Lyle Bettger

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Lyle Bettger
Lyle Bettger in The Greatest Show on Earth trailer.jpg
Born (1915-02-13)February 13, 1915
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Died September 24, 2003(2003-09-24) (aged 88)
Atascadero, California, USA
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950–1980
Spouse(s) Mary Rolfe (1940-1996, her death); 3 children

Lyle S. Bettger (February 13, 1915 – September 24, 2003) was a character actor known most for his Hollywood roles from the 1950s, having typically portrayed villains. He is perhaps most recognisable as the wrathfully jealous elephant handler Klaus from the Oscar winning film The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

Life and career[edit]

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bettger was the son of Frank Bettger, an infielder for the St Louis Cardinals. An enthusiastic fan of cinema, Lyle left school in his late teens with the ambition of becoming an actor. He graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. His theatrical debut was in Brother Rat at the Biltmore Theatre in New York City in 1936. After a period languishing in small-time theatre he landed the lead role in the Broadway production of The Flying Gerardos in 1940. When Paramount sent a talent scout to see the show, Bettger was signed on a three-year contract.[citation needed]

Bettger's movie career began when he was cast as the lead in the film noir No Man of Her Own (1950). He soon became a regular on the set of Westerns such as Denver and Rio Grande (1952), The Great Sioux Uprising (1953), Drums Across the River (1954), Destry (1954), The Lone Ranger (1956) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Lyle developed a reputation for playing the bad guy and excelled in villainous roles such as the menacing Joe Beacom in Union Station (1950) and the cold-blooded Nazi Chief Officer Kirchner in The Sea Chase (1955). One of his later roles was in the 1969 film Impasse, in which he played a bigoted World War II veteran.

Bettger made many appearances in dramatic roles on television, starring in the 1957 series The Court of Last Resort as well as guest starring on Hawaii Five-O, Rawhide, The Tall Man, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Blue Light, and The Time Tunnel.

On December 26, 1961, Bettger appeared as Calvin Hawks in the episode "The Lawless Seven" of NBC's Laramie western series. Series character Jess Harper (Robert Fuller) flees from a false arrest for the murder of a rancher who reneged on an offer to sell horses to the Sherman Ranch because the sheriff will not allow Jess to locate a witness who can clear him of the crime. The witness later comes forward, as Jess takes shelter in the mountains with what turns out to be the Hawks gang. Hawks in the story line had been sheriff in Ellsworth, Kansas, but he turned outlaw after citizens there refused to reinstate him following his recovery from wounds sustained on the job. Jess is forced to take part in a bank robbery by the gang but manages to protect the bank teller and thus clear his involvement. Bing Russell plays gang member Sam Purdy. Jena Engstrom portrays young Ginny Hawks, the blind daughter of Calvin Hawks, who takes a liking to Jess. Dorothy Green plays Calvin's wife, Marian Hawks.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Lyle was married to Mary Rolfe (1940–1996) until her death. They had three children: Lyle, Jr., Frank, and Paula. Lyle Bettger died on September 24, 2003 in Atascadero, California, at the age of eighty-eight. He was survived by his children and a sister.


  1. ^ "Laramie: "The Lawless Seven", December 26, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved October 1, 2012. 

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