studio publicity photo of Douglas, c. 1939
|Born||Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg
April 5, 1901
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||August 4, 1981
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Rosalind Hightower (1925–1930; divorced; 1 son)
Helen Gahagan (1931–1980; her death; 1 son, 1 daughter)
Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg (April 5, 1901 – August 4, 1981), better known as Melvyn Douglas, was an American actor.
Douglas came to prominence in the 1930s as a suave leading man, perhaps best typified by his performance in the 1939 romantic comedy Ninotchka with Greta Garbo. Douglas later took mature and fatherly roles as in his Academy Award-winning performances in Hud (1963) and Being There (1979) and his Academy Award-nominated performance in I Never Sang for My Father (1970).
Douglas was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of Lena Priscilla (née Shackelford) and Edouard Gregory Hesselberg, a concert pianist and composer. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Riga, Latvia, then part of Russia. His mother, a native of Tennessee, was Protestant and a Mayflower descendant. His maternal grandfather, George Shackelford, was a General and Civil War veteran.
Douglas, in his autobiography, See You at the Movies (1987), writes that he was unaware of his Jewish background until later in his youth: "I did not learn about the non-Christian part of my heritage until my early teens," as his parents preferred to hide his Jewish heritage. It was his aunts, on his father's side, who told him "the truth" when he was 14. He writes that he "admired them unstintingly"; and they in turn treated him like a son.
Though his father taught music at a succession of colleges in the U.S. and Canada, Douglas never graduated from high school. He took the surname of his maternal grandmother and became known as Melvyn Douglas.
Douglas developed his acting skills in Shakespearean repertory while in his teens and with stock companies in Sioux City, Iowa, Evansville, Indiana, Madison, Wisconsin and Detroit, Michigan. He served in the United States Army in World War I. He established an outdoor theatre in Chicago. He had a long theatre, film and television career as a lead player, stretching from his 1930 Broadway role in Tonight or Never (opposite his future wife, Helen Gahagan) until just before his death. Douglas shared top billing with Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton in James Whale's sardonic horror classic The Old Dark House in 1932.
He was the hero in the 1932 horror film The Vampire Bat and the sophisticated leading man in 1935's She Married Her Boss. He played opposite Joan Crawford in several films, most notably A Woman's Face (1941), and with Greta Garbo in three films: As You Desire Me (1932), Ninotchka (1939) and Garbo's final film Two-Faced Woman (1941). One of his most sympathetic roles was as the belatedly attentive father in Captains Courageous (1937).
During World War II, Douglas served first as a director of the Arts Council in the Office of Civilian Defense, and he then again served in the United States Army rising to the rank of Major. According to his granddaughter Illeana Douglas, it was in Burma when he first met his future Being There co-star Peter Sellers, who was in the Royal Air Force during the war. He returned to play more mature roles in The Sea of Grass and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. In 1959 he made his musical debut playing Captain Boyle in the ill-fated Marc Blitzstein musical Juno, based on Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.
From November 1952 to January 1953, Douglas starred in the DuMont detective show Steve Randall (Hollywood Off Beat) which then moved to CBS. In the summer of 1953, he briefly hosted the DuMont game show Blind Date. In the summer of 1959, Douglas hosted eleven original episodes of a CBS Western anthology television series called Frontier Justice, a production of Dick Powell's Four Star Television.
As Douglas grew older, he took on the older-man and father roles, in such movies as Hud (1963), for which he won his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, The Americanization of Emily (1964), an episode of The Fugitive (1966), I Never Sang for My Father (1970), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and The Candidate (1972). He won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the comedy-drama Being There (1979). However, Douglas confirmed in one of his final interviews that he refused to attend the 52nd Academy Awards because he could not bear competing against child actor Justin Henry for Kramer vs. Kramer. The Oscar statute that Douglas won for Being There is currently owned by his granddaughter, Illeana Douglas.
Douglas' final screen appearance was in Ghost Story (1981). He did not finish his role in the film The Hot Touch (1982) before his death. Douglas has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 6423 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 6601 Hollywood Blvd.
Douglas was married briefly to artist Rosalind Hightower, and they had one child, (Melvyn) Gregory Hesselberg, in 1926. Hesselberg, an artist, is the father of actress Illeana Douglas.
In 1931, Douglas married actress-turned-politician Helen Gahagan. They traveled to Europe that same year, and "were horrified by French and German anti-Semitism". As a result, they became outspoken anti-Fascists, supporting the Democratic Party and Roosevelt's re-election. As a three-term Congresswoman, she was later Richard Nixon's opponent for the United States Senate seat from California in 1950.
Nixon accused Gahagan of being soft on Communism because of her opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nixon went so far as to call her "pink right down to her underwear". It was Gahagan who popularized Nixon's epithet "Tricky Dick".
Douglas and Gahagan had two children: Peter Gahagan Douglas (1933) and Mary Helen Douglas (1938). The couple remained married until Helen Gahagan Douglas' death in 1980 from cancer. Melvyn Douglas died a year later, in 1981, aged 80, from pneumonia and cardiac complications in New York City.
- A Free Soul (1928) as Ace Wilfong
- Tonight or Never (1930) as the unknown gentleman
- No More Ladies (1934) as Sheridan Warren
- Tapestry In Gray (1935) as Erik Nordgren
- Two Blind Mice (1949) as Tommy Thurston
- The Bird Cage (1950) as Wally Williams
- Glad Tidings (1951) as Steve Whitney
- Time Out for Ginger (1952) as Howard Carol
- Inherit the Wind (1955) as Henry Drummond
- The Gang's All Here (1959) as Griffith P. Hastings
- The Best Man (1960) as William Russell
- Spofford (1967) as Spofford
|1931||Tonight or Never||Jim Fletcher|
|1932||Prestige||Captain Andre Verlaine|
|The Wiser Sex||David Rolfe|
|The Broken Wing||Philip 'Phil' Marvin|
|As You Desire Me||Count Bruno Varelli|
|1933||The Vampire Bat||Karl Brettschneider|
|Nagana||Dr. Walter Tradnor|
|Counsellor at Law||Roy Darwin|
|1934||Woman in the Dark||Tony Robson|
|Dangerous Corner||Charles Stanton|
|1935||She Married Her Boss||Richard Barclay|
|Mary Burns, Fugitive||Barton Powell|
|Annie Oakley||Jeff Hogarth|
|1936||The Gorgeous Hussy||John Randolph|
|Theodora Goes Wild||Michael Grant|
|1937||Captains Courageous||Mr. Cheyne|
|I Met Him in Paris||George Potter|
|Angel||Anthony 'Tony' Halton|
|1938||There's Always a Woman||William Reardon|
|Arsène Lupin Returns||Arsène Lupin|
|The Toy Wife||George Sartoris|
|Fast Company||Joel Sloane|
|That Certain Age||Vincent Bullitt|
|The Shining Hour||Henry Linden|
|1939||There's That Woman Again||William Reardon|
|Tell No Tales||Michael Cassidy|
|Ninotchka||Count Leon D'Algout|
|The Amazing Mr. Williams||Police Lieutenant Kenny Williams|
|Good Girls Go to Paris||Ronald Brooke|
|1940||Too Many Husbands||Henry Lowndes|
|Third Finger, Left Hand||Jeff Thompson|
|This Thing Called Love||Tice Collins|
|1941||That Uncertain Feeling||Larry Baker|
|A Woman's Face||Dr. Gustaf Segert|
|Two-Faced Woman||Larry Blake|
|1942||We Were Dancing||Nicholas Eugen August Wolfgang 'Nikki' Prax|
|They All Kissed the Bride||Michael 'Mike' Holmes|
|1943||Three Hearts for Julia||Jeff Seabrook|
|1947||The Sea of Grass||Brice Chamberlain|
|The Guilt of Janet Ames||Smithfield 'Smitty' Cobb|
|1948||Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House||Bill Cole|
|1949||A Woman's Secret||Luke Jordan|
|The Great Sinner||Armand de Glasse|
|The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse||Richard Gordon||episode: The Five Lives of Richard Gordon|
|1950||Lux Video Theatre||James Strickland||episode: To Thine Own Self|
|Pulitzer Prize Playhouse||Eugene Morgan
Martin Luther Cooper
|episode: The Magnificent Ambersons
episode: Mrs. January and Mr. Ex
|1951||My Forbidden Past||Paul Beaurevel|
|On the Loose||Frank Bradley|
|1952||Celanese Theatre||Archduke Rudolph von Habsburg||episode: Reunion in Vienna|
|Steve Randall||Steve Randall||12 episodes|
|1955||The Ford Television Theatre||George Manners||episode: Letters Marked Personal|
|1955–1956||The Alcoa Hour||Charles Turner
|episode: Man on a Tiger
episode: Thunder in Washington
|1957–1958||The United States Steel Hour||Census Taker
Dr. Victor Payson
|episode: Second Chance
episode: The Hill Wife
|1957–1959||Playhouse 90||General Parker
|episode: Judgement at Nuremberg
episode: The Return of Ansel Gibbs
episode: The Plot to Kill Stalin
episode: The Greer Case
|1959||Frontier Justice||Host||11 episodes|
|1960||Sunday Showcase||Mark Twain||episode: Our American Heritage: Shadow of a Soldier|
|1962||Billy Budd||The Dansker|
|1963||Ben Casey||Burton Strang||episode: Rage Against the Dying Light|
|Hud||Homer Bannon||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Laurel Award for Top Male Supporting Performance
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
|Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Pat Konke||episode: A Killing at Sundial|
|1964||Advance to the Rear||Col. Claude Brackenbury|
|The Americanization of Emily||Adm. William Jessup||Nominated-Laurel Award for Best Supporting Performance, Male|
|Once Upon a Tractor||Martin|
|Inherit the Wind||Henry Drummond||Nominated-Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie|
|1966||The Fugitive (TV series)||Mark Ryder||episode: The 2130|
|Lamp at Midnight||Galileo Galilei|
|CBS Playhouse||Peter Schermann||episode: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
|1968||Companions in Nightmare||Dr. Lawrence Strelson|
|1970||I Never Sang for My Father||Tom Garrison||New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (2nd place)
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
Nominated-Laurel Award for Best Dramatic Performance, Male
|Hunters Are for Killing (TV film)||Keller Floran|
|1971||Death Takes a Holiday||Judge Earl Chapman|
|1972||The Candidate||John J. McKay|
|Circle of Fear||Grandpa||episode: House of Evil|
|Two Is a Happy Number||Joseph Provo|
|1973||The Going Up of David Lev (TV film)||Grandfather|
|1975||Benjamin Franklin (TV miniseries)||Benjamin Franklin|
|1976||The Tenant||Monsieur Zy|
|1977||Twilight's Last Gleaming||Zachariah Guthrie|
|Intimate Strangers||Donald's father|
|ABC Weekend Special||Grandpa Doc||episode: Portrait of Grandpa Doc|
|1979||The Seduction of Joe Tynan||Senator Birney|
|Being There||Benjamin Rand||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor (2nd place)
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
|1980||The Changeling||Senator Joe Carmichael||Nominated-Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|Tell Me a Riddle||David|
|1981||Ghost Story||Dr. John Jaffrey|
|The Hot Touch||Max Reich|
Source:"Melvyn Douglas". IMDb. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
|1942||Philip Morris Playhouse||No Time for Comedy|
|1942||Philip Morris Playhouse||Take a Letter, Darling|
- Nissenson, Hugh (January 18, 1987). "He Almost Made Garbo Laugh". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- "1". ancestry.com. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
-  Archived November 1, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- Vigil, Delfin (15 February 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Gate. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
- Burstein, Patricia (14 April 1980). "Oscar Nominee Melvyn Douglas Recalls 49 Years in Hollywood—and Reagan as a Democrat". People. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
- "Melvyn Douglas". IMDb. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
- "Philip Morris Playhouse". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 12, 1942. p. 13. Retrieved August 2, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 19, 1942. p. 21. Retrieved August 2, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Douglas, Melvyn; Tom Arthur (1986). See You At The Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-5390-7.
- Melvyn Douglas at the Internet Movie Database
- Melvyn Douglas (1901–1981) at the New Georgia Encyclopedia
- Melvyn Douglas at the TCM Movie Database
- Melvyn Douglas at the Internet Broadway Database
- Melvyn Douglas Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
- Melvyn Douglas at Find a Grave
- www.geoghegan.org: HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS
- Photographs and literature on Melvyn Douglas