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Brian Donlevy

Brian Donlevy
Brian Donlevy, 1955.
Born Waldo Brian Donlevy
(1901-02-09)February 9, 1901
Ohio, United States of America[1][2]
Died April 5, 1972(1972-04-05) (aged 71)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1924–1969
Spouse(s) Yvonne Grey (1928–1936)
Marjorie Lane (1936–1947) 1 child
Lillian Lugosi (1966–1972) (d.1981)
Children Judy Donlevy

Waldo Brian Donlevy (February 9, 1901 – April 5, 1972), later known as Brian Donlevy, was an American actor, noted for playing dangerous tough guys from the 1930s to the 1960s. He usually appeared in supporting roles. Among his best-known films are Beau Geste (1939) and The Great McGinty (1940). For his role as Sergeant Markoff in Beau Geste he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Donlevy starred as US special agent Steve Mitchell in 40 episodes of the 1952 TV series "Dangerous Assignment". Mitchell received assignments to exotic locales involving international intrigue from 'The Commissioner' played by Hubert Butterfield.[3][4]

His obituary in The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom stated that "any consideration of the American 'film noir' of the 1940s would be incomplete without him".[5]

Early life and military service

Donlevy was born in 1901 in Ohio, the son of Rebecca (Parks) and Thomas Donlevy.[6][7][8] Sometime between 1910 and 1912 the family moved to Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin,[9] where Donlevy's father worked as a supervisor at the Brickner Woolen Mills.[1] When the local Army National Guard company was called into service for the Pancho Villa Expedition in 1916, Donlevy lied about his age (he was actually 14) so he could join the mobilization. Donlevy served during the expedition as a bugler. When the United States entered World War I, Donlevy went to France with Company C, 127th Infantry Regiment, a part of the 32nd Infantry Division.

Acting career

Donlevy began his career in New York in the early 1920s, appearing in many theater productions and also winning an increasing number of silent film parts. Previously, he had modeled for the illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, who produced illustrations for the famous Arrow Collar advertisements. His Broadway credits included Hit the Deck and Life Begins at 8:40.

Donlevy's break came in 1935, when he was cast in the Edward G. Robinson film Barbary Coast. A large amount of film work followed, with several important parts. In 1939, he played the lead villain in Destry Rides Again and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role as the ruthless Sergeant Markoff in Beau Geste, although the Oscar went to Thomas Mitchell for Stagecoach.

The following year, he played the role for which he is perhaps best remembered, that of McGinty in The Great McGinty, a role he reprised four years later in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. In 1942, Donlevy starred in Wake Island with William Bendix and Robert Preston and played street-tough borough politician Paul Madvig in Dashiell Hammet's classic The Glass Key. In 1955, he played the lead in the British science-fiction horror film The Quatermass Xperiment (called The Creeping Unknown in the US) for the Hammer Films company, playing the lead role of Professor Bernard Quatermass. The film was based on a 1953 BBC Television serial of the same name. The character had been British, but Hammer cast Donlevy in an attempt to help sell the film to North American audiences. Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale disliked Donlevy's portrayal, referring to Donlevy as "a former Hollywood heavy gone to seed". Nonetheless, the film version was a success and Donlevy returned for the sequel, Quatermass 2 (Enemy From Space in the US), in 1957, also based on a BBC television serial. This made Donlevy the only man ever to play the famous scientist on screen twice, although Scottish actor Andrew Keir would later play him both on film and on radio.

Throughout his film career, Donlevy also did several radio shows, including a reprise of The Great McGinty. He played the lead character in Dangerous Assignment between 1949 and 1954, taking the series to TV in 1952. He featured in a number of films over the following years until his death. He also appeared in a variety of television series from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s. In 1966 in one of the final episodes of Perry Mason, "The Case of the Positive Negative," Donlevy played defendant General Roger Brandon. He also guest-starred on such popular programs as Crossroads, Wagon Train and Rawhide,. In 1957, he appeared in a CBS production of A. J. Cronin's Beyond This Place. In 1960, he appeared as John Ridges in the episode "Escape" of CBS's anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson, with Sylvia Sidney portraying his wife. His last film role was in Pit Stop, released in 1969.

Personal life

Donlevy was married three times: first to Yvonne Grey from 1928–36, then to actress Marjorie Lane from 1936–1947, and finally to Lillian Arch Lugosi (the ex-wife of Bela Lugosi, famous for playing Dracula) from 1966 until his death in 1972.

Donlevy died from throat cancer on April 5, 1972 at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[10] He was survived by his wife and a daughter, Judy Donlevy, by his second wife. His ashes were scattered over Santa Monica Bay.

Partial filmography


  1. ^ a b "Sheboygan Press, January 29, 1931". Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ "California Death Records". Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Dangerous Assignment". Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Full cast and crew for "Dangerous Assignment"". Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Brian Donlevy – A Famous Film Tough Guy". The Times. April 7, 1972. p. 16. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Year: 1920; Census Place: Sheboygan Falls, Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Roll: T625_2017; Page: 26B; Enumeration District: 148; Image: 431.". 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  8. ^ Mank, Gregory (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Co., Inc. p. 658. ISBN 0786434805. 
  9. ^ ""Milwaukee Journal", August 10, 1944". Google News Archive. Retrieved June 4, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Brian Donlevy Dies Of Cancer". Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine). Associated Press. April 7, 1972. p. 5. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 

External links

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