The barrel-chested, slab-faced, and thunder-happy American thesp Rip Torn may qualify as a "character actor" in the broadest sense of the term -- he typically fleshes out variations on the same role again and again, typecast as genially earthy, volatile, and loudmouthed good old boys. But, love him or hate him, Torn's roles over the course of more than half a century are distinct and pronounced enough to have elevated him above many of his contemporaries, into a veritable staple of American cinematic pop culture.
Born Elmore Rual Torn, Jr. in Temple, TX, on February 6, 1931, and nicknamed "Rip" by his father, Torn attended Texas A&M as an undergraduate and studied animal husbandry. He intended to establish himself as a rancher after graduation, but first opted to pursue an acting career as a means to buy a ranch, mistakenly believing that he would hit Hollywood and achieve instant stardom. Instead, Torn scrounged around Los Angeles for several years as a dishwasher and short-order cook, but continued to pursue acting in his off time. Torn's persistence paid off, and he eventually landed several bit parts in movies and television series. He moved to Manhattan in the late '50s, where he formally studied acting under Lee Strasberg and danced under the aegis of Martha Graham; a wealth of movie roles followed over the next several decades, beginning with that of Brick in Actors Studio associate Elia Kazan's controversial classic Baby Doll (1956, with a script by Tennessee Williams) and, a few years later, the role of Finley in another Williams drama, the Richard Brooks-directed Sweet Bird of Youth (for which Torn received a great deal of notoriety). Additional supporting roles throughout the late '60s and early '70s included Slade in Norman Jewison's The Cincinnati Kid (1965), I.H. Chanticleer in Francis Ford Coppola's You're a Big Boy Now (1966), and Sgt. Honeywell in Cornel Wilde's Beach Red (1967).