Obituary: Jack Weston

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The Independent Online
As both villain and comic actor, chubby Jack Weston excelled in ineffectual blunderers who are not quite as smart as they think they are and frequently come to grief.

As a hitman in Mirage (1965), he is heartlessly shot by his colleague when being used as a human shield by the hero, in Wait until Dark (1967) he is run down by the mastermind he and his pal plan to double-cross, and in Ishtar (1987) he is agent for two of the world's worst song-writers. His fine flair for comedy was showcased both in Hollywood and on Broadway (where he received a Tony nomination), notably in works by Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Alan Alda.

He was born Morris Weinstein in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925, and at the age of ten was enrolled by his father in Cleveland Playhouse after his schoolteacher had complained that the mischievous boy seemed happiest when play-acting. After serving as a machine-gunner in Italy during the Second World War, he studied at the American Theatre Wing in New York, stating "If someone would give me 80 dollars a week for life just to let me act that's all I'd ever ask." After marrying actress Marge Redmond, he worked as dishwasher and elevator operator prior to his Broadway debut in the play Seasons in the Sun (1950), which preceded other small roles on stage and in the early days of live televison. In 1957 he and Marge decided to try Los Angeles where he was immediately cast in an episode of the television western Gunsmoke. It was the first of hundreds of television roles, including episodes of The Untouchables and Twilight Zone, and regular roles in the series My Sister Eileen and The Hathaways.

Weston made his film debut in Stage Struck (1968), and along with his villains in Mirage, Wait until Dark and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), demonstrated his fine flair for comedy in Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), It's Only Money (1962), Cactus Flower (1969), A New Leaf (1971), and Fuzz (1972), a farcical account of police work which included a memorable sequence in which cops Burt Reynolds and Weston disguise themselves as nuns.

A compulsive worker and worrier, Jack Weston found the Los Angeles boring, and returned to New York in 1975. The following year he repeated on screen his stage role in Terence McNally's The Ritz, as a heterosexual male who, fleeing from would-be killers inadvertently takes refuge in a homosexual bath-house. With Richard Lester's frantic direction, what had been hilarious on stage seemed a forced one-joke farce on screen, but the same year Weston had a Broadway triumph with a leading role in Neil Simon's California Suite, starring in two of the four playlets. A self-confessed "hypochondriac, paranoid, nervous wreck", Weston and leading lady Tammy Grimes didn't speak to each other off-stage throughout the play's run.

Weston's association with Simon continued when he headed the touring company of The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and in 1981 Woody Allen cast him as a sleazy personal manager in his play The Floating Light-Bulb, for which he received a Tony nomination (he was beaten by Ian McKellan in Amadeus).

The same year he starred on screen in Alan Alda's perceptive story of four marriages through the years, The Four Seasons, as a cantankerous dentist, and he played the same role in a spin-off television series (1984). His last stage appearances were in Measure for Measure and a revival of Paddy Chayevsk's The Tenth Man (1989), but for the last six years he battled with lymphoma.

Morris Weinstein (Jack Weston), actor: born Cleveland, Ohio 21 August 1925; married Marge Redmond (marriage dissolved), Laurie Gilkes; died New York 3 May 1996.