Childhood & Early Life
Hugh Milburn Stone was born on July 5, 1904, to Laura Belfield and Herbert Stone, in Burrton, Kansas. When he was 3, Stone’s family moved to Frizell, Kansas, where he started his education. He grew up with his brother, Joe, and his sister, Glennis. The Stone family moved back to Burrton after Herbert Stone passed away from pneumonia. Stone later graduated from ‘Burrton High School.’
Stone had developed a keen interest in acting and singing since childhood, influenced by his uncle, Fred Stone (actually a cousin). During his high-school days, Stone was an active part of the school’s drama club. Each year, the school had a junior event, a senior event, and an opera production. Stone was part of all three.
He was also part of a quartet that sang songs of the barbershop genre. It was a group of four singers who sang four-part harmonies without the accompaniment of any instrument. He was also a state-level orator, the captain and quarterback for the school football team, and a basketball player.
After graduating from ‘Burrton High School,’ Stone was offered a congressional appointment in the ‘Naval Academy’ in Annapolis. However, he declined the offer to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor.
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In 1922, Stone met Art Names, a character actor with the ‘Helen B. Ross Players,’ who had written six plays and was leaving the group to start his own show, ‘Art Names Player.’ Stone approached Names and, after a brief hiatus, became part of the show by Names, Stone, and Lorraine Smith.
By the mid-1920s, Names’s three-person company had grown into a company of 25 people. They had a seven-piece band and an orchestra. Due to Arthur Names’s generous bonuses, Stone soon became the highest-paid actor in Kansas.
After Names married Maurine Allen, Stone and the company ventured into vaudeville. His first singing partner was Forrest Markell. Stone convinced Names to hire two of his high-school friends, Abe Heiderbrecht and Bryon Warner, to form a quartet, with Markell in the lead and Stone taking charge of the baritone.
In 1927, Stone left the company. According to writer Donald W Whisenhunt, Maurine and Stone did not get along well. Their numerous disagreements became one of the reasons why Stone left. However, it was also true that he had grown wary of rural theater and wanted to try his luck in New York.
In 1928, Stone went to Missouri to join the ‘Harold English Players.’ He was there only for a season. After finishing a season in Missouri, Stone; his wife, Nellie; and Strain went to Hutchinson to join the ‘Wallace Bruce Players.’
Stone first went to New York in 1929, armed with letters from Uncle Fred, for Sam Harris, John Golden, and Charles Dillingham, but his timing could not be worse. By the time he arrived in New York, the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression had begun.
Stone left New York and got together with Jay Strain. He spent a few years doing a vaudeville show as part of the duo ‘Strain and Stone.’ He went back to New York in 1934, and performed in Sinclair Lewis’s ‘Jayhawker,’ alongside Fred. He also appeared in ‘Around the Corner’ in 1936, alongside Charles Coburn.
Stone made his Hollywood debut in 1935, with ‘Ladies Crave Excitement.’ Soon after, ‘MGM’ approached him for a screen test. However, they revoked his contract after 30 days. Stone did not get disheartened. Instead, he later claimed that ‘MGM’s failed screen test had earned him most of his films, including the role of ‘Stephen Douglas’ in ‘Young Mr. Lincoln’ in 1939.
Stone acted in over 150 movies during the 1930s, the 1940s, and the early 1950s. Some of his noteworthy movies are ‘Chasing Trouble’ (1940), ‘Gung Ho!’ (1943), and ‘Prison Mutiny’ (1943). He was under a 6-year contract with ‘Universal Studios,’ which was cut short to a 4-year deal, between 1942 and 1946, upon his insistence. During these 4 years, Stone worked in 46 motion pictures and a few serials, including ‘The Master Key’ (1945), in which he appeared in the lead role.
Almost after 20 years of being in Hollywood and 30 years of working as an actor, Stone was cast as ‘Dr. Galen “Doc” Adams’ in the TV adaptation of the popular radio show ‘Gunsmoke.’ According to Stone, he played hardball on his contract with ‘CBS’ to make sure he received royalty on every view of the show, no matter where or when. He was an instant success, even before the show was aired on September 10, 1955. Stone appeared as ‘Doc’ for 20 long years, until the show ended in 1975. Following this, he retired at age 70.
Personal & Family Life
Milburn Stone had met his first wife, Nellie Morrison (also known as Ellen Morrison), in Delphos, Kansas, while performing there. They got married in 1925, and Nellie soon joined Art Name’s group. They had a daughter, Shirley Stone. Nellie passed away in 1937.
As surreal as it may sound, Stone had married the same woman twice. Jane Garrison, a resident of Hutchinson, was married to Stone from 1939 to 1940. In 1941, Stone married Garrison again. They remained married till his death on June 12, 1980.