Gig Young

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Gig Young
Gig Young - 1953.jpg
Young in 1953
Byron Elsworth Barr

(1913-11-04)November 4, 1913
DiedOctober 19, 1978(1978-10-19) (aged 64)
New York City, U.S.
Cause of deathGunshot wound (murder–suicide)
Years active1940–1978
Sheila Stapler
(m. 1940; div. 1947)
Sophie Rosenstein
(m. 1950; died 1952)
(m. 1956; div. 1963)
Elaine Williams
(m. 1963; div. 1966)
Kim Schmidt
(m. 1978; died 1978)

Gig Young (born Byron Elsworth Barr; November 4, 1913 – October 19, 1978) was an American actor. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in Come Fill the Cup (1952) and Teacher's Pet (1959), finally winning that award for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969).

Early life[edit]

Born Byron Elsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minnesota, he and his older siblings were raised by his parents, John and Emma Barr, in Washington, D.C. initially. His father was a reformatory chef.[1]

When he was six, his family moved back to their hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina, where he was raised.[2] He returned to Washington and attended McKinley High School.[3]

His family is shown as living in St. Cloud, Minnesota on the 1920 and 1930 Federal Census. He is listed as having attended the St. Cloud Tech High School. The family moved to Washington, DC in 1932/1933 when Byron was about 18 years old. By 1935 they are living in Haywood County, North Carolina, according to the 1940 Federal Census. His parents owned the local canning factory in St. Cloud, Minnesota. His father, John E Barr, was born in Iowa and his mother, Emma Dingman Barr, was born in Minnesota.[citation needed]



He developed a passion for the theatre while appearing in high school plays. After graduating from high school he worked as a used car salesman and studied acting at night at Phil Hayden Theatre school.

He moved to Hollywood when a friend offered him a ride if he would pay for half the gas. After some amateur experience he applied for and received a scholarship to the acclaimed Pasadena Playhouse. "I had two jobs to support me, never rested, but it was great training and when I landed the part at Warner Bros., I was ready for it", he said.[4][3]

Barr made early appearances in Misbehaving Husbands (1940), credited as "Byron Barr", and in the short Here Comes the Cavalry (1941).

While acting in Pancho, a south-of-the-border play by Lowell Barrington, he and the leading actor in the play, George Reeves, were spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout. Both actors were signed to supporting player contracts with the studio.[5]

Warner Bros. as Byron Barr[edit]

His early work was un-credited or as Byron Barr (not to be confused with another actor with the same name, Byron Barr) or Byron Fleming. It included appearances in Sergeant York (1941), Dive Bomber (1941), Navy Blues (1941), and One Foot in Heaven (1941). Barr had a bigger part in a short, The Tanks Are Coming (1941) which was nominated for an Oscar.

He was also in They Died with Their Boots On (1941) and You're in the Army Now (1941). He had an uncredited bit part and nearly unseen, in his distinctive voice, he had one line, "How's the ice?", in the Bette Davis film The Man Who Came to Dinner.[6] He was also in Captains of the Clouds (1942), and The Male Animal (1942). Warners loaned him to Fox for The Mad Martindales (1942).

The Gay Sisters and Becoming Gig Young[edit]

In 1942, six months into his Warner Brothers contract, he was given his first notable role in the feature film The Gay Sisters[7] as a character named "Gig Young". Preview cards praised the actor "Gig Young" and the studio determined that "Gig Young" should become Barr's stage and professional name.[8][9]

He admits to having "some hesitancy... but I weighed the disadvantages against the advantages of having it stick indelibly in the mind of audiences. There'd be no confusion with some other actor called Gig."[10]

His parts began to get better: a co-pilot in Howard Hawks's Air Force (1943); and Bette Davis' love interest in Old Acquaintance (1943).

Young took a hiatus from his movie career and enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 1941 where he served as a pharmacist's mate until the end of World War II, serving in a combat zone in the Pacific.[11]

On Young's return from the war, he was cast as Errol Flynn's rival for Eleanor Parker in Escape Me Never (1947). The film was directed by Peter Godfrey who also helmed Young and Parker in The Woman in White (1948), after which he left Warners, unhappy with his salary.[12]

Post-Warner Bros.[edit]

Young began freelancing at various studios, eventually obtaining a contract with Columbia Pictures before returning to freelancing. He came to be regarded as a popular and likable second lead, playing the brothers or friends of the principal characters.

In a 1966 interview he said, "Whenever you play a second lead and lose the girl, you have to make your part interesting yet not compete with the leading man. There are few great second leads in this business. It's easier to play a lead – you can do whatever you want. If I'm good it always means the leading man has been generous."[13]

Young was Porthos in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's hugely popular The Three Musketeers (1948).[14] Then he supported John Wayne in Wake of the Red Witch (1948) at Republic Pictures and Glenn Ford in Columbia's Lust for Gold (1949).

Young stayed at Columbia to support Rosalind Russell and Robert Cummings in Tell It to the Judge (1949).

Young began to appear in TV on shows such as The Silver Theatre, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and The Bigelow Theatre.[15]

Young had his first lead in a feature film at RKO in Hunt the Man Down (1951), a film noir. He went back to support roles for Target Unknown (1951) a war film at Universal; and Only the Valiant (1951), a Gregory Peck western.

He was second-billed in an RKO Western, Slaughter Trail (1951).

Come Fill the Cup and first Oscar nomination[edit]

Young received critical acclaim for his dramatic work as an alcoholic in the 1951 film Come Fill the Cup with James Cagney, back at Warner Brothers. He was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Young later gave Cagney a great deal of the credit for his performance.[13]


Young supported Van Johnson in the MGM comedy Too Young to Kiss (1952) which the studio liked so much they signed him to a term contract.[16] After supporting Peter Lawford in You for Me (1952). MGM promoted him to leading man for Holiday for Sinners (1952) but the film was a box office failure.

More popular was The Girl Who Had Everything (1953) where Young lost Elizabeth Taylor to Fernando Lamas.

MGM loaned Young to Republic Pictures for City That Never Sleeps (1953), where he had the starring role. Martin Scorsese selected the film to open a Republic Pictures retrospective that he curated, citing the movie's amazing energy and creativity in his introduction at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2018.

Back at MGM, Young had the lead in a 3-D Western, Arena (1953), which was a hit. He was a second male lead again – to Michael Wilding – in the Joan Crawford vehicle Torch Song (1953). Then he left MGM. "I played terrible parts there", he later said.[17] He decided to relocate to New York.[18]


Young claims he rarely performed in comedies until he appeared on Broadway in Oh Men! Oh Women! (1953–54) which ran for 382 performances. Young recalled, "It was a big smash hit but never helped change my type in Hollywood for quite some time. I still played dull, serious parts like Errol Flynn's brother. Yet on Broadway, they offered me nothing but comedies."[13]

During this time Young appeared on TV shows shot in New York such as Robert Montgomery Presents, Schlitz Playhouse, Producers' Showcase and Lux Video Theatre.

Return to Warner Bros.[edit]

When Oh Men! ended its run, Young went back to Warner Bros where he lost Doris Day to Frank Sinatra in Young at Heart (1955).

In 1955, Young became the host of Warner Bros. Presents, an umbrella title for three television series (Casablanca, Kings Row, and Cheyenne) that aired during the 1955–1956 season on ABC Television.[19][20]

He played a supporting role the same year in the Humphrey Bogart thriller The Desperate Hours.

Young is also remembered by many James Dean fans for the "driving safety" interview made shortly before Dean's fatal car accident in September 1955. Dean wears a cowboy outfit as he was taking a break during shooting of the 1956 film Giant while playing with a lasso and counseling the audience to drive carefully.

After appearing in Teahouse of the August Moon in New York[21] Young returned to Hollywood to lose Katharine Hepburn to Spencer Tracy in Desk Set (1957). He continued to appear on TV in such shows as The United States Steel Hour, Climax!, Goodyear Theatre and Studio One in Hollywood (the latter starring Elizabeth Montgomery, whom he had married in 1956[22]).[23]

Teacher's Pet and second Oscar nomination[edit]

George Seaton saw Young on Broadway and cast him as a tipsy but ultimately charming intellectual in Teacher's Pet starring Clark Gable and Doris Day. It earned Young a second Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. "This one man changed my image from that one play", Young said.[13]

Young was promptly reunited with Day in an MGM comedy, The Tunnel of Love (1958), though still the second male lead – to Richard Widmark. Also at MGM, he appeared with Shirley MacLaine and David Niven in Ask Any Girl (1959).

Young had a change of pace in a Clifford Odets drama, The Story on Page One (1959), although he was still second lead, to Anthony Franciosa.

On TV he appeared in a 1959 Twilight Zone episode titled "Walking Distance." He had some excellent parts – all male leads – in TV adaptations of The Philadelphia Story (1959), The Prince and the Pauper, Ninotchka (1960) and The Spiral Staircase (1961).

Young returned to Broadway with Under the Yum-Yum Tree (1960–61) which ran for a decent 173 performances.

He was announced for Boys Night Out (1962)[24] but did not appear in the final film. He was going to be in Drink to Me Only with Pat Boone and Clifton Webb for Vincent Sherman but it was not made.[25]

Instead Young made another movie with Day, That Touch of Mink (1962), playing Cary Grant's best friend.[13] He was Elvis Presley's boxing promoter in Kid Galahad (1962), and lost Sophia Loren to Anthony Perkins in Five Miles to Midnight (1962). After supporting Kirk Douglas in For Love or Money (1963), he was given a rare male lead in MGM's A Ticklish Affair (1963), as Shirley Jones's love interest.

He guest-starred on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Kraft Suspense Theatre.

The Rogues[edit]

The cast of The Rogues (1964) with Charles Boyer, Gig Young, David Niven, Robert Coote and Gladys Cooper

On the 1964–65 NBC series The Rogues, he shared appearances on a rotating basis with David Niven and Charles Boyer.[26] It was one of Young's favorite roles, along with Come Fill the Cup, Teacher's Pet and They Shoot Horses Don't They. He later said, "I loved it, the public loved it, only NBC didn't love it."[13]

Young went on tour with a production of The Music Man, his first stage musical.[27]

Young supported Rock Hudson in the comedy Strange Bedfellows (1965) then had the lead in a British horror film, The Shuttered Room (1967).

He starred in a TV movie, Companions in Nightmare (1968) and enjoyed a successful return to Broadway, in the hit comedy There's a Girl in My Soup (1967–68) which ran for 322 performances.[28]

They Shoot Horses Don't They?[edit]

Young won the Academy Award for his role as Rocky, the dance marathon emcee and promoter in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Young had been foisted on Sydney Pollack by the head of ABC Pictures, Marty Baum, Young's former agent.[29]

According to his fourth wife, Elaine Williams, "What he was aching for, as he walked up to collect his Oscar, was a role in his own movie—one that they could finally call 'a Gig Young movie.' For Young, the Oscar was literally the kiss of death, the end of the line."[30]

Young himself had said to Louella Parsons, after failing to win in 1951, "so many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have had bad luck afterwards."[30] However at the time Young called the Oscar "the greatest moment of his life."[31]

Young had a good part in the popular Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), also from ABC Pictures, and toured in Nobody Loves an Albatross (1970) in summer stock. He was in the TV movie The Neon Ceiling (1971), his performance earning him an Emmy. A profile of Young around this time said "that well-established image of the boozy charmer Gig plays on and off camera fools you. That armour surrounds an intense dedicated artist, constantly involved with his profession."[32]

Career decline[edit]

Young's increasing alcoholism began to cost him roles. Originally cast as The Waco Kid, Young collapsed on the set of the comedy film Blazing Saddles during his first day of shooting due to alcohol withdrawal, and was fired by director Mel Brooks.[33][34] Brooks would replace him with Gene Wilder.

He had a supporting role in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), an action film from Sam Peckinpah, and was in a horror movie, A Black Ribbon for Deborah (1974). He was in TV movies The Great Ice Rip-Off (1974) and The Turning Point of Jim Malloy (1975); Peckinpah used him again in The Killer Elite (1975).

In 1976, Aaron Spelling cast Young in the title role for his new action show Charlie's Angels. However, Young's alcoholism prevented him from performing the role, even only as a voice actor. Young was fired and actor John Forsythe was cast to replace him, arriving the first night in his bathrobe and slippers.

Final years[edit]

Young was one of several names to star in The Hindenburg (1975). He guest-starred on McCloud, had a support role in Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976) and a semi-regular part in the TV series Gibbsville (1976–77), based on the movie The Turning Point of Jim Malloy.

Young had a lead role in a Gene Roddenberry TV pilot that did not go to series, Spectre (1977).

His last role was in the 1978 film Game of Death, released nearly six years after the film's star, Bruce Lee, died during production in 1973.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Young was married five times.

His first marriage to Sheila Stapler, a Pasadena Playhouse classmate, lasted seven years, ending in 1947. "We were too young, it couldn't have lasted", he later said.[3]

In 1950, he married Sophie Rosenstein, the resident drama coach at Paramount, who was several years Young's senior. She was soon diagnosed with cancer and died just short of two years after the couple's wedding.

After her death, it was revealed that Young was engaged to actress Elaine Stritch.[36]

Young met actress Elizabeth Montgomery after she appeared in an episode of Warner Bros. Presents in 1956, and the two married later that year.[33] In 1963, Montgomery divorced Young because of his alcoholism.[37]

Young married his fourth wife, real estate agent Elaine Williams, nine months after his divorce from Montgomery was final. Williams was pregnant with Young's child at the time and gave birth to his only child, Jennifer, in April 1964. After three years of marriage, the couple divorced. During a legal battle over child support with Williams, Young denied that Jennifer was his biological child. After five years of court battles, Young lost his case.[38][39]

On September 27, 1978, Young, age 64, married his fifth wife, a 31-year-old German magazine editor named Kim Schmidt.[40] He met Schmidt in Hong Kong while working on Game of Death.[41]


On October 19, 1978, three weeks after his marriage to Schmidt, the couple were found dead in their apartment at The Osborne in Manhattan.[42] Police surmised that Young shot his wife and then himself. A motive for the murder was never discovered.[43] Police said there was a diary opened to September 27 with "we got married today" written on it. The couple appear to have died around 2:30 p.m., and their bodies were found five hours later.[42] Young was at one time under the care of the psychologist and psychotherapist Eugene Landy, who later had his professional California medical license revoked amidst accusations of ethical violations and misconduct with patients.[44] Author Stephen King wrote the short story 1408 inspired by his stay in room 1402 at New York's Park Lane Hotel, which was misrepresented by the bellboy as the site of Young's murder/suicide.[45]

Young's remains were taken to Beverly Hills for his funeral service.[46] Young was buried in the Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina,[47] under his birth name, Byron E. Barr, in his family's plot along with his parents, siblings and an uncle.[2] Young's will, which covered a $200,000 estate, left his Academy Award to his agent, Martin Baum, and Baum's wife, Bernice;[30] however, Young's daughter Jennifer launched a campaign in the early 1990s to get the award back from his agent, and struck an agreement that she would get the award back upon the agent's death, which occurred in 2010.[2] For his contribution to the television industry, Young has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard.


Film appearances
Year Title Role Notes
1940 Misbehaving Husbands Floor Walker Credited as Byron Barr
1941 Here Comes the Cavalry Trooper Rollins Short, Credited as Byron Barr
Sergeant York Marching soldier Uncredited
Dive Bomber Pilot Abbott Uncredited
Navy Blues Sailor in storeroom Uncredited
One Foot in Heaven First Groom Asking for Dog License Uncredited
The Tanks Are Coming Jim Allen Short, Credited as Byron Barr
They Died with Their Boots On Lt. Roberts Uncredited
You're in the Army Now Soldier Uncredited
1942 The Man Who Came to Dinner Bit part Uncredited
Captains of the Clouds Student pilot Credited as Byron Barr
The Male Animal Student Uncredited
The Mad Martindales Peter Varney Credited as Byron Barr
The Gay Sisters Gig Young Credited as Byron Barr (credited as Gig Young in later rereleases)
1943 Air Force Co-Pilot
Old Acquaintance Rudd Kendall
1946 They Made Me a Killer Steve Reynolds Credited as Byron Barr
1947 Escape Me Never Caryl Dubrok
1948 The Woman in White Walter Hartright
The Three Musketeers Porthos
Wake of the Red Witch Samuel 'Sam' Rosen
1949 Lust for Gold Pete Thomas
Tell It to the Judge Alexander Darvac
1950 Tarnished Joe Pettigrew
Hunt the Man Down Paul Bennett
1951 Target Unknown Capt. Reiner
Only the Valiant Lt. William Holloway
Slaughter Trail Ike Vaughn aka Murray
Come Fill the Cup Boyd Copeland Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Too Young to Kiss John Tirsen
1952 You for Me Dr. Jeff Chadwick
Holiday for Sinners Dr. Jason Kent
1953 The Girl Who Had Everything Vance Court
City That Never Sleeps Johnny Kelly
Arena Hob Danvers
Torch Song Cliff Willard
1954 Rear Window Jeff's Editor Voice, Uncredited
Young at Heart Alex Burke
1955 The Desperate Hours Chuck Wright
1957 Desk Set Mike Cutler
1958 Teacher's Pet Dr. Hugo Pine Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
The Tunnel of Love Dick Pepper
1959 Ask Any Girl Evan Doughton
The Story on Page One Larry Ellis
1962 That Touch of Mink Roger
Kid Galahad Willy Grogan
Five Miles to Midnight David Barnes
1963 For Love or Money 'Sonny' John Dayton Smith
A Ticklish Affair Key Weedon
1965 Strange Bedfellows Richard Bramwell
1967 The Shuttered Room Mike Kelton
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Rocky Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1970 Lovers and Other Strangers Hal Henderson
1973 A Son-in-Law for Charlie McReady Charlie McReady
1974 Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Quill
Deborah Ofenbauer
1975 Michele
The Killer Elite Lawrence Weyburn
The Hindenburg Edward Douglas
1978 Game of Death Jim Marshall
Television appearances
Year Title Role Notes
1950 The Silver Theater Episode: "Lady with Ideas"
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Episode: "Ned McCobb's Daughter"
The Bigelow Theatre Episode: "Lady with Ideas"
1953 Robert Montgomery Presents Episode: "The Sunday Punch"
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Episode: "Part of the Game"
1954 Producers' Showcase Simon Gayforth Episode: "Tonight at 8:30", Segment "Shadow Play"
Lux Video Theatre Episode: "Captive City"
1955–1956 Warner Brothers Presents Host 36 episodes
1956 The United States Steel Hour Dave Corman Episode: "Sauce for the Goose"
1957 Climax! Edgar Holt Episode: "Jacob and the Angels"
Studio One Philip Adams/Alan Fredericks Episode: "A Dead Ringer"
1958 Goodyear Theatre Herman Worth Episode: "The Spy"
1959 The Twilight Zone Martin Sloan Episode: "Walking Distance"
The Philadelphia Story C.K. Dexter Haven Television film
1960 Ninotchka Leon Dolga Television film
Shirley Temple's Storybook Miles Hendon Episode: "The Prince and the Pauper"
1961 The Spiral Staircase Stephen Warren Television film
1962 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Duke Marsden Episode: "A Piece of the Action"
1963 Kraft Suspense Theatre Hugo Myrich Episode: "The End of the World, Baby"
1964–1965 The Rogues Tony Fleming 22 episodes
1965 The Andy Williams Show Himself 1 episode
1968 Companions in Nightmare Eric Nicholson Television film
1971 The Neon Ceiling Jones Television film
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
1974 The Great Ice Rip-Off Harkey Rollins Television film
1975 John O'Hara's Gibbsville
a.k.a. The Turning Point of Jim Malloy
Ray Whitehead Television film
1976 McCloud Jack Haferman Episode: "The Day New York Turned Blue"
Sherlock Holmes in New York Mortimer McGrew Television film
1976–1977 Gibbsville Ray Whitehead 13 episodes
1977 Spectre Dr. Amos "Ham" Hamilton Television film

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Film Result
1951 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Come Fill the Cup Nominated
1958 Teacher's Pet Nominated
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Won
1970 British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
1971 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role The Neon Ceiling Nominated
1958 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Teacher's Pet Nominated
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Won
1970 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
1958 Laurel Awards Top Male Comedy Performance Teacher's Pet 4th Place
1959 Top Male Supporting Performance The Tunnel of Love Won
1963 Top Male Supporting Performance That Touch of Mink Won


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External links[edit]