James Whitmore

James Whitmore, the veteran Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor who brought American icons Will Rogers, Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt to life in one-man shows, died Friday. He was 87.

Mr. Whitmore died of lung cancer at his home in Malibu, said his son, Steve. He was diagnosed with the disease a week before Thanksgiving.

"He cared about acting; his whole life was dedicated to the theater and to movies," said actor David Huddleston, a longtime friend who appeared in Mr. Whitmore's 1964 movie Black Like Me. "I asked James Cagney one time to tell me the best thing you can about acting. He said never to get caught at it. That's kind of how I'd sum up Jim Whitmore."

James Arness, who appeared with Mr. Whitmore in the movies Battleground and Them!, said Mr. Whitmore was "an actor's actor," adding that "it was always a treat to work with him."

A stocky World War II Marine Corps veteran who bore a resemblance to actor Spencer Tracy and shared Tracy's down-to-earth quality, Mr. Whitmore earned early acclaim.

In 1948, he won a Tony Award for outstanding performance by a newcomer in Command Decision.

Mr. Whitmore's Broadway success brought him to Hollywood, where he received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in his second movie, the hit 1949 World War II drama Battleground.

Supporting roles and occasional leads in about 50 movies followed over the next 50-plus years, including Planet of the Apes and The Shawshank Redemption.

In 2000, Mr. Whitmore won an Emmy Award as outstanding guest actor in a drama series for The Practice.

Published in The Palm Beach Post from Feb. 6 to Feb. 11, 2009