Melvyn Douglas

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Melvyn Douglas
Douglas-portrait.jpg
studio publicity photo of Douglas, c. 1939
BornMelvyn Edouard Hesselberg
(1901-04-05)April 5, 1901
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
DiedAugust 4, 1981(1981-08-04) (aged 80)
New York City, New York, U.S.
OccupationActor
Years active1927–1981
Spouse(s)Rosalind Hightower (1925-1930; divorced; 1 son)
Helen Gahagan (1931-1980; her death; 1 son, 1 daughter)
 
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Melvyn Douglas
Douglas-portrait.jpg
studio publicity photo of Douglas, c. 1939
BornMelvyn Edouard Hesselberg
(1901-04-05)April 5, 1901
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
DiedAugust 4, 1981(1981-08-04) (aged 80)
New York City, New York, U.S.
OccupationActor
Years active1927–1981
Spouse(s)Rosalind Hightower (1925-1930; divorced; 1 son)
Helen Gahagan (1931-1980; her death; 1 son, 1 daughter)

Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg (April 5, 1901 – August 4, 1981), better known as Melvyn Douglas, was an American actor.

Douglas came to prominence in the 1930s as a suave leading man, perhaps best typified by his performance in the 1939 romantic comedy Ninotchka with Greta Garbo. Douglas later took mature and fatherly roles as in his Academy Award-winning performances in Hud (1963) and Being There (1979).

Early life[edit]

Douglas was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of Lena Priscilla (née Shackelford) and Edouard Gregory Hesselberg, a concert pianist and composer. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Riga, Latvia, then part of Russia. His mother, a native of Tennessee, was Protestant and a Mayflower descendant.[1][2] His maternal grandfather, George Shackelford, was a general and Civil War veteran.[3]

Douglas, in his autobiography, See You at the Movies (1987), writes that he was unaware of his Jewish background until later in his youth: "I did not learn about the non-Christian part of my heritage until my early teens," as his parents preferred to hide his Jewish heritage. It was his aunts, on his father's side, who told him "the truth" when he was 14. He writes that he "admired them unstintingly"; and they in turn treated him like a son.[1]

Though his father taught music at a succession of colleges in the U.S. and Canada, Douglas never graduated from high school. He took the surname of his maternal grandmother and became known as Melvyn Douglas.

Career[edit]

Douglas developed his acting skills in Shakespearean repertory while in his teens and with stock companies in Sioux City, Iowa; Evansville, Indiana; Madison, Wisconsin, and Detroit, Michigan. He served in the United States Army in World War I. He established an outdoor theatre in Chicago. He had a long theatre, film and television career as a lead player, stretching from his 1930 Broadway role in Tonight or Never (opposite his future wife, Helen Gahagan) until just before his death. Douglas shared top billing with Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton in James Whale's sardonic horror classic The Old Dark House in 1932.

With Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)

He was the hero in the 1932 horror film The Vampire Bat and the sophisticated leading man in 1935's She Married Her Boss. He played opposite Joan Crawford in several films, most notably A Woman's Face (1941), and with Greta Garbo in three films: As You Desire Me (1932), Ninotchka (1939) and Garbo's final film Two-Faced Woman (1941). One of his most sympathetic roles was as the belatedly attentive father in Captains Courageous (1937).

During World War II, Douglas served first as a director of the Arts Council in the Office of Civilian Defense, and he then again served in the United States Army rising to the rank of Major. He returned to play more mature roles in The Sea of Grass and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. In 1959 he made his musical debut playing Captain Boyle in the ill-fated Marc Blitzstein musical Juno, based on Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.

From November 1952 to January 1953, Douglas starred in the DuMont detective show Steve Randall (Hollywood Off Beat) which then moved to CBS. In the summer of 1953, he briefly hosted the DuMont game show Blind Date. In the summer of 1959, Douglas hosted eleven original episodes of a CBS Western anthology television series called Frontier Justice, a production of Dick Powell's Four Star Television.

As Douglas grew older, he took on the older-man and father roles, in such movies as Hud (1963), for which he won his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, The Americanization of Emily (1964), an episode of The Fugitive (1966), I Never Sang for My Father (1970), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and The Candidate (1972). He won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the comedy-drama Being There (1979).

In addition to his Academy Awards, Douglas won a Tony Award for his Broadway lead role in the 1960 The Best Man by Gore Vidal, and an Emmy for his 1967 role in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Douglas' final screen appearance was in Ghost Story (1981). He did not finish his role in the film The Hot Touch (1982) before his death. Douglas has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 6423 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 6601 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life[edit]

Douglas was married briefly to artist Rosalind Hightower, and they had one child, (Melvyn) Gregory Hesselberg, in 1926. Hesselberg, an artist, is the father of actress Illeana Douglas.

In 1931, Douglas married actress-turned-politician Helen Gahagan. They traveled to Europe that same year, and "were horrified by French and German anti-Semitism". As a result, they became outspoken anti-Fascists, supporting the Democratic Party and Roosevelt's re-election. As a three-term Congresswoman, she was later Richard Nixon's opponent for the United States Senate seat from California in 1950.[1]

Nixon accused Gahagan of being soft on Communism because of her opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nixon went so far as to call her "pink right down to her underwear". It was Gahagan who popularized Nixon's epithet "Tricky Dick".

Douglas and Gahagan had two children: Peter Gahagan Douglas (1933) and Mary Helen Douglas (1938). The couple remained married until Helen Gahagan Douglas' death in 1980 from cancer. Melvyn Douglas died a year later, in 1981, aged 80, from pneumonia and cardiac complications in New York City.

Broadway roles[edit]

[4]

Filmography[edit]

YearFilmRoleNotes
1931Tonight or NeverJim Fletcher
1932PrestigeCaptain Andre Verlaine
The Wiser SexDavid Rolfe
The Broken WingPhilip 'Phil' Marvin
As You Desire MeCount Bruno Varelli
1933The Vampire BatKarl Brettschneider
NaganaDr. Walter Tradnor
Counsellor at LawRoy Darwin
1934Woman in the DarkTony Robson
Dangerous CornerCharles Stanton
1935She Married Her BossRichard Barclay
Mary Burns, FugitiveBarton Powell
Annie OakleyJeff Hogarth
1936The Gorgeous HussyJohn Randolph
Theodora Goes WildMichael Grant
1937Captains CourageousMr. Cheyne
I Met Him in ParisGeorge Potter
AngelAnthony 'Tony' Halton
1938There's Always a WomanWilliam Reardon
The Toy WifeGeorge Sartoris
Fast CompanyJoel Sloane
That Certain AgeVincent Bullitt
The Shining HourHenry Linden
1939Tell No TalesMichael Cassidy
NinotchkaLeon
1940Too Many HusbandsHenry Lowndes
Third Finger, Left HandJeff Thompson
This Thing Called LoveTice Collins
1941That Uncertain FeelingLarry Baker
A Woman's FaceDr. Gustaf Segert
Our WifeJerome 'Jerry' Marvin
1942We Were DancingNicholas Eugen August Wolfgang 'Nikki' Prax
They All Kissed the BrideMichael 'Mike' Holmes
1943Three Hearts for JuliaJeff Seabrook
1947The Sea of GrassBrice Chamberlain
The Guilt of Janet AmesSmithfield 'Smitty' Cobb
1948Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream HouseBill Cole
1949A Woman's SecretLuke Jordan
The Great SinnerArmand de Glasse
The Philco-Goodyear Television PlayhouseRichard Gordonepisode: The Five Lives of Richard Gordon
1950Lux Video TheatreJames Stricklandepisode: To Thine Own Self
Pulitzer Prize PlayhouseEugene Morgan
Martin Luther Cooper
episode: The Magnificent Ambersons
episode: Mrs. January and Mr. Ex
1951My Forbidden PastPaul Beaurevel
On the Loose (1951 film)Frank Bradley
1952Celanese TheatreArchduke Rudolph von Hapsburgepisode: Reunion in Vienna
Steve RandallSteve Randall12 episodes
1955The Ford Television TheatreGeorge Mannersepisode: Letters Marked Personal
1955-1956The Alcoa HourCharles Turner
Jim Conway
episode: Man on a Tiger
episode: Thunder in Washington
1957-1958The United States Steel HourCensus Taker
Dr. Victor Payson
Narrator
episode: Second Chance
episode: The Hill Wife
1957-1959Playhouse 90General Parker
Ansel Gibbs
Stalin
Howard Hoagland
episode: Judgement at Nuremberg
episode: The Return of Ansel Gibbs
episode: The Plot to Kill Stalin
episode: The Greer Case
1959Frontier JusticeHost11 episodes
1960Sunday ShowcaseMark Twainepisode: Our American Heritage: Shadow of a Soldier
1962Billy BuddThe Dansker
1963Ben CaseyBurton Strangepisode: Rage Against the Dying Light
HudHomer BannonAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Laurel Award for Top Male Supporting Performance
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler TheatrePat Konkeepisode: A Killing at Sundial
1964Advance to the RearCol. Claude Brackenbury
The Americanization of EmilyAdm. William JessupNominated-Laurel Award for Best Supporting Performance, Male
1965RaptureFrederick Larbaud
Once Upon a TractorMartin
Inherit the WindHenry DrummondNominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1966The Fugitive (TV series)Mark Ryderepisode: The 2130
Lamp at MidnightGalileo Galilei
1967Hotel (1967 film)Warren Trent
CBS PlayhousePeter Schermannepisode: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1968Companions in NightmareDr. Lawrence Strelson
1970I Never Sang for My FatherTom GarrisonNew York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (2nd place)
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
Nominated-Laurel Award for Best Dramatic Performance, Male
Hunters Are for Killing (TV film)Keller Floran
1971Death Takes a HolidayJudge Earl Chapman
1972The CandidateJohn J. McKay
Circle of FearGrandpaepisode: House of Evil
Two Is a Happy NumberJoseph Provo
1973The Going Up of David Lev (TV film)Grandfather
1975Benjamin Franklin (TV miniseries)Benjamin Franklin
1976The TenantMonsieur Zy
1977Twilight's Last GleamingZachariah Guthrie
Intimate Strangers (1977 film)Donald's father
ABC Weekend SpecialGrandpa Docepisode: Portrait of Grandpa Doc
1979The Seduction of Joe TynanSenator Birney
Being ThereBenjamin RandAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor (2nd place)
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
1980The ChangelingSenator Joe CarmichaelNominated-Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Tell Me a RiddleDavid
1981Ghost StoryDr. John Jaffrey
The Hot TouchMax Reich

Source:"Melvyn Douglas". IMDb. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 

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