremiah Cole
1996 The Disappearance of Kevin Johnson Himself
Eraser WitSec Chief Arthur Beller
The Nutty Professor Harlan Hartley
1997 Keys to Tulsa Harmon Shaw
Affliction Glen Whitehouse Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Won – Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
1999 Payback Justin Fairfax Uncredited
2000 Intrepid Captain Hal Josephson
The Good Doctor Dr. Samuel Roberts Short
2001 Texas Rangers Narrator Uncredited
Proximity Jim Corcoran
The Yellow Bird Rev. Increase Tutwiler Short
The Man from Elysian Fields Alcott
Monsters, Inc. Mr. Henry J. Waternoose III Voice only
2002 Snow Dogs James "Thunder Jack" Johnson
American Gun Martin Tillman


Year Title Role Notes
1957 Studio One in Hollywood Sam Episode: "The Night America Trembled"
1958 Suspicion Carson Episode: "The Voice in the Night"
General Electric Theater Claude Firman Episode: "Ah There, Beau Brummel"
Wagon Train Ike Daggett Episode: "The Millie Davis Story"
1958; 1959 The Restless Gun Vestry / Tom Quinn 2 episodes
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Jack - Outlaw Leader / Mexican Police Captain Uncredited
3 episodes
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Union Sergeant / Andrews 2 episodes
1958; 1961 The Rifleman Ambrose / Cy Parker 2 episodes
1958; 1962 Tales of Wells Fargo Ben Crider / Idaho 2 episodes
1959 Trackdown Joker Wells Episode: "Hard Lines"
State Trooper Dobie Episode: "Hard Money, Soft Touch"
Black Saddle Niles Episode: "Client: Steele"
M Squad Harry Blacker Episode: "The Fire Makers"
The Rough Riders Judson Episode: "Deadfall"
The Californians Deputy Anthony Wayne 2 episodes
Johnny Ringo Moss Taylor Episode: "The Arrival"
Whirlybirds Steve Alexander Episode: "Mr. Jinx"
Tombstone Territory Chuck Ashley Episode: "The Gunfighter"
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp Buckskin Frank Leslie Episode: "The Noble Outlaws"
The DuPont Show with June Allyson Episode: "The Girl"
The Millionaire Lew Bennett Episode: "Millionaire Timothy Mackail"
1959-1960 Bronco Jesse James / Adam Coverly 2 episodes
Wichita Town Wally / Fletcher 2 episodes
Bat Masterson Leo Talley / Poke Otis 2 episodes
Have Gun – Will Travel Bill Sledge / Jack 2 episodes
Wanted: Dead or Alive Howard Catlett / Jesse Holloway / Henry Turner 3 episodes
Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Doyle / Jess Newton 2 episodes
1959; 1961 Laramie Gil Spanner / Finch 2 episodes
1959; 1961-1962 Bonanza Elmer Trace / Ross Marquette / Pete Jessup 3 episodes
1960 The Texan Cal Gruder Episode: "Friend of the Family"
Sugarfoot Rome Morgan Episode: "Blackwater Swamp"
Men into Space Dr. Narry Episode: "Contraband"
Bourbon Street Beat Buzz Griffin Episode: "Target of Hate"
Peter Gunn Bud Bailey Episode: "The Murder Clause"
The Deputy Coffer Episode: "The Truly Yours"
Tate Jory Episode: "Home Town"
Richard Diamond, Private Detective Episode: "Coat of Arms"
Death Valley Days "Pamela's Oxen"
Lawman Lank Bailey / Blake Carr 2 episodes
1960-1961 Klondike Jeff Durain / Jefferson Durain 10 episodes
1961 The Murder Men Arthur Troy TV film
The Untouchables Dennis Garrity Episode: "The Jamaica Ginger Story"
The Tall Man John Miller Episode: "The Best Policy"
Stagecoach West Sam Murdock Episode: "Come Home Again"
The Detectives Duke Hawkins Episode: "The Frightened Ones"
The Aquanauts Joe Casey Episode: "River Gold"
1961-1962 Perry Mason General Addison Brand / Donald Fletcher 2 episodes
1962 Naked City Harry Brind Episode: "Goodbye Mama, Hello Auntie Maud"
The Dick Powell Show Charlie Allnut Episode:" The Safari"
Checkmate Gresch Episode: "A Chant of Silence"
Rawhide Colonel Briscoe Episode: "Hostage Child"
Cain's Hundred Arthur Troy Episode: "Blues for a Junkman: Arthur Troy"
1963 Stoney Burke Jamison Episode: "The Test"
Combat! Corporal Arnold Kanger Episode: "Masquerade"
The Greatest Show on Earth Kelly Episode: "Uncaged"
The Eleventh Hour Steve Kowlowski Episode: "Oh, You Shouldn't Have Done It"
The Twilight Zone Major French Episode: "The Old Man in the Cave"
1964 Route 66 Hamar Neilsen Episode: "Kiss the Monster - Make Him Sleep"
The Defenders Earl Chafee Episode: "The Man Who Saved His Country"
1977 The Rockford Files Director Episode: "Irving the Explainer"
1978 The Dain Curse Hamilton Nash Miniseries
1980 Superstunt TV film
1981 Darkroom (TV series) Host Series
1981 Valley of the Dolls Henry Bellamy Miniseries
1983 Malibu Tom Wharton TV film
Digital Dreams TV film
1984 Faerie Tale Theatre The Gyspy Episode: "Pinocchio"
Draw! Sam Starret TV film
1985 Sins of the Father Frank Murchison TV film
1986 The Wildest West Show of the Stars Grand Marshall TV film
1990-1992 Captain Planet and the Planeteers Looten Plunder (voice) 15 episodes
1991 Silverfox Robert Fox TV film
1992 True Facts TV film
Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232 Jim Hathaway TV film
The Fifth Corner Dr. Grandwell 2 episodes
Murder, She Wrote Cyrus Ramsey Episode: "Day of the Dead"
Mastergate Major Manley Battle TV film
1994 Ray Alexander: A Taste for Justice Jeffrey Winslow TV film
Greyhounds TV film
1995 The Avenging Angel Porter Rockwell TV film
Ray Alexander: A Menu for Murder Jeffery Winslow TV film
Picket Fences Walter Brock Episode: "Upbringings"
Christmas Reunion Santa TV film
1996 Football America Narrator TV film
Okavango: Africa's Savage Oasis Narrator TV film
The Cherokee Kid Cyrus B. Bloomington TV film
1997 Profiler Charles Vanderhorn 2 episodes
Skeletons Frank Jove TV film
The Second Civil War Jack Buchan TV film
1998 Mr. Murder Drew Oslett, Sr. TV film
Stories from My Childhood The Archbishop (voice) Episode: "The Wild Swans"
1999 Vengeance Unlimited Boone Paladin (voice) Uncredited
Episode: "Judgment"
Noah's Ark The Peddler TV film
Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story Morris Gunn TV film
2000 Missing Pieces Atticus Cody TV film
Scene by Scene Himself
2001 Walter and Henry Charlie TV film
2002 Arliss Slaughterhouse Sid Perelli Episode: "The Immortal", (Last appearance)
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