Reel Dad: Remembering 'Beethoven’ and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ actor Charles Grodin

Charles Grodin died on May 18.

Charles Grodin died on May 18.

Contributed Photo / Contributed Photo

On a rainy afternoon in the late 1990s —when Bissell Drugs still occupied its iconic storefront on Main Street in Ridgefield —a friendly voice filled the store and calmed the customers. Like others caught in the storm, actor Charles Grodin stopped in Bissell to shop and dry. And, as we waited for the storm to pass, he entertained everyone in line with his thoughts on the lessons that rain can teach.

Throughout his career as an actor and director, the wondrous Grodin —who died May 18 at his home in Wilton —taught us many lessons. Here are seven of my favorites from his work on stage and screen, enough to fill many a rainy afternoon.

Let the Layers Show: The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

After years of strong work on television, Charles Grodin gets his first big screen break as the lead in this Neil Simon comedy from a story by Bruce Jay Friedman. In a sublime performance, the actor brilliantly underplays the emotional layers a just-married husband could experience when he finally discovers the love of his life. Grodin lets us see into a man we want to know.

Shine the Light on the Star: Same Time, Next Year (Broadway, 1975)

In a stage performance I will forever remember, Grodin defines comic support in this Bernard Slade comedy about adulterous lovers who meet every year. While the play, and the production, are designed for the female lead to shine - Ellen Burstyn on stage and film - the resourceful Grodin beautifully uses his art of reaction to create a character, one moment at a time.

Focus on the Timing: Heaven Can Wait (1978)

While Dyan Cannon gets the punch lines - and snagged an Oscar nomination - the ever-so-memorable Grodin sets her up for every laugh she captures. This Warren Beatty fantasy. about a man who gets a second chance at life, gives Grodin the chance to do what he does better than so many, to let his gift for reaction define moments on screen and reactions from the audience.

Be Nice to the Pig: The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Leave it to Grodin’s marvelous imagination to make us believe he could be a jewel thief and Miss Piggy’s lover in the same movie. This delightful big screen Muppet adventure may give the best angles and dialogue to the puppets but Grodin knows how to compete for attention no matter who else is in the shot. And his close-ups with Miss Piggy are unforgettable.

Share the Screen with a Star: Midnight Run (1988)

How good it must have felt for Grodin to get the chance to star opposite Robert DeNiro in this memorable comedy about a road trip to justice shared by a crooked accountant and an earnest bounty hunter. Rather than defer to the star, Grodin steps into every moment, delivering his most complete and compelling performance on film as a man who makes the most of his circumstances.

Pet the Dog: Beethoven (1992)

Yes, this is a movie about a dog. A loveable one. But Grodin is so well cast as a patriarch with a thing for pets that, at times, we forget he is not playing the title character. This film showcases, perhaps more than any other in the Grodin collection, how the actor would commit to any moment on stage or screen no matter how ridiculous it could at first appear.

Make the Most of Each Moment: Dave (1993)

While Kevin Kline is the star - playing a man who pretends to be the president - the ever-so-reliable Grodin shows up just when needed to give the film and the character a moral center. Playing an accountant who senses a way to balance the federal budget, Grodin makes us believe in the goodness of people to support their friends and their nation.

Thank you, Charles Grodin, for the many appearances on screen and stage that we will always remember.