Movie acting bestows a kind of immortality: Once you’re on the screen, you’ll be accessible long after your physical body has ended its brief run.
That’s true for 2018’s departed, who will live on anytime someone watches “The Wizard of Oz” or “Psycho” or “Smokey and the Bandit.” Big stars or obscure minor players, they all made an impression. And they always will, or as long as the hardiest Blu-ray disc exists.
Here’s a collection of actors and actresses who took final bows in 2018. This is not meant to be definitive — just an appreciation of a handful of onscreen people whose screen presence meant something to me.
Burt Reynolds. A dominant Hollywood star of the 1970s and ’80s, Reynolds never quite got the career renewal he deserved (although “Boogie Nights” provided his only Oscar nomination). But his ability to play laid-back heroes, and his jocular personality on talk shows, all required a lot more effort that he got credit for. And on those rare occasions when he actually had to act — like “Deliverance” — look out.
Peggy Cummins. She stopped acting over 50 years ago, but man, sometimes all it takes is one performance. For the British-born Cummins, that was the 1949 film noir classic “Gun Crazy,” where she absolutely crushes one of the great movie entrances, firing her pistols (she’s a sharpshooter in a carnival) and lustily eyeing the man who will be the Clyde to her Bonnie. I’ve had a poster for “Gun Crazy” hanging on my wall for many years, and Cummins’ full-throttle turn is a big reason.
Ricky Jay. One of the world’s most celebrated magicians, Jay slouched into movies through his friendship with writer-director David Mamet. With his deadpan delivery and skeptical attitude, you could well ask whether he was really an actor at all — but every magician has to be an effective actor. The way he handles the dialogue in Mamet’s “Homicide” and “Heist” is a lesson in puckish underplaying.
Dorothy Malone. A hard-working lady who copped the 1956 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her gloriously lurid turn in “Written on the Wind” and stayed in the game until “Basic Instinct” in 1992. For sheer amount of charisma-per-second, check out her tiny scene opposite Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep,” as a bookstore clerk with total recall and time on her hands.
John Mahoney. He was beloved as the father in “Frasier” for over a decade, but I always felt like the sitcom took him away from a wonderfully varied career as a character actor. Mahoney was middle-aged when he arrived in movies in the late 1980s, notably in “Moonstruck,” “Tin Men” and “Say Anything.” He was refreshingly different when he came along: Here was someone who had lived, and took no nonsense.
Margot Kidder. If you weren’t around at the time, you might not remember how weird it was that the untamed Kidder was cast as prim Lois Lane in 1978’s “Superman.” But she made it work, and brought a street-smart quality that played well against Christopher Reeve’s innocence. Despite some serious personal issues, she always looked alive on screen; see her performance as twins in Brian De Palma’s 1974 thriller “Sisters” for a full workout.
R. Lee Ermey. Hired as a military consultant on Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” he shouted his way to getting cast as the unforgettable drill sergeant, partly by virtue of his obscene improvisations. “Do you maggots understand me?”
Jerry Maren. He wasn’t a household name, but you know his most famous role: representing the Lollipop Guild in “The Wizard of Oz.” Maren was the last surviving little-person actor who played a Munchkin in that classic, and he had a long showbiz career that covered everything from “The Gong Show” to “Seinfeld.”
Tab Hunter. Manufactured as a teen heartthrob in the 1950s, Hunter’s run at the top ended quickly, but he displayed good humor by sending up his image in a John Waters movie, “Polyester.” The 2015 documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential” provides an overview, including the pressures of being a closeted gay actor in Hollywood.
John Gavin. Like Tab Hunter, he got a big push as a studio-created hunk in the ’50s. Also like Hunter, he couldn’t act much. But he got one great role, as Janet Leigh’s married boyfriend in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and his lack of warmth or presence made you idly wish Leigh would hook up with Antony Perkins’ lonely motel-keeper instead. Of Mexican heritage, he was appointed U.S. ambassador to Mexico by President Ronald Reagan.
Stephane Audran. A goddess of French movies, known for her regal air and Mount Rushmorelike cheekbones. Along with a series of splendidly sinister films for director-husband Claude Chabrol, she’s indelible as the world-class chef stranded in a Scandinavian religious community in the classic “Babette’s Feast.” Reminded that she will be poor after spending her money on creating an exquisite dinner, she serenely replies, “An artist is never poor.”
Scott Wilson. Lately known for a regular role on “The Walking Dead,” Wilson had a hangdog look and a sensitive manner. Always good, he never quite topped his first year in film in 1967, as part of the sweaty small-town ensemble of “In the Heat of the Night” and incredibly spooky as the real-life killer — partnered with Robert Blake — in “In Cold Blood.”
Douglas Rain. Just one role… this Canadian actor is known for exactly that, yet his performance is an indelible part of any film lover’s cinematic imagination. And you don’t even see his face. He’s the voice of the HAL 9000, the paranoid computer, in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and his performance is a fully inhabited one, including one of the most heart-rending death scenes in film history, feeling his circuits disconnect and crooning a last song. RIP, HAL.