Born: April 21, 1935;

Died: May 18, 2021.

CHARLES GRODIN nearly missed his finest hour as a film actor, in Midnight Run (1988). For the role of an idealistic accountant who has skipped bail and gone on the run after giving to charity the $15 million he had embezzled from the Mob, studio bosses at Paramount wanted to cast Cher; Robin Williams also had his eye on the role.

But the film’s director, Martin Brest, was hugely taken with the audition that Grodin did with Robert De Niro, the film’s other star, and that was the pairing that Brest took to Universal Studios.

Midnight Run remains an 80s classic. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, an honest ex-cop now working as a bounty hunter, tasked by a bail bondsman with tracing the accountant, Jonathan (“The Duke”) Mardukas, who is lying low in New York, and bringing him to Los Angeles within five days.

As they make their way across the country by various means, their progress periodically hampered by FBI agents (led by Yaphet Kotto, who died in March), two Mafia hitmen and a rival bounty hunter, the two men bicker frequently but gradually establish something approaching friendship. Grodin, with his characteristically urbane, deadpan style, steals scene after scene, almost without trying.

The American film critic, Roger Ebert, wrote that Grodin had never received the recognition he deserved, “maybe because he often plays a quiet, self-effacing everyman. In Midnight Run, where he is literally handcuffed to De Niro at times, he is every bit the master’s equal, and in the crucial final scene it is Grodin who finds the emotional truth that defines their relationship”.

Apart from Midnight Run, Grodin’s best-known films were the hits Beethoven (1992) and Beethoven’s 2nd (1993), in which he played a grumpy father who tries to cope with the arrival of his family’s new dog, a St Bernard. He never minded taking second billing to the dog, observing: “I know so many people who don’t even work. I could say, ‘Why does my stardom come opposite a dog?’” The Glasgow Herald’s film critic did, however, remark of him in 1994: “He is a splendid light comedian whose film career has not taken off as his talents deserve, and neither [Beethoven] film is really a worthy vehicle for him”.

Grodin also starred in The Heartbreak Kid (1972), opposite Cybill Shepherd, in which he plays a man who falls for another woman while on his honeymoon; his other films ranged from Heaven Can Wait (1978) to the political comedy Dave (1983). It was said he was offered the role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate (1967) but declined to accept as the fee on offer was too low. The role went to Dustin Hoffman instead.

Grodin has died of bone marrow cancer, aged 86, at his Connecticut home. De Niro issued a statement in which he said: “Chuck was as good a person as he was an actor. Midnight Run was a great project to work on, and Chuck made it an even better one. He will be missed”.

Grodin, who was born in 1935 in Pittsburgh, was inspired to take up acting after watching the 1951 film A Place In The Sun, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. After a brief spell at the University of Miami, he returned to his native city to study acting.

At length he made his way to New York, in the 1950s. “I came there as a cab driver”, he told the New York Times in 2005. “I was a night watchman on the waterfront for years. I lived in a room with no window... it was an air-shaft, basically. And people would scream and cry”.

He landed some roles on Broadway, but it wasn’t until 1975 that he made his stage breakthrough, opposite Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year; they played a man and woman, each married to other people, who, once a year for many years, have a clandestine assignation in the same hotel room. Alan Alda took Grodin’s role in a subsequent film version.

He had by this time appeared in several TV series, as well as playing an obstetrician in the film Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and taking a role in the film adaptation of Catch-22 (1970). In 1977 he shared an Emmy writing award with seven other people, including Paul Simon, for a TV special on the singer.

Over the years he had been a frequent guest on the late-night chat shows hosted by Johnny Carson and David Letterman, adopting a curmudgeonly attitude that the hosts were in on. “That was a comedy persona he adopted for when he would go on talk shows,” his son, Nick, said. “He didn’t think it was very interesting to just go on and say, ‘Oh, I’m in this movie coming out,’ so he adopted this comedic persona where he would be angry. A lot of people did not think it was a joke. I think Johnny Carson really appreciated it.”

For a few years in the mid-90s Grodin hosted his own cable TV show in which he focused on social and political issues. He wrote several plays and books of memoirs and he campaigned on behalf of the criminal justice reform group, The Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners through DNA testing. “I shudder to think how many people are sitting in our prisons who have been wrongly convicted”, he once said.

Regarding his father, Nick said: “He said to treat everybody the same, and that’s something I’ve watched him do. He would treat everybody the same, whether it was the president or whether it was somebody washing dishes. I really respect that.”