RIP Christopher Plummer (1929-2021)

I often credit watching West Side Story (1961) in middle school for starting my sort of “sexual awakening” as I developed a crush on Richard Beymer immediately while watching it. This “sexual awakening,” however, probably started before I saw West Side Story in middle school, but back to when I was even younger and saw The Sound of Music (1965) for the first time. That was probably the first time I didn’t view a romantic/kissing scene as “ew, kissing” but rather “yay, kissing!” I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but watching the tough-as-nails Captain Von Trapp fall for innocent nun-in-training Maria was what made me become aware of sexual desires being interesting and exciting. Despite being cold and even a bit mean at the beginning of the movie, we the audience sided with Plummer’s Captain Von Trapp and as he becomes his old self again over the course of the film, we (like Maria) find ourselves growing attracted to him. For many of us younger old movie fans, it was Christopher Plummer singing “Edelweiss” that got us into movies and it was him and Julie Andrews in the gazebo that got us sexually aroused for maybe the first time.

Christopher Plummer with Chana Eden in Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

Christopher Plummer was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada of Scottish, English, and Angelo-Irish ancestry. He was raised in Senneville, Quebec, Canada where he was mainly brought-up by his mother as his parents divorced when he was young. In the 1950s, Plummer started on the stage and on Canadian television. His Broadway debut came in 1953 in The Starcross Story. Plummer continued working in the theatre (including in Shakespeare productions) and on television throughout the decade and he made his film debut at the end of the decade with Sidney Lumet’s remake of Morning Glory (1933), Stage Struck (1958), co-starring Henry Fonda and Susan Strasberg. The same year he made Wind Across the Everglades (1958) directed by Nicholas Ray and co-starring Burl Ives.

Christopher Plummer as Cyrano de Bergerac who he played both in a TV movie and a stage musical

After making these film debuts, Plummer then made a number of TV movies. He played Dr. Pelletier to Julie Harris’s Belinda in a 1958 TV production of Johnny Belinda. He also co-starred with Harris again in 1959’s TV movie A Doll’s House. He also played the role of Mike Connors (previously played by James Stewart and Van Heflin) in a 1959 TV movie of The Philadelphia Story with Diana Lynn as Tracy Lord, Gig Young as C.K. Dexter Haven, and Ruth Roman as Liz Imbrie. Like Mike Connors, Plummer then did a made-for-TV version of another previous Oscar-winning role as the title character in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1962 with Hope Lange as his Roxane. Plummer then returned to the big screen with a scene-stealing performance as Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) which was a notorious box office flop at the time (but as since been slightly rediscovered).

Christopher Plummer with Julie Anders in The Sound of Music (1965)

Returning with a box office bomb didn’t dent Plummer too much as his next movie was the box office smash that was the “Best Picture” winning The Sound of Music (1965). While Plummer would publicly talk about how much he hated the kind-hearted musical, he grew to appreciate it more as he grew older. Plummer’s film work continued with Inside Daisy Clover (1965) alongside Natalie Wood, Terence Young’s Triple Cross (1966) with Romy Schneider, as Field Marshal Rommel in Anatole Litvak’s The Night of the Generals (1967), as the tragic Greek title figure in Oedipus the King (1968), among the all-star cast of Battle of Britain (1969), and as Arthur Wellesley in Sergey Bondarchuk’s Waterloo (1970). Plummer’s film work at this time was good, but he didn’t have high movie star power like the big-names of Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood. Still, Plummer’s film performances were frequently praised by critics and audiences which kept him in the public conscious.

Christopher Plummer with James Mason who played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Murder by Decree (1979)

Plummer continued to appear in films regularly such as in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Conduct Unbecoming (1975), as Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Aces High (1976), The Silent Partner (1978), as Sherlock Holmes in Murder by Decree (1979), Somewhere in Time (1980), Dreamscape (1984), An American Tail (1986), and the English-dub of Gandahar (1987). He also lent his voice to shorts at this time including The Happy Prince (1974) and the English version of The Man Who Planted Trees (1987). His TV work at the time included playing Tony Wendice in a 1981 TV movie of Dial M for Murder, being among a fine cast in the TV movie The Scarlet and the Black (1983), and being in the noted TV mini-series The Thorn Birds (1983).

Christopher Plummer in The Insider (1999)

Into the 1990s, one of Plummer’s most frequent roles was providing narration to a number of Madeline shorts and TV episodes. As someone who was born in 1993 and who had Madeline as one of her first toys, you better believe I saw lots of these. He also started to appear in more award-caliber movies again including Malcolm X (1992), 12 Monkeys (1995), The Insider (1999), and A Beautiful Mind (2001). His TV performances included a TV movie version of On Golden Pond opposite his most noted co-star, Julie Andrews, in 2001 and starring in the TV series Counterstrike (1990-1993).

Christopher Plummer with Ewan McGregor in Beginners (2010)

As far as autumnal film careers are concerned, Christopher Plummer’s was as good as a late-in-life star could have as his film career almost had a resurgence starting in the late 00s with providing the villain’s voice in Pixar’s Up (2009) as well as an Oscar-nominated performance in The Last Station (2009), but it was especially thanks to his Oscar-winning performance in Beginners (2010). Plummer won “Best Supporting Actor” as a gay man who finally comes out late in life. His character’s death kicks off the events of the movie as much of his scenes are handled through flashbacks via his son, played by Ewan McGregor. McGregor’s character may have been the protagonist but, let’s be honest, the movie should have been about Plummer as not only does he give such a great performance but his story is so much more interesting than anything else in the film. When he’s not on-screen, you find yourself looking for him and hoping that he will come back soon.

Christopher Plummer with Ridley Scott on the set of All the Money in the World (2017)

Christopher Plummer’s roles continued with Barrymore (2011) which had him playing John, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017). He received another Oscar nomination for his performance as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World (2017) which he got on short notice and performed in a short timeframe all to overdo Kevin Spacey’s performance as Getty when Spacey had to be quickly replaced after his notorious #MeToo scandal. Plummer’s hard work was rewarded, however. He also had one of his best late-career roles in the hit whodunit Knives Out (2019) as the movie’s wealthy and conniving but kind victim.

Christopher Plummer with his Oscar for “Best Supporting Actor” for Beginners (2010)

To show for his long and successful career, Christopher Plummer was rewarded an Oscar, a Golden Globe, two Emmys, two Tonys, a BAFTA, and a SAG Award. Plummer also was nominated for a Grammy for his reading of The Nutcracker making him very close to achieving the famed EGOT (although he is a recipient of the famed “Triple Crown of Acting”). Meanwhile, in personal life, Plummer was known for being unbelievably charming (the staff of the former Oprah show all admitted to falling in love with him when he was a guest). Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that Plummer was married three times: first to Tammy Grimes (1956-1960, divorced), second to Patricia Lewis (1962-1967, divorced), and lastly to Elaine Taylor (1970-2021, his death). Plummer’s daughter Amanda Plummer (from his first marriage and his only child) is also in the acting field. Plummer died from complications from a fall on February 5, 2021 at the age of 91. At least he left some solid work behind for us to continue to enjoy.

~Virginia

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