New York’s Finest – Remembering Mike Kellin (1922 – 1983)

Posted in Remember by - November 24, 2014
New York’s Finest – Remembering Mike Kellin (1922 – 1983)

With his hangdog features and tired eyes, the versatile Mike Kellin could play both good and evil. Often seen in police or military roles, he created some memorable characters and performances in a career spanning over 30 years, which took him from Broadway to Hollywood.

Born Myron Kellin on April 26th 1922, the former Navy Lieutenant made his movie debut in the funny 1950 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis vehicle ‘At War with the Army’, playing a no-nonsense platoon sergeant. Following much television work, Kellin had small roles in the Montgomery Clift drama ‘Lonelyhearts’ (’58), and the Robert Mitchum western ‘The Wonderful Country’ (’59). After playing a petty officer in the 1960 Jack Lemmon comedy ‘The Wackiest Ship in the Army’, Kellin had his first notable appearance in Don Siegel’s ‘Hell is for Heroes’ (’62), as one of Squadron Leader Harry Guardino’s motley crew of soldiers.

In between more television work, Kellin was a blind veteran in the excellent Yul Brynner Civil war western ‘Invitation to a Gunfight’ (’64), and then popped up in a couple of gritty New York crime pictures. In the first, ‘The Incident’ (’67) he was terrific as a smart schoolteacher, one of the subway passengers terrorized by two young knife-wielding hoodlums. In the second picture he was a pipe-smoking cop in Richard Fleischer’s superb biopic ‘The Boston Strangler’ (’68). An obscure prison picture came next with the brutal and gritty ‘Riot’ (’69), which had inmates Gene Hackman and Jim Brown planning an uprising as a diversion to their tunnel escape. A couple of cult comedies followed with the funny cop thriller ‘Freebie and the Bean’ (’74), starring James Caan and Alan Arkin, and Paul Mazursky’s ‘Next Stop, Greenwich Village’ (’76), in which he was the hen-pecked father of Lenny Baker’s aspiring actor.

Mike Kellin is probably remembered most from his small but powerful turn as convicted drug-smuggler Brad Davis’s agonized father in ‘Midnight Express’ (’78), where his lived-in features convincingly conveyed all the pain his character was going through. Also that year he gave a nice, understated performance in another prison drama; ‘On the Yard’, opposite John Heard and Thomas G. Waites. A small part in ‘The Jazz Singer’ (’80) was followed by my favourite of all Kellin’s character portrayals. In a scene-stealing role, he was wonderful as an eternal optimist in the under-rated comedy ‘So Fine’ (’81), where his cheerful salesman; Sol Schlotzman, who has been widowed twice, informs us that his current wife is “a little under the weather”.

After playing a tour guide in the Burt Reynolds mid-life crisis comedy ‘Paternity’ (’81), Kellin’s final movie was the 1983 shocker ‘Sleepaway Camp’, as the site’s harassed owner Mel. Although the film is a bit sloppy at times, it does have a strong cult following and features one of the most memorable twist endings in movie history.

After a noteworthy stage, screen and television career, Mike Kellin died from lung cancer on August 26th 1983, aged 61. A gifted and versatile actor, he was a master at taking a small modest part and making it his own. If ever there was a face and voice made for memorable character parts, Mike Kellin possessed it.

Favourite Movie: Midnight Express
Favourite Performance: So Fine

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