Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RIP Val Avery

Val Avery, Tough-Guy Actor in Movies, Is Dead at 85.


Val Avery, whose craggy features and threatening aura ensured him nearly 50 years of work playing tough guys on both sides of the law in dozens of television series and films like "Hud," "Hombre" and several directed by John Cassavetes, died Saturday at his home in Greenwich Village. He was 85.

The death was confirmed by his daughter, Margot Avery.

Mr. Avery, who started out in live television and broke into film in "The Harder They Fall" (1956), Humphrey Bogart's last movie, found a rewarding niche playing cops, thugs, Mafia kingpins and mean bosses, although in "The Magnificent Seven," John Sturges's classic 1960 western, he appeared as a traveling corset salesman.

Mr. Avery played the Mafia psychopath Socks Parelli in the Sidney Lumet caper film "The Anderson Tapes" (1971) and the Mafia godfather who cuts off Eric Roberts's thumb in "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984). He also made frequent guest appearances on "The Fugitive," "Gunsmoke," "Columbo" and other television series.

In all, he made more than a hundred films and appeared on television more than 300 times in series and dramas. "In the early years, there were times when it was rough, times when I thought of packing it in, and then a job would open up," he told The Daily News in 1999. "And it would lead to another and another and another, until I had a career and a life."

Mr. Avery was born Sebouh Der Abrahamian on July 14, 1924, in Philadelphia. He acted in productions of the Armenian Youth Theater and, after serving as an Army flight instructor during World War II, enrolled in the Bessie V. Hicks School of Drama in Philadelphia.

In 1953, he married the actress Margot Stevenson, who survives him, along with their daughter.

On moving to Manhattan, Mr. Avery began working in live television, which led to roles in western and crime series and steady work in film. He appeared with Paul Newman as the ranch hand José in "Hud" (1963) and the stationmaster Delgado in "Hombre" (1967); as a police inspector in "The Laughing Policeman" (1973); and as the gangster Trafficante in
"Donnie Brasco" (1997).

After Cassavetes directed him in five episodes of the television series "Johnny Staccato," he cast him as Frielobe in "Too Late Blues" (1961). Mr. Avery later worked with Cassavetes in "Faces" (1968), "Minnie and Moskowitz" (1971), "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" (1976) and "Gloria" (1980).

Mr. Avery slipped out of his usual groove from time to time. Sidney Poitier, with whom he had worked in "Edge of the City" (1957), cast him as a bumbling police lieutenant in "Let's Do It Again" (1975), and he played a dentist who invents a superglue in an episode of "The Odd Couple" on television and the boss at an upholstery factory in the Cheech and Chong film "Up in Smoke" (1978).

Somewhat to his own surprise, he found himself on an Off Broadway stage in 1998 playing a beloved Italian grandfather in "Over the River and Through the Woods."

That was an aberration in a career devoted to menace. While filming "Russian Roulette" Mr. Avery prevailed on the director to strip every line of dialogue from his role so that he could simply project wordless malevolence as a Russian dissident planning an assassination.

The temptation to slip back into character was, it seems, irresistible. At the Lion's Head, a Greenwich Village tavern where he often drank with Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk, he enjoyed fixing innocent customers with a look and then saying, "I'll eat your liver."

AVERY, Val (Sebouh Der Abrahamian)
Born: 7/14/1924, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, U.S.A.
Died: 12/12/2009, Greenwich Village, New York, U.S.A.

Val Avery's westerns - actor:
Zane Grey Theater (TV) - 1957 (Carson)
Gunsmoke (TV) - 1957, 1965, 1967, 1969 (Joe Nadler, Dorner, Trent, Bull)
Last Train from Gun Hill - 1959 (Steve)
The Magnificent Seven - 1960 (Henry)
Bonanza (TV) - 1960 (Sheriff Kincaid)
Tales of Wells Fargo (TV) - 1961 (Frank "Bully" Armstrong
Have Gun - Will Travel (TV) - 1961 (Throckton)
Rawhide (TV) - 1961
Hud - 1963 (Jose)
The Hallelujah Trail - 1965 (Denver bartender)
Daniel Boon (TV) - 1965 (Watowah)
The Virginian (TV) - 1966 (Jim Sunderland)
Nevada Smith - 1966 (Buck Mason)
Laredo (TV) - 1966 (Sheriff Daniels)
The Dangerous Days of Kiowa Jones (TV) - 1966 (Morgan)
The Wild Wild West (TV) - 1966, 1967 (John Crane, Brad Logan)
Hombre - 1967 (Delgado)
Lancer (TV) - 1968 (Wade)
The Traveling Executioner - 1970 (Jake)
Nichols (TV) - 1972
Renegade - 2004 (judge)

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