November 24, 1901|
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||February 24, 1949
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||heart attack|
Roman Bohnen (November 24, 1901 – February 24, 1949) was an American stage and film actor.
Early life and education
Born Roman Aloys Bohnen in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bohnen attended the University of Minnesota, where he was a cheerleader. After graduating in 1923 with a B.A., Roman served his acting apprenticeship in theater companies in St. Paul and Chicago, eventually spending five years with the Goodman Theatre. At the Goodman, he fell in love with fellow actor Hildur Ouse, who became his wife.
Move to New York
The Bohnens moved to New York City, where he made his Broadway debut in 1931 in As Husbands Go. In the summer of 1932, he was invited to join the Group Theatre, which became his artistic home for the next nine years. As a member of the Group, he appeared in numerous plays and was active in all aspects of the company. On January 2, 1933, Bohnen took over a lead part in the Group's hit play, Success Story by John Howard Lawson. The very next day, Incubator, a play Bohnen had written with John Lyman, opened on Broadway (produced by another organization). Although Incubator received favorable reviews, it closed quickly. In the plays written by his friend, Clifford Odets, for the Group Theatre, he created the roles of Dr. Barnes in Waiting for Lefty, Schlosser in Awake and Sing!, Gus Michaels in Paradise Lost, Tom Moody in Golden Boy and Mr. Tucker in Night Music.
Bohnen summered at Pine Brook Country Club in Nichols, Connecticut. Pinebrook is best known for becoming the summer home of the Group Theatre. Some of the other artists who summered there were; Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, John Garfield, Lee J. Cobb, Will Geer, Clifford Odets, Howard Da Silva and Irwin Shaw.
The Group Theatre disbanded in 1941, the same year that Hildur died.
Move to Hollywood and film work
After the failure of a play called Five Alarm Waltz in 1941, Bohnen and [his daughter] Marina moved to Hollywood.
Bohnen's first film was the Vogues of 1938 (1937). By 1941, he was working almost exclusively in film. Among his better-known roles are Candy in Of Mice and Men (1939) and Pat Derry in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). He also played Durand Laxart, Joan's uncle, who takes her to see the Dauphin of France, in the Ingrid Bergman film, Joan of Arc (1948). He played the Old Man in Jules Dassin's short film The Tell-Tale Heart (1941)
Bohnen was cast as President Harry Truman in The Beginning or the End, an MGM docu-drama about the atomic bomb. After a private screening in late 1946, Truman let it be known that he disapproved of his portrayal regarding the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. On December 2, 1946, Bohnen wrote Truman that he should portray himself. On December 12, Truman responded to Bohnen's letter, but declined the chance to portray himself, and said that he was "sure you (Bohnen) will do the part creditably". Ultimately, the scenes were re-shot with actor Art Baker re-cast as Truman.
With other former Group Theatre actors, he was co-founder of the politically active Actors' Laboratory Theatre. During World War II, the Actors' Lab performed for over one million soldiers. Like many of his Group cohorts, Bohnen was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Eventually, he was blacklisted, creating financial, social and artistic stress.
The Bohnens had a daughter in 1936, Marina, nicknamed "Button" by her father.
Bohnen, who was known as Bud to his many friends, was also a fine photographer. He took countless photos of his fellow actors, his family, friends and strangers.
He was working on the Actors' Lab production of A Distant Isle when he collapsed and died during the play's intermission in Hollywood, California in 1949.
- California Death Index, Ancestry.com, accessed Nov. 9, 2008
- Pinewood Lake website retrieved on 2010-09-10
- Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
- Roman Bohnen at the Internet Movie Database
- Roman Bohnen at the Internet Broadway Database
- Roman Bohnen papers, 1918-1976, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Letter from President Truman to Bohnen, at Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
- Roman Bohnen at Find a Grave