Inspired by legendary actor Marlon Brando’s performance as “Stanley Kowalski” in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), two-time Academy Award-winning actor Gene Hackman wanted to become an actor. Brando’s naturalism made acting look easy. Hackman would find out that to make acting look easy would actually take a lot of hard work.
Before acting Hackman joined the U.S. Marine Corps., lying about his 16 years age in order to enroll. Three years later, Hackman was discharged and worked through small-time jobs until he found himself in California. A late bloomer. thirty-year old Hackman started acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He was in the same company as future Academy-award winning actor Dustin Hoffman. Curiously, both Hackman and Hoffman would be voted as “Least Likely To Succeed” by their peers. Undeterred, Hackman and Hoffman made their way to New York City together, where they shared an apartment with another future revered actor, Robert Duvall. Hackman worked diligently in summer stock, off-Broadway productions and a dozen or so small-time television appearances. His break came when he auditioned in front of Warren Beatty for the role of “Bud Barrow” in “Bonnie & Clyde” (1969). Hackman won the role and was subsequently nominated for his first Academy Award for that portrayal.
Shortly thereafter, Hackman was nominated for his second Academy Award for his performance as “Gene Garrison” in “I Never Sang For My Father” (1970), where he played the son of a very controlling father, Melvyn Douglas. Hackman again went home empty-handed. Then, shortly again, Hackman was nominated for his portrayal of “Detective Popeye Doyle” in “The French Connection” (1971). As the adage goes, “third time’s the charm,” and Hackman won the Oscar. The naturalism that he had achieved as Popeye Doyle seemed to make him symbiotic with the character. He later joked, “People in the street still call me ‘Popeye’, and ‘The French Connection’ was 15 years ago. I wish I could have a new hit and another nickname.”
Hackman’s career has been varied and vast. Perhaps not one of his most critically-acclaimed roles but certainly one that has grown as a cult and pop culture classic is as Rev. Frank Scott, a preacher who leads a group of survivors to safety during a cruise ship disaster in “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972). At long last, in 2003, friends Hackman and Hoffman made their first on-screen performance together in the courtroom drama “Runaway Jury”. Hackman played the ruthless “Rankin Fitch” and Hoffman played “Wendell Rohr”, both lawyers trying to win their cases in a lawsuit involving a gun company. His last on-screen performance was as “Monroe Cole” in the comedy “Welcome to Mooseport” (2004).
In 2008, Hackman confirmed that he has retired from acting. He remains active on the small screen with being the voice-over for “Lowes Home Improvement Store” commercials and writing novels.