Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Ron Silver

It's not hard for me to remember Ron Silver's first day of work on The West Wing. It was a table read of the first episode of the fourth season, and Ron had been cast in the role of Bruno Gianelli — campaign director for President Jed Bartlet's re-election bid. His first line came about five minutes into the script, and as soon as he spoke, the 60 or so people in the room made an involuntary sound — you could hear people smile. This wasn't a Ron Silver impersonator; it was obviously Ron Silver. The one who was Rhoda's neighbor in the spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the one who had blown the doors off the Barrymore Theatre in Hurlyburly. The one who'd played Joe Mantegna's foil in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow (a role that won him a Tony Award in 1988) and the tortured and outrageous Alan M. Dershowitz in the 1990 film Reversal of Fortune.

You always wanted to be standing next to Ron between takes. He was either going to make you feel good about the work you were doing, or he was going to make you laugh — but usually both. He was always what we called a "generous actor" — someone who's there for the piece and not for himself.

On his last day of work on The West Wing, he conveyed to me the courtesy that's common in that situation: "I'd love to work with you again," he said. I replied, "I'd love that too." And, of course, I meant it. It won't happen now, after Ron lost his long battle with cancer — one of the few battles he ever lost. And television, the movies and the theater all have one less great and generous actor.

—Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin, a playwright and a writer for film and television, created the hit series The West Wing