We will miss you, Fred Ward. You marked the lives of several generations of film and television fans, and we’re all the more grateful for your lighting up the screen. Rest in power, sir.
Ward, who starred in films including “Henry and June,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Player,” has died. He was 79.
Film fans of the era were quick to champion Ward in “Tremors,” playing affable smalltown repairman Earl Bassett in a performance that was one for the Blockbuster video store ages. Released in 1990, director Ron Underwood’s clever and earnest take on the American western genre as a monster-based comedy wasn’t exactly a box office hit. Rather, it developed a wider audience as they discovered the film during its home entertainment release, ultimately launching a franchise.
Co-starring Kevin Bacon and Finn Carter, “Tremors” fans also could not get enough of the vivid turns from iconic TV dad Michael Gross (“Family Ties”) and country music legend Reba McEntire as a survivalist couple, chewing up the screen as much as the carnivorous worm-like creatures dispatched by Ward, Bacon, and the townsfolk. Still, at its center stood Ward and Bacon, essaying one of the first post-modern “bro-mances” on screen in that era, a friendship that felt genuine and sincere despite the monster movie chaos fueling the narrative.
“Ward has played many heroes, each with a subtlety that removed them from the cardboard cutout figures that they could have been,” the Chicago Tribune’s Julia Cameron write of the actor in 1985. “In many ways, his work…can be viewed as a meditation on America’s notions of masculinity.”
Ward was married to Marie-France Ward, with whom he had a son, Django. TMZ reports via Ward’s rep that his cause of death is currently unknown. Ward, whose death was reported on May 8, wanted memorial tributes to be given to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.
What the hell is happening with Broadway audiences?? Is baiting theater legend Patti LuPone the source for new “Karen videos” aiming at creative dis-content infamy? What about Jesse Williams‘s nude scene in the play “Take Me Out” being shot and posted onto Twitter?! Why are we hellbent on ruining the once simple pleasure of enjoying live theater in such a callous, selfish way?
As our social mores continue their sad, rapid decline, I seriously thought live theater would be the last bastion of good taste and deportment. I guess I should have known the writing was on the wall the last time I attended a play on Broadway (“Burn This” in 2019) which was attended by more people in flip flops and shorts than I’ve ever seen. The recent events involving Ms. LuPone and Mr. Williams just adds more fuel to the pyre.
Live theater became a religion for me in 1983 when I took my first trip to NYC. The original productions of La Cage aux Folles and My One and Only, plus Nine and Doonesbury the Musical were my first Broadway musicals, a transformative experience to say the least. The audiences could not have been more respectful or well-heeled. I even wore a tie to each performance. Yet, reading the latest headlines of hooliganism on the Great White Way makes me ponder when it all went south.
We’ve seen how the toxicity of hooliganism transforms sporting events into something both demeaning and dangerous. Yet, since talk shows such as “Jerry Springer” and “Ricki Lake” started rewarding bad behavior with a rabid television audience leering for more, are we that surprised as to what passes for “class” today? Screaming at people is an art form thanks to those reality shows involving “real housewives” and other scions of dysfunction. But the toxicity level hit its vertiginous peak with the rise of social media, allowing for the telebasura or TV Trash to be captured, crafted, and posted with incredible ease. Witnessing “Karens in the Wild” best sums up our complete breakdown of manners and civility in any public space, big or small. So much so, the Trumpian Era of politics ushered levels so base and classless behavior it succeeded in re-branding the Ugly American into a superbeing.
How can any rational discourse, much less good manners, exist in a world where human hyenas fight for camera time on Fox News or the floor of the Capitol Building. More, this lack of boundaries and good taste is giving free license to people to use their mobile phones as weapons of mass distraction. As to their endgame, I can only imagine it is fuel their desperate need for views and followers to validate their self-worth while promoting their ravenous desire for attention and status.
How do we turn the tide? With the NY theater community still reeling from the creative and financial meltdown caused by the COVID pandemic, that several houses and productions are bouncing back is a veritable miracle. The venues are getting stricter by locking down mobile phones, extending the mask mandates, and other health-driven initiatives. But what about the audience itself? At what point do we engage a mandate for people to stop being for damn loathsome in public? This era of constant whining, lack of accountability, and good sense is not how we achieve greatness. With our hard-earned democracy in shambles while the MAGA-fueled right fiddles as Rome burns, maybe complaining about shitty audiences seems like a waste of time.
But take a good look around you and ask yourself, “What ever happened to class?”
We share and resend the motto memes of “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Unless we start making that happen now, I’m honestly hoping for an asteroid to take charge already and slam into this damaged planet.
Cue 1975’s classic showtune from Bob Fosse’s Chicago, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It was cut from the 2002 Oscar-winning film version, but thankfully it was shot with Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones and included with the home entertainment special features as a deleted scene.