1941 publicity photo
|Born||Emmett Evan Heflin Jr.
December 13, 1908
Walters, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||July 23, 1971
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Eleanor Scherr (a.k.a. Eleanor Shaw)
Frances E. Neal (1942–67; 3 children)
Van Heflin (December 13, 1908 – July 23, 1971) was an American theatre, radio and film actor. He played mostly character parts over the course of his film career, but during the 1940s had a string of roles as a leading man. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Johnny Eager (1942).
Heflin was born Emmett Evan Heflin Jr. in Walters, Oklahoma, the son of Fanny Bleecker (née Shippey) and Dr. Emmett Evan Heflin, a dentist. He was of Irish and French ancestry. Heflin's sister was Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Frances Heflin (who married composer Sol Kaplan). Heflin attended Classen High School in Oklahoma City (One source says Long Beach Polytechnic High School.) and the University of Oklahoma, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1932 and was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He earned a master's degree in theater at Yale University.
Heflin began his acting career on Broadway in the late 1920s. He appeared in Mr. Moneypenny (1928), The Bride of Torozko (1934), The Night Remembers (1934), Mid-West (1936), and End of Summer (1936). The latter had a decent run and led to him being signed to a film contract by RKO Radio Pictures.
Heflin made his film debut in A Woman Rebels (1936), opposite Katharine Hepburn. He followed it with The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937), billed third after Preston Foster and Jean Muir, and Flight from Glory (1937), a Chester Morris programmer where Heflin played an alcoholic pilot.
In Hollywood Heflin had a support role in Back Door to Heaven (1939). He returned to Broadway where he played Macaulay Connor opposite Katharine Hepburn, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Booth in The Philadelphia Story, which ran for 417 performances from 1939-1940. It led to Heflin being offered a choice character part in the Errol Flynn western Santa Fe Trail (1940) at Warners, playing a villainous gun seller. The movie was a big hit. It also led to a contract offer from MGM.
A delighted MGM began to groom Heflin as a leading man in B movies, giving him the star role in Kid Glove Killer (1942), directed by Fred Zinnemann, and Grand Central Murder (1942). Both were popular.
Encouraged, MGM cast him as Kathryn Grayson's love interest in a musical, Seven Sweethearts (1942), then was given the star role in an "A" film, as the embattled President Andrew Johnson in Tennessee Johnson (1942), playing opposite (and at odds with) Lionel Barrymore who, in the role of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, failed to have Johnson convicted in an impeachment trial by the slimmest of margins. The film was a box office flop.
Heflin served during World War II in the United States Army Air Corps as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe and with the First Motion Picture Unit. He appeared in a training film, Land and Live in the Jungle (1944).
When Helfin returned to Hollywood, MGM loaned him to Hal Wallis to appear opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). He was in the all-star musical Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) then was loaned to Warner Bros to co star with Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947).
Back at MGM he co-starred with Lana Turner in Green Dolphin Street (1947), a big prestige film for the studio and their biggest hit of 1947. He was reunited with Stanwyck in B.F.'s Daughter (1948) and was loaned to Walter Wanger for Tap Roots (1948), where he was top billed; both lost money.
MGM cast him as Athos in The Three Musketeers (1948), a huge success. He was top billed in Zinnemann's Act of Violence (1949), and supported Jennifer Jones in Madame Bovary (1949). Both movies were acclaimed but lost money.
Heflin made a third film with Stanwyck, East Side, West Side (1950), although he was now billed beneath James Mason. It made only a small profit
The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was a radio detective drama that aired from June 17, 1947, through September 15, 1951, first heard on NBC in the summer of 1947 starring Van Heflin (June 12, 1947 - Sept 9, 1947). He also acted on the Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense, Cavalcade of America and many more radio programs.
However he followed it up with action films at Universal: Wings of the Hawk (1953), and Tanganyika (1954). He starred in an independent Western, The Raid (1954) and was one of many stars in 20th Century Fox's Woman's World (1954).
After a Western, Count Three and Pray (1955), Heflin starred in Patterns (1956) based on a TV play by Rod Serling. He also did a Playhouse 90 written by Serling, "The Dark Side of the Earth", and "The Rank and File"; he also did "The Cruel Day" by Reginald Rose.
Heflin went to the Philippines to star in a war film Cry of Battle (1963). This was was playing at the Texas Theatre in Dallas on November 22, 1963. His name and the film title appear on the marquee. It was that theatre where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination.
Heflin had another Broadway hit in the title role of A Case of Libel (1963–64) which ran for 242 performances.
Heflin appeared in a short but dramatic role as an eyewitness of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from death in the 1965 Bible film, The Greatest Story Ever Told. After seeing the miracle he ran from Bethany to the walls of Jerusalem and proclaimed to the guards at the top of the wall that Jesus was the Messiah.
Heflin's last feature film was Airport (1970). He played "D. O. Guerrero", a failure who schemes to blow himself up on an airliner so that his wife (played by Maureen Stapleton) can collect on a life insurance policy. It was an enormous success.
After a six-month marriage to actress Eleanor Shaw (née Eleanor Scherr, died 2004), he married RKO contract player Frances Neal. They had two daughters, actresses Vana O'Brien and Cathleen (Kate) Heflin, and a son, Tracy. The couple divorced in 1967.
Heflin was the grandfather of actor Ben O'Brien and actress Eleanor O'Brien. Heflin was the uncle of Marta Heflin and Mady Kaplan, both actresses, and director Jonathan Kaplan.
During World War II, Heflin served as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe.
On June 6, 1971, Heflin had a heart attack while swimming in a pool. Medics took him to a hospital, and though he lived for six weeks, he apparently never regained consciousness. Van Heflin died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on July 23, 1971, aged 62. He had left instructions forbidding a public funeral. Instead, his cremated remains were scattered in the ocean.
In 1960, Heflin was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his contributions to motion pictures at 6311 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1964.
In February, 2016, a biography, Van Heflin A Life in Film, by Derek Sculthorpe, was published by McFarland & Co., Inc., of Jefferson, N.C.
|1947||The New Adventures of Philip Marlowe, NBC||Red Wind|
|1949||Lux Radio Theatre||Green Dolphin Street|
|1953||Theater of Stars||The Apple Tree|
|1953||Suspense||The Case of the Marie [sic] Celeste|
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