James Coburn

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James Coburn
James Coburn in Charade.jpg
Coburn as Tex Panthollow in Charade (1963)
Born(1928-08-31)August 31, 1928
Laurel, Cedar County
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 active1958–2002
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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James Coburn
James Coburn in Charade.jpg
Coburn as Tex Panthollow in Charade (1963)
Born(1928-08-31)August 31, 1928
Laurel, Cedar County
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 active1958–2002
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 film and television actor. Coburn appeared in nearly 70 films and made more than 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 he would cultivate 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]

Coburn was born James Harrison Coburn III 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 completely 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 1960-1961 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."


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 spaghetti 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's 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.


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. 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 Gable, perhaps, or even a loping Midwest 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]

Legendary 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 LonesomeWhitBudd Boetticher
Face of a FugitivePurdyPaul Wendkos
1960The Magnificent SevenBrittJohn Sturges
1961The Murder MenArthur TroyJohn Peyser
1962Hell Is for HeroesCpl. Frank HenshawDon Siegel
1963The Great EscapeLouis SedgwickJohn Sturges
CharadeTex PanthollowStanley Donen
The Man from GalvestonBoyd PalmerWilliam Conrad
Kings of the SunNarratorJ. Lee Thompson
1964Action on the BeachHimselfUnknownDocumentary
The Americanization of EmilyLt. Cmdr. Paul "Bus" CummingsArthur Hiller
1965Major DundeeSamuel PottsSam Peckinpah
A High Wind in JamaicaZacAlexander Mackendrick
The Loved OneImmigration OfficerTony Richardson
1966Our Man FlintDerek FlintDaniel Mann
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?Lieutenant ChristianBlake Edwards
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-RoundEli KotchBernard Girard
1967In Like FlintDerek FlintGordon Douglas
Waterhole No. 3Lewton ColeWilliam A. Graham
The President's AnalystDr. Sidney SchaeferTheodore J. FlickerAlso Produced
1968DuffyDuffyRobert Parrish
CandyDr. A.B. KrankheitChristian Marquand
1969Hard ContractJohn CunninghamS. Lee Pogostin
1970Last of the Mobile Hot ShotsJebSidney Lumet
1971Duck, You Sucker!John H. MallorySergio LeoneRenamed A Fistful of Dynamite for U.S. release
1972The Carey TreatmentDr. Peter CareyBlake Edwards
The HonkersLew LathropSteve Ihnat
A Reason to Live, a Reason to DieColonel PembrokeTonino ValeriiRenamed Massacre At Fort Holman for U.S. release
1973Bruce Lee: The Man and the LegendHimself (uncredited)Shih WuDocumentary
Harry in Your PocketHarryBruce Geller
Pat Garrett and Billy the KidPat GarrettSam Peckinpah
The Last of SheilaClintonHerbert Ross
1974The Internecine ProjectRobert ElliotKen Hughes
1975Bite the BulletLuke MatthewsRichard Brooks
Hard TimesSpeedWalter Hill
1976Sky RidersJim McCabeDouglas Hickox
The Last Hard MenZach ProvoAndrew V. McLaglen
MidwayCapt. Vinton MaddoxJack Smight
1977White RockNarratorTony Maylam
Cross of IronSergeant Rolf SteinerSam Peckinpah
1978California SuitePilotHerbert RossUncredited
The Dain CurseHamilton NashE.W. SwackhamerTV Mini-series
1979Speed FeverNarratorOttavio Fabbri
FirepowerFanonMichael Winner
The Muppet MovieOwner of El Sleezo CafeJames FrawleyCameo appearance
GoldengirlJack DrydenJoseph Sargent
1980The Baltimore BulletNick CaseyRobert Ellis Miller
Loving CouplesWalterJack Smight
Mr. PatmanPatmanJohn Guillermin
1981High RiskSerranoStewart Raffill
LookerJohn RestonMichael Crichton
1984Draw!Sam StarretSteven Hilliard Stern
1985Martin's DayLt. LardnerAlan Gibson
1986Death of a SoldierMaj. Patrick DannenbergPhilippe Mora
1988Walking After MidnightHimselfJonathon Kay
1989Call from SpaceRichard Fleischer
1990Train to HeavenGregoriusTorgny Anderberg
Young Guns IIJohn ChisumGeoff Murphy
1991Hudson HawkGeorge KaplanMichael Lehmann
1992MastergateMajor Manley BattleMichael Engler
The PlayerHimselfRobert AltmanCameo
1993DeadfallMike Donan/Lou DonanChristopher Coppola
Curse of the DragonHimselfTom Khun, Fred WeintraubDocumentary
Sister Act 2: Back in the HabitMr. CrispBill Duke
1994MaverickCommodore DuvallRichard Donner
1995The Set-UpJeremiah ColeStrathford Hamilton
1996SkeletonsFrank JoveDavid DeCoteau
EraserWitSec Chief Arthur BellerChuck Russell
The Nutty ProfessorHarlan HartleyTom Shadyac
Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the RightHimselfTom ThurmanDocumentary
1997Keys to TulsaHarmon ShawLeslie Greif
The Disappearance Of Kevin JohnsonHimselfFrancis Megahy
1998AfflictionGlen WhitehousePaul SchraderAcademy 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
1999PaybackFairfaxBrian Helgeland
2000The Good DoctorDr. Samuel RobertsKenneth OrkinShort Subject
IntrepidCaptain Hal JosephsonJohn Putch
2001ProximityJim CorcoranScott Zheil
Texas RangersNarratorSteve Miner
The Yellow BirdRev. Increase TutwilerFaye Dunaway
The Man from Elysian FieldsAlcottGeorge Hickenlooper
Monsters, Inc.Henry J. Waternoose IIIPete Docter
KurosawaHimselfAdam LowDocumentary
2002Snow DogsJames "Thunder Jack" JohnsonBrian Levant
American GunMartin TillmanAlan Jacobs



  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''". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  10. ^ a b Horwell, Veronica (2002-11-20). "James Coburn". The Guardian (London). 
  11. ^ "James Coburn Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Movies.yahoo.com. 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
  27. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp; The Noble Outlaws (24 Nov. 1959)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 24, 2013. 
  28. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 

External links[edit]