Bruce Dern and Nebraska: Because who doesn’t want to see a movie about a sour, bewhiskered and delusional old man?
But let’s be fair. We’ve created a new biography of Bruce Dern not just because of the Academy Award nomination he earned for the film. (He plays a not-so-nice curmudgeon who insists on traveling to Nebraska to collect a $1 million prize he clearly hasn’t won.)
No, Bruce Dern deserves a biography based on a rather amazing body of work that stretches back to the Eisenhower administration. Much of that time he spent playing villains, or at least anti-heroes like Freeman Lowell, the loner space botanist protecting Earth’s last plants in Silent Running.
Truth is, Dern got all the Christopher Walken roles before Christopher Walken came along. He’s the guy you called when the subtext was “dangerously crazy.” A few things we learned while doing his biography:
- He appeared on just about every 1960s TV western there was: Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Virginian, The Big Valley and Bonanza among them.
- He also appeared on the big three of numerical 1960s TV shows: 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6, and Route 66.
- He went to Choate, the Connecticut private school whose alumni include John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, hockey star Julie Chu and comedian Buck Henry. Dern on Choate: “I hated Choate, because I just hate prep schools… I just loved my friends and I didn’t want to be sent away to a [naughty word] concentration camp which is what Choate was like to me.”
- He was previously Oscar-nominated for the 1978 anti-war drama Coming Home. (He played the soldier husband whom Jane Fonda leaves for Jon Voight.)
- His apex of badness may have come when he shot John Wayne in the back in the 1970 western The Cowboys. He was the first person ever to kill Wayne in a movie! Before they shot the scene Wayne told him, “America will hate you for this,” and Dern replied “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley.”
- He is the father of actress Laura Dern.
Well, we knew that last one already. But it’s still notable! Congratulations to him, in any case, on his Oscar nomination.
[ Update: The great Eugene Finerman points out that John Wayne was shot by an (anonymous) Japanese sniper in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). He was also run through by an (anonymous) Mexican soldier in The Alamo (1960) and killed by an (anonymous) giant squid in Reap the Wild Wind (1942). So Bruce Dern is actually more like the first named character to kill John Wayne in the movies. ]
See our full Bruce Dern biography »