DeFore in 1962
|Born||Donald John DeFore
August 25, 1913
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||December 22, 1993
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cardiac arrest|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Education||Washington High School|
|Alma mater||University of Iowa|
|Spouse(s)||Marion Holmes (m. 1942; his death 1993)|
Donald John DeFore (August 25, 1913 – December 22, 1993) was an American film, radio, and television actor. DeFore is best known as Erskin "Thorny" Thornberry, the Nelson family's neighbor on the long running sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and as George "Mr. B." Baxter on the 1960s sitcom Hazel.
DeFore was one of seven children born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Joseph Ervin, a railroad engineer who worked at the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company and was also a local politician, and Albina Sylvia DeFore (née Nezerka). DeFore's mother, who occasionally directed plays at their local church, was of Czechoslovakian descent. After graduating from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, DeFore attended the University of Iowa. He initially studied law while also playing basketball, track, and baseball before becoming interested in acting. Since acting was not a major study at the university, he left and enrolled at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, where he won a scholarship and stayed for three years.
During this time he and four fellow students wrote a play called Where Do We Go From Here. It was presented in a little theater in Hollywood with DeFore in the cast. As a young man, DeFore toured the country in stock companies for several years before making his Broadway debut in 1938, when Oscar Hammerstein II offered to take it to Broadway and DeFore and five of the original cast members went along. The show ran for four weeks, and DeFore was soon recognized as a member of legitimate theater. He remained in New York and won a key role in The Male Animal, which ran for almost a year on Broadway and eight months on the road.
In Hollywood, DeFore's first screen appearance was in a bit part in 1936's Reunion. By the early 1940s and billed as Don DeForest, he was last cast in speaking roles in multiple film appearances including: Right to the Heart (1942), The Male Animal (1942), The Human Comedy (uncredited, 1943), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (1944), The Affairs of Susan (1945), You Came Along (1945), Without Reservations (1946), It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), Ramrod (1947), Romance on the High Seas (1948), My Friend Irma (1949), Too Late for Tears (1949), Dark City (1950), Southside 1-1000 (1950), She's Working Her Way Through College (1952), The Guy Who Came Back (1951), A Girl in Every Port (1952), Jumping Jacks (1952), Battle Hymn (1957), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), and The Facts of Life (1960).
In 1946, exhibitors voted him the fourth-most promising "star of tomorrow". DeFore also worked in radio. He appeared on such radio programs as Suspense, Old Gold Comedy Theater, and Lux Radio Theater.
DeFore is best known for his work in television. Beginning in 1952, DeFore had a recurring role as the Nelsons' friendly neighbor, "Thorny", on the ABC sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In 1955, DeFore was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series Primetime Emmy Award for his work on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In time though, the role of Thorny was superseded by Lyle Talbot as Joe Randolph, and Mary Jane Croft as his wife, Clara.
From 1954 to 1955, he served as president of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was instrumental in arranging for the Emmy Awards to be broadcast on national television for the first time on March 7, 1955. He also served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.
From 1961 to 1965, DeFore was a co-star of the television series Hazel as "Mr. B." (George Baxter), employer of the spirited, domineering housekeeper Hazel Burke, played by Shirley Booth and based on the cartoon character appearing in The Saturday Evening Post. DeFore was not the original actor to portray George Baxter. In the pilot episode, the role was played by character actor Edward Andrews. DeFore took over the role when the series was green-lighted. The series ran on prime time until 1966 when it was canceled by NBC. DeFore and his co-star Whitney Blake were written out of the series when CBS picked up the series for its final season.
Marriage and children
DeFore married singer Marion Holmes (January 21, 1918 - November 17, 2011) on February 14, 1942. Judy Garland served as Holmes' matron of honor. Holmes performed with the Henry Busse Orchestra from 1935 to 1939, and later with Art Kassel and his "Castles in the Air" from 1939 until their marriage. They had five children: Penny, David, Dawn, Ron, and Autumn. They remained married until DeFore's death in 1993.
Politics and other activities
DeFore and his family were longtime residents of the Mandeville Canyon section of Brentwood and attended the Village Church of Westwood Lutheran. DeFore served as Brentwood's honorary Mayor and also served as a member of the advisory committee for the California Department of Rehabilitation. DeFore was also a 33rd degree Freemason
From 1957 to 1962, DeFore and his family operated the Silver Banjo Barbecue, a restaurant located in Frontierland of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. In July 1969, DeFore served as the American delegate at the Moscow International Film Festival.
A long time Republican, DeFore was a delegate at the 1980 Republican National Convention. His friend, former actor and 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan, appointed him to the Presidential Advisory Council to the Peace Corps.
- Motion Picture, Volumes 69-70. Macfadden-Bartell. 1945. p. 26.
- Thomas, Bob (August 22, 1969). "Actor Defore Relates Czechoslovakian Tale". Reading Eagle. p. 12.
- "Don DeFore Shatters Myth". Ocala Star-Banner. April 29, 1964. p. 28.
- "Don DeFore, Iowan In Hollywood, Still Has Corn-Fed Look". The News and Courier. October 6, 1946. p. 6-D.
- "Actor Don De Fore Devoted Family Man". The Montreal Gazette. November 28, 1962. p. 11.
- "The Stars of To-morrow.". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 10 September 1946. p. 11 Supplement: The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "Actor Don DeFore dies; he was Ozzie's neighbor". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. December 24, 1993. p. 3A.
- "Nominees/Winners". Television Academy. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
- "'Ozzie and Harriet,' 'Hazel' actor Don Defore dies at 80". The Volusian. December 24, 1993. p. 3C.
- Pack, Harvey (November 17, 1968). "'Hazel's' Former Lucky Returning as Sports Reporter". The Victoria Advocate. p. 8.
- "Jovial actor Don DeFore dies at 80". The Victoria Advocate. December 24, 1993. p. 14A.
- Barnes, Mike (November 27, 2011). "Marion Holmes DeFore, who toured with big bands and recorded "I'm a Little Teapot", was 93.". hollywoodreporter.com.
- Walker, Leo (1978). The Big Band Almanac (Revised Edition, first paperback printing March 1989). New York: Da Capo Press, a subsidiary of Plenum Publishing Corporation. p. 225. ISBN 0-306-80345-3.
- "Movie Players Aid Fund Drive Kickoff". Toledo Blade. August 4, 1951. p. 5.
- Oliver, Myrna (December 24, 1993). "Actor Don DeFore Dies; Played Mr. B on 'Hazel'". latimes.
- Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. p. 214. ISBN 0-786-40983-5.
- "Hollywood Star Walk: Don DeFore". latimes.
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