Troy Donahue

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Troy Donahue
TROY donahue 1999.jpg
Born Merle Johnson, Jr.
(1936-01-27)January 27, 1936
New York City, New York, USA
Died September 2, 2001(2001-09-02) (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California
Cause of death
Heart attack
Occupation Actor
Years active 1957–2000
Spouse(s) Suzanne Pleshette (1964)
Valerie Allen (1966–1968)
Alma Sharp (1969–1972)
Vicky Taylor (1979–1981)

Zheng Cao (?–his death)

Sister Eve I. O'Neill
Children Sean (b. 1970)
No other children

Troy Donahue (January 27, 1936 – September 2, 2001) was an American actor of film and television considered a male sex symbol of the 1950s and 1960s.

Life and career[edit]

Born Merle Johnson, Jr., Donahue was initially a journalism student at Columbia University in New York City before he decided to become an actor in Hollywood, California, where he was represented by Rock Hudson's agent, Henry Willson. According to Robert Hofler's 2005 biography, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, Willson tried out the name Troy on Rory Calhoun and James Darren, with no success before it finally stuck to Donahue. Donahue established himself with uncredited roles in The Monolith Monsters and Man Afraid in 1957, leading to larger parts in several films.

Donahue starred in Monster on the Campus, Live Fast, Die Young, and The Tarnished Angels, all in 1958, and opposite fellow teen idol Sandra Dee in A Summer Place in 1959.

Donahue with show-girl Margarita Sierra in the ABC/Warner Brothers television series, Surfside 6 (1961)

A Summer Place made him a major star, especially among teenaged audiences. He signed a contract with Warner Bros. and played several successive leading roles in films such as Parrish, Susan Slade, Rome Adventure, Palm Springs Weekend, and A Distant Trumpet. Two of these films co-starred Suzanne Pleshette, whom he married in 1964, but divorced later that same year. In 1963, exhibitors voted him the 20th most popular star in the USA.[1]

Donahue also guest starred in various television series, including the NBC western, The Californians. He was subsequently cast as Jim Gibson, a young bank teller, in the 1959 episode "The Hothead" of the ABC/Warner Brothers western series, Colt .45. In the story line, two outlaws have joined with Dottie Hampton, played by Ruta Lee, to frame Gibson for a bank robbery. Series character Christopher Colt, played by Wayde Preston, tries to uncover the truth, but Jim's infatuation for Dottie becomes a hindrance to the investigation.[2]

From 1960 to 1962, Donahue starred with Van Williams, Lee Patterson, Diane McBain, and Margarita Sierra in the ABC/WB series, Surfside 6, set in Miami Beach, Florida. After Surfside 6 folded, Donahue joined the cast of another ABC/WB detective series, Hawaiian Eye for its last season from 1962 to 1963 in the role of hotel director Philip Barton, with Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens in the series lead. At the same time Donahue was rejected for the lead role in Splendor in the Grass by Elia Kazan, a role that went to Warren Beatty.[3]

After the release of My Blood Runs Cold (1965), Donahue's contract with Warner Bros. ended. He later struggled to find new roles and had problems with drug addiction and alcoholism. He was married again in 1966 to actress Valerie Allen, but they divorced in 1968.

By the late 1960s, his popularity waned. His status as a teen idol had died down dramatically, and film roles became less frequent. In 1969, he appeared in an episode of the long running TV western The Virginian. In 1970, he appeared in the daytime CBS drama The Secret Storm. In 1974 Francis Ford Coppola cast him in a small part in The Godfather Part II as the fiancé of Connie Corleone. His character was called Merle Johnson, Donahue's real name. Except for the period from 1977 to 1983 and from 1993 to 1998, Donahue nevertheless continued to act in films throughout the 1980s and into the late 1990s but never obtained the recognition that he had in the earlier years of his career. His last film was The Boys Behind the Desk in 2000.

Donahue also had a brief tenure as a recording artist at the height of his fame in the early 1960s, releasing a handful of singles for Warner Bros. records, including "Live Young" and "Somebody Loves Me." However, none of his recordings entered the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Personal life[edit]

After the breakup of his brief first marriage to actress Suzanne Pleshette, Donahue married actress Valerie Pamela Allen (born 1940) on October 21, 1966, in Dublin, Ireland. The union ended two years later when Allen claimed in divorce proceedings that Donahue was constantly late for dinner and ignored her. No alimony was granted, but Donahue agreed to pay Allen $14,000 in monthly installments of $800 each.[4]

Donahue spent his last few years with his fiancée, mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao.


Donahue died of a heart attack at the age of 65 on September 2, 2001.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Donahue was one of the inspirations for The Simpsons character Troy McClure, along with Doug McClure and a measure of the character's voice actor Phil Hartman.[5]
  • Donahue features in the song "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee" in the musical Grease, reflecting his status as a teen idol at the time in which the action is set. The line, which in the film version Stockard Channing sings, is as follows: "As for you, Troy Donahue, I know what you want to do."
  • Donahue is mentioned in the song "Mother" in the musical A Chorus Line, when the character Bobby sings, "If Troy Donahue could be a movie star, then I could be a movie star." This reflects Donahue's admitted lack of acting talent.



  1. ^ 'Doris Day Heads Top 10' The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 14 Jan 1964: A27.
  2. ^ "Colt .45". Retrieved December 22, 2012. 
  3. ^ Hofler, Robert The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson Da Capo Press 1 Sep 2006
  4. ^ "Donahue Arrives Late, Gets Divorce", Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, November 16, 1968, p. 1
  5. ^ The Simpsons Season 2 DVD, Episode: Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment

External links[edit]