Monday, February 7, 2011
Children of the corn
The Wichita Eagle recently published two terrific articles about famous actors born in my home state, Kansas. I already knew that most of the performers on the list were Kansas natives, like Buster Keaton (the movie theater in my hometown sometimes shows a retrospective of his work from the silent era), Annette Bening (up for an Oscar this year for The Kids Are All Right), and the recently departed Dennis Hopper. There’s also Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel, self-described “fat actress” Kirstie Alley, the mom from E.T. (Dee Wallace Stone) and the loud-mouthed, ill-fated drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket (R. Lee Ermey). Others were complete surprises, though, like Billy Drago.
Born in the small southeastern Kansas town of Hugoton in 1948, Drago is best known for playing Frank Nitti, the sadistic henchman in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. He’s in two of the film’s most memorable scenes: when Nitti kills Malone (Sean Connery) with a tommy gun; and later when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) throws Nitti off a roof. Since The Untouchables, Drago has appeared mostly in low-budget horror and science-fiction fare like Tremors 4: The Legend Begins and Cyborg 2. Two highlights of his career: Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin and the Takashi Miike episode of Masters of Horror, Imprint. Drago appeared briefly in Mysterious Skin as one of Neil McCormick’s “johns”, while he had the starring role in Imprint (famously banned from cable broadcast for its shocking violence). Both roles offered Drago the rare opportunity to demonstrate his soft-spoken, often menacing screen presence in an artistically satisfying film.
Imprint is available to watch instantly on Netflix. You can read the Eagle stories about Kansas actors here and here. In what may or not be a related story, Gov. Sam Brownback signed an order today eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission; you can read about that here.