Charles Durning

When I was a young lawyer working in Manhattan, I religiously went to see Shakespeare in the Park and would organize these big group picnics with friends with good Italian cold cuts and semolina bread and chocolate covered strawberries and different wines for each course.

So, one night, three or four of us are watching Tracy Ullman and Morgan Freeman in Taming of the Shrew (set in the Old West, no less) and during intermission we pull out dessert from the baskets and tote bags. We had fresh strawberries, homemade May Wine, champagne and meringue cookies. Charles Durning and a younger man –who from their conversation appeared to be in show business as well– were sitting behind us and had been making very intelligent analysis of the play. So, we turned around and offered them wine and dessert. We wound up having the best convo all through intermission and then they hung around after the play ended and we stayed in our seats and finished all the food and wine.

Just as security was trying to throw us out, Morgan Freeman came out to say hello to Durning, so we got to stay, and then all the rest of the cast trickled out. By that point we were all pretty crocked and Durning tried to pass us off as his nieces.

Really nice, down to earth, fun guy, and a really great night.

I always think of that evening whenever his name is mentioned.

Photo in the public domain.