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Recreating Richard Widmark

Local man gives actor his artistic touch

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Goldie Currie/Shaw News Service)
Princeton artist Bart Kassabaum stands with his newest piece, "The Widmark Look." The collage-styled piece commemorates the movie career of famous Hollywood actor Richard Widmark and his connection to Princeton. Kassabaum is selling 15-inch-by-19-inch prints of his creation, which come with a concise biography of Widmark that Kassabaum put together during his research into the life of the actor.

PRINCETON – Richard Widmark, the famous Hollywood actor, is most likely the biggest name to come out of Princeton. Oddly enough, other than Widmark Wednesdays at the Princeton Public Library, not much has been done to commemorate his connection to Princeton – until now.

Well-known local artist Bart Kassabaum has produced a major collage that captures Widmark’s entire filmography and his life in Princeton.

“I always had the idea in the back of my mind that one day I was going to do this and do more research on him, but it kept sitting in the background,” he said.

Last year, after being approached and asked if he would consider creating a piece on Widmark, Kassabaum knew it was the opportune time to create “The Widmark Look.”

Widmark’s family moved to Princeton in 1925. Widmark graduated from Princeton High School in 1932. While in Princeton, Widmark’s family lived in seven different places within the community, some of which still exist.

Widmark was a doorman at the Apollo Theater around 1930. After high school, he attended Lake Forest College, where he got into acting. He became an overnight success in 1947, when he starred in his first film, “The Kiss of Death.” He won a Golden Globe for his performance and was nominated for an Academy Award that year.

Kassabaum remembers growing up and watching Widmark’s movies at The Grand Theater in Granville in the 1950s.

“He just stuck right in my head, and every time he was in a movie, it was, ‘Oh, I’m going to see that,’” he said. “You didn’t know whether he was going to be the good guy or the bad guy. More than likely it was the bad guy.”

Kassabaum embarked on his creation last November. He came up with a list of all 72 movies Widmark had starred in. He watched and studied the movies, watched extras about the movies, listened to interviews with actors who starred with Widmark, collected research from news articles, movie magazines, from city directories and telephone books, and talked with people who had connections to Widmark.

“I made a lot of discoveries on my own about Princeton,” Kassabaum said. “I know every place in this town where this man lived.”

Kassabaum’s Widmark project took 9 months to complete. Alongside the art piece, he put together a concise biography about Widmark’s movie career and life in Princeton.

Using prismacolor pencils, watercolors and designers gouache, Kassabaum created the many faces of Widmark’s characters and arranged them around the canvas alongside his movie titles. He also included faces from fellow actors and actresses in his movies, prominent figures in his life, and depictions of the Princeton homes he lived in, the high school he attended and, of course, the Apollo Theater.

“I was trying to do a piece of art that not only showed how successful he was in the movies and show a filmography of his life, but also the main thrust was to show his connection to Princeton,” he said.

Kassabaum’s “hook” is his own rendition of Widmark, which is the largest face in his piece. After looking through piles of photographs, Kassabaum decided none truly captured the Widmark look he wanted to incorporate.

“Those were more formal or informal photos where he was just himself and not Richard Widmark the actor on screen, which is what I wanted to get,” he said.

The only regret Kassabaum has about his piece is not doing it sooner.

“I really had to dig and scrape to get any information,” he said. “But right now I probably know more about Richard Widmark’s life in this town than any other person.”

Kassabaum is hoping to donate a portion of funds raised from selling his prints to a fund that will be used to highlight the life of Widmark in Prince-ton.

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