Mine is Jason Robards Jr. I saw him onstage as well as in films several times, and I always felt he was walking through his part.
A Thousand Clowns was an exception, because it's a comedy, and back in the 1960s actors played comedy *comically*, putting the jokes over with a sarcastic or whatever inflection.
But in straight drama, especially heavy pieces like A Moon For the Misbegotten, Robards wasn't acting in any sense, just mouthing lines. Yet everyone thought he was the consummate American actor. I always wondered how Colleen Dewhurst found the energy to keep her role going night after night while playing against that lump of nothing.
Elizabeth Taylor might be another instance, though I always enjoyed her. She certainly was glamorous, especially as Regina in The Little Foxes. I remember a dinner party back in the day, when everybody was tearing her Regina apart. Later, I walked home with one of the guests, and he admitted that he thought she was good but he wasn't willing to take on the fury of her detractors.
And she really had them. I could never figure out why some gays hated her so much. Does anyone here remember Terry Miller? Well-known in gay theatrical circles. He called her "pig woman." Isn't that really just...demented? Did she shoot his dog or something?
Anyway, here's everybody's chance to name his or her pet acting horror. I'm sure some of you have them. Ernest Borgnine? Benedict Cumberbatch? Please not Keanu Reeves--he's such a nice guy. And so mysterious. Is he Everydude? No dude? The perfect Neo.