William Bendix


Actor
William Bendix

About

Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
January 14, 1906
Died
December 14, 1964
Cause of Death
Pneumonia And Malnutrition

Biography

A burly New York City native who specialized in playing all manner of lugs, both loveable and dangerous, William Bendix achieved a level of popularity that was almost unheard of for a character actor who proclaimed himself to be "about as handsome as a mud fence." After performing in some unsuccessful plays, he first gained significant notice in the Broadway smash "The Time of Your Life"...

Photos & Videos

The Blue Dahlia - Movie Posters
Lifeboat - Movie Poster
Dangerous Mission - Lobby Cards

Biography

A burly New York City native who specialized in playing all manner of lugs, both loveable and dangerous, William Bendix achieved a level of popularity that was almost unheard of for a character actor who proclaimed himself to be "about as handsome as a mud fence." After performing in some unsuccessful plays, he first gained significant notice in the Broadway smash "The Time of Your Life" (1939-1940). That soon led to a movie career, with Bendix appearing in everything from comedies like "Woman of the Year" (1942) and "Who Done It?" (1942), to World War II actioners and thrillers like "The Glass Key" (1942) and Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (1944). Bendix's blustery delivery and enduring likeability found a perfect vehicle in the comedy "The Life of Riley," first on radio (ABC/NBC, 1944-1951), then as a 1949 motion picture and, finally, a long-running television series (NBC, 1953-58). Loveable lunkhead Chester A. Riley was the role for which he was best remembered and while the show's formula was mostly set in stone, Bendix's talent helped to keep it fresh and amusing. As was customary with actors who sported something less than matinee idol looks, Bendix was largely restricted to playing certain types of characters, but few did as memorable a job on such a consistent basis, and he ranked as one of TV's archetypal patriarchs.

William Bendix was born on Jan. 14, 1906 in New York City and would be associated with the Big Apple throughout his career. Bendix first tried acting at age 16 for the Henry Street Settlement House Players, but soon adopted 9-to-5 work, including a stint as a singing waiter. His family opened a grocery store in Orange, NJ, where he was employed as manager for a time. A baseball fan, he also served as a batboy for both the New York Yankees and their crosstown rivals, The New York Giants back in the days when they shared the same stadium. The sport would figure into his later vocation as an actor, which did not begin in earnest until Bendix was in his thirties and a participant in the New Jersey Federal Theater Project. Additional acting assignments followed in several Theater Guild plays. Bendix made his Broadway bow in the drama "The Trial of Dr. Beck" (1937), which came and went with little notice. His subsequent Great White Way plays, "Run Sheep Run" (1938) and "Miss Swan Expects" (1939), were similarly short-lived, but did showcase Bendix's comedic talents, which finally received wide stage exposure when he portrayed Krupp the cop in the Pulitzer Prize-winning hit "The Time of Your Life" (1939-1940), which enjoyed a year-long engagement and also went on the road.

The notoriety Bendix earned from "The Time of Your Life" led to movie roles and he appeared in "Woman of the Year" (1942), the first of nine motion pictures that teamed Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, and the World War II drama "Wake Island" (1942), which earned him his only Oscar nomination. He effectively menaced Alan Ladd in the superb film noir "The Glass Key" (1942), was a foil for Abbott & Costello in "Who Done It?" (1942), and played a seaman in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller "Lifeboat" (1944). That year, Bendix also began a long run on radio with the comedy "The Life of Riley" (ABC/NBC, 1944-1951). As perpetually befuddled aircraft factory worker Chester A. Riley, Bendix was the perfect choice to play a lug with a heart of gold and the character's oft-repeated frustration "What a revoltin' development this is!" soon entered the popular lexicon. Audiences would actually see Bendix as Riley a few years later, but even before that, the actor had clearly found his signature part.

On the silver screen, Bendix continued to alternate between genres, co-starring in comedies like "It's in the Bag!" (1945), the drama "A Bell for Adano" (1945), and the film noir thrillers "The Dark Corner" (1946) and "The Blue Dahlia" (1946). He also graced the movie version of "The Time of Your Life" (1948), playing saloon owner Nick this time, while fellow character player Broderick Crawford took the role of Krupp. Bendix was employed as a batboy during the time when Babe Ruth was the reigning king of baseball and no doubt seemed like an ideal choice to play the "The Great Bambino" in "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948). Unfortunately, the resulting film was a rushed and sappy misfire that bore little resemblance to the facts and, in later years, Bendix had little positive to say about his interpretation of the baseball legend.

Bendix quickly rebounded from the disappointment of "The Babe Ruth Story" with an uncharacteristic period role as Sir Sagramore in the Bing Crosby musical-fantasy farce "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (1949). The actor's big credit that year, however, was a motion picture incarnation of "The Life of Riley" (1949). The film's popularity resulted in a like-named TV spin-off (NBC, 1949-1950), produced without Bendix, who was unable to sign on. Jackie Gleason took over the title character, but the early sitcom failed to strike a chord with viewers and lasted only one season. "The Life of Riley" may have failed as a television series, but the public still adored both the character and Bendix. In 1950, he and the rest of the show's cast performed a live radio broadcast before 12,000 appreciative fans at the Milwaukee Arena.

A better film revolving around the Great American Pastime, "Kill the Umpire" (1950) provided the actor with a fine comedic outing as an obsessed baseball fan who finds out what life is like on the other side of the fence when he is forced to work as an umpire. In a supporting capacity, Bendix did well alongside Kirk Douglas in the fine police procedural "Detective Story" (1951) and held his own against the blustery Robert Newton, shivering each and every one of his timbers as "Blackbeard, the Pirate" (1952). In 1953, a new TV incarnation of "The Life of Riley" (NBC, 1953-58) was mounted with Bendix back in the lead. The show quickly found the audience its predecessor had struggled to reach. The family-oriented program went on to enjoy a five-year run and as partial owner of the property, Bendix benefited financially from its additional later success in syndication.

In between his small screen obligations, Bendix continued to grace features like the 3-D thriller "Dangerous Mission" (1954) and "Crashout" (1955), in which he masterminded a prison break. A stomach ulcer operation in 1955 slowed him down briefly, but Bendix was soon back in characteristic fare like the World War II thrillers "Battle Stations" (1956) and "The Deep Six" (1958). He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and made a one shot return to Broadway as the replacement once again for Jackie Gleason in the musical comedy "Take Me Along" (1959-1960). The actor even ventured into the world of children's records with the 1959 LP William Bendix Sings and Tells Famous Pirate Stories. The cover memorably featured him in Captain Hook-style garb, complete with peg leg. Bendix was back on series television as the star of "Overland Trail" (NBC, 1960), but the Western did not stand out enough amongst the reams of similar network TV offerings. Additional silver screen assignments came via prominent parts in lesser efforts like "Johnny Nobody" (1961) and the German military comedy "The Phony American" (1961), but he also dedicated much time to stage work, appearing in the national touring company of "Never Too Late" and productions of "The Gazebo" and Moss Hart's "Light Up the Sky." The big budget comedies "Boys Night Out" (1962) and "For Love or Money" (1963) also made good use of Bendix in smaller but effective roles.

Bendix had his final film credits in producer A.C. Lyles' "The Young and the Brave" (1963), "Law of the Lawless" (1964) and "Young Fury" (1965). The latter two were among Lyles' so-called "Geezer Westerns," a series of small-scale oaters peopled with elderly veterans beloved by fans of the genre. In the years following his ulcer procedure, Bendix's health was variable and reportedly cost him a new series at CBS. In response, he sued the network and received an out-of-court settlement. Sometime after finishing "Young Fury," Bendix was hospitalized. In addition to his stomach problems, which brought about a case of malnutrition, he developed lobar pneumonia and died on Dec. 14, 1964, leaving behind a rich history of stellar character performances.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Young Fury (1965)
Blacksmith
Johnny Nobody (1965)
Mulcahy
The Phony American (1964)
Sergeant Harrigan
Law of the Lawless (1964)
Sheriff Editor Tanner
The Young and the Brave (1963)
Staff Sgt. Peter L. Kane
For Love or Money (1963)
Joe Fogel
Boys' Night Out (1962)
Slattery
Portrait of a Sinner (1961)
Reg Barker
The Deep Six (1958)
Frenchy Shapiro
Battle Stations (1956)
Buck Fitzpatrick
Crashout (1955)
Van[ce Morgan] Duff
Dangerous Mission (1954)
Joe Parker
A Girl in Every Port (1952)
Tim Dunnovan
Macao (1952)
Lawrence C. Trumble, alias of Lt. Brian
Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952)
Ben Worley
Gambling House (1951)
Joe Farrow
Detective Story (1951)
Lou Brody
Submarine Command (1951)
C.P.O. Boyer
Johnny Holiday (1950)
Sarge Walker
Kill the Umpire (1950)
Bill Johnson
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)
Sir Sagramore
Streets of Laredo (1949)
Wahoo Jones
The Big Steal (1949)
Capt. Vincent Blake
The Life of Riley (1949)
Chester A. Riley
Cover Up (1949)
Larry Best
Two Knights from Brooklyn (1949)
The Babe Ruth Story (1948)
[George Herman] Babe Ruth
Race Street (1948)
[Barney] Runson
The Time of Your Life (1948)
Nick...his hobby is horses
Blaze of Noon (1947)
Porkie
I'll Be Yours (1947)
Wechsberg
Where There's Life (1947)
Victor O'Brien
The Web (1947)
Lt. Damico
Calcutta (1947)
Pedro Blake
Variety Girl (1947)
Two Years Before the Mast (1946)
Amazeen, 1st mate
White Tie and Tails (1946)
Larry Lundie
Sentimental Journey (1946)
Donnelly
The Dark Corner (1946)
White Suit, also known as Stouffer
The Blue Dahlia (1946)
Buzz Wanchek
It's in the Bag! (1945)
A Bell for Adano (1945)
Sgt. Borth
Don Juan Quilligan (1945)
Patrick Michael Quilligan
Duffy's Tavern (1945)
Greenwich Village (1944)
Danny O'Hare
The Hairy Ape (1944)
Hank Smith
Abroad with Two Yanks (1944)
Biff Koraski
Lifeboat (1944)
Gus Smith
Star Spangled Rhythm (1943)
Himself, husband, Bob Hope skit
Hostages (1943)
Karol Vokosch, also known as Janoshik
Guadalcanal Diary (1943)
Corp. [Alyosious] Taxi Potts
China (1943)
Johnny Sparrow
Taxi, Mister (1943)
Tim McGuerin
The Crystal Ball (1943)
Biff Carter
Wake Island (1942)
Smacksie Randall
The McGuerins from Brooklyn (1942)
Tim McGuerin
Brooklyn Orchid (1942)
Tim McGuerin
Woman of the Year (1942)
"Pinkie" Peters
The Glass Key (1942)
Jeff
Who Done It? (1942)
Brannigan

Cast (Special)

330 Independence S.W. (1962)
Guts Finney (Guest)
Ivy League (1959)
Bull Mitchell; (A Widower)
The Time Element (1958)
Peter Jenson

Life Events

1939

Broadway debut in "The Time of Your Life"

1942

Hollywood debut in "The Brooklyn Orchid"

Photo Collections

The Blue Dahlia - Movie Posters
The Blue Dahlia - Movie Posters
Lifeboat - Movie Poster
Lifeboat - Movie Poster
Dangerous Mission - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from RKO's Dangerous Mission (1954), starring Victor Mature, Piper Laurie, and Vincent Price. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Glass Key - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of lobby cards from The Glass Key (1942), starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Brian Donlevy.
The Glass Key - Movie Posters
Here are a number of original movie posters from The Glass Key (1942), starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.
The Blue Dahlia - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Paramount Pictures' The Blue Dahlia (1946), starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Hairy Ape - Lobby Cards
Here are a few lobby cards from The Hairy Ape (1944), starring William Bendix and Susan Hayward. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Babe Ruth Story, The (1948) - Western Union Boy In a Boston bar with a reporter pal (Sam Levene), Babe (William Bendix) laments his pitching slump and meets (wholly fictional!) Claire (Claire Trevor), in The Babe Ruth Story, 1948.
Babe Ruth Story, The (1948) - Throw In A Cold Beer Director Roy Del Ruth's view of a fictional scene representing a dark day in Boston Red Sox history, Babe (William Bendix) meets the Yankee's owner (Matt Briggs) and manager (Fred Lightner), in The Babe Ruth Story, 1948.
Race Street (1948) - Don't Give Me Orders At a Chicago racket hangout, high rolling bookie Dan (George Raft) is visited by cop Barney (William Bendix), who pushes him not to seek his own vengeance for the murder of their mutual childhood friend, in Race Street, 1948.
Boys' Night Out (1962) - We Should Have Gone Bowling Four New York commuters, single Fred (James Garner) and married George, Doug and Howard (Tony Randall, Howard Duff, Howard Morris) lamenting that their Thursday night standing date has grown dull, William Bendix their barkeep, opening the Kim Novak comedy vehicle Boys’ Night Out, 1962.
Cover-Up (1949) - He Don't Think It's Suicide Maid Hilda (Doro Merande) seems the boss as home-for-Christmas Anita (Barbara Britton) and her family (Art Baker, Helen Spring and Ann E. Todd as dad, mom and little sister) await handsome insurance investigator Sam (Dennis O’Keefe), who arrived on the same train, early in Cover Up, 1949.
Cover-Up (1949) - Maybe He Isn't Even Dead Relaxed big-city insurance investigator Sam (Dennis O’Keefe) finds his tone matched by sheriff Larry (William Bendix), who is however far more cagey, as he begins looking into a small-town Christmastime suicide, Alfred E. Green directing, in Cover Up, 1949.
Lifeboat (1944) - One Of Them Shell Shock Cases Early on, players gathering after the liner is sunk by the U-Boat, nurse Mary Anderson, sailor William Bendix, oiler John Hodiak, magnate Henry Hull, journalist Tallulah Bankhead, crewman Hume Cronyn, then mother Heather Angel and German Walter Slezak, in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, 1944.
Lifeboat (1944) - She Loves To Dance Injured William Bendix learns from bi-lingual Tallulah Bankhead that the captured German Walter Slezak is qualified to amputate his leg, elected skipper John Hodiak joining in the ensuing discourse, in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, 1944.
Blue Dahlia, The (1946) - Here's To What Was Opening scene from Raymond Chandler's original screenplay, discharged veterans Johnny (Alan Ladd), Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont) having a farewell drink, in The Blue Dahlia, 1946.
For Love Or Money (1963) - That Old Witch Opening with shirtless Kirk Douglas (and less exposed Gig Young) on San Francisco Bay, Thelma Ritter as wealthy widow Chloe, with aide William Bendix, dropping in via chopper, in For Love Or Money, 1963, also starring Mitzi Gaynor.
For Love Or Money (1963) - I Don't Like To Haggle Slick lawyer Gentry (Kirk Douglas) is torn between working for zillionaire widow Chloe Brasher (Thelma Ritter) and her three daughters in their inheritance dispute, William Bendix her aide, in For Love Or Money, 1963, also starring Mitzi Gaynor and Gig Young.
Detective Story (1951) - Baby Farm Grist Mill Hard-headed New York detective McLeod (Kirk Douglas) just leaving when accused baby-selling doctor Schneider (George MacReady) arrives, with lawyer Sims (Warner Anderson) in tow, Lieutenant Monahan (Horace McMahon), making sure the case is solid, in William Wyler's Detective Story, 1951.

Trailer

Girl In Every Port, A (1952) - (Original Trailer) Two sailors (Groucho Marx, William Bendix) invest in a racehorse in A Girl In Every Port (1952).
Dark Corner, The - (Original Trailer) Secretary Lucille Ball helps her private eye boss when he's framed for murder in The Dark Corner (1946).
Dangerous Mission -- (Original Trailer) A woman flees westward after witnessing a mob killing in Dangerous Mission (1954) starring Victor Mature Piper Laurie, Vincent Price and Dennis Weaver.
Blue Dahlia, The - (Original Trailer) Raymond Chandler's only movie written for the screen, The Blue Dahlia (1946), has Alan Ladd trying to clear his name of murder.
Big Steal, The - (Original Trailer) Seduction and murder follow the theft of an Army payroll. Starring Robert Mitchum, directed by Don Siegel.
Young and the Brave, The - (Original Trailer) Three American POWs fight to escape from North Korea in The Young and the Brave (1963) starring Rory Calhoun.
Macao -- (Original Trailer) The original theatrical trailer for Macao, 1952, in which Josef von Sternberg, the director of The Blue Angel (1930), tried his hand at a film noir mystery, with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell.
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, A (1949) - (Original Trailer) Bing Crosby brings 19th-Century know-how to Camelot in a musical version of Mark Twain's classic tale.
Detective Story -- (Original Trailer) A rigid police detective (Kirk Douglas) accidentally uncovers his wife's shady past life in William Wyler's Detective Story (1951).
Wake Island - (Original Trailer) Sailors stationed in the Pacific fight off the Japanese during World War II. Released nine months after the actual battle.
Woman of the Year - (Original Trailer) Opposites distract when a sophisticated political columnist falls for a sportswriter in Woman of the Year (1942), the first film to team Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn, directed by George Cukor.
Blackbeard the Pirate - (Original Trailer) A kidnapped beauty (Linda Darnell) gets caught between feuding pirates in Blackbeard the Pirate (1952), directed by Raoul Walsh.

Family

Max Bendix
Father
Conductor, violinist.

Bibliography