Character actor Hal Baylor made a career out of pummeling (or being pummeled by) heroes ranging from John Wayne to Montgomery Clift. The 6'3", 210-pound Baylor, born Hal Fieberling, was an athlete in school and did a hitch in the United States Marines before embarking on a boxing career. He moved into acting in the late '40s, initially by way of one of the most acclaimed boxing films ever made in Hollywood, Robert Wise's The Set-Up (1949), playing Tiger Nelson, the young fighter in the film, whose fresh good looks stood out from the pug-worn visages of most of the men around him. His first released film, however -- a short feature done after The Set-Up but released first -- was a very different kind of boxing movie, Joe Palooka in Winner Take All. He also appeared in Allan Dwan's 1949 The Sands of Iwo Jima, playing Private "Sky" Choyuski, which was where he first began working with John Wayne. All of those early appearances were credited under his real name, Hal Fieberling (sometimes spelled "Feiberling"), but by 1950 the actor had changed his name to Hal Baylor. Whether in Westerns, period dramas, or war movies, Baylor usually played tough guys, and as soon as John Wayne began producing movies, he started using him, in Big Jim McLain (1952), in which Baylor played one of the two principal villains, a tough, burly Communist (just to show, from the movie's point of view, that they weren't all slimy-mannered, smooth-talking intellectuals) who is always getting in the face of Wayne's two-fisted investigator, and who is bounced all over the set in the film's climactic punch-up; and in Island in the Sky (1953), as Stankowski the engineer. As with any working character actor, his films ranged in quality from John Ford's exquisite period drama The Sun Shines Bright (1953) to Lee Sholem's juvenile science fiction-adventure Tobor the Great (1954), and every class of picture in between. If anything, he was even busier on television; beginning in 1949 with an appearance on The Lone Ranger, Baylor was a fixture on the small screen in villainous parts. He was downright ubiquitous in Westerns during the 1950s and early '60s, working regularly in Gunsmoke, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Cheyenne, Have Gun Will Travel, 26 Men, The Californians, Maverick, and The Alaskans; Rawhide, The Virginian, The Rifleman, Bonanza, Bat Masterson, The Big Valley, and Temple Houston (the latter allowing him to hook up with actor/producer Jack Webb, who would become one of his regular employers in the mid- to late '60s). During the mid-'60s, as Westerns faded from the home screen, Baylor got more work in crime shows, sometimes as police officers but more often as criminals, including a notably violent 1967 episode of Dragnet entitled "The Shooting," in which he and diminutive character actor Dick Miller played a Mutt-and-Jeff pair of would-be cop killers. He also played a brief comic-relief role in the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever," as a 1930s police officer who confronts a time-transported Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock stealing clothes. Baylor's career was similar to that of his fellow tough-guy actors Leo Gordon, Jack Elam, and Lee Van Cleef, almost always centered on heavies, and, like Gordon, on those rare occasions when he didn't play a villain, Baylor stood out -- in Joseph Pevney's Away All Boats (1956), he proved that he could act without his fists or his muscle, with a memorable portrayal of the chaplain of the attack transport Belinda; but it was his heavies that stood out, none more so than his portrayal of the anti-Semitic Private Burnecker in Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions, tormenting and then beating Jewish draftee Montgomery Clift to a bloody pulp, before being similarly pummeled himself. During the later '60s, he acquired the nickname around the industry as "the Last of the Bigtime Bad Guys," with 500 television shows and 70 movies to credit and still working, in everything from Disney comedies (The Barefoot Executive, Herbie Rides Again) to cutting-edge science fiction (A Boy and His Dog). At the end of his career, he returned to Westerns in The Macahans, the two-hour made-for-television feature starring James Arness (who had used Baylor numerous times on Gunsmoke, and had known him at least since they both worked in Big Jim McLain) that served as the pilot for the series How the West Was Won.
photo credit: Warner Brothers
by Bruce Eder biography