Melvyn Douglas

Active - 1930 - 1996  |   Born - Apr 5, 1901 in Macon, Georgia, United States  |   Died - Aug 4, 1981   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor Melvyn Douglas began his stage career shortly after being mustered out of World War I Army service. Douglas secured a position with the Owens Repertory Company, making his debut in a production of Merchant of Venice. He spent the first part of the 1920s touring with Owens Repertory and with the Jessie Bonstelle Company, reaching Broadway in the 1928 drama A Free Soul. Brought to Hollywood in the early talkie "gold rush" for stage-trained actors, Douglas made his film bow in 1931's Tonight or Never. With The Old Dark House (1932), the actor established his standard screen character: a charming, blase young socialite who could exhibit great courage and loyalty when those attributes were called upon. After a brief return to Broadway in 1933, Douglas returned to films in 1935, signing a joint contract with Columbia and MGM. Most often appearing in sophisticated comedies, Douglas was one of the busiest stars in Hollywood, playing in as many as eight films per year. One of the actor's better roles was a supporting one: as Cary Grant's beleaguered lawyer and business adviser in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1947), who spends most of the film trying to keep Grant from spending himself into bankruptcy. Douglas found movie roles scarce in the early 1950s thanks to the "Red Scare." The actor was married to Congresswoman Helen Gahagan, the woman labeled by Richard Nixon as the "pink lady" friendly to communism. The more rabid anti-communists in Washington went after Douglas himself, suggesting that because he was Jewish and had changed his name for professional reasons, he was automatically politically suspect. Douglas began recovering his career with a 1950s detective program, Hollywood Off-Beat - ironically playing a disbarred lawyer trying to regain his reputation. He headed back to Broadway, gaining high critical praise for his "emergence" as a topnotch character actor (his prior stage and film credits were virtually ignored). Some of Douglas' stage triumphs included Inherit the Wind (replacing Paul Muni in the Clarence Darrow part) and The Best Man (which had a character based on Richard Nixon) Douglas' long-overdue Academy Award was bestowed upon the actor for his role as Paul Newman's dying father in Hud (1963); other highlights of Douglas' final Hollywood days included I Never Sang for My Father (1971) and Being There (1979), the latter film winning the actor his second Oscar. Melvyn Douglas died at age 80, just before the release of his final film, Ghost Story (1981).

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  • His mother was a descendant of the Mayflower.
  • Grandfather of actress Illeana Douglas.
  • Wife, Helena, ran against Richard Nixon for the same congressional seat in California in 1950. She was reputed to have given him the nickname "Tricky Dick."