Dan Duryea

Active - 1941 - 1968  |   Born - Jan 23, 1907   |   Died - Jun 7, 1968   |   Genres - Drama, Western, Crime, Action, Adventure

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Hissable movie heavy Dan Duryea was handsome enough as a young man to secure leading roles in the student productions at White Plains High School. He majored in English at Cornell University, but kept active in theatre, succeeding Franchot Tone as president of Cornell's Dramatic Society. Bowing to his parents' wishes, Duryea sought out a more "practical" profession upon graduation, working for the N. W. Ayer advertising agency. After suffering a mild heart attack, Duryea was advised by his doctor to leave advertising and seek out employment in something he enjoyed doing. Thus, Duryea returned to acting in summer stock, then was cast in the 1935 Broadway hit Dead End. The first of his many bad-guy roles was Bob Ford, the "dirty little coward" who shot Jesse James, in the short-lived 1938 stage play Missouri Legend. Impressed by Duryea's slimy but somehow likeable perfidy in this play, Herman Shumlin cast the young actor as the snivelling Leo Hubbard in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. This 1939 Broadway production was converted into a film by Sam Goldwyn in 1941, with many members of the original cast -- including Duryea -- making their Hollywood debuts. Duryea continued playing supporting roles in films until 1945's The Woman in the Window, in which he scored as Joan Bennett's sneering "bodyguard" (that's Hollywoodese for "pimp"). Thereafter, Duryea was given star billing, occasionally in sympathetic roles (White Tie and Tails [1946], Black Angel [1946]), but most often as a heavy. From 1952 through 1955, he starred as a roguish soldier of fortune in the syndicated TV series China Smith, and also topped the cast of a theatrical-movie spin-off of sorts, World for Ransom (1954), directed by Duryea's friend Robert Aldrich. One of the actor's last worthwhile roles in a big-budget picture was as a stuffy accountant who discovers within himself inner reserves of courage in Aldrich's Flight of the Phoenix (1965). In 1968, shortly before his death from a recurring heart ailment, Duryea was cast as Eddie Jacks in 67 episodes of TV's Peyton Place. Dan Duryea was the father of actor Peter Duryea, likewise a specialist in slimy villainy.

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