Van Heflin Biography

Van Heflin was an ‘Academy Award’-winning American theater, screen, and radio actor. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family, personal life, career, and achievements.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 13, 1908

Nationality: American

Famous: Actors Theater Personalities

Died At Age: 62

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Also Known As: Emmett Evan Van Heflin Jr.

Born in: Walters, Oklahoma, United States

Famous as: Actor

Height: 6'0" (183 cm), 6'0" Males


Spouse/Ex-: Eleanor Scherr (a.k.a. Eleanor Shaw), Frances E. Neal (m.1942 – div. 1967)

children: Kate Heflin, Tracy Heflin, Vana O'Brien

Died on: July 23, 1971

place of death: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, United States

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

U.S. State: Oklahoma

More Facts

education: The University of Oklahoma

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Van Heflin, born Emmett Evan Heflin Jr., was an American theater, screen, and radio actor. He won the ‘Academy Award’ for the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for his remarkable performance as ‘Jeff Hartnett’ in the film noir ‘Johnny Eager.’ He made his acting debut on ‘Broadway’ during the late 1920s. Over the years, he appeared in several ‘Broadway’ productions, most notably in ‘The Philadelphia Story,’ ‘A View from the Bridge,’ and ‘A Case of Libel.’ He made his film debut with ‘A Woman Rebels.’ He earned his first lead role in ‘Saturday's Heroes.’ He mostly essayed character roles in films. However, he also appeared in leading roles in several films. Some noteworthy films starring Heflin are ‘Gunman's Walk,’ ‘Shane,’ ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ ‘Johnny Eager,’ ‘Green Dolphin Street,’ ‘Grand Central Murder,’ and ‘The Three Musketeers.’ He made his mark on radio by performing in programs such as ‘The Adventures of Philip Marlowe,’ ‘Cavalcade of America,’ and ‘Suspense.’ Heflin also appeared in the TV movie ‘A Case of Libel,’ which earned him a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination, and the series ‘The Great Adventure.’

Childhood & Early Life
  • Heflin made his acting debut in the late 1920s, with’ Broadway.’ The initial stage projects of the actor include ‘Moneypenny’ (1928), ‘The Night Remembers’ (1934), ‘The Bride of Torozko’ (1934), ‘Mid-West’ (1936), and ‘End of Summer’ (1936). Soon, Heflin landed up signing a film contract with ‘RKO Radio Pictures.’
  • He made his film debut with the 1936 American historical drama ‘A Woman Rebels,’ starring Katharine Hepburn. He landed up with his first lead role after a few films, playing a star quarterback, ‘Val Webster,’ in the 1937 American drama ‘Saturday's Heroes.’ He then appeared in the ‘Broadway’ productions of ‘Western Waters’ (1937–1938) and ‘Casey Jones’ (1938).
  • His portrayal of ‘Macaulay Connor’ in the Philip Barry comic play ‘The Philadelphia Story,’ which ran for 417 performances, from 1939 to 1940, starring Katharine Hepburn, led Heflin to earn the role of the villainous gun seller ‘Carl Rader’ in the 1940 American Western ‘Santa Fe Trail.’ The latter was a sensational hit and paved Heflin’s way to a contract from ‘MGM.’
  • Heflin essayed supporting roles in many ‘MGM’ films, such as ‘H.M. Pulham, Esq.’ (1941) and ‘The Feminine Touch’ (1941). His remarkable performance as ‘Jeff Hartnett,’ ‘Johnny Eager’s (played by Robert Taylor) doomed best friend in the blockbuster hit 1941 film noir ‘Johnny Eager’ won him the ‘Academy Award’ for the ‘Best Supporting Actor.’ The following year, Heflin appeared in the lead role in two hit ‘MGM’ films, ‘Kid Glove Killer’ and ‘Grand Central Murder.’
  • At the time of the Second World War, Heflin served the ‘United States Army Air Corps’ as a combat cameraman in the ‘Ninth Air Force’ in Europe. He was also associated with the ‘First Motion Picture Unit.’
  • After Helfin made his comeback to Hollywood, he was loaned to Hal Wallis by ‘MGM.’ This saw him starring with Barbara Stanwyck in the 1946 American film noir ‘The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.’ ‘MGM’ later loaned him to ‘Warner Bros.,’ leading him to star with Joan Crawford in the film noir psychological drama ‘Possessed’ (1947).
  • He starred as ‘Timothy Haslam’ in the 1947 historical drama ‘Green Dolphin Street,’ which emerged as the biggest hit of ‘MGM’ that year. He starred as ‘Athos’ in the blockbuster hit ‘MGM’ film ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1948).
  • In the ensuing years, Heflin starred in many other notable films, such as ‘Tomahawk’ (1951), ‘South of Algiers’ (1953), ‘Shane’ (1953), ’ Battle Cry’ (1955), and ‘3:10 to Yuma’ (1957). The critically and commercially successful flick ‘Airport’ (1970), starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, marked the last feature film appearance of Heflin.
  • He featured in the title role in the ‘Broadway’ hit ‘A Case of Libel’ (1963–1964), which ran for 242 performances. Two of his other ‘Broadway’ projects were ‘A Memory of Two Mondays’ and ‘A View from the Bridge.’
  • He starred in the ‘NBC’ radio detective drama ‘The Adventures of Philip Marlowe’ (1947). He also appeared in other radio shows, such as ‘Lux Radio Theatre’ (1949), ‘Theater of Stars’ (1953), and ‘Suspense’ (1953).
  • He also appeared in various TV productions. These include programs such as ‘Nash Airflyte Theatre’ (1950), ‘Playhouse 90’ (1957–1960), and ‘The Great Adventure’ (1963–1964). He was part of films such as ‘A Case of Libel’ (1968), which fetched him a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for the ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie.’ He also appeared in the movies ‘Certain Honorable Men’ (1968) and ‘The Last Child’ (1971).
  • He earned two “stars” on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 1960, one for his contribution to motion pictures, at ‘6311 Hollywood Boulevard,’ and the other for his work on TV, at ‘6125 Hollywood Boulevard.’ In 1964, Heflin was inducted into the ‘Oklahoma Hall of Fame.’
Family & Personal Life
  • He was married to actor Eleanor Shaw from July 20, 1934, to October 8, 1936. He married ‘RKO’ contract player Frances Neal on May 16, 1942. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1967. They had three children: a son, Tracy, and two daughters, Vana O'Brien and Cathleen (Kate) Heflin. Both of their daughters later grew up to be actors.
  • The other relatives of Heflin who are associated with acting are his grandson, Ben O'Brien, and his granddaughter, Eleanor O'Brien. His nieces, Marta Heflin and Mady Kaplan, are also actors. His nephew, Jonathan Kaplan, is a film producer and director. His brother, Martin, was a public relations executive who married Julia Dorn Heflin, an American journalist, theater producer, and teacher.
  • Heflin suffered a heart attack on June 6, 1971, while swimming in a pool. He remained unconscious for the next 6 weeks and finally died at the ‘Cedars of Lebanon Hospital’ on July 23, 1971. As Heflin had directed earlier, a public funeral was not observed upon his death. He was cremated, and his remains were dispersed in the ocean.

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