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Icon: James Coburn

  • Geoff Rynex

Today we take on James Coburn, a pitch-perfect lesson in the power of walking around like you’ve got the secret.

Coburn was the guy who introduced McQueen to Ferraris. A guy who lampooned James Bond, intimidated the hell out of Bob Dylan and somehow ended up on the cover of Band on the Run over the course of a 70-film, Oscar-winning career.

He was a Hollywood tough guy in the golden era of the archetype. But he brought rakishness to the role that belied the menace, the cunning. At that point in the movie where a Bronson would simply scowl harder, where an Eastwood would chomp a little firmer on that toothpick, Coburn would turn a gloriously mustachioed glower into a Cheshire grin.

Surely his Pat Garrett wouldn’t shoot down Kristofferson’s Billy the Kid in the end, when it came down to it, after all they’d been through together. Then, of course, he did. And he would, too. That was his brilliance—the ability to make you wonder whether he’d twist the knife in, right up to the moment he did it.

Even in his good guy roles, he seemed to be one casual step ahead of everyone else. He was one of the only characters to actually succeed in The Great Escape. And he did it on a bicycle.

And with an impeccably employed turtleneck.