Bruce Bennett (1906-2007), nee Harold Herman Brix, was as an athlete before he was an actor, winner of the Silver medal for shot-putting in the 1928 Olympic Games and holder of the indoor and outdoor records for shot-putting. Tapped by Edgar Rice Burroughs, he starred in the 1935 movie serial, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN. After doing serials and B-movies and then finding himself still typecast, Brix changed his name to "Bruce Bennett." It was the right move. He appeared in many top-notch films in the ‘40s and early ‘50s including SAHARA (1943), MILDRED PIERCE (1945), NORA PRETISS (1947), DARK PASSAGE (1947), MYSTERY STREET (1950) and SUDDEN FEAR (1952). One of his best roles was as Cody, the lone prospector who is killed by Humphrey Bogart in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948). In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Bennett turned to playing grittier characters – a detective in UNDERTOW and a forensic scientist in MYSTERY STREET. From the mid-1950s on, he appeared in lesser films such as THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) and on TV. In the ‘60s he became a successful businessman. Bennett reached his 100th birthday on May 19, 2006 but died less than a year later of complications from a broken hip.
In the noir classic THE BIG SLEEP (1946), Philip Marlow (Bogart) says of rich, spoiled Carmen Sternwood, “She tried to sit in my lap, and I was standing up.” The actress was Martha Vickers (1925-71). Born Martha MacVicar in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she started out as a model and cover girl. Her first film role was a small uncredited part in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1941). The most famous of Vickers' three husbands was actor Mickey Rooney to whom she was married from 1949 to 1951. Vickers retired from films in 1960.
Maltese-born character actor Joseph Calleila (1897-75) first came to prominence as a concert singer in England and Europe. He made his screen bow in PUBLIC HERO NUMBER 1 (1935), playing the first of many gangsters. Usually a villain, Calleila often leavened his screen perfidy with a subtle sense of humor, notably as the masked bandit who motivates the plot of the Mae West/W.C. Fields comedy My Little Chickadee (1940). In 1936, the actor tried his hand at screenwriting with ROBIN HOOD OF EL DORADO (1936), a fanciful western based on the criminal career of Joaquin Murietta. Calleia also appeared in such films noir DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946) and GILDA (1946). Toward the last years of his film career Calleila delivered some of his best and most varied screen performances, especially as the kindly Mexican priest in Disney's TTHE LITTLEST OUTLAW (1955) and the weary border-town detective in Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL (1958).
Hillary Brooke (1914-99), a former model, was born in Astoria, New York but spoke with a cultured accent. She developed this early in her career to separate herself from other sexy blonde actresses. Brooke appeared in AFRICA SCREAMS (1949) and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD (1952). She also co-starred in three Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, including THE WOMAN IN GREEN (1945). Her other film credits include JANE EYRE (1944), Hitchcock’s, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and several noir films. In “The Abbott and Costello Show,” broadcast in the early ‘50s but syndicated for decades afterwards, Brooke played the role of a straitlaced, classy fellow tenant of the rooming house where the duo lived.
You might best remember gravel-voiced Lawrence Tierney (1919-02) as Elaine Bence’s bald, scary dad on SEINFELD (1991) and Joe Cabot in RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). But Tierney, lookalike brother of actor Scott Brady, had a long career years playing gangers and tough guys years before in such films as THE HOODLUM, DILLINGER, SAN QUENTIN, THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE and BORN TO KILL. He also played the villain in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 best-picture Oscar-winner, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Tierney mostly dropped out of the movies. But then in late 1983 he returned to Hollywood and rekindled his acting career by guest-starring on television shows such as Remington Steele, Fame, Hunter, Hill Street Blues, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, The Simpsons, and the aforementioned Seinfeld.
Lee Patrick (1901-82) began acting on Broadway in 1924 and moved to Hollywood a few years later. Over the next several years she played numerous supporting roles, without attracting much critical attention, but then her career got a big boost when she appeared in the granddaddy of all noir films, THE MALTESE FALCON(1941) as Effie Perine, the loyal and quick-thinking secretary of Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade. Among her other films are BORDER CAFE (1937), NOW, VOYAGER (1942), MRS. PARKINGTON (1944), MILDRED PIERCE (1945) and CAGED (1950). Her final film role was a reprise of her Effie Perine character in a comedic (and unsuccessful) reworking of the Sam Spade story titled THE BLACK BIRD(1975) starring George Segal as Sam Spade Jr. Patrick appeared on TV in the 1950's in "Topper" opposite Leo G. Carroll.
Jean Peters (1926-2000) left her home in Canton, Ohio to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Her first film, CAPTAIN OF CASTILE (1947), with Tyrone Power was a hit, and afterwards Peters spent the new decade playing sexy spitfires, often in period dramas and Westerns (such as VIVA ZAPATA with Marlon Brando). Director Samuel Fuller chose Peters over Marilyn Monroe for the part of Candy in 1953's noir gem PICKUP OF SOUTH STREET. Peters and Monroe starred together in another 1953 film noir, NIAGRA. In 1957, after her divorce from her first husband, Texas oilman Stuart Cramer, Peters married Howard Hughes. They divorced in 1971.
Ava Gardner (1922-90) began her career first as a model, then as a contract player at MGM. She toiled in tiny bit roles, finally getting a worthwhile one on loan-out to Universal in noir classic THE KILLERS (1946). MGM was never comfortable with the bad-girl persona she displayed so well in this film, so most of her starring roles at her home studio were relatively sympathetic ones in THE HUCKSTERS (1947) and SHOW BOAT (1951). MGM eventually came to terms with the elements that made Gardner popular with the public, notably in the gutsy MOGAMBO (1953), in which she partnered with the equally earthy Clark Gable. Director George Cukor was much taken by Gardner and cast the actress in her best and most complex MGM role in BHOWANI JUNCTION (1956). Gardner was equally well served in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which, in many ways, was a replay of her own rags-to-riches personal story. The actress was cast in some of her best parts during the '60s, such as SEVEN DAYS IN MAY and NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (both 1964). She was married and divorced three times – to actor Mickey Rooney, bandleader Artie Shaw and singer Frank Sinatra.
Dane Clark (1912-98) was born Bernard Zanville in Brooklyn. His future as an actor began in Northport, Long Island when Charles M. Fritz, a notable actor, theater manager, and cousin to Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni, discovered him. Fritz ran The Little Red Theater there, gave Dane a job and took him to live at his home, where he used his own furniture as props to mount plays in which newly named Zanville, now Dane Clark, played. Clark's career led to appear in numerous plays and movies and, in a very short time, became one of the most renowned and famous actors of his time. Known for being an "average Joe," Clark worked alongside some of his era's biggest stars, including Bette Davis. He also guest starred on a number of television shows, including "The Twilight Zone."
No actor ever had a more impressive list of film credits than Whit Bissell (1909-96). Born Whitner Nutting Bissell, he grew up in New York city and attended private all-boys schools there. At 14 he was sent to a boarding school in Connecticut and later attended the University of North Carolina where he majored in English and Drama. Just before graduating he applied for Eva Le Gallienne's apprentice student group in New York at the Civic Repertoire Company and was enrolled. He also attended The National Theatre Company. This training led to his Broadway debut and by the time he entered films, in the '40s, he had racked up a long list of Broadway credentials. His most recognizable long, stone face, silver hair and very mellow voice were perfect for film and he made a career of playing businessmen, military types, historical figures and other professional types. He could play either hero or villain and did so with gusto in many noir films.
For almost 50 years, Joan Crawford (1905-77) reigned as one of the great stars of the silver screen, evolving from a free-spirited flapper in her movies of the 1920s into an all-American working girl of the Great Depression, before eventually playing cool, driven, independent women with troublesome passions and neuroses concealed beneath a classy, well-coiffed exterior in numerous melodramas and film noir classics of the 1940s. Though her career declined with the studio system itself in the 1950s, Crawford soldiered on in her chosen profession, bringing a touch of old Hollywood glamour to the industry in an era that was no longer worthy of her.
Van Heflin, (1910-71) began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1930s before signing with RKO Studios. His first film, A WOMAN REBELS (1936), featured him opposite Katharine Hepburn, and although he received good reviews, RKO did not try to build his potential. Signed by MGM Studios, he was initially cast in supporting roles in films such as SANTA FE TRAIL (1940) and JOHNNY EAGER (1942), winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the latter performance. MGM began to groom him as a leading man in B movies and provided him with strong supporting roles in more prestigious productions. Among his more notable film credits are PRESENTING LILY MARS (1943), THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946), POSSESSED (1947), THE PROWLER (1951), SHANE (1953), PATTERNS (1956) and the lead in the classic 1948 film noir ACT OF VIOLENCE.
Ralph Meeker (1920-88) began his career in musicals with Betty Hutton and Leslie Caron, but 50s'Hollywood had heavier work for this stage-trained tough guy, who wound up playing thugs, private dicks, cops, soldiers ... and not just soldiers, psychotic ex-soldiers. After college and Navy service, Meeker returned to his birth city of Chicago and made his professional stage debut in 1943 in the national company of “The Doughgirls.” He then moved to New York, and later Italy, doing plays. After the war Meeker returned to New York. One of his first breaks was a small but important role in the original 1947 production of “Mister Roberts” in which he replaced Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Hollywood was his next stop! He made his film debut in 1951 with a small role in MGM's TERESA, followed by a starring one in FOUR IN A JEEP. Meeker then signed an MGM contract and starred in good-but-minor films like SHADOW IN THE SKY, GLORY ALLEY, SOMEBODY LOVES ME and JEOPARDY. In 1953 he was featured in Anthony Mann's western classic THE NAKED SPUR. That same year Meeker returned to New York for his greatest stage success, starring in the original 1953 Broadway production of “Picnic," for which he earned the New York Critic's Circle Award in 1954. Returning to films after the termination of his MGM contract, Meeker starred as the hammer-fisted detective Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane's KISS ME DEADLY. Barely noticed when first released in 1955, the film is now regarded as a film noir classic.
Known for playing brooding, rebellious, working-class types, Brooklyn-born John Garfield (1913-52) was born Jacob Julius Garfinkle. After the death of his mother when he was seven, he was sent to a school for problem children in the Bronx and there, he discovered boxing and acting. He contracted an illness early in life which severely damaged his heart, limiting his ability to engage in strenuous athletic activities. He won a scholarship to an acting school hosted by Maria Ouspenskaya (the old Gypsy woman in THE WOLF MAN) and made his Broadway debut in 1932. That same year Garfield joined the Group Theatre, a pioneering company of players trained in a unified style and dedicated to presenting contemporary plays. Other members included Elia Kazan, Stella and Luther Adler, Will Geer, Howard Da Silva, Franchot Tone, John Randolph, Clifford Odets, Paul Strand, Kurt Weill and Lee J. Cobb. Garfield appeared in several productions including “Awake and Sing!” and “Waiting for Lefty.” In 1938 Garfield signed a seven-year contract with Warner's. His debut film FOUR DAUGHTERS was well received and Garfield was nominated for an Academy Award. Over the next few years he made several films including DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939), DUST BE MY DESTINY (1939), FOUR WIVES (1939), JUAREZ (1939) and THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (1939). At the start of World War II, Garfield tried to enlist but failed his medical due to a childhood illness that had damaged his heart. But he did his part by co-founding (with Bette Davis) the Hollywood Canteen. During that period his films included THE SEA WOLF (1941), TORTILLA FLAT (1942), AIR FORCE (1943), DESTINATION TOKYO (1943), THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1944), PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945) and the noir classic THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). In 1946, when his contract with Warner Bros. expired, he started his own independent production company. Long involved in liberal politics, Garfield was caught up in the McCarthy Communist scare of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and supported the Committee for the First Amendment. When called to testify before the House on Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC, Garfield refused to name names. However, his forced testimony before the committee severely damaged his reputation – and his health –and he was blacklisted. With film work scarce, Garfield returned to Broadway. But his heart problems, allegedly aggravated by the stress of his blacklisting, led to his early death at 39 soon thereafter.
In his youth, Burt Lancaster (1913-94) was an acrobat in the circus, and he served in the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy. He was already 32 when he got into the movie business, quickly establishing himself as a tough guy in such noir movies as THE KILLERS (1946), BRUTE FORCE, CRISS CROSS, I WALK ALONE and SORRY, WRONG NUMBER. His natural athleticism helped him in adventure movies such as THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952), and in the ‘50s and ‘60s he proved his dramatic acting ability in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) with Frank Sinatra, THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) and ELMER GANTRY (1960). Lancaster continued acting in his later years, earning his fourth Oscar nomination for his role opposite Susan Sarandon in 1980's ATLANTIC CITY and appearing with fellow movie noir icon Kirk Douglas in TOUGH GUYS (1986).
Jack Lambert (1920-2002) specialized in playing movie tough guys and heavies. Following a stint on Broadway, Lambert moved to Hollywood and began working in films in 1943. He was a familiar figure in crime dramas in such noirs as KISS ME DEADLY, VERA CRUZ, THE KILLERS and THE ENFORCER, and in Westerns such as HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Not to be confused with two others with the same name, the British actor and football player.
Gene Tierney (1920-91) starred in one of the greatest noir films ever made - LAURA (1944) - and co-starred in others including LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) as a scheming femme fatale, and NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) as Richard Widmark’s adoring lady friend. Had she never made any other films her fame would have been assured. Gene Eliza Tierney was born in Brooklyn. Visiting Hollywood in 1938, she was told by a Warner Bros. executive that she should become an actress. She was offered a contract, but her parents advised against it because of the low salary. Back in New York, she worked on Broadway and as a photographic model back in New York. Then she signed a six-month contract with Columbia, but when no projects were forthcoming, she returned to the New York stage and soon became the toast of Broadway. All this success came before her 20th birthday! Finally, Tierney made her screen debut - in THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940) opposite Henry Fonda. In '41, she starred in TOBACCO ROAD and SUNDOWN. Then she got top billing in Ernst Lubitsch's classic 1943 comedy HEAVEN CAN WAIT, after which her popularity increased. In 1944, at the tender age of 22, she starred as Laura Hunt, the intended murder victim in Otto Preminger's masterful mystery. Other films would follow, including THE LEFT HAND OF GOD (1955), a story set in China in which she plays a nurse who falls in love with a soldier of fortune posing as a priest (Humphrey Bogart).
Claire Trevor (1910-2000) was nicknamed "Queen of Film Noir" because of her many appearances in "bad girl” roles in film noir and other black-and-white thrillers. Her acting career spanned more than seven decades and included success not only in movies (she made over 60) but also on stage, radio and television. After attending
of Dramatic Arts, she began her acting career in the late '20s in stock. By 1932 she was starring on Broadway; that same year she began appearing in Brooklyn-filmed Vitaphone shorts. Her feature film debut came in: JIMMY American Academy AND SALLY (1933). Trevor earned Oscar nominations for DEAD END, a 1937 melodrama in which she plays a good girl who grows up to be a prostitute, and for THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY, a 1954 airplane disaster epic. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress award for her 1948 performance in KEY LARGO in which she plays the moll Gaye Dawn to Robinson's sadistic gangster Rocco. In 1956, Trevor won an Emmy for Best Live Television Performance by an Actress for Dodsworth, with Fredric March.
John Arthur Kennedy (1914-90) got his break in movies when he was discovered by James Cagney and played the actor's kid brother in CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940). In the years that followed, Kennedy would play good guys and villains with equal skill, appearing in Western films and police dramas. He starred in several well-received films in the late '40s and the '50s, including HIGH SIERRA (with Bogart), CHAMPION (with Kirk Douglas), THE WINDOW, WHITE HEAT (again with Cagney), THE DESPERATE HOURS (again with Bogart) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE BEND IN THE RIVER (both with Jimmy Stewart). He also appeared in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, INHERIT THE WIND and ELMER GANTRY, playing a newspaper reporter in each.
Mike Mazurki (1907-90) was a Ukrainian-born actor and professional wrestler who appeared in over 100 movies. Tall, stocky and muscular with a dough-like face that looked as if it had taken one too many punches and with a raspy, rugged voice to match, he was naturally cast as gangsters, thugs and henchmen, including a wrestler in NIGHT
AND THE CITY, a boxer in THE HARDER THEY FALL, and a lovesick mug called Moose Malloy in MURDER, MY SWEET, all noir classics.
Lauren Bacall (1924), now in her 80s and still going strong, began her career as a model, gracing the cover of Harper's Bazaar at age 19, before moving on to acting. She landed a starring role in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) opposite Humphrey Bogart. The pair married a year later, and went on to make five films (and two children) together, including THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and KEY LARGO (1948). Her movie career cooled somewhat in the '60s and '70s, and she turned to Broadway, winning Tony Awards for her roles in “Applause” (1970) and “Woman of the Year” (1981). She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Barbra Streisand's mother in THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES (1996), and most recently appeared with Nicole Kidman in two films: DODVILLE (2003) and BIRTH (2004). (She was also married to actor Jason Robards (1961–69), and is the mother of actor Sam Robards.
Bogie (1899-57) started his career as a good, but hardly great, Broadway stage player and B-movie actor during the 1920s and 1930s, but his later accomplishments have made him a worldwide icon and a super-noir star. Foreign actors including Jean-Paul Belmondo of France and India's Ashok Kumar were deeply influenced by his work and image. Bogie appeared in a wide range of genres - even light comedy - but playing primarily smart, playful and reckless characters living in a corrupt work but anchored by an inner moral code was his specialty. Bogart's most notable films include noir and noirish THE PETRIFIED FOREST, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, THE MALTESE FALCON , CASABLANCA, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, THE BIG SLEEP, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, KEY LARGO, IN A LONELY PLACE, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE CAINE MUTINY, AND WE'RE NO ANGELS, and many others. Altogether, he appeared in 75 feature motion pictures. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Bogart the Greatest Male Star of All Time.
Lana Turner (1921-95) wasn’t discovered at Schwab's Drug Store, as movie legend has it, but rather at the Top Hat Café. William R. Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, was struck by her beauty and referred her to the actor/comedian talent agent Zeppo Marx, who in turn introduced her to film director Mervyn LeRoy at
MGM. Lana's first film was THEY WON'T FORGET (1937). During World War II, she became a popular pin-up girl due to her popularity in such films such as ZIEGFELD GIRL, JOHNNY EAGER and four films with Clark Gable. The classic 1946 film noir THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE made her a star, but then during the '50s she appeared in a series of films that fared poorly. Hoping to refresh Lana’s career, MGM cast her in several musicals, one of which was a flop; the other, 1952's THE MERRY WIDOW, more successful. Returning briefly to noir, she gave a widely-praised performance in Vincente Minnelli's THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, and later starred in the adventure film THE SEA CHASE. She was then cast in the epic THE PRODIGAL, not a success. After 1956's DIANE, MGM opted not to renew her contract. Turner's career recovered briefly after she appeared in the hugely-successful big screen adaptation of Grace Metalious's best-selling novel, PEYTON PLACE, for which she was nominated for Best Actress. Several box office failures later, Lana starred in the re-make of the ‘30s weepie IMITATION OF LIFE, a huge success. She made her last film appearance for MGM in BACHELOR PARADISE, starring with Bob Hope. Her last two major film successes were 960’s PORTRAIT IN BLACK and 1966's MADAME X, both of which capitalized on Lana’s troubled and tabloid-touted personal life.
Robert Mitchum (1917-97) was a marijuana smoker in an era of drinkers, and his heavy-lidded eyes and laconic drawl seemed to come straight out of the postwar cool-jazz age. The looming actor – who left his Hell’s Kitchen home at 14 to travel by boxcar – brought an offbeat energy to the screen that practically defined film noir, yet he was underrated as a leading man and frequently buried his talent beneath an air of disinterest. Mitchum is most remembered for his roles in the film noir genre of the late 1940's and early 1950's, including OUT OF THE PAST, CROSSFIRE and THE BIG STEAL, but he made numerous movies that spanned virtually every genre.
Farley Granger (1925-2011) was acting in theater in Los Angeles when he was contracted by Samuel Goldwyn. He debuted in THE NORTH STAR (1943) and appeared in THE PURPLE HEART (1944). It would be four years before he was able to make another film. In 1948 Goldwyn cast him in a supporting role in ENCHANTMENT, but the film fared poorly. He was then approached by Alfred Hitchcock for ROPE (1948) in which friends Granger and John Dall, whose chacaters are based on real-life killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, commit a "thrill kill.” The film was not a box office success, but Granger received very good reviews. THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949) was his first starring role. Directed by Nicholas Ray and costarring Cathy O'Donnell, it was a film noir romance story that did well commercially and once again brought Granger strong reviews. During this time Goldwyn attempted to create a romantic couple in the eyes of the movie going public and so paired Granger with various actresses, including O'Donnell in SIDE STREET (1950). These films, with the exception of EDGE OF DOOM, were all fairly successful but not to the extent Goldwyn had oped. Once again, Granger was loaned to Hitchcock, this time for what became a genuine box office hit, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951). It was the first major success of Granger's career. But his subsequent films were box office failures, and in the ‘50s his only mainstream success was THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING.
Richard Ewing "Dick" Powell (1904-63) attended Little Rock College started his career as a singer in his own band. He recorded a number of records in the late 1920s, then got a film contract with Warner Bros. in 1932. In his debut film, BLESSED EVENT, he played a singing bandleader, going on to star as a boyish crooner in movie musicals including 42nd STREET, FOOTLIGHT PARADE and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, often appearing opposite Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. As he was reaching 40 in the '40s and realizing that his young romantic leading man days were behind him, Powell lobbied hard to play the lead in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. He lost out to Fred MacMurray, but in 1944 was cast in the first of a series of films noir starting with MURDER, MY SWEET (as Private Detective Philip Marlowe ). The film was a big hit, and Dick Powell had successfully reinvented himself as a dramatic actor. The following year, he made CORNERED, a gripping, post-WWII thriller that helped define the film noir style. He became a popular "tough guy" lead, appearing in movies such as JOHNNY O’CLOCK and CRY DANGER. From 1949 until 1953, Powell played the lead role in the NBC radio theater production Richard Diamond, Private Detective. His character in the 30 minute weekly was a likeable private detective with a quick wit. In the ‘50s Powell produced and directed several B-movies and was one of the founders of Four Star Television, appearing in and supervising several shows for that company.
William Conrad (1920-94), known for his his deep baritone voice and sizable girth, started working in radio in the late 1930s in California. This led to a number of noteworthy roles in radio drama, most prominently that of Marshal Matt Dillon on the radio series “Gunsmoke” (1952-1961). He was considered for the part when the series jumped to TV in 1955, but his increasing obesity led to the casting of James Arness. Conrad usually played threatening figures, among them, one of two gunmen hired to eliminate Burt Lancaster in THE KILLERS. Other noirs to his credit are BODY AND SOUL (1947), SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, THE NAKED JUNGLE and JOHNNY CONCHO. From the ‘60s on, he worked often on TV, both narrating and acting.
Coleen Gray (1922) made many film noir thrillers, westerns and even several horror films during her lengthy acting career. She scored a critical notice in KISS OF DEATH (1947). Later that year starred in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, a landmark film of noir cynicism as a carny lifer named Molly who hits the big time with scam mentalist Tyrone Power. In 1948 she appeared as John Wayne's love interest in the memorable opening sequences of RED RIVER. In the ‘50s she played a memorably crooked nurse in THE SLEEPING CITY. She also provided solid performances in KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952), an underrated film (and an early prelude to RESERVOIR DOGS), and THE KILLING (1956), in which she plays a lonely woman desperate for love in noir city.
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005) was a chorus dancer when she began her film career as a bit player in 1942. She rose to face as Danny Kaye's leading lady in a series of splashy Technicolor musicals produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Though never regarded as a great actress, she was utterly convincing as Dana Andrews' two-timing wife in Goldwyn's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) and as James Cagney's two-timing gun moll in WHITE HEAT (1949). In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Mayo was one of the most popular female stars at Warner Bros., appearing in musicals, melodramas and westerns. When her film career faltered in the ‘60s, she turned to stage work on the touring-company and dinner-theatre circuit. In her last few years, she was a frequent interview subject on TV documentaries dealing with the old
Ida Lupino (1918-95), London-born actress/director/screenwriter, came from a family of performers. She played small parts in Hollywood films through the 1930s, but after starring opposite Humphrey Bogart in the noir classic HIGH SIERRA (1941), her career took off. She appeared in PETER IBBETSON (1935), ANYTHING GOES (1936), ARTISTS AND MODELS (1937), THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939), and THE LIGHT THAT FAILED (1939), among others. Later, she appeared in LADIES IN RETIREMENT (1941), THE SEA WOLF (1941), LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY (1942), FOREVER AND A DAY (1943) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952) with Robert Ryan, and she continued performing on into the ‘60s. Starting with NOT WANTED (1949), which she also co-wrote, she became the only female movie director of her time. She specialized in dramatic and suspense films, including NEVER FEAR (1949), HITCH-HIKER (1953), and THE BIGAMIST (1953). She also directed episodes of many television series, including “The Untouchables” and “The Fugitive.”
Cathy O'Donnell (1923-1970) studied drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before embarking on her career on stage and then movies. She was on contract to MGM for her first film, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, playing Wilma Cameron, a high school sweetheart of double amputee. She was loaned out to RKO for one of her most memorable films, Nicholas Ray’ THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1947) with Farley Granger. Granger and O'Donnell reteamed for the Anthony Mann-directed 1950 noir movie, SIDE STREET. She also appeared in the noirish DETECTIVE STORY with Kirk Douglas.
Jerome Cowan (1897-72) appeared in over 100 films but is probably best remembered for playing Miles Archer, the doomed private eye partner of Bogart's Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON, and the hapless district attorney, Thomas Mara, forced to cross-examine his own son about the existence of Santa Claus, in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. He also appeared in noirs DEADLINE AT DAWN and HIGH SIERRA.
Richard Widmark (1914-2008) studied acting at
and taught it at the college after graduation, before debuting on radio in 1938 in “Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories.” He appeared on Broadway in 1943 in “Kiss and Tell.” His first movie appearance was a dilly – as the giggling, sociopathic villain Tommy Udo in 1947's KISS OF DEATH. His most notorious scene in the film found Udo pushing a wheelchair-bound old woman (played by Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs to her death. The film quicklymade him so popular that only two years later he had his handprints cast in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater. In the intervening two years, he had appeared in SLATTERY'S HURRICANE, DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS, YELLOW Lake Forest College SKY, ROAD HOUSE and THE STREET WITH NO NAME. In 1950, he starred in another noir classic, NIGHT AND THE CITY.
Dan Duryea (1907-68) made his name on Broadway in the play “Dead End,” followed by “The Little Foxes,” in which he played the dishonest and not particularly bright weakling Leo Hubbard. He moved to Hollywood in 1940 to appear in the film version in the same role. He established himself in films playing similar secondary roles as the foil, usually as a weak or annoyingly immature character. As his career progressed he played a number of roles as a violent, yet sexy, bad guy throughout the ‘40s in a number of film noirs, usually portraying a con man or criminal who beat his women. His work in this era included Scarlet Street, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, CRISS CROSS and BLACK ANGEL. By the 1950s, Duryea spent most of his time appearing in TV programs and an occasional western. Other notable roles included parts in the noir western WINCHESTER '73 and THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX. He also appeared in one of the first Twilight Zone episodes in 1959.
Berry Kroeger (1912-91) got his acting start on radio as an announcer and actor, playing for a time “The Falcon” and “The Shadow.” He was discovered by filmmaker William Wellman while performing on Broadway and began appearing in films in 1948. Kroeger specialized in playing slimy bad guys in films like ACT OF VIOLENCE and GUN CRAZY. He also appeared in a small role as a village elder in Young Frankenstein (1974). He appeared in dozens of television programs, guest starring on shows such as “Get Smart” (as a character spoofing actor Sydney Greenstreet) and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
Agnes Moorehead (1900-74) was a graduate of Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio and went on to earn a master's degree in English and public speaking at the university of Wisconsin. She continued her studies in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began appearing on Broadway and radio with Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. A co-founder and charter member of Welles’ famed Mercury Theater Players, she worked in radio throughout her career and was involved in two of the most famous shows of all time: SORRY WRONG NUMBER and Welles’ War of the Worlds. She made her film debut in Orson Welles movie CITIZEN KANE and earned five nominations for Oscars in her career, often cast in acid-tongue roles in such films as THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS with Cotton and THE LEFT HAND OF GOD with Bogart. Her numerous TV guest appearances led her to play “Endora,” the overbearing mother in the 1960s TV sitcom Bewitched. She also appeared as a mute woman and the only cast member in the famous 1961 Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders.” She and several cast members (including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Pedro Armendáriz, as well as director Dick Powell) were exposed to radiation while making THE CONQUEROR in Nevada which led to speculation this was the cause when diagnosed with lung cancer. She worked until the very end.
Gloria Grahame (1925-81) was taught acting by her stage mother. She made her film debut in BLONDE FEVER (1944) and then scored her most widely praised role as the neurotic small-town girl Violet, saved from a disgraceful and disheartening future by George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Her contract was sold to RKO Studios in 1947, where she was often featured in film noir pictures as a tarnished beauty with an irresistible sexual allure. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for CROSSFIRE (1947), starred with Humphrey Bogart in IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), and she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952). Grahame is possibly best remembered for her role as the mob moll in THE BIG HEAT (1953) in which she is horribly disfigured by boiling coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin's character. With the demise of film noir in the late '50s, Grahame was seen as difficult to cast , a woman too beautiful to be strictly evil, too naughty to be an innocent ingénue.
Richard Stevens (1916-94) studied to be a painter but turned to theater work. He launched a radio career as an announcer in Akron and then moved to Hollywood, becoming a Warner Brothers contract actor in 1943. Along with his name he changed his looks, darkening and straightening his curly ginger-colored hair and covering his freckles. In the mid-'40s, Stevens emerged as a film noir leading man in such films as WITHIN THESE WALLS (1945) and THE DARK CORNER (1946), and two years later played what many critics consider his best role as an FBI man going undercover to arrest a gangster played by Richard Widmark in THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948). Rounding out the ‘40s, he appeared in THE SNAKE PIT and in several musicals. In the 1950s, Stevens was also a TV star, producer and writer. He worked in semi-retirement in the 1960s in Europe, and then in the ‘80s appeared on TV in “Magnum, P.I.” and “Murder, She Wrote.” He died at 77.
Edmond O'Brien (1915-85) made his film debut in 1938, and gradually built a career as a highly regarded (if scene-chewing) supporting actor. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), and was nominated for his role in SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964), but perhaps his best remembered performances are in noirs, including A DOUBLE LIFE (1947), WHITE HEAT (1949), D.O.A.(1950), BACKFIRE (1950), THE TURNING POINT (1952), and THE HITCH-HIKER (1953). He was married and divorced from actresses Nancy Kelly and Olga San Juan.
Lizabeth Scott (1922) began her career in stock and got her first break when she was cast as Tallulah Bankhead's understudy in THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH (1942) while working as a fashion model. Starmaker Hal Wallis spotted her, which led to her film debut in 1945. Hyped as another Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake, the dark blonde actress starred in the noir thriller DEAD RECKONING (1947), the first of many femme fatale outings. She starred in DESERT FURY (1947), a noir filmed in Technicolor, with John Hodiak, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey and Mary Astor and was paired with Lancaster and Corey again, plus Kirk Douglas, in I WALK ALONE (1948), a noirish story of betrayal and vengeance. Wallis dropped her option in 1957, effectively ending her movie career. She appeared in one additional film, PULP (1972), with Michael Caine and - in a far cry from her film nor days - lent her voice to a series of cat food commercials.
John McIntire (1907-91), the character actor with a jaw like a ventloquist's dummy, began his long movie career in 1947, often playing police chiefs, judges and sometimes crazy coots. His films include the film noir classic THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950); his last film was TURNER & HOOCH (1989). McIntire also played movie villains in westerns, some of them noirs and some considered the best films of the genre, including WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and THE TIN STAR (1957) in which he was not a villain but a country doctor. On TV he appeared in THE NAKED CITY, based on a noir film and played the wagon master on WAGON TRAIN in 1961. He replaced actor Lee J. Cobb (himself a noir star) on THE VIRGINIAN in 1967.
Peter Lorre (1904-64), born Ladislav (László) Löwenstein, was an Austrian-American stage and screen actor best known for playing roles with sinister overtones in Hollywood crime films and mysteries. The German-speaking actor became famous when director Fritz Lang cast him as a child killer in his 1931 pre-noir, noir masterpiece M. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in '33, the Jewish Lorre took refuge in London where he played a charming villain in Alfred Hitchcock's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (he learned his lines phonetically). Eventually, he went to Hollywood, learned English and specialized in playing wicked or wily foreigners. He starred in a series of MR. MOTO movies, a parallel to the better known Charlie Chan series, in which he played a Japanese detective and spy. Among his many other roles were Joel Cairo in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), Ugarte in CASABLANCA (1942) and Dr. Einstein in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. In 1954, he became the first actor to play a James Bond villain when he portrayed Le Chiffre in a TV adaptation of CASINO ROYALE, opposite Barry Nelson as an American James Bond
Frank Lovejoy (1914-62) began his career in the '30s as a radio voice-over talent and stage actor. His radio series included "Gangbusters" and "The Blue Beetle." In the '40s and '50s, he enjoyed nominal success in films playing mostly supporting roles. Because of his somewhat bland looks and unassuming personality, Lovejoy was effective playing a movie's everyman in extraordinary situations (a common set-up in noir films), such as in THE HITCH-HIKER. He also played in many World War II movies.
Leon Ames (1902-93) enjoyed a long, successful career as a familiar-faced supporting actor, appearing in many films and a variety of genres. He’s now best remembered for playing fatherly figures such as MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) and LIFE WITH FATHER (1953), but in the ‘40s he often played suave, sometimes smarmy characters in noirs such as THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) and LADY IN THE LAKE (1947). He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, of which he was one of the founding members, from 1957 to 1958.
George Macready (1899-73) claimed to be a descendant of the 19th-century Shakespearean actor William Macready. With a distinctive scar on his right cheek (from an auto accident), he was often cast as an aristocratic villain, often in noir films. His first career was as an art collector. After establishing a profitable Los Angeles art gallery with his friend and fellow actor Vincent Price during the ‘40s, McCready turned to acting and appeared in many films in his long career, including A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956), VERA CRUZ (1954), THE BIG CLOCK (1948), and perhaps most famously, as the sexually ambivalent casino owner Ballin Mundson in GILDA (1946). One of his best and most memorable roles was the fanatical World War I French general in Stanley Kubrick's classic, PATHS OF GLORY (1957), in which he callously ordered his artillery to fire on his own troops when they failed to take an impossible objective. Later in his career, Macready appeared in many television programs.
Thomas Gomez (1905-71), born Sabino Tomas Gomez in New York, began his acting career in theater during the 1920s. He made his first film SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR in 1942, and by the end of his career had appeared in 60 films. He received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947). Directed by and starring Robert Montgomery, it was recycled as an episode for the TV series “Robert Montgomery Presents” in which Gomez reprised his role. Two of his best noirish films were KEY LARGO (1948), FORCE OF EVIL (1948), and his final film was Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).
Sterling Hayden (1916-86) was a fine actor who never really wanted to act. His first love was the sea, and in fact, the desire to buy a boat prompted him to begin modeling which led, in 1940, to a contract with Paramount. With no previous acting experience, he starred in several films that made him a star. But his career stalled while he served overseas in World War II. Back home after five years, he continued acting with BLAZE OF NOON, but apart from a brief appearance later that year in VARIETY GIRL, no other offers were forthcoming. In 1949, Hayden resurfaced in a John Wayne Western, EL PASO, and his first film noir, MANHANDLED. Then he starred in John Huston's classic noir THE ASPHALT JUNGLE in a hard-boiled role that pretty much defined the remainder of his career. He spent the majority of the early ‘50s in a variety of other genre outings, many of them Westerns. He played a tough sheriff in the Sinatra noir SUDDENLY and headlined the oft-imitated and widely acclaimed crime story THE KILLING, similar in many ways to THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. Saddled with a series of lackluster films, he again left acting in 1958 to return to the sea, and spent the rest of his life zigzagging between retirement and acting.
Marie Windsor (1919-2000), often called "Queen of the B’s" studied acting under Russian stage and screen luminary Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva, the gypsy woman, in THE WOLF MAN), supporting herself as a telephone operator between performing gigs. After several years of radio appearances and movie bits, she was moved up to feature-film roles in SONG OF THE
THIN MAN (1947). She was groomed to be a leading lady, but her height precluded her co-starring with many of 's sensitive, slightly built leading men. Persevering, Hollywood found steady work in second-lead roles as dance hall queens, gun molls, floozies and exotic villainesses. Some of her films included THE SNIPER, THE NARROW MARGIN and Windsor CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS, and perhaps most memorably, she played Elisha Cook's cold-blooded, castrating wife in THE KILLING (1956). Curtailing her screen work in the late '80s, began devoting the greater portion of her time to her sizeable family. Because of her many appearances in Westerns (she was an expert horsewoman), Windsor has become a welcome and highly sought-after presence on the nostalgia convention circuit, and appeared often on TV.
Elisha Cook, Jr. (1902-95) made a long and splendid career playing cowardly villains and neurotics, earning the nickname "Hollywood's lightest heavy." He started out in vaudeville, then became a Broadway actor, and in 1936 he settled in Hollywood. After playing a series of college-aged parts, he began a long stint playing weaklings or sadistic loser-hoods. Notable roles include Wilmer the weasely gunsel in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), the doomed Confederate reb in SHANE (1953), and the lovesick, hen-pecked husband in THE KILLING (1956). In these and other roles, Cook's characters usually ended up being killed off (strangled, poisoned or shot); he was arguably Hollywood's most notable fall guy for many years. On TV, Cook played a private detective in a 1953 episode of the Adventures of Superman. Years later, he played lawyer Samuel T. Cogley on a "Star Trek" episode, and later had a long-term recurring role as Icepick on Magnum, P.I.