March 23, 1917|
Oakland, California, U.S.
|Died||December 22, 2002
Rancho Mirage, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||June Hutton (1968-1972; divorced)
Violet M. Coglan (Penny Parker (1951 - ?; 1 child)
Kenneth Tobey (March 23, 1917 – December 22, 2002) was an American stage, film, and television actor, who performed in hundreds of productions during a career that spanned more than half a century, including his role as the star of the successful 1957-1960 Desilu Productions TV series Whirlybirds.
Kenneth Jesse Tobey was born in 1917 in Oakland, California. According to the United States Census of 1930 for Oakland,13-year-old "Kenneth J." was the eldest of three sons of Jesse V. Tobey and his wife Frances H. Tobey. That census also documents that Tobey's father was an automobile-tire salesman and that young Kenneth was of Irish and Russian ancestry. His paternal grandmother's parents were both natives of the "Ireland Free State", and his mother's parents were born in Russia, although they apparently had immigrated to South America, where Frances Tobey had been born and where in her youth the preferred language spoken in her family's household—again documented in the census—was Spanish. Following his graduation from high school in 1935, Kenneth was headed for a career in law when he first dabbled in acting at the University of California Little Theater. That stage experience led to a drama scholarship, a year-and-a-half of study at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse, where his classmates included fellow University of California at Berkeley alumni Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach, and Tony Randall.
During World War II, Tobey joined the United States Army Air Forces, serving in the Pacific as a rear gunner aboard a B-25 bomber. Throughout the 1940s, with the exception of his time in military service, Tobey acted on Broadway and in summer stock. After appearing in a 1943 film short, The Man of the Ferry, he made his Hollywood film debut in the 1947 Hopalong Cassidy western Dangerous Venture. He then went on to appear in scores of features and on numerous television series. In the 1949 film Twelve O' Clock High, he is the negligent airbase sentry who is dressed down by General Frank Savage (played by Gregory Peck). That same year Tobey performed in a brief comedy bit in another film, I Was a Male War Bride. His performance in that minor part caught the attention of director Howard Hawks, who promised to use the thirty-two-year-old actor in something more substantial.
The Thing from Another World
In 1951, Tobey was cast in Howard Hawks' production The Thing from Another World. In this classic sci-fi film he portrays Captain Patrick Hendry, a United States Air Force pilot, who at the North Pole leads a scientific outpost's dogged defense against an alien portrayed by James Arness, later the star of the television series Gunsmoke. Tobey's performance in Hawks' film garnered the actor other parts in science fiction movies in the 1950s, usually reprising his role as a military officer, such as in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1956).
Tobey appeared in the 1952 episode "Counterfeit Plates" on the CBS series Biff Baker, U.S.A., an espionage drama starring Alan Hale, Jr. He was cast too in the 1954-1955 CBS legal drama The Public Defender, starring Reed Hadley. He guest-starred in three episodes of NBC's western anthology series Frontier. His Frontier roles were as Wade Trippe in "In Nebraska" (1955) and then as Gabe Sharp in "Out from Texas" and "The Hostage" (1956). In 1955, he also portrayed legendary frontiersman Jim Bowie on ABC's Davy Crockett, a Walt Disney production, with Fess Parker in the title role. After Bowie's death in the series at the Battle of the Alamo, Tobey played a second character, Jocko, in the two final episodes of Davy Crockett.
Tobey then, in 1957, appeared in the syndicated religion anthology series Crossroads in the role of Mr. Alston in the episode "Call for Help" and as Jim Callahan in "Bandit Chief" in the syndicated western series The Sheriff of Cochise. Later that same year, Tobey starred in the television series The Whirlybirds, a successful CBS and then-syndicated adventure produced by Desilu Studios. In it he played the co-owner of a helicopter charter service, along with fellow actor Craig Hill. The Whirlybirds was a major hit in the United States and abroad, with 111 episodes filmed through 1960. It remained in syndication worldwide for many years.
In 1958, Tobey also appeared as John Wallach in the episode "$50 for a Dead Man" in Jeff Richards's NBC western series Jefferson Drum. In 1960, he guest-starred in the episode "West of Boston" of another NBC western series, Overland Trail, starring William Bendix and Doug McClure. He performed as well in the ABC western series The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. Tobey made three guest appearances on Perry Mason, twice in 1960 and once in 1962 as Jack Alvin, a deputy district attorney. On the long-running western series Gunsmoke, he portrayed a cruel, knife-wielding buffalo hunter, Ben Spadden, in the 1960 episode titled "The Worm". Tobey in 1962 also guest-starred on another western series, Lawman, playing the character Duncan Clooney, an engineer who seeks to move a shipment of nitroglycerin through Laramie, Wyoming. When the town is evacuated to allow passage of the explosives, two of Clooney's employees decide they will take advantage of the situation to rob the bank.
Tobey guest-starred as well in Jack Lord's 1962-1963 ABC adventure series about a rodeo circuit rider, Stoney Burke. In 1967 he performed on the series Lassie, in the episode "Lure of the Wild", playing a retired forest ranger who tames a local coyote. He also appeared as a slave owner named Taggart in "The Wolf Man", a 1967 episode of Daniel Boone, starring Fess Parker. A few of the many other series in which Tobey later performed include Adam-12 (1969), Gibbsville (1976), MV Klickitat (1978), Emergency! (1975), and Night Court (1985).
He became a semi-regular on the NBC series I Spy as the field boss of agents Robinson and Scott. Christian Nyby, director of The Thing From Another World, often directed those episodes. Tobey also portrayed a ship's captain on the Rockford Files, in an episode titled "There's One in Every Port".
In 1957, Tobey portrayed a sheriff in The Vampire (a film that some sources today often confuse with the 1935 production Mark of the Vampire). That year he also appeared in a more prestigious film, serving as a featured supporting character with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, the co-stars of John Ford's The Wings of Eagles. In that film, Tobey—with his naturally red hair on display in vibrant Metrocolor—portrays a highly competitive United States Army Air Service officer. In one memorable scene he has the distinction of shoving a piece of gooey cake into the face of John Wayne, whose character is a rival United States Navy aviation officer. Not surprisingly, a room-wrecking brawl ensues.
Tobey's work over the next several decades was increasingly involved in television productions. He did, though, continue to perform in a range of feature films, such as Stark Fear, Marlowe, Billy Jack, Walking Tall, The Howling, the war movie MacArthur (in which he portrays Admiral "Bull" Halsey), Airplane!, Gremlins, Big Top Pee-wee, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Although Tobey had a busy acting career in films and on television, he also periodically returned to the stage. In 1964 he began a long run on Broadway opposite Sammy Davis, Jr., in the musical version of Clifford Odets' play Golden Boy. Some of his other Broadway credits are As You Like It, Sunny River, Janie, Sons and Soldiers, A New Life, Suds in Your Eye, The Cherry Orchard, and Truckline Cafe.
As his long career drew to a close, Tobey still received acting jobs from people who had grown up watching his performances in sci-fi films of the 1950s, particularly Joe Dante, who included the veteran actor in his stock company of reliable players. Two appearances on the sitcom Night Court came the same way, through fans of his work. Along with other character actors who had been in 1950s sci-fi and horror films (John Agar, Robert O. Cornthwaite, Gloria Talbott, etc.), Tobey starred in a spoof originally titled Attack Of The B Movie Monster. In 2005, Anthem Pictures released the completed feature version of this spoof on DVD under the new title The Naked Monster. Tobey's scenes in that release were actually shot in 1985, so The Naked Monster is technically his final film credit, being released three years after his death. He had, however, continued to act throughout most of the 1990s. One of those notable roles is his performance in the 1994 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Shadowplay" as Rurigan, an alien who recreates his dead friends as holograms. Among other examples of Tobey's final decade of work are his two appearances as Judge Kent Watson on the series L.A. Law.
In 2002, Tobey died of natural causes at age 85 in Rancho Mirage, California.
- The Man of the Ferry (short, 1943)
- Dangerous Venture (1947) - Red
- This Time for Keeps (1948) - Redheaded Soldier at Pool (uncredited)
- Beyond Glory (1948) - Bit Role (uncredited)
- He Walked by Night (1948) - Detective Questioning Pete (uncredited)
- The Stratton Story (1949) - Detroit Player (uncredited)
- Illegal Entry (1949) - Dave (uncredited)
- The Great Sinner (1949) - Cabbie (uncredited)
- I Was a Male War Bride (1949) - Red - Seaman (uncredited)
- The Stratton Story (1949)
- Task Force (1949) - Capt. Ken Willliamson (uncredited)
- The Doctor and the Girl (1949) - Surgeon at Bellevue (uncredited)
- Free for All (1949) - Pilot
- Twelve O'Clock High (1949) - Sgt. Keller - Guard at Gate (uncredited)
- The File on Thelma Jordon (1950) - Police Photographer (uncredited)
- When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950) - Lt. K. Geiger (uncredited)
- One Way Street (1950) - Cop at Second Accident (uncredited)
- Love That Brute (1950) - Henchman #1 in Cigar Store (uncredited)
- The Gunfighter (1950) - Swede (uncredited)
- My Friend Irma Goes West (1950) - Pilot
- Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) - Det. Fowler
- Right Cross (1950) - Ken, the Third Reporter
- Three Secrets (1950) - Officer (uncredited)
- The Flying Missile (1950) - Crewman Pete McEvoy
- The Company She Keeps (1951) - Rex Fisher (uncredited)
- Up Front (1951) - Cooper (uncredited)
- Rawhide (1951) - Lt. Wingate (uncredited)
- The Thing from Another World (1951) - Captain Patrick Hendry
- Angel Face (1952) - Bill Crompton
- The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - Col. Jack Evans
- Fighter Attack (1953) - George
- The Bigamist (1953) - Tom Morgan, Defense Attorney
- Ring of Fear (1954) - Shreveport
- Down Three Dark Streets (1954) - FBI Agent Zack Stewart
- The Steel Cage (1954) - Steinberg, Convict Painter (segment "The Face")
- Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955) - Colonel Jim Bowie
- Rage at Dawn (1955) - Monk Claxton
- It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) - Cmdr. Pete Mathews
- Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956) - Jocko
- The Steel Jungle (1956) - Dr. Lewy
- The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956) - Lt. Hank Mahoney (uncredited)
- The Great Locomotive Chase (1956) - Anthony Murphy
- The Search For Bridey Murphy (1956) - Rex Simmons
- The Wings of Eagles (1957) - Capt. Herbert Allen Hazard
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) - Bat Masterson
- The Vampire (1957) - Sheriff Buck Donnelly
- Jet Pilot (1957) - Sergeant (uncredited)
- Cry Terror! (1958) - Agent Frank Cole
- Seven Ways from Sundown (1960) - Texas Ranger Lieutenant Herly
- X-15 (1961) - Col. Craig Brewster
- Stark Fear (1962) - Cliff Kane
- 40 Guns to Apache Pass (1966) - Corporal Bodine
- A Man Called Adam (1966) - Club Owner
- A Time for Killing (1967) - Sgt. Cleehan
- Marlowe (1969) - Sgt. Fred Beifus
- Billy Jack (1971) - Deputy Mike
- Terror in the Sky (1971) - Capt. Wilson
- Ben (1972) - Engineer
- The Candidate (1972) - Floyd J. Starkey
- Rage (1972) - Col. Alan A. Nickerson
- Walking Tall (1973) - Augie McCullah
- Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) - Sheriff Carl Donahue
- Homebodies (1974) - Construction Boss
- The Missiles of October (1974) - Adm. George W. Anderson Jr., Chief of Naval Operations
- The Wild McCullochs (1975) - Larry Carpenter
- W.C. Fields and Me (1976) - Parker
- Baby Blue Marine (1976) - Buick Driver
- Gus (1976) - Asst. Warden
- MacArthur (1977) - Admiral Halsey
- Goodbye, Franklin High (1978) - Police Captain
- Hero at Large (1980) - Firechief
- Airplane! (1980) - Air Controller Neubauer
- The Howling (1981) - Older Cop
- Strange Invaders (1983) - Arthur Newman
- Gremlins (1984) - Mobil Gas Station Attendant (uncredited)
- The Lost Empire (1984) - Capt. Hendry
- Innerspace (1987) - Man in Restroom
- Big Top Pee-wee (1988) - Sheriff
- Freeway (1988) - Monsignor Kavanaugh
- Ghost Writer (1989) - Cop #2
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) - Projectionist
- Desire and Hell at Sunset Motel (1991) - Capt. Holiday
- Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992) - Smitty
- Single White Female (1992) - Desk Clerk
- Body Shot (1994) - Arthur Lassen
- Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) - Hologram-Priest (uncredited)
- The Naked Monster (2005) - Col. Patrick Hendry (final film role)
- The Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930), Oakland, Alameda County, California, block 2623; enumeration date April 2, 1930. Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce. Digital copy of original enumeration page available at FamilySearch, a free genealogical database provided as a public service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
- Kenneth Tobey's middle name, "Jesse", is confirmed on a United States immigration card that documents his return to California from Hawaii on June 11, 1945, likely the day of his return from military service in the Pacific Theater during World War II. FamilySearch. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
- "Kenneth Tobey Probably Has Reddest Hair in the World". The Paris News. Texas, Paris. July 31, 1951. p. 6. Retrieved June 28, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Berkeley Product Gets Dramatic Lead". Oakland Tribune. California, Oakland. August 18, 1940. p. 25. Retrieved June 28, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Kenneth Tobey Probably Has Reddest Hair in the World". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
- "The Worm", Gunsmoke episode S06E08, originally broadcast October 29, 1960. Full episode currently available for viewing on YouTube. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
- ""Trojan Horse", Lawman, December 31, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
- "The Wolf Man", Daniel Boone episode S03E18, originally broadcast January 26, 1967. Full episode available for viewing on YouTube. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
- Wings of Eagles, American Film Institute (AFI) catalog; production details, cast and crew, and plot summary. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
- "Kenneth Tobey", AFI catalog, filmography. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
- "(Kenneth Tobey search)". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 28 June 2016.