Christopher Plummer

On this date in 1929, Canadian actor Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer was born in Toronto, the only child of stockbroker John Orme Plummer and Isabella Mary Abbott, who worked as secretary to the dean of sciences at McGill University. His parents separated shortly around the time of his birth.

Not until he was 17 did Plummer meet his father again, when he came to see him in a play. “Our paths would cross once or twice again in our lifetimes and then no more,” he wrote in his 2008 memoir “In Spite of Myself.” He grew up in Montreal with his mother — the granddaughter of a prime minister and a railroad president — and her extended family in what he called “a colony of fading social aristocracy.” The family attended a Church of England congregation.

He started acting in high school and then apprenticed to the Montreal Repertory Theatre, as did William Shatner. After his Broadway debut in 1953, he appeared in his first hit opposite Julie Harris in Jean Anouilh’s “The Lark” (1955). He was nominated for his first Best Actor Tony in Elia Kazan’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “J.B.”

He won a Tony for the title role of “Cyrano,” a 1973 Broadway musical. His other Best Actor Tony was for “Barrymore” (1996). He won one Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor in 2012 for “Beginners,” also starring Ewan McGregor. In the bittersweet “Beginners,” Plummer played a man who comes out as gay after a long marriage and the death of his wife. At 82, he was the oldest person ever to win an Oscar in a competitive category until being supplanted by 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins in 2021.

He had 217 acting credits for movies, television and videos in addition to his many stage performances. If there’s one role he’s known for, it’s likely as the Austrian naval officer Georg von Trapp opposite Julie Andrews in the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.” It won two Golden Globes and five Oscars and became the third highest-grossing American film of all time, behind “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars.”

In his 2008 memoir, he wrote that he avoided calling the film by name, referring to it instead as “the movie,” “S&M” or “The Sound of Mucus.” That assessment had softened by the time of its 50th-anniversary celebration in 2015: “I do respect it, even though I’ve been very naughty about it over the years,” he said. “I think it’s a marvelous family movie, and we need a family movie in these rough times.” (Newsweek, Feb. 5, 2021)

He played Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Mark Antony and other Shakespeare protagonists on prominent stages to consistent acclaim, according to an obituary. “But he also accepted roles in a fair share of clinkers, in which he made vivid sport of some hoary clichés — as Reverend Carlyle, a bigot hiding behind religiosity in ‘Skeletons’ (1997), for example, one of his more than 40 television movies.” (New York Times, Feb. 5, 2021)

In a 2007 Broadway revival of “Inherit the Wind,” which was loosely based on the Scopes trial and ran for 100 performances, Plummer played a lawyer based on Clarence Darrow. “I think it’s more timely now, more universally timely,” Plummer said about religious fundamentalism and creationism in an interview. “Nobody’s learned anything at all.” In the 2005 Showtime movie “Our Fathers,” he played Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, “rewarded with a promotion” to the Vatican, noted Plummer, after it was proven Law covered up sexual abuse of children by clergy for years. (Playbill, March 16, 2007)

Plummer married three times, first to actress Tammy Grimes (1956-60), with whom he had his only child, Amanda, who became an actress. He married journalist Patricia Lewis in 1962 and divorced in 1967. His final marriage, to actress Elaine Taylor, lasted from 1970 till his death at age 91 in Weston, Conn. D. 2021

PHOTO: Plummer at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival; photo by GDC Graphics under CC 2.0

Freedom From Religion Foundation