Treat Williams: A Remembrance of Connecticut


July 1, 2023
Treat Williams, left, as NYPD Det. Danny Ciello, in rehearsal for “Prince of the City” on a ferry. Director of Photography Andrzej Bartkowiak, center, Director Sidney Lumet, right. The 1981 neonoir crime drama was based on the life of Det. Bob Leuci.
Estate of Barbra Walz

Actor Treat Williams, killed in a motorcycle accident in Vermont last month, grew up in the village of Rowayton in Norwalk, attended Kent School and saw Connecticut play key roles in scenes of his storied life. He was 71.

Williams and his wife Pam Van Sant lived on a farm in Manchester Center, VT that starred in the actor’s social media posts. A few hours before his death, Williams posted a video showcasing the beauty of the land around him as he sat on his tractor, describing how much he loved the smell of new-mown hay.

Scenes like this played out in Kent as well.

“In those days at school, he listened and laughed and sang and always loved the place where he was, especially outdoors,” recalled the Rev. RW Schell, who recently retired as headmaster of Kent School after 40 years. “Treat was a master of the art of friendship. He remembered the stories of his many friends, always picking up where he had left off. Treat was a giving person, a most generous spirit.”

Williams entered the pantheon of great entertainers as Berger dancing down the banquet table in “Hair,” the film by Milos Forman. Forman lived just a town over from Kent in Warren.

Director Sidney Lumet told Newsweek in 1981 that Williams’ performance in “Hair” displayed “a life force, a kind of inner energy, bouncing off the screen,” so he cast him in the demanding lead role in “Prince of the City.” Williams played Danny Ciello, a New York cop based on real-life Detective Bob Leuci.

In the 1985 film “Smooth Talk,” Williams played Arnold Friend, the dangerous stranger with bad intentions toward 15-year-old Connie, played by Laura Dern in her first film role.

Praised by critic Peter Sobczynski as “one of the most quietly terrifying films you will ever see,” the film had other Connecticut connections. James Taylor, who lived in Kent and Washington for a time, was the musical director. Director Joyce Chopra lived in Roxbury.

“You will never forget it or his performance,” Sobczynski said of Williams in “Smooth Talk” and judges at Sundance agreed, awarding the film the Grand Jury Prize in 1985.

Just before his death, Williams gave a reading at the pre-season benefit of the Great Barrington Public Theater.

“Treat and I were working the past few years on a solo play he’d written about Ulysses S. Grant, titled “Grant: An Evening with the General,” said the theater’s artistic director, Jim Frangione. “It is a moving, expansive portrait of an extraordinary man whom we both thought was a great subject for contemporary audiences. We looked forward to working together for many years to come.”

Roselle Chartock, whose husband, Alan, recently retired as president of Albany-based WAMC radio, attended the benefit.

“He looked handsome, as he always did, and was compelling,” Chartok said. “An impossible tragedy – how can one grasp it?”

Kevin Walz, a New York designer who had been friends with Williams for nearly 50 years, said the actor “was as loyal, protective, open, and generous a friend as I have ever known.”

Walz’ late wife Barbra shot the still images for “Prince of the City.”

“When Barbra died a few years after the birth of our second daughter, it was his hand on my shoulder, reaching from the pew behind me,” Walz said. “All our children are grown. Now it is our turn to be as supportive to his family as Treat has been to mine.”

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