by Tony Dayoub
Joseph Wiseman was never a household name. Like any New York actor, he was equally adept in film, television, or theater. And like many Jewish actors of the time, he often played roles of other ethnicities in a less politically correct era. His most famous film role, was a brief appearance as the mysterious and eponymous half-Asian Bond villain of the first 007 film, Dr. No (1962). Brief appearance though it was, it did become the template for all of the succeeding villains in the series, iconic characters which were usually played by powerful character actors and had a glaring physical quirk; in Dr. No's case, mechanical hands. Of course, Wiseman had some other successes. His first was the small part he played in William Wyler's Detective Story (1951), an Italian American hood he played onscreen after first creating it for Broadway. He also played the fictitious Mexican revolutionary, Fernando Aguirre, a cold pragmatist who betrays Marlon Brando's idealistic Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952).
But my favorite role of his was one in which he did not have to hide his ethnicity, as the aging Jewish crime kingpin, Manny Weisbord, in Michael Mann's serialized TV series, Crime Story (1986-88). In a variation on Brando's performance in The Godfather (1972), Weisbord takes the rising street criminal, Ray Luca (Anthony Denison), under his wing, oblivious to the fact that Luca is after his job.
Wiseman will be remembered by his fans as a softspoken character actor that punctuated his performances with some explosive outbursts, but generously supported the performances of the leads in all of his appearances.
He died Monday at the age of 91.
Recommended Films - Dr. No, Viva Zapata!