Brian Donlevy

Active - 1926 - 1968  |   Born - Feb 9, 1889   |   Died - Apr 5, 1972   |   Genres - Action, Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Western

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of an Irish whiskey distiller, Brian Donlevy was 10 months old when his family moved to Wisconsin. At 15, Donlevy ran away from home, hoping to join General Pershing's purge against Mexico's Pancho Villa. His tenure below the border was brief, and within a few months he was enrolled in military school. While training to be a pilot at the U.S. Naval Academy, Donlevy developed an interest in amateur theatricals. He spent much of the early 1920s living by his wits in New York, scouting about for acting jobs and attempting to sell his poetry and other writings. He posed for at least one Arrow Collar ad and did bit and extra work in several New York-based films, then received his first break with a good supporting role in the 1924 Broadway hit What Price Glory?. Several more Broadway plays followed, then in 1935 Donlevy decided to try his luck in Hollywood. A frustrated Donlevy was prepared to head back to Manhattan when, at the last minute, he was cast as a villain in Sam Goldwyn's Barbary Coast. In 1936 he was signed to a 20th Century-Fox contract, alternating between "B"-picture heroes and "A"-picture heavies for the next few years. The most notable of his bad-guy roles from this period was the cruel but courageous Sgt. Markoff in Beau Geste (1939); reportedly, Donlevy deliberately behaved atrociously off-camera as well as on, so that his co-workers would come to genuinely despise his character. From 1940 through 1946, Donlevy was most closely associated with Paramount Pictures, delivering first-rate performances in such films as The Great McGinty (1940), Wake Island (1942), The Glass Key (1942) and The Virginian (1946). His own favorite role was that of the good-hearted, raffish con-artist in Universal's Nightmare (1942). In 1950, Donlevy took time off from films to star and co-produce the syndicated radio (and later TV) series Dangerous Assignment. He went on to introduce the character of Dr. Quatermass in two well-received British science fiction films, The Creeping Unknown (1955) and Enemy From Space (1957). Brian Donlevy left behind an impressive enough filmic legacy to put the lie to his own assessment of his talents: "I think I stink."

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