James Coburn

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James Coburn
James Coburn The Californians 1959.JPG
Coburn as Anthony Wayne in The Californians (1959)
Born(1928-08-31)August 31, 1928
Laurel, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedNovember 18, 2002(2002-11-18) (aged 74)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
EducationCompton Junior College
Alma materLos Angeles City College
Years active1957–2002
Home townCompton, California
Spouse(s)Beverly Kelly (1959–1979)
Paula Murad (1993–2002, his death)
ChildrenJames Coburn IV,
Lisa Coburn
ParentsJames Harrison Coburn, Jr.
Mylet Johnson Coburn
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For other people named James Coburn, see James Coburn (disambiguation).
James Coburn
James Coburn The Californians 1959.JPG
Coburn as Anthony Wayne in The Californians (1959)
Born(1928-08-31)August 31, 1928
Laurel, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedNovember 18, 2002(2002-11-18) (aged 74)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
EducationCompton Junior College
Alma materLos Angeles City College
Years active1957–2002
Home townCompton, California
Spouse(s)Beverly Kelly (1959–1979)
Paula Murad (1993–2002, his death)
ChildrenJames Coburn IV,
Lisa Coburn
ParentsJames Harrison Coburn, Jr.
Mylet Johnson Coburn

James Harrison Coburn III[1] (August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002)[2] was an American actor. He was featured in over 70 films and made 100 television appearances during his 45-year career,[3][4] winning an Academy Award for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction.[5]

A capable, rough-hewn leading man, his toothy grin, and lanky body made him a perfect tough guy in numerous leading and supporting roles in westerns and action films,[6] such as The Magnificent Seven, Snow Dogs, Hell Is for Heroes, The Great Escape, Major Dundee, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Duck, You Sucker!, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Charade, and Cross of Iron.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Coburn cultivated an image synonymous with "cool",[7] and along with such contemporaries as Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson became one of the prominent "tough-guy" actors of his day.

Early life[edit]

James Harrison Coburn III was born in Laurel, Nebraska on August 31, 1928, the son of James Coburn, Jr. and Mylet Johnson. The elder Coburn had a garage business that was destroyed by the Great Depression.[8] Coburn himself was raised in Compton, California, where he attended Compton Junior College. In 1950, he enlisted in the United States Army, in which he served as a truck driver and an occasional disc jockey on an Army radio station in Texas. Coburn also narrated Army training films in Mainz, Germany.[9] Coburn attended Los Angeles City College,[10] where he studied acting alongside Jeff Corey and Stella Adler, and later made his stage debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in Herman Melville's Billy Budd.[11] Coburn was selected for a Remington Products razor commercial in which he was able to shave off 11 days of beard growth in less than 60 seconds,[12] while joking that he had more teeth to show on camera than the other 12 candidates for the part.[13]


Early work[edit]

Coburn's film debut came in 1959 as the sidekick of Pernell Roberts in the Randolph Scott western Ride Lonesome.[14] Coburn also appeared in dozens of television roles including, with Roberts, several episodes of NBC's Bonanza. Coburn appeared twice each on two other NBC westerns Tales of Wells Fargo with Dale Robertson, one episode in the role of Butch Cassidy, and The Restless Gun with John Payne in "The Pawn" and "The Way Back", the latter segment alongside Bonanza's Dan Blocker.[15] During the 1960 to 1961 season, Coburn co-starred with Ralph Taeger and Joi Lansing in the NBC adventure/drama series, Klondike, set in the Alaskan gold rush town of Skagway. When Klondike was cancelled, Taeger and Coburn were regrouped as detectives in Mexico in NBC's equally short-lived Acapulco. Coburn also made two guest appearances on CBS's Perry Mason, both times as the murder victim in "The Case of the Envious Editor" and "The Case of the Angry Astronaut." In 1962, he portrayed the role of Col. Briscoe in the episode "Hostage Child" on CBS's Rawhide.


Coburn in Charade (1963)

Coburn became well known in the 1960s and the 1970s for his tough-guy roles in numerous action and western films. He first appeared with Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the John Sturges films, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Coburn played the part of a villainous Texan in the successful Charade (1963). He was then cast as a glib naval officer in Paddy Chayevsky's The Americanization of Emily. Coburn was signed to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox.[16] His performance as a one-armed Indian tracker in Major Dundee (1965) gained him much notice. In 1966, Coburn became a bona fide star following the release of the James Bond parody film Our Man Flint. In 1967, Coburn was voted the twelfth biggest star in Hollywood.[17]

In 1971, Coburn starred in the Zapata Western Duck, You Sucker!, with Rod Steiger and directed by Sergio Leone, as an Irish explosives expert and revolutionary who has fled to Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. Coburn teamed with director Sam Peckinpah for the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, in which he played Pat Garrett. The two had worked together in 1965 on Major Dundee. The producer of the film, Jerry Bresler, took editing responsibilities away from Peckinpah during post-production. Peckinpah accused Bresler of engaging in sabotage of his film, and he threatened the studio with a lawsuit. Columbia Studios relented, mainly because Charlton Heston, the star of Major Dundee, said that he would no longer work for the studio unless Peckinpah was allowed editing rights to the film.

Though some of Peckinpah's demands were met, the finished product was still not satisfactory to him, and Peckinpah disowned it. Peckinpah and Coburn were greatly disappointed and turned next to Cross of Iron, a critically acclaimed war epic that performed poorly in the U.S. but was a huge hit in Europe. Peckinpah and Coburn remained close friends until Peckinpah's death in 1984. In 1973, Coburn was among the featured celebrities dressed in prison gear on the cover of the album Band On The Run made by Paul McCartney and his band Wings. Coburn returned to television in 1978 to star in a three-part mini-series version of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel, The Dain Curse, tailoring his character to bear a physical resemblance to the author. During that same year as a spokesman for the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, he was paid $500,000 to promote its new product in television advertisements by saying only two words: "Schlitz. Light."[18]

Final years[edit]

Because of his severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films during the 1980s. Coburn continued working until his death in 2002. Coburn spent much of his life writing songs with British singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul and doing television series as his work on Darkroom. He claimed to have healed himself with pills containing Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) a dietary supplement.[19] Coburn returned to film in the 1990s and appeared in supporting roles in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, and Payback. Coburn's performance in Affliction eventually earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Bob Bondurant teaching Coburn in 1972

Coburn's interest in fast cars began with his father's garage business and continued throughout his life, as he exported rare cars to Japan.[10] Coburn was credited with having introduced Steve McQueen to Ferraris, and in the early 1960s owned a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso and a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB. His Spyder was the thirteenth of just fifty-six built. Coburn imported the pre-owned car in 1964, shortly after completing The Great Escape. [20] The car was restored and sold for $10,894,400 to English broadcaster Chris Evans, setting a new world record for the highest price ever paid for an automobile at auction.[21]

Cal Spyder #2377 was repainted several times during Coburn's ownership; it has been black, silver and possibly burgundy. He kept the car at his Beverly Hills-area home, where it was often serviced by Max Balchowsky, who also worked on the suspension and frame modifications on those Mustang GTs used in the filming of McQueen’s"Bullitt." Coburn sold the Spyder in 1987 after twenty-four years of ownership. Over time he also owned the above-noted Lusso, a Ferrari Daytona, at least one Ferrari 308 and a 1967 Ferrari 412P sports racer.[22]


Coburn's bench

Coburn died of a heart attack on November 18, 2002 while listening to music at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was survived by his second wife, Paula (née Murad), son James IV, and a stepdaughter. Coburn was cremated and his ashes were interred in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, and marked by a stone bench inscribed with his name. At the time of his death, Coburn was the voice of the "Like a Rock" Chevrolet television ad campaign. James Garner succeeded Coburn for the remainder of the campaign.[citation needed]

Critical analysis[edit]

In his New Biographical Dictionary Of Film, American-based British Film critic David Thomson stated that "Coburn is a modern rarity: an actor who projects lazy, humorous sexuality. It is the lack of neurosis, an impression of an amiable monkey, that makes him seem rather dated: a more perceptive Clark Gable, perhaps, or even a loping Midwest Cary Grant. He has made a variety of flawed, pleasurable films, the merits of which invariably depend on his laconic presence. Increasingly, he was the best thing in his movies, smiling privately, seeming to suggest that he was in contact with some profound source of amusement".[23] Film critic Pauline Kael remarked on Coburn's unusual characteristics, stating that "he looked like the child of the liaison between Lt Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly".[24] George Hickenlooper, who directed Coburn in The Man From Elysian Fields called him "the masculine male".[25] Andy Garcia called him "the personification of class, the hippest of the hip", and Paul Schrader noted "he was of that 50's generation. He had that part hipster, part cool-cat aura about him. He was one of those kind of men who were formed by the Rat Pack kind of style."[26]



1959Ride LonesomeWhit
Face of a FugitivePurdy
1960The Magnificent SevenBritt
1961The Murder MenArthur Troy
1962Hell Is for HeroesCpl. Frank Henshaw
1963The Great EscapeLouis Sedgwick
CharadeTex Panthollow
The Man from GalvestonBoyd Palmer
Kings of the SunNarratorJ. Lee Thompson
1964Action on the BeachHimselfDocumentary
The Americanization of EmilyLt. Cmdr. Paul "Bus" Cummings
1965Major Dundee
A High Wind in JamaicaZac
The Loved OneImmigration Officer
1966Our Man FlintDerek Flint
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?Lieutenant Christian
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-RoundEli Kotch
1967In Like FlintDerek Flint
Waterhole No. 3Lewton Cole
The President's AnalystDr. Sidney SchaeferAlso producer
CandyDr. A.B. Krankheit
1969Hard ContractJohn Cunningham
1970Last of the Mobile Hot ShotsJeb
1971Duck, You Sucker!John H. MalloryRenamed A Fistful of Dynamite for U.S. release
1972The Carey TreatmentDr. Peter Carey
The HonkersLew LathropSteve Ihnat
A Reason to Live, a Reason to DieColonel PembrokeRenamed Massacre At Fort Holman for U.S. release
1973Bruce Lee: The Man and the LegendHimselfUncredited
Harry in Your PocketHarry
Pat Garrett and Billy the KidPat Garrett
The Last of SheilaClinton
1974The Internecine ProjectRobert Elliot
1975Bite the BulletLuke Matthews
Hard TimesSpeed
1976Sky RidersJim McCabe
The Last Hard MenZach Provo
MidwayCapt. Vinton Maddox
1977White RockNarrator
Cross of IronSergeant Rolf Steiner
1978California SuitePilotUncredited
The Dain CurseHamilton NashMiniseries
1979Speed FeverNarrator
The Muppet MovieOwner of El Sleezo CafeCameo
GoldengirlJack Dryden
1980The Baltimore BulletNick Casey
Loving CouplesWalter
Mr. PatmanPatman
1981High RiskSerrano
LookerJohn Reston
1984Draw!Sam Starret
1985Martin's DayLt. Lardner
1986Death of a SoldierMaj. Patrick Dannenberg
1988Walking After MidnightHimself
1989Call from SpaceShort
1990Train to HeavenGregorius
Young Guns IIJohn Chisum
1991Hudson HawkGeorge Kaplan
1992MastergateMajor Manley Battle
The PlayerHimselfCameo
1993DeadfallMike Donan/Lou Donan
Curse of the DragonHimselfDocumentary
Sister Act 2: Back in the HabitMr. Crisp
1994MaverickCommodore Duvall
1995The Set-UpJeremiah Cole
1996SkeletonsFrank Jove
EraserWitSec Chief Arthur Beller
The Nutty ProfessorHarlan Hartley
Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the RightHimselfDocumentary
1997Keys to TulsaHarmon Shaw
The Disappearance Of Kevin JohnsonHimself
1998AfflictionGlen WhitehouseAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
2000The Good DoctorDr. Samuel RobertsShort
IntrepidCaptain Hal Josephson
2001ProximityJim Corcoran
Texas RangersNarrator
The Yellow BirdRev. Increase Tutwiler
The Man from Elysian FieldsAlcott
Monsters, Inc.Henry J. Waternoose IIIVoice only
2002Snow DogsJames "Thunder Jack" Johnson
American GunMartin Tillman


1957Studio One in HollywoodSamEpisode: The Night America Trembled
1958SuspicionCarsonEpisode: The Voice in the Night
General Electric TheaterClaude FirmanEpisode: Ah There, Beau Brummel
Wagon TrainIke DaggettEpisode: The Millie Davis Story
1958; 1959The Restless Gun (TV Series)Vestry / Tom Quinn2 episodes
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of ColorJack - Outlaw Leader / Mexican Police CaptainUncredited
3 episodes
Alfred Hitchcock PresentsUnion Sergeant / Andrews2 episodes
1958; 1961The RiflemanAmbrose / Cy Parker2 episodes
1958; 1962 Tales of Wells FargoBen Crider / Idaho2 episodes
1959TrackdownJoker WellsEpisode: Hard Lines
State TrooperDobieEpisode: Hard Money, Soft Touch
Black SaddleNilesEpisode: Client: Steele
M SquadHarry BlackerEpisode: The Fire Makers
The Rough RidersJudsonEpisode: Deadfall
The CaliforniansDeputy Anthony Wayne2 episodes
Johnny RingoMoss TaylorEpisode: The Arrival
WhirlybirdsSteve AlexanderEpisode: Mr. Jinx
Tombstone TerritoryChuck AshleyEpisode: The Gunfighter
The Life and Legend of Wyatt EarpBuckskin Frank LeslieEpisode: The Noble Outlaws
The DuPont Show with June AllysonEpisode: The Girl
The MillionaireLew BennettEpisode: Millionaire Timothy Mackail
1959-1960BroncoJesse James / Adam Coverly2 episodes
Wichita TownWally / Fletcher2 episodes
Bat MastersonLeo Talley / Poke Otis2 episodes
Have Gun – Will TravelBill Sledge / Jack2 episodes
Wanted: Dead or Alive (TV series)Howard Catlett / Jesse Holloway / Henry Turner3 episodes
Dick Powell's Zane Grey TheatreDoyle / Jess Newton2 episodes
1959; 1961LaramieGil Spanner / Finch2 episodes
1959; 1961-1962BonanzaElmer Trace / Ross Marquette / Pete Jessup3 episodes
1960The TexanCal GruderEpisode: Friend of the Family
SugarfootRome MorganEpisode: Blackwater Swamp
Men Into SpaceDr. NarryEpisode: Contraband
Bourbon Street BeatBuzz GriffinEpisode: Target of Hate
Peter GunnBud BaileyEpisode: The Murder Clause
The DeputyCofferEpisode: The Truly Yours
TateJoryEpisode: Home Town
Richard Diamond, Private DetectiveEpisode: Coat of Arms
Death Valley DaysPamela's Oxen
LawmanLank Bailey / Blake Carr2 episodes
1960-1961KlondikeJeff Durain / Jefferson Durain10 episodes
1961-1962Perry MasonGeneral Addison Brand / Donald Fletcher2 episodes
1998Mr. MurderDrew Oslett, Sr.Movie
Stories from My ChildhoodThe Archbishop (voice)Episode: The Wild Swans
1999Vengeance UnlimitedBoone Paladin (voice)Uncredited
Episode: Judgment
Noah's ArkThe PeddlerMovie
Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love StoryMorris GunnMovie
2000Missing PiecesAtticus CodyMovie
Scene by SceneHimself
2001Walter and HenryCharlieMovie
2002 ArlissSlaugterhouse Sid PerelliEpisode: The Immortal


  1. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society[dead link]
  2. ^ Biography for James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Allmovie Biography
  4. ^ James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Awards for James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Rhys, Timothy. "Quintessential Cool". Moviemaker 1999/04/09
  8. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/participant.jsp?spid=36024
  9. ^ Published: 12:03AM GMT 20 Nov 2002 (2002-11-20). "Obituary in ''The Telegraph''". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  10. ^ a b Horwell, Veronica (2002-11-20). "James Coburn". The Guardian (London). 
  11. ^ "James Coburn Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  12. ^ "The Hollywood Interview blogsite". Thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com. 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  13. ^ "Allbusiness.com". Allbusiness.com. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  14. ^ Miller, Ron (1995-01-22). "Coburn's Comfort Zone at Home in Western with Heston and Berenger Supporting". San Jose Mercury News. p. 6. "JAMES COBURN began his movie career in a saddle 36 years ago, playing the gangly and not-too-bright sidekick to bad guy Pernell Roberts in the 1959 Randolph Scott western "Ride Lonesome."" 
  15. ^ The Restless Gun, DVD, Timeless Media Group
  16. ^ Entertainment: Coburn Wins Pact, Role in 'High Wind' He'll Star With Anthony Quinn; Mrs. Ames Pens Kidnaping Tale Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 June 1964: A10.
  17. ^ 'Star Glitter Is Catching' By Richard L. Coe. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 07 Jan 1968: H1.
  18. ^ Tarshis, Barry. What It Costs. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1977.
  19. ^ 'Coburn beats back tough disease' By Ann Oldenburg. USA Today [McLean, VA] 29 Dec 1998: 02.D Life.
  20. ^ Valdes-Dapena, Peter (2008-05-19). "$11 million: Ferrari nets record price". CNN. 
  21. ^ http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/classic/112_0901_1961_ferrari_250_gt_spyder_california/test_drive.html
  22. ^ January, 2009, Motor Trend
  23. ^ Thomson, David. "The New Biographical Dictionary Of Film". Knopf 2004
  24. ^ Rule, Vera. "James Coburn". The Guardian, Friday 3/6/99
  25. ^ "Tough Guise". People Magazine. December 2, 2002
  26. ^ Breznican, Anthony. "Actor James Coburn dead of heart attack at age 74". Today's News-Herald. Nov, 20, 2002

External links[edit]