Dan Duryea was an American actor, best known for playing an antagonist for most of his career. Dan had a long association with theater, too. He had several film noirs and westerns under his belt and had appeared in character roles in the later years of his career. Dan’s villainous look and maniacal laugh was so convincing on screen, that it is hard to believe that the actor was just the opposite in real life. He, also played a few leading roles, in ventures such as 'Black Angel' and 'China Smith.' In the 1960s, Dan mostly appeared on TV. One of his most notable TV projects was 'The Twilight Zone.’ He had worked in some international films, too. In the final years of his career, he was mostly seen in low-budget projects. Dan passed away in 1967, the year after his wife died. He is survived by his two sons, namely, Peter and Richard. Dan and his oldest son had worked together in two movies and a TV series.
Childhood & Early Life
Dan was born on January 23, 1907, in White Plains, New York, to Richard, a textile salesman, and his wife, Mabel. Dan was a member of the 'White Plains High School' drama club. He graduated in 1924. He later attended 'Cornell University' and majored in English in 1928.
Dan succeeded Franchot Tone (who became a legendary actor later) as the president of 'Cornell’s drama society. He also had the honor of being a member of the university’s 'Sphinx Head Society.' Dan grew up with an interest in acting, which turned into a passion at 'Cornell.' He was soon determined to become an actor.
Unfortunately, Dan’s parents objected to his choice of profession. Abiding by their wishes, he took up a stable job as an advertising executive. After 6 years of stressful work, he suffered a heart attack. Following this, he quit the job. Dan’s relationship with his corporate colleagues later helped him mould his villainous roles.
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Dan made his acting debut in 1934, with the Argentinean film 'El tango en Broadway.’ The film was shot in New York City, where he already had an active theater life. He was seen regularly on the Great White Way. The character ‘Bob Ford’ in the 1938 play 'Missouri Legend' marked Dan’s first western role, which later became his trademark. Impressed by his acting skills, director-producer Herman Shumlin cast Dan as ‘Leo Hubbard’ in the 1939 play 'The Little Foxes.’ Dan later reprised the role in its film version.
In 1940, Dan moved to Hollywood and bagged several supporting and character roles in films. However, later in the decade, the actor gained prominence as an antagonist in many film noirs. Some of his notable films of this genre were 'The Woman in the Window' (1944), 'Scarlet Street' (1945), 'Criss Cross' (1949), and 'Too Late for Tears,' (1949). Dan has also played evil characters in westerns.
In 1946, 'Motion Picture Herald' regarded Dan as the eighth-most-promising "star of tomorrow." His career took a turn after he signed a contract with 'Universal,' which brought him a few leading roles. The role of the sympathetic alcoholic composer ‘Martin’ in the 1946 film noir 'Black Angel' (1946) and the titular role in the 1948 western 'Black Bart’ were among them.
Toward the 1950s, Dan mostly played leading roles in some mid-level and low-budget adventure films. Around this time, he also focused on his TV career. He played the title role in the adventure series 'China Smith' from 1952 to 1956. Dan portrayed the character again in the spin-off, 'The New Adventures of China Smith.' His other TV credits include 'The Jack Benny Program' (1955), 'Cimarron City' (1958), 'Wagon Train' (1957), and 'The Twilight Zone' (1959). Dan showcased his humorous side in a 1964 episode of the series 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.'
In 1967, Dan portrayed the character ‘Bart McAdam’ in 'Winchester '73,’ the TV movie version of the 1950 American western film of the same name. He was also part of the film but played ‘Waco Johnnie Dean’ in it. Dan was featured in the recurring role of ‘Eddie Jacks’ in the 'ABC' primetime soap opera 'Peyton Place.' He also was part of the 1965 drama film 'The Flight of the Phoenix,' which marked one of his final performances.
Toward the end of the 1960s, Dan worked in a few international projects, such as the Italian western 'The Hills Run Red' (1966) and the British–German spy thriller 'Five Golden Dragons' (1967). His last acting role was in the 1968 science-fiction adventure 'The Bamboo Saucer.'
Family, Personal Life & Death
Dan married Helen Bryan, the daughter of one of his advertising colleagues, in April 1932. Helen would often come to his office to pick up her father. She once offered a lift to Dan. He instantly fell in love with Helen.
Dan and Helen soon had two sons: Peter and Richard. Peter later became a character actor and also shared screen space with Dan in two low-budget westerns. The duo was first seen in the 1964 release 'Taggart' and then in the 1965 film 'The Bounty Killer.' They also appeared in the action-adventure TV series 'Daniel Boone.'
Despite being famous as an antagonist on screen, Dan was a quiet and loving person in real life. He lived in the San Fernando Valley and loved spending time gardening and boating. He was also highly involved in community activities and was a member of the local parent–teacher association. He was also the scout master of a boy scout troop. Dan lost his wife in January 1967.
Dan died of cancer on June 7, 1968. He was declared dead after he had collapsed in his bathroom. Dan was buried in the 'Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery' in Los Angeles. His gravestone reads “Our Pop, A Man Everybody Loved.”