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31 MARCH 2013
CHRISTOPHER WALKEN'S 70TH BIRTHDAY

By: Anders Frejdh
Published:
2013-03-31
A celebration of Christopher Walken on his 70th birthday. Walken portrayed the psychotic Max Zorin in Roger Moore's final film as Ian Fleming's James Bond, A View to a Kill (1985). In our eyes, Chris saved the film with his portrayal of the Bond villain.

With this special page, From Sweden with Love would like to send our sincere best wishes to the talented actor. In fact, one our favourite actors of all time.

"Happy birthday Christopher, warm regards from Sweden. Keep up the great work, your credits speak for themselves."

About Christopher Walken: (Courtesy of Celebrating Christopher Walken)
Christopher Walken came into this world as Ronald Walken (named after actor Ronald Coleman) on March 31, 1943. Born the middle child in a family of three boys, he was raised along with his brothers Ken and Glenn, in Queens, New York. Walken still remains a resident of New York City to this day, and for the past couple of decades has owned a brownstone on Manhattan's upper West Side in addition to a home located in the Connecticut countryside.

Christopher's parents were both immigrants who met in the U. S. as young adults and married in 1936. Walken's father, Paul, came from Germany and spent a long career as the owner and operator of Walken's Bakery in Queens. Paul, who passed away in February 2001, was a ferocious worker who regularly made a practice of keeping his young sons busy in the bakery after school. Perhaps that work ethic, instilled so early on, is one of the reasons Walken has said that he is happiest when he is busy working.

Rosalie, Christopher Walken's mother, emigrated from Scotland and once had her own ambitions for the stage. After she was married, her acting desires were redirected toward her sons and she was quite successful at getting all three of them work starting at a very early age. For instance, one of Chris' first jobs was posing nude alongside a cat for a baby calendar layout. He was just 14 months old at the time.

The fifties were the golden age of television and there were plenty of employment opportunities for the Walken brothers with over 90 live TV shows being produced in New York City at the time. Walken was often an extra on those live programs, and by the time he was ten years old, Chris had already worked with such greats as Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, and Sid Caesar.

Some of the early television programs Chris appeared on included the Ernie Kovacs Show, Colgate Comedy Hour, Playhouse 90, and the Armstrong Circle Theater. He was also a regular character on the television series, The Wonderful John Acton and later, Chris was seen in episodes of Naked City, Hawaii Five-O, and Kojak.

Walken received his childhood education at Professional Children's School in Manhattan, during which time he trained specifically to be a dancer. Chris eventually went on to use that training extensively by spending the beginning of his career as a dancer in musicals, and as can be seen in Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice video, Walken still uses his early dance training very successfully to this day.

The professional school Walken attended was unique in that it catered to children who were actively working in show business with lesson plans tailored around the children's working schedules. Though Chris was a very busy kid at that time, he still managed to have a good time at school.

One can easily say that it was an unusual childhood compared to most, and when he was 16 years old Walken even spent a summer playing the part of a lion tamer's son in a traveling one-ring circus.

It was also during his childhood that Walken began to develop his trademark reluctance to follow traditional punctuation. He has said that he sometimes crossed out the punctuation in his text books, just as he sometimes crosses out the punctuation in his scripts today. That avoidance of punctuation, both written and in his speaking rhythm, has since become a integral part of the Walken signature style. A style that has been regularly parodied by impressionists.

After graduating from Children's Professional School and being handed his diploma from none other than Gypsy Rose Lee, Walken went on to study English Literature at Hofstra University. After less than a year, Chris made the decision to leave college when he was offered a part in a 1963 Broadway musical, Best Foot Forward, which also starred a very young Liza Minelli.

Chris continued to work mainly as a dancer in musicals for some time, and it was also at this point in his career that the decision was made to change his name to Christopher.

In 1963 Chris met his wife, Georgianne Thon, while he was playing Riff in West Side Story and she was a dancer playing the part of his girlfriend, Graziella. They were wed in 1969 and still remain married today. Georgianne once worked with her husband when she played the small part of Wendy Abramson in the movie Brainstorm. She has since left acting behind and went on to become a successful casting director who recently won an Emmy Award for casting the Sopranos.

When Walken was offered his first major acting role in 1966, he played the part of King Philip in The Lion in Winter. Chris has said that he was so nervous while he was on stage he almost ended up losing his job early on in the production. Not wanting to give up his chance to become a professional stage actor, Walken convinced the producer to give him just three more days to improve. Chris went on to do so well, he won that year's prestigious Clarence Derwent Award for his performance in the play. Walken would soon win many other important awards such as an Obie for Kid Champion, and a Theatre World Award for The Rose Tatto.

Chris also spent a number of years participating in The Actors Studio where he was taught by legendary drama teachers such as Lee Strasberg.

Chris continued to work in theater, both on and off Broadway, for years until he landed his first movie role. Though he screen tested for leading roles in such films as Love Story and Star Wars, he didn't win a significant part in a movie until 1971 when he was chosen to play alongside Sean Connery in The Anderson Tapes.

Walken went on from there to star in The Happiness Cage, Next Stop Greenwich Village, The Sentinel, and Roseland, and was finally seen by the masses when he played Duane Hall, Diane Keaton's very weird brother, in Woody Allen's production of Annie Hall.

Then for his next film, Walken was given the part of Nick in Michael Cimino's masterpiece,The Deer Hunter.

For playing his part so well, Walken won the 1978 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and from that moment on, his life would never be the same.

A few years later tragedy struck while Walken was wrapping up work on the film Brainstorm. Natalie Wood (sister of 'Bond girl' Lana Wood), his co-star in the movie, had invited him along on a Thanksgiving weekend boating trip with her and husband, Robert Wagner. On the second night of the trip, while their yacht was anchored off the coast of Catalina Island, Natalie fell overboard and drowned.

During the years immediately afterward Walken appeared in a vast number of movies including Stephen King's, The Dead Zone, the James Bond film, A View to a Kill (1985), and he played arch-villain Max Shreck in Batman Returns. Walken also worked with director Robert Redford on The Milagro Beanfield War, and played Sergeant Toomey in Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues. And who can forget those unforgettable Walken monologues from the movies True Romance and Pulp Fiction.

Chris remained busy with a number of additional projects, including several by his friend Abel Ferrara. Those films included King of New York, The Addiction, The Funeral and New Rose Hotel. Also during that time, another very good friend, Julian Schnabel, directed Walken in the movie Basquiat.

Throughout most of his career, Walken has tended to specialize in playing villains and unbalanced types in his film roles, though he has had the opportunity to play different kinds of parts on occasion. For instance, he once played the cat in one of his favorite projects, Puss in Boots, a movie where Chris could be seen singing, dancing, and performing cat-like movements with a feline perfection.

Chris also had a chance to show off his dancing talents in the film, Pennies from Heaven, where he stole the show with a top notch dance routine. Later, at one particularly memorable party, Walken was personally praised by both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly for his performance in that film. A film that would also turn out to be MGM's very last musical.

Most of the world was finally made keenly aware of Walken's exceptional dancing ability when he starred in the Fatboy Slim music video, Weapon of Choice. Finally, an entirely new generation, The MTV Generation, found an opportunity to know Walken in a different light. Instead of the villain, they have been introduced to the song and dance man who has been there all along.

In fact, those who pay close attention will notice that Chris often manages to work a few dance steps into most of his movies. He has said that he makes it a point to include those dance steps, scripted or not, as his own personal "Homage to Broadway."

Critics have tended to focus on Walken as the ultimate villain, and sometimes they describe him with words like 'spooky', 'creepy', or 'menacing'. Walken, on the other hand, has said that he thinks of himself as "alarmingly predictable" - a regular Joe. He told Inside the Actor's Studio host, James Lipton, that he is happily married to his long time wife, owns two homes and a station wagon, and pays his bills on time.

It is clear to his fans that Walken is not only a critically acclaimed actor, he is also a versatile performer whose talents lay well beyond the bad guys he portrays so well. Chris has shown that he is a master dancer as well as a talented singer. He has had a long and impressive stage career performing in countless theater productions including his most recent plays, James Joyce's The Dead, and Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. Chris has even ventured into writing and directing, when he recently wrote and directed the Showtime short, Popcorn Shrimp.

Walken is also a playwright who wrote, produced, and starred in a play which he entitled Him, a play that has been described as a satirical account of the afterlife of Elvis. Chris has written many other plays over the years as well, and it was once mentioned that Walken supposedly has a whole suitcase of unproduced plays put away somewhere.

In addition to his other talents, Chris has also proven himself to be an entertaining comedian who enjoys showing off his song and dance skills as well as spoofing his darker characters on Saturday Night Live. A program he has hosted a total of seven times now and for which he won a 2001 American Comedy Award.

Christopher Walken is such a master at playing the villain, he will certainly continue to excel in those types of roles, though much to his satisfaction, it seems he is now freer to expand his performances to other genres like comedy and dance. In fact, Chris once said that he dreams of someday playing the part of a regular person, a man with a family - someone with a house and children and a dog...

Editor's note:
For more "Bond villains" featured on From Sweden with Love, click here.

Photo above:
Publicity still of Christopher Walken as Max Zorin in A View to a Kill (1985). © MGM Studios Inc.

For more, check out a recent interview with the great actor published in The Guardian: :
www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/mar/21/christopher-walken-im-a-regular-guy
#bond_villains

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Managing Editor: Anders Frejdh