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Dan Duryea

Dan Duryea

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Winchester '73 DVD This western spectacle features a Hollywood legend in one of his most compelling... more info $14.98was $14.98 Buy Now

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Also Known As: Died: June 7, 1968
Born: January 23, 1907 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: White Plains, New York, USA Profession: actor, advertising

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the best known and most effective movie villains of the postwar years, actor Dan Duryea specialized in truly unpleasant figures who lacked even a shred of moral decency in such popular screen efforts as "Ball of Fire" (1941), "Along Came Jones" (1945), "Winchester '73" (1950) and classic noir like "Criss Cross" (1949). A rare screen heel that could charm audiences despite his criminal acts, Duryea enlivened both minor and major features for over a decade, which later boosted him from character player to leading man in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with occasional forays into heroic roles, most notably in "Black Angel" (1946) and on the television series "China Smith" (syndicated, 1952-56). In the late 1950s, Duryea returned to character parts, playing more even-tempered if still deeply flawed men in "The Burglar" (1957) and "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965) for Robert Aldrich, who cast Duryea in several of his feature efforts. Television became his primary outlet in the 1960s, where he essayed memorable turns on "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), among countless other shows, while lending his Hollywood pedigree to low-budget efforts for international film producers. A versatile character...

One of the best known and most effective movie villains of the postwar years, actor Dan Duryea specialized in truly unpleasant figures who lacked even a shred of moral decency in such popular screen efforts as "Ball of Fire" (1941), "Along Came Jones" (1945), "Winchester '73" (1950) and classic noir like "Criss Cross" (1949). A rare screen heel that could charm audiences despite his criminal acts, Duryea enlivened both minor and major features for over a decade, which later boosted him from character player to leading man in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with occasional forays into heroic roles, most notably in "Black Angel" (1946) and on the television series "China Smith" (syndicated, 1952-56). In the late 1950s, Duryea returned to character parts, playing more even-tempered if still deeply flawed men in "The Burglar" (1957) and "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965) for Robert Aldrich, who cast Duryea in several of his feature efforts. Television became his primary outlet in the 1960s, where he essayed memorable turns on "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), among countless other shows, while lending his Hollywood pedigree to low-budget efforts for international film producers. A versatile character actor for over 20 years, Dan Duryea proved that, at least in the film business, bad guys sometimes finished first.

Born Jan. 23, 1907 in White Plains, NY, Dan Duryea was the son of textile salesman Richard Duryea and his wife, Mabel. He began acting in his teenaged years as a member of the White Plains High School drama club, and considered pursuing as a career while majoring in English at Cornell University, where he replaced future star Franchot Tone as the president of the school's famed Dramatic Society. But after graduation, Duryea bowed to his parents' wishes for a more stable career by working in advertising. He toiled in the industry for six years before suffering a stress-induced heart, which spurred him to return to his first love, acting. In later years, he would confess to interviewers that he could summon up the required level of violence needed for his characters by imagining that his victims were his corporate employers from his advertising days.

After a period in summer stock, Duryea reportedly made his film debut with a bit role in an Argentinean film, "El tango en Broadway" (1934), which was filmed in New York City during his pursuit of theater roles on the Great White Way. The following year, he reached out to playwright Sidney Kingsley, who was mounting the Broadway debut of his new play, "Dead End." Duryea managed to secure a bit part in the production before assuming a larger role during its year-long run. From there, he tackled his first Western heel as Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, in the short-lived "Missouri Legend" (1938). Producer-director Herman Shumlin was taken by Duryea's ability to make even the most loathsome role watchable, and cast him as the weak-willed Leo in Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes" (1939). When Samuel Goldwyn bought the film rights to the play, Duryea was brought to Hollywood to recreate his performance in the feature version with Bette Davis (1941), which began his long and celebrated screen career.

Almost immediately, Duryea became the go-to for malevolent supporting roles in Westerns and crime pictures. Tall and reed-thin, he possessed a baleful glare and a generous mouth that frequently curled into a sneer before splitting to let forth a mocking cackle - in short, the perfect physiological makeup to play a host of hoods, gunmen, rustlers, low-rent criminals and other undesirables who enjoyed brief moments in the spotlight before meeting their much-deserved, often violent ends. In the first decade of his career, Duryea played mostly supporting roles which allowed him to menace some of Hollywood's biggest leading men, from Gary Cooper in "Ball of Fire" (1941), "The Pride of the Yankees" (1941) and "Along Came Jones" (1945) to Edward G. Robinson in "The Woman in the Window" (1944) and "Scarlet Street" (1945). By the following year, he was firmly established as one of the movies' most popular character actors, as evidenced by his inclusion in a 1946 motion picture exhibitors' poll by Motion Picture Herald of the 10 most promising stars of the day. Duryea placed eighth on the list, trailing Zachary Scott and Eve Arden but ahead of Robert Mitchum.

In the late '40s, Duryea signed a lucrative contract with Universal, which provided him with not only financial stability, but also the option to freelance for other studios. He soon moved up to leading roles, playing deeply flawed heroes like his alcoholic composer in "Black Angel" (1946) and his real-life Western bandit "Black Bart" (1948). He was still best used as a supporting heavy, most notably as the gangster husband of Yvonne De Carlo in "Criss Cross" (1949) and as the unsavory hombre Waco in the Western "Winchester '73." But by the 1950s, Duryea had begun to play heroes in mid-level to low-budget adventure pictures. He was also top-billed on his own television series, "China Smith," as a white-suited soldier of fortune operating in Singapore. Most of the show's cast and production team were featured in Robert Aldrich's "World for Ransom" (1954), which starred Duryea as a slightly different adventurer also working in the Far East.

Television soon became Duryea's best showcase; there, he gave memorable turns as a broken-down gunfighter given a second chance in "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," the third episode of "The Twilight Zone," and a religious fanatic in a 1960 episode of "Wagon Train" (NBC/ABC, 1957-1965). He continued to work regularly in features, mostly B-grade efforts, though some had their admirers, especially "The Burglar" (1957), a late-period noir with Duryea as a professional thief contending with amoral partners. In 1965, he enjoyed one of his best sympathetic roles as a meek oil company accountant in Aldrich's "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965).

By the late 1960s, Duryea was working in overseas productions like the Italian Western "The Hills Run Red" (1966) and the spy thriller "Five Golden Dragons" (1967) in West Germany while maintaining a regular presence on American television. He also appeared twice on the big screen with his son, character actor Peter Duryea, in the low-budget Westerns "Taggart" (1964) and "The Bounty Killer" (1965). From 1967 to 1968, he played Eddie Jacks, the estranged husband of Evelyn Scott, on "Peyton Place" (ABC, 1964-68), before making his final screen appearance in the science fiction adventure "The Bamboo Saucer" (1968). Not long after undergoing surgery to have a malignancy removed, Duryea died prematurely from cancer on June 7, 1968 at the age of 61, leaving behind a storied career as one of Hollywood's most admired screen baddies.

By Paul Gaita

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 The Bamboo Saucer (1968) Hank Peters
2.
 The Hills Run Red (1967) Getz
3.
 Incident at Phantom Hill (1966) Joe Barlow
4.
 The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) Standish
5.
 The Bounty Killer (1965) Willie Duggan
6.
 Walk a Tightrope (1964) Lutcher
7.
 He Rides Tall (1964) Bart Thorne
8.
 Taggart (1964) Jason
9.
 Six Black Horses (1962) Frank Jesse
10.
 Platinum High School (1960) Maj. Redfern Kelly
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1935:
Broadway debut
1941:
Film debut in "The Little Foxes"

Education

Cornell University: Ithaca , New York -

Notes

"The heel with sex appeal." --From his obituary in The New York Times, June 8, 1968.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Peter Duryea. Actor.

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