A childhood friend of Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss began his illustrious career with bit parts on TV shows like Bewitched and The Big Valley in the mid-‘60s. In 1967, Mike Nichols cast Dreyfuss in The Graduate, his only line, “Shall I call the cops…I'll call the cops,” standing out in one of the funniest movies of all time. Dreyfuss continued to bang around Hollywood doing pit parts in TV and movies, but it wasn’t until 1973 and American Graffiti that Dreyfuss broke out. Since then, Dreyfuss has starred in upwards of forty films and given the world outstanding performances in a handful of time-honored classics. So to Richard Dreyfuss on his 52nd birthday, l’chaim!
After American Graffiti and his award-winning title role in The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz, Dreyfuss caught the eye of 26-year-old filmmaker, Steven Spielberg who had been given the golden opportunity to direct his first major theatrical release, a little movie about a big shark. In Jaws, Dreyfuss patented his nervous acting style, playing Hooper, an ichthyologist who warns the local officials that the puny shark they captured as the culprit in a recent rash of shark attacks is an unlikely suspect. Hooper’s warning falls on deaf ears and soon enough the real villain, a ferocious Great White, starts eating 4th of July revelers. A doomed production predicted failure for all involved, but Spielberg’s choices in the editing room, John Williams’ score and the performances of actors, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and, of course, Dreyfuss changed popcorn films forever.
Dreyfuss and Spielberg followed up Jaws with the decidedly quieter (but even more effects-laden) Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, an electric company lineman who witnesses a UFO. Neary becomes obsessed with his sighting and turns his world upside down, scaring his skeptical family, making mountains out of mashed potatoes and, eventually, travelling to a secret hidden government military base in the West to spy a communication with visitors from another planet via a Moog synthesizer.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? earned Dreyfuss mad critical props for his portrayal of Ken Harrison, a sculptor, who after a car accident, becomes a quadriplegic. Feeling completely and totally a waste, unable to function as an artist and barely as a human, Harrison begs to be put out of his suffering, but the legal climate of the era prevented such an end. Dreyfuss is gripping in this role, proving his considerable chops as an actor, perhaps Mr. Dreyfuss’ Opus.
Rob Reiner finally cast his best friend in Stand By Me, as the movie’s narrator and author of our story. A small role but a pivotal character, the glue that binds the whole thing together and gives a sense of completion to the story of four troubled young boys who undertake a rite-of-passage on their two-day hike through the woods to see a dead body. One of the best adventure stories for kids (with an R-rating for language, however), Stand By Me is a timeless masterwork.
Thank you, Mr. Dreyfuss, and Happy Birthday. In the words of your character Roy Neary, “This means something. This is important.”