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September 3, 2015

Happy Birthday, Martin Sheen! A Look Back at His Memorable Roles

by Jane Murphy, posted Aug 3rd 2010 9:00AM
And many happy returns! Actor, activist, father, grandfather and perhaps our greatest pretend President, the Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe Award winner Martin Sheen turns 70 today. He's that old? Wait, he's that young?!

The actor, of Spanish and Irish ancestry, was born Ramon Estevez in Dayton, Ohio on Aug. 3, 1940. He's been a professional actor since the Kennedy administration (more on the Kennedys later). Responsible for an IMDB.com entry as long as your arm, no one has ever accused him of being over-exposed -- he's always a welcome presence.

Let's face it, he's aged better than most in Hollywood; he portrayed tormented young men well into his 30s, and his rosy cheeks and luxurious hair would still make him a lousy choice to play Father Time.

We're in a celebratory mood, so let's gloss over the fact that Sheen has never been nominated for an Oscar -- not for 'Apocalypse Now' (at left), not for 'Badlands', not ever. Television has always given him more consistently rewarding work. Following in his old man's footsteps, Charlie Sheen has also moved back and forth from TV to film: Martin has appeared on Charlie's sitcoms; they even played father and son in 1987's 'Wall Street'. And both Sheens have Best Picture Oscar winners in their resumes ('The Departed' and 'Gandhi' for Martin, 'Platoon' for Charlie).

Considering he suffered a heart attack on the set of 'Apocalypse' when he was just 38, we rejoice in Martin Sheen's longevity. Here is a sampling of the best of Sheen's work on the small screen.

'The West Wing.' Meet Jed Bartlet, from the great state of New Hampshire, among the most popular presidents of all time, real or imagined. As Aaron Sorkin's verbally agile Commander-in-Chief in 2006, Sheen had one of his most indelible scenes in 2001. President Bartlet rages against the Almighty in the name of gone-too-soon Mrs. Landingham. For this season 2 performance, Sheen lost the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series to, well, Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini (couldn't they have tied?).

'The West Wing: Two Cathedrals'

'Two and a Half Men.' When Charlie Sheen took over for Michael J. Fox on 'Spin City', he found himself opposite his father's 'West Wing' time slot on Wednesday nights. No hard feelings, though; when Papa Sheen dropped in on 'Two and a Half Men', he was cast as Harvey, the loopy father of batty Rose (Melanie Lynskey). We'd cheer another visit from Harvey and his florescent bathrobe. And after the year the younger Sheen has had, Charlie might like Dad back on the set, too.

'Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story.' In this 1986 TV movie about a Brooklyn born ex-con turned homeless advocate, Sheen is gritty and tenacious as Snyder, who took his cause directly to the streets of Washington, D.C. Co-starring Cicely Tyson and Conchata Ferrell (pictured, left) -- the latter now plays Berta on 'Two and a Half Men.' Watch 'The Mitch Snyder Story' in its entirety below.

'Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story'

'Murphy Brown.' Sending up his own off-screen identity as an activist and GOP critic, Sheen plays one of Murphy's heroes, Nick Brody, a famed '60s radical. Murphy (Candice Bergen) is crushed when Brody, having come out of seclusion for an interview, reveals he's a conservative convert. For this 1994 performance, Sheen won the Emmy for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

'That Certain Summer'. An extraordinary movie focused on a young man coming to terms with his father's homosexuality -- extraordinary in part because it was made for television in 1972. The film starred Sheen and another maverick actor not afraid to take groundbreaking roles -- Hal Holbrook (at left). Amid controversy, the New York Times called 'Summer' a "simply marvelous film -- beautifully written, superbly acted, and directed and produced with tender care." Holbrook plays Doug, who has entered into a committed relationship with Gary (Sheen). Doug's ex-wife and son work on trying to accept Doug's new life. In the scene below, there's tension as Doug's son and Gary first meet.

'That Certain Summer'

'The Execution of Private Slovik.' After the triumph of 'That Certain Summer', the same writers, director and star reunited for this TV movie, the true story of Eddie Slovik, a WWII soldier executed by firing squad for deserting his unit. Slovik was the first and only man to be put to death following a court martial since the Civil War. Sheen is absolutely wrenching as 24-year old Slovik. Watch the movie's trailer.

'The Execution of Private Slovik' trailer

'Kennedy'. Many movies have attempted to tackle the Kennedy Dynasty ('America's Prince: the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Story' -- ugh). This 1983 NBC mini-series is among the classiest. Starring Sheen as our 35th President, Blair Brown (pictured) is just as terrific as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. In the same year, Sheen played a fictional president in the Stephen King cult flick 'The Dead Zone'.
Clips from 'Kennedy'

'The Missiles of October'. Years before taking on JFK, Sheen played President Kennedy's closest advisor, his brother Robert Kennedy. For a taut and intelligent two hours, viewers got an inside look at the Cuban Missile Crisis. William Devane starred in 'Missiles' as JFK, and would team again with Sheen as Secretary of State Lewis Berryhill on 'The West Wing'. In 2006, Sheen was a part of son Emilio Estevez's motion picture tribute to RFK, 'Bobby'.

'Naked City'. "There are eight million stories in the naked city..." This 1962 episode followed two awesomely cute small time hoods prowling through Gotham. 'Naked City' was very much the 'Law & Order' of its day, a New York-based drama showcasing Broadway veterans and up-and-coming talent. Sheen is all of 21 years old here, and already magnetic. Peter Fonda is his reticent accomplice.

'Naked City'

'Sweet Hostage'. Here Sheen co-stars with Linda 'The Exorcist' Blair; 'Hostage' is in the edgy troika of '70s TV teen films featuring Blair (if you remember Disco and Dodge Darts, you may remember Blair's 'Sarah T. -- Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic' or 'Born Innocent') The premise of 'Hostage' is pretty icky: country girl Doris Mae (Blair) intellectually blossoms under the tutelage of her abductor (Sheen). Both actors' commitment in every moment makes it fascinating. In the scene below, Blair's character shares her sharpened rhyming skills with paranoiac Sheen.

'Sweet Hostage'

How did we get though the list without a nod to his 1979 'Saturday Night Live' appearance, with the classic skit 'Martin Sheen Hairspray' (the Jon Hamm's "John Ham" of its time). What is your favorite Martin Sheen moment?

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Mike Doran

From that old SNL:
Sheen's opening monolog, wherein he makes a pitch for the Toys-For-Tarts campaign. Given his sons's later proclivities, it plays as almost prophetic.

August 03 2010 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The butterball hotline scene on the West Wing! Funniest thing ever!

August 03 2010 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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