Bruce Cabot (1904-1972) [The Roadhouse Murder (1932); The Undefeated (1969)] was born with the unlikely name Etienne Pelissier Jacques de Bujac in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the son of French Colonel Etienne de Bujac and Julia Armandine Graves, who died shortly after giving birth. Although Cabot was prominently featured in the blockbuster King Kong in 1933, he never did make the step to stardom, though he enjoyed a thriving career as a supporting player. He was a heavy in the '30s, playing a gangster boss in Let 'Em Have It (1936) and the revenge-minded Native American brave Magua after Randolph Scott's scalp in The Last of the Mohicans (1936). Over at MGM, he ably supported Spencer Tracy as the instigator of a lynch mob in Fritz Lang's indictment of domestic fascism, Fury (1936). A freelancer, he appeared in movies at many studios before leaving Hollywood for military service. Cabot worked for Army intelligence overseas during World War II; after the war, he continued to work steadily, with and without his friend and frequent co-star, John Wayne.
Sebastian Cabot (1918-1977) was a British-born film and television actor, known for his portly figure and deep, melodious voice. Born in London, he began his acting career in Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936), and continued to star in British films before moving to Hollywood. His best-known film work was in Ivanhoe (1952), but he was generally typecast as an Englishman in America. Cabot is best remembered for his television role as Mr. French, the butler who cares for three orphans in the comedy series Family Affair (1966-1971) starring Brian Keith, and for his role as the narrator in the Disney animated Winnie the Pooh series (1966). He was also featured as a voice actor in Disney's Jungle Book (1967). Cabot travelled to battle fields to entertain troops during World War II.
Frank Cady (1915- ) [Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); Hearts of the West (1975)] was born in Susanville, California. Although his most famous role would be that of general-store owner Sam Drucker, one of the less nutty residents of Hooterville in both Green Acres (1965-TV) and Petticoat Junction (1963-TV), he had a history as a film, stage and television actor long before those shows. The acting bug bit him when he sang in an elementary school play, and after graduating from Stanford University he headed to London, England, to train in the theater. When World War II broke out he was already in Europe, so he enlisted in the Army Air Force and spent the next several years in postings all over the continent. After his discharge he returned to the US and headed for Hollywood.
Sid Caesar (1922- ) has conquered every medium. A multiple emmy award winner, Sid went on to win the Tony Award for the Broadway production, Little Me, and starred in such classic films as Grease and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. During World War II Caesar was assigned as a musician in the Coast Guard, taking part in the service show Tars and Spars, where producer Max Liebman overheard him improvising comedy routines among the band members, and switched him over to comedy. Sid later made his film debut in the adaptation of his stage hit Tars and Spars. Later, as super-hip jazz musician "Cool Cees" in television skits, he played tenor saxophone, and sang with the satirical trio "The Hair Cuts" (with Carl Reiner and Howard Morris). Joining ASCAP in 1955, his popular song compositions include "I Wrote This Song for Your Birthday" and "Was That You?".
Frank Capra (1897-1991) [Film Director: It Happened One Night (1934); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939); It's a Wonderful Life (1946)] was born Francesco Rosario Capra in Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy, but later changed his name to Frank Robert Capra. He immigrated to the U.S. when he was six and became an American film director, a creative force behind major award-winning films during the 1930s and 1940s. His rags-to-riches story, having worked his way through college, has led film historians like Ian Freer to consider Capra the "American dream personified." Because of his early fame as a director, his name was listed above the title of his films. People flocked to the theaters during the 1930s and 1940s to see films directed by Frank Capra. He enlisted in the Army during World War I after graduating college. Within four days after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor Capra quit his highly successful directing career in Hollywood and enlisted as a major in the United States Army. After World War II, however, Capra's career declined as his subjects were more out of tune with the mood of audiences. Critics began to describe his films as being "simplistic" or "overly idealistic." In the 1950s he made some educational TV films related to science subjects. Frank Capra died in La Quinta, California, of a heart attack in his sleep in 1991 at the age of 94.
Art Carney (1918-2003) was born Arthur William Matthew Carney in Mount Vernon, NY. He gained lifelong fame for his portrayal of sewer worker Ed Norton opposite Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden in the popular television comedy show The Honeymooners (1955-1956). Carney also had many screen and stage roles, including the portrayal of Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. He was nominated for seven Emmy Awards. In 1973 he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as an elderly man going on the road with his pet cat in Harry and Tonto. He appeared in such films as W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), The Late Show (1977), House Calls (1977), Movie Movie (1978) and Going in Style (1979). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6627 Hollywood Blvd. A World War II veteran, he was stationed in France as an infantryman and wounded in leg by shrapnel. He was hospitalized for nine months and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
Johnny Carson (1925-2005, photo c.1966) [TV: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962-1992)] was born in Corning, Iowa, to Homer "Kit" Lloyd Carson, a power company manager, and Ruth Hook Carson. He lived in southwest Iowa until age 8, then the family moved to Norfolk, Nebraska where he grew up. There he learned to perform magic tricks, debuting as "The Great Carsoni" at 14. After HS he joined the Navy and served 1943-1946. He was sent to Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he received V-12 officer training. In the final months of World War II Ensign Carson served on the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) which was underway to a combat station when the A-bombs ended the war. After discharge, Carson attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln where he joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.
Lonny Chapman (1920-2007) [Young at Heart (1954); Reindeer Games (2000)] was born Lon Leonard Chapman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up in the city of Joplin, Missouri. His interest in acting started while fairly young. Following his graduations from Joplin High School (1938) and Joplin Junior College (1940), the athletically-inclined Lonny attended the University of Oklahoma on a track scholarship. The bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, interrupted his college studies, joining the Marines the very next day. He saw major action in the South Pacific, including Guadalcanal. During his 5-year tour of duty, he contracted malaria; frequent recurrences would plague him the rest of his life. The track star returned to his Oklahoma college following war duty and graduated with a BFA in Drama in 1947.
Julia Child (1912-2004). After Pearl Harbor she tried to join the Navy but was rejected as too tall. She joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) instead and began her WWII career in Washington working directly for Gen William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, the OSS chief. In 1944 she was posted to Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she handled highly classified communications for the OSS's clandestine stations in Asia, and where she met her future husband, a high-ranking OSS cartographer. She was later posted to China where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat.
Robert Clary (1926- ), born in France, early suffered the pangs of war, being interned in a Nazi concentration camp as a child. After World War II he became a singing star in France, and in 1949 came to the United States to promote his career. He appeared on "The Ed Wynn Show" (1949); still learning English he performed in a French language comedy skit. His comedic skills were recognized by Broadway, where he appeared in several revues, including one which moved from theater to film, New Faces (1954). In the 1950's he was a game show regular, and then in 1965 he became Corporal Louis LeBeau in "Hogan's Heroes" (1965-1971). Later film roles were based around WWII, such as Remembrance of Love (1982, TV) about Holocaust survivors. More recently he returned to television series, joining "Days of Our Lives" (1965) and appearing in "The Young and the Restless" (1973).
Lee Van Cleef (1925-1989) started out as an accountant. He served in the U.S. Navy aboard minesweepers and subchasers during World War II. After the war he worked as an office administrator, becoming involved in amateur theatrics in his spare time. An audition for a professional role led to a touring company job in Mr. Roberts. His performance was seen by Stanley Kramer, who cast him as henchman Jack Colby in High Noon (1952), a role that brought him great recognition despite the fact that he had no dialogue. For the next decade he played a string of memorably villainous characters, primarily in westerns but also in crime dramas such as The Big Combo (1955). His hawk nose and steely, slit eyes seemed destined to keep him always in the realm of heavies, but in the mid-'60s Sergio Leone cast him as the tough but decent Col. Mortimer opposite Clint Eastwood in For A Few Dollars More (1965). A new career as a western hero (or at least anti-hero) opened up, and Van Cleef became an international star, though in films of decreasing quality. In the 1980s he moved easily into action and martial-arts movies, and starred in "The Master" (1984), a TV series featuring almost non-stop martial arts action. He died of a heart attack in December 1989, and was buried at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills.
Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) was rejected for service in World War II by the military due to chronic dysentery and colitis, conditions he suffered all of his life. Also he had pill problems and he was alcoholic. At 13, Clift appeared on Broadway (Fly Away Home), and chose to remain in the New York theater for over ten years, where he met wealthy former Broadway star Libby Holman, before finally leaving for Hollywood. Holman developed an intense decade-plus obsession over the young actor, even financing an experimental play, "Mexican Mural," for him. In Hollywood his film debut was Red River (1948) with John Wayne, quickly followed by his early personal successes: The Search (1948); A Place in the Sun (1951); From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Along the way, Holman would wield considerable influence over his film career. On her advice he turned down William Holden's role in Sunset Boulevard (1950, originally written specifically for him) and Gary Cooper's role in High Noon (1952). His friend Marilyn Monroe described him as "the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am."
Nicholas Colasanto (1924-1985) was an American actor, known primarily for his role as Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso on the long-running sitcom Cheers (1982-1993). Feature films include Fat City (1972) and Raging Bull (1980). A decorated veteran of World War II, he also directed various television series, such as Starsky and Hutch and CHiPs. Colasanto died of a heart ailment at the age of 61, just as Cheers was achieving its greatest success. He was replaced by Woody Harrelson. After his death, his presence on the show was represented by the placing of a picture of Geronimo on the wall of the show's primary set. The photo had previously hung in Colasanto's dressing room and was said to hold a special meaning to the actor. The picture remained on the set for the rest of the series' run. Eight years after Colasanto's death, the show offered a subtle but important nod to him in its final scene: star Ted Danson walks up to and straightens the Geronimo picture before walking off stage for the last time.
Chuck Connors (1921-1992) [Trouble Along the Way (1953); The Big Country (1958); TV: The Rifleman (1959-1961)] was an actor and professional baseball player. He was born Kevin Joseph Connors to Irish-American parents in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up with a sister named Gloria. He attended a private high school and later attended Seton Hall in South Orange, New Jersey. He then dropped out in 1942 to join the army at Camp Campbell, Kentucky and next went to West Point. After his discharge in 1946, he joined the Boston Celtics and left the team for spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played for numerous minor league teams before joining the Dodgers in 1949 for a few weeks. Later, in 1951 he also played for the Chicago Cubs. He was then sent to the minor leagues again, in 1952, and there he was spotted by an MGM casting director for an upcoming Tracy-Hepburn film Pat and Mike, in which he played a state police captain. He died of lung cancer in Los Angeles, California.
William Conrad (1920-1994), born William Cann, was an American actor in radio, film and television noted for his gifted use of a marvelous baritone voice, as well as for his sizable girth. He was born in Louisville, KY. He started in radio in the late 1930s in California. He served as a fighter pilot in World War II and returned to the airwaves after the war, going on to accumulate over 7,000 roles in radio by his own estimate. Conrad's deep, resonant voice led to a number of noteworthy roles in radio drama, most prominently his originating the role of Matt Dillon on the old-time radio program Gunsmoke (1952-1961). He was considered for the role when the series was brought to television in 1955, but his increasing obesity led to the casting of James Arness. Other series to which Conrad contributed his talents included Escape, Suspense and The Damon Runyon Theater. Among his various film roles, where he was usually cast as threatening figures, perhaps his most notable role was his first credited one, as one of the gunmen sent to eliminate Burt Lancaster in the 1946 film The Killers. He also appeared in Body and Soul (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number, Joan of Arc (both 1948), and The Naked Jungle (1954).
Merian C. Cooper (1893-1973) [Producer: King Kong (1933); She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949); Mighty Joe Young (1949)] was born Merian Coldwell Cooper to John C. Cooper and Mary Caldwell in Jacksonville, Florida. He was educated at The Lawrenceville School and entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912, but resigned in 1915 (his senior year) in a dispute over his belief in air power which the Navy did not share. In 1916, he joined the Georgia National Guard to help chase Pancho Villa in Mexico. Captain Cooper served as a DH-4 bomber pilot with the U.S. Army Air Service during World War I. He was shot down and captured by the Germans, serving out the remainder of the war in a POW camp. From late 1919 until the 1921 Treaty of Riga, Cooper was a member of a volunteer American flight squadron, the Kosciuszko Squadron, which supported the Polish Army in the Polish-Soviet War. On July 26, 1920, his plane was shot down, and he spent nearly 9 months in a Soviet prisoner of war camp. He escaped just before the war was over and made it to Latvia. For valor he was decorated by Polish commander-in-chief Jozef Pilsudski with the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari. Cooper was a founding member of the Board of Directors of Pan American Airways, serving on the board for decades. He was a pioneer in the use of aircraft, military and civilian. Cooper was head of production for RKO Radio Pictures from 1933 to 1935. He frequently collaborated with Ernest B. Schoedsack. Cooper was vice president in charge of production for Pioneer Pictures from 1934 to 1936, and vice president of Selznick International Pictures in 19361937, before moving to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He re-enlisted for World War II and was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He served with Col. Robert L. Scott in India as a logistics liaison for the Doolittle Raid. They then went to Dinjan Airfield, Assam, and with Col. Caleb V. Haynes, a bomber pilot, set up the Assam-Burma-China Ferrying Command, which was the origin of The Hump Airlift. He later served in China as chief of staff for General Claire Chennault of the China Air Task Force precursor of the Fourteenth Air Force then from 1943 to 1945 in the Southwest Pacific as chief of staff for the Fifth Air Force's Bomber Command. Leading many missions and carefully planning them to minimize loss of life, he was known for his hard work and relentless planning. At the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general. For his contributions, he was also aboard the USS Missouri to witness Japan's surrender. Cooper and his friend and frequent collaborator, noted director John Ford, formed Argosy Productions in 1947 and produced such notable films as Wagon Master (1950), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), and The Searchers (1956).
Jeff Corey (1914-2002) [My Friend Flicka (1943); Joan of Arc (1948); Home of the Brave (1949)]. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and became a film and television character actor as well as one of the top acting teachers in America. He joined the U.S. Navy Photographic Service in 1943 and was assigned to the aircraft carrier Yorktown as a motion picture combat photographer. He earned three citations while serving during the War, including one for shooting footage on the Yorktown during a kamikaze attack on the ship. The citation, which was awarded in October 1945, read: "His sequence of a Kamikaze attempt on the Carrier Yorktown, done in the face of grave danger, is one of the great picture sequences of the war in the Pacific, and reflects the highest credit upon Corey and the U.S. Navy Photographic Service."
Tony Curtis (1925-2010) [Trapeze (1956), The Boston Strangler (1968)]. Joined the Navy at age 17 in 1943 and served on a submarine tender during World War II. In Tokyo Bay in 1945 he watched the surrender ceremonies from the signal bridge of the USS Proteus. After the war he enrolled in drama school on the G.I. Bill.
...more next week...