LOS ANGELES — James Whitmore, the veteran Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor who brought American icons Will Rogers, Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt to life in one-man shows, died Friday. He was 87.
Whitmore died of lung cancer at his home in Malibu, said his son, Steve. He was diagnosed with the disease a week before Thanksgiving.
"He cared about acting; his whole life was dedicated to the theater and to movies," said actor David Huddleston, a longtime friend who appeared in Whitmore's 1964 movie Black Like Me and did a couple of plays with him. "I asked James Cagney one time to tell me the best thing you can about acting. He said never to get caught at it. That's kind of how I'd sum up Jim Whitmore."
A stocky World War II Marine Corps veteran who bore a resemblance to actor Spencer Tracy, Whitmore earned early acclaim.
In 1948, he won a Tony Award for outstanding performance by a newcomer in the role of an amusingly cynical Army Air Forces sergeant in the Broadway production of Command Decision.
Whitmore's Broadway success brought him to Hollywood, where he received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for his second movie, the hit 1949 World War II drama Battleground, in which he played a battle-weary Army sergeant.
Supporting roles and occasional leads in 50 movies followed over the next 50-plus years, including The Asphalt Jungle, Them!, Kiss Me Kate, Oklahoma!, Planet of the Apes, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Nuts, The Shawshank Redemption and The Majestic.
In 2000, Whitmore won an Emmy Award as outstanding guest actor in a TV drama series for The Practice.
Although he starred in productions of plays such as Our Town and Death of a Salesman, Whitmore was best known for his three one-man shows: as Truman in Give "em Hell, Harry!, as Roosevelt in Bully and as Rogers in Will Rogers' U.S.A.
Whitmore completed 30 years of on-and-off touring as Rogers at Ford's Theatre in Washington in 2000, and his costume is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution.