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Mr. Movie: Dabney Coleman

He was one of the best ever at being the guy you loved to hate. Dabney Coleman left us at 92 but he also left us with well over 200 movie and TV appearances. He was the consummate character actor and filled each role with just the right amount of believability.


His most memorable niche was as the terrible boss, and his most famous role was in 9 to 5 (1980) in which he played Franklin Parks, Jr. the hateful, overbearing boss of Doralee (Dolly Parton), Violet (Lily Tomlin) and Judy (Jane Fonda). Coleman loved this kind of part, and audiences loved to hate him. He winds up hanging by his ankles from the ceiling thanks to his no-longer-cowed employees. He so richly deserved this! When I saw this in the theater back then, there was cheering when the women got the best of him.


Tootsie (1974) requires quite a leap of faith, which most audiences were happy to make. Dustin Hoffman stars in the title role as a male actor (Michael Dorsey) who can’t seem to catch a break and get a part. He hears of an opening for a female on a soap opera. He dons female attire, adjusts his voice and everything else, and lands the part. He fools most of the people around him, including the show’s sexist, hateful director, Ron Carlisle (Coleman). There are lots of funny scenes as Hoffman makes his way through the minefield of convincing everyone he is a she.


In War Games (1983), Coleman as John McKittrick almost destroys the world as a NORAD engineer. He comes up with the absolutely fool idea that NORAD should not use a human to launch a nuclear attack, but rather use a computer. What could go wrong, right? Matthew Broderick plays a teenage computer genius who hacks into the NORAD system and thinks it is a computer game. OK, this is Hollywood, so you know that the world does not end. But it’s lots of fun seeing how we’re saved!


Coleman doesn’t have a major part in North Dallas Forty (1979). He portrays Emmett Hunter, an executive of the North Dallas Bulls, a professional football team. He is also a brother of the team’s owner. I’m putting this film in this article because of Coleman’s acting job in a fairly small role. We’re supposed to figure out whether he is gay or not and he does a very creditable job of subtly playing the role. So was he? The film is pretty black and white about greedy, shabby executives and naive but honest players.


Coleman’s role in On Golden Pond (1981) is fairly minor. The film mostly deals with the principles in a long marriage revisiting a favored vacation spot. Icons Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn are the couple, and Jane Fonda plays their daughter. She visits them with her fiancé Bill, ably played by Coleman. He shows just what a good character actor does and what he adds to a movie. He handles a dust-up with his future father-in-law (Henry Fonda) with aplomb, but never overacts.


All of the movies in this article are out there somewhere. All are for adults.