I’m just guessing that Ned Beatty wouldn’t want his role as Otis, Lex Luthor’s bumbling sidekick, in Superman: The Movie to be the first thing mentioned when looking back at his career. (I’m imagining Alec Guinness rolling his eyes when he was immediately attached to Obi-Wan Kenobi by so many when he passed away.)
But maybe Beatty wouldn’t have minded either. Generations of fans remember him fondly in that film and it provided much needed comic relief among Christopher Reeve’s big blue boy scout and Gene Hackman’s megalomanical villain (who bullied poor Otis a bit too much). There are worse legacies for an actor to leave behind.
But Beatty was in so many memorable films — some of the best of the 1970s, including Deliverance (a role that lives in infamy), Nashville, All the President’s Men, and Network (which earned him an Academy Award nomination).
He provided a recognizable face and strong performance to so many movies and TV shows he was in for the next 40 years. Beatty was so good at portraying the everyman, someone who might get overlooked because he was schlumpy but often had much more to him.
That’s what made his role in Network so impressive. He was one of the power brokers pulling strings in the background and entirely believable as that kind of formidable figure. Decades later, he played a corrupt senator who Mark Wahlberg takes down in Shooter, another bad guy whose kind exterior belied immoral intent.
I loved him in Homicide: Life on the Street (along with every other actor on that series) as Detective Stanley Bolander.
Maybe Ned Beatty wasn’t a star, but what a career he had. And what a legacy to leave behind.