Wynn, Keenan

Wynn, Keenan
   Wynn was born Francis Xavier Aloysius Wynn in New York City in 1916. He was the son of comedian Ed Wynn and grandson of silent-film actor Frank Keenan. He was educated at St. John’s Military Academy. He became a serious character actor in films in the 1950s and 1960s. When he began his acting career, he took the name of Keenan Wynn, after his grandfather. His career began in radio and on Broadway, but he turned to films in 1942. Among his first important roles was that of the fast-talking, second-rate comic Buddy Hare in The Hucksters (1947), opposite Clark Gable. Wynn also appeared in other major motion pictures, such as The Three Musketeers (1948), a historical adventure with Gene Kelly, and in the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate (1953), in which he shone as a two-bit crook.
   In DR. STRANGELOVE (1964), he had one brief but very effective scene as Col. Bat Guano. In the course of the film, the insane Gen. Jack D. Ripper (STERLING HAYDEN), commander of Burpleson Air Base, orders a nuclear air strike on the USSR. He eventually commits suicide, before his second-in-command, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (PETER SELLERS), a British officer, can extract the recall code from him. But Mandrake, in studying the doodles left behind on Ripper’s scratch pad, finally figures out the recall code, which he intends to transmit to President Merkin Muffley (also played by Peter Sellers), so that the president can recall the fleet of bombers before they carry out an attack that will inevitably provoke retaliation from the Soviets.
   Meanwhile, the president has sent a battery of troops to capture Ripper. Col. Bat Guano, one of the officers in charge of the squad, breaks into Ripper’s office, where he finds Mandrake. Colonel Guano shoots the lock off the office door and enters, his rifle poised for further use. Sizing up Mandrake in a uniform that is unknown to him, Guano asks caustically, “What kind of suit is that?” Mandrake, deeply offended that his rank has been questioned, replies icily,“This happens to be a Royal Air Force uniform. I am General Ripper’s executive officer. I think I know the recall code. I have to call the president immediately. ”
   Guano, who has kept his rifle trained on Mandrake all this time, has some curious sexual preoccupations, mixed with paranoia. He thinks that sexual “preverts” are responsible for the current crisis. His assessment of the situation: “I think you are some kind of deviated prevert and that you were organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts and that General Ripper found out about it. ” Mandrake’s retort is swift, and implies that this proper Englishman is still nettled by Guano’s slur on his uniform: “If you don’t let me call the president, a court of inquiry will give you such a trimming that you’ll be lucky to get to wear the uniform of a bloody toilet attendant. ” He convinces Guano to allow him to phone the president from a nearby booth, since all of the other phones in the building are dead as a result of Ripper’s determination to make himself incommunicado, once he had ordered the air strike. Guano gives his permission with a warning that has become one of the most frequently repeated comic lines from the film: “If you try any preversions in there, I’ll blow your head off. ” In fact, one critic nominated this bit of dialogue as one of the all-time great movie lines in cinema history. In one of the film’s many ironies, Mandrake discovers that he lacks the correct change for the coin telephone, and that the White House will not accept a collect call. He demands that Guano fire into a Coke machine in order to obtain the necessary money. Guano reluctantly agrees,warning his prisoner, with an angular stare of suspicion, that it will be Mandrake’s responsibility to explain his action to the Coca-Cola Company.
   Guano shoots into the machine, bends down to scoop up the cascading coins and is squirted full in the face with Coke. Not only does this final comic touch bring the scene to a hilarious close, but it further symbolizes that the mechanical devices in the movie are beginning to turn against humans, as if in anticipation of the final triumph of the Russians’ retaliatory Doomsday Machine. The Coke machine, then, seems to be in collusion with all of the other rebellious mechanical apparatus in the picture. Kubrick told Elaine Dundy that “most of the humor in Strangelove arises from the depiction of everyday human behavior in a nightmarish situation, like . . . the reluctance of the U. S. officer to let a British officer smash open a Coca-Cola machine for change to phone the President about a crisis on an air force base, because of his conditioning about the sanctity of private property. ”
   Dundy records that Sterling Hayden, contemplating the film’s theme of worldwide nuclear devastation, remarked to Keenan Wynn during rehearsals, “Wait till audiences see this one. They’ll have nightmares. ” “That’s what what we’re here for, isn’t it?” answered Wynn quietly.
   Keenan Wynn continued to be one of the screen’s most durable character actors after Dr. Strangelove, giving a satirical portrayal of a bigoted Southern politician in Francis Ford Coppola’s Finian’s Rainbow (1967), with Fred Astaire, and playing a vile villain in John Boorman’s crime film Point Blank (1967), with Lee Marvin. Still Wynn’s solitary scene in Dr. Strangelove has been called one of the most perfectly controlled episodes in the whole picture, with Wynn delivering his outrageous dialogue in an understated, deadpan fashion. His cameo appearance in this film is a highlight in a movie brimming with fine characterizations. Tracy Keenan Wynn, Keenan Wynn’s son, became a prominent screenwriter for both TV and films, marking another generation of Wynns in show business.
   ■ Dundy, Elaine, “Stanley Kubrick and Dr. Strangelove,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 9–16.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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  • WYNN, KEENAN — (Francis Xavier Aloysius; 1916–1986), U.S. actor. Born in New York, the son of ed wynn (1886–1966). Keenan toured in stock companies and appeared on the New York stage and on television before making his debut in films in See Here, Private… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

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