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Obituaries

Bert Remsen; Prolific Actor Overcame Severe Injury

April 27, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bert Remsen, prolific character actor who was undeterred by severe back injuries suffered on a sound stage and amassed half a century of stage, television and film credits from "Pork Chop Hill" to the current "Forces of Nature," has died. He was 74.

Remsen died Thursday in his sleep of natural causes at his San Fernando Valley home, his family said Monday.

The versatile performer thought his acting days were over that August day in 1964 when an 84-foot crane toppled on the television set of "No Time for Sergeants." Struck by part of the crane, Remsen suffered a broken back and multiple fractures of his left leg.

Through months of surgeries, chronic pain and repeated hospitalizations, the pragmatic Remsen decided to alter his career, becoming a casting director. He was beginning to establish himself, casting for the television series "The FBI" and for a number of early 1970s television movies.

His work moved forward, although Carl Reiner and other friends kept finding roles for an actor on crutches. Remsen was casting the film "Brewster McCloud" for Robert Altman in 1970, and while searching for just the right actor to portray a psychotic cop, the director suddenly looked at him and said, "You."

The actor went on to work for Altman in other motion pictures--"McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "California Split," "Nashville"--and soon found himself so busy acting again that he abandoned the casting business. Remsen was especially memorable as T-Dub in Altman's "Thieves Like Us" and as only guest William Williamson in "A Wedding."

For other directors, Remsen was notable as the choleric coach Bo Winnegar in "Fast Break," Kid Colors in "The Sting II," Tee Tot Hightower in "Places in the Heart," Mr. Morton in "Miss Firecracker," the bartender in "Dick Tracy," Spats Shannon in "Only the Lonely," the Rotary Club president in "The Bodyguard," himself in "The Player," a riverboat gambler in "Maverick" and Ned in the Sandra Bullock-Ben Affleck hit "Forces of Nature."

Remsen also had been active in television for the past three decades. Best known for his work in television movies, he had regular roles in several series as well: He was the city editor in the 1976-77 "Gibbsville," a judge in the 1993-94 "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." and a judge and later Sonny Skyler in the long-running "Melrose Place."

A native of Glen Cove, N.Y., Remsen served in the Navy during World War II and earned a Purple Heart for wounds suffered on Okinawa. He earned a drama degree at Ithaca College in New York and studied acting with Sandy Meisner at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse.

With personal understanding of physical handicaps, Remsen was generous in supporting causes for the handicapped. In 1985, his work earned him a "Billie Award" at Abilities Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The actor is survived by his wife of 40 years, Barbara Dodd Remsen, two daughters, Ann Manners and Kerry Remsen, a brother, Guy, and two grandchildren.

The family said funeral services will be private and asked that any memorial donations be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, the American Red Cross or to the Disabled American Veterans.

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