William Bendix

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William Bendix
William Bendix 1960.JPG
Bendix in 1960
Born(1906-01-14)January 14, 1906
Manhattan, New York, U.S
DiedDecember 14, 1964(1964-12-14) (aged 58)
Resting placeSan Fernando Mission Cemetery, Mission Hills, Los Angeles
OccupationFilm, radio, television actor
Years active1936–1964
Political partyRepublican
Spouse
Theresa Stefanotti
(m. 1927⁠–⁠1964)
Children2

William Bendix (January 14, 1906 – December 14, 1964) was an American film, radio, and television actor, who typically played rough, blue-collar characters. He is best remembered for his role in Wake Island, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also portrayed the clumsily earnest aircraft plant worker Chester A. Riley in both the radio and television versions of The Life of Riley, and baseball player Babe Ruth in The Babe Ruth Story. Bendix was a frequent co-star of Alan Ladd, the two appearing in ten films together; both actors coincidentally died in 1964.

Early life[edit]

Bendix was born in Manhattan, the only child of Oscar and Hilda (Carnell) Bendix, and was named William after his German paternal grandfather. His uncle was composer, conductor, and violinist Max Bendix.[1] In the early 1920s, Bendix was a batboy for the New York Yankees and said he saw Babe Ruth hit more than 100 home runs at Yankee Stadium. However, he was fired after fulfilling Ruth's request for a large order of hot dogs and soda before a game, which resulted in Ruth being unable to play that day. He worked as a grocer until the Great Depression.[2]

Career[edit]

Film[edit]

Poster for The Glass Key (1942)

Bendix began his acting career at age 30 in the New Jersey Federal Theatre Project. He made his film debut in 1942. He played in supporting roles in dozens of Hollywood films, usually as a warm-hearted gangster, detective or serviceman. He began with appearances in films noir, including a supporting role in The Glass Key (1942), which featured Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the leads. He soon gained attention after appearing in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) as Gus, a wounded and dying American sailor. He was the top-billed lead in The Hairy Ape (1944) based upon the Eugene O'Neill play, also starring Susan Hayward and Dorothy Comingore.

Bendix's other film roles include his portrayal of Babe Ruth in The Babe Ruth Story (1948) – a film roundly considered one of the worst sports biopics in film history[3][4][5] and Sir Sagramore opposite Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949), in which he took part in the trio, "Busy Doing Nothing".[6] He played Nick the bartender in the film version of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life (1948) starring James Cagney. Bendix had appeared in the stage version, but in the role of Officer Krupp (a role played on film by Broderick Crawford). He was cast in The Blue Dahlia (1946), appearing for the second time alongside Ladd and Lake. He also starred in a film adaptation of his radio program The Life of Riley (1949).

Radio and television[edit]

Bendix's appearance in the Hal Roach-produced film The McGuerins from Brooklyn (1942), playing a rugged blue-collar man, led to his best-remembered role. Producer and creator Irving Brecher saw Bendix as the perfect personification of Chester A. Riley, giving a second chance to a show whose audition failed when the sponsor spurned Groucho Marx for the lead. With Bendix stumbling, bumbling, and skating almost perpetually on thin ice, stretching the patience of his otherwise loving wife and children, The Life of Riley was a radio hit from 1944 through 1951, and Bendix brought an adaptation of the film version to Lux Radio Theatre.

The show began as a proposed Groucho Marx radio series, The Flotsam Family, but the sponsor balked at what would have been essentially a straight head-of-household role for the comedian. Then creator and producer Irving Brecher saw Bendix as taxicab company owner Tim McGuerin in The McGuerins from Brooklyn. Brecher stated, "He was a Brooklyn guy and there was something about him. I thought, This guy could play it. He'd made a few films, like Lifeboat, but he was not a name. So I took The Flotsam Family script, revised it, made it a Brooklyn Family, took out the flippancies and made it more meat-and-potatoes, and thought of a new title, The Life of Riley. Bendix's delivery and the spin he put on his lines made it work." The reworked script cast Bendix as blundering Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at the fictional Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. His frequent exclamation of indignation – "What a revoltin' development this is!" – became one of the catchphrases of the 1940s. It was later reused by Benjamin J. Grimm of the Fantastic Four.

Bendix as Riley with Sterling Holloway, 1957

Bendix was not able to play the role on television because of a contracted film commitment. The part instead went to Jackie Gleason and aired a single season beginning in October 1949. Despite winning an Emmy award, the show was cancelled, in part because Gleason was less acceptable as Riley, since Bendix had been so identified with the part on radio. In 1953, Bendix became available for a new television version, and this time the show was a hit. The second television version of The Life of Riley ran from 1953 to 1958, long enough for Riley to become a grandfather.

On the 1952 television program This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards, Bendix was claimed to be a descendant of the 19th-century composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Bendix played the lead in Rod Serling's "The Time Element" (1958), a time-travel adventure episode about a man who travels back to 1941 and unsuccessfully tries to warn everyone in Honolulu about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor; the program's success opened the doors for Serling's later series The Twilight Zone. Bendix also appeared on The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (also 1958). He returned for a second appearance on October 1, 1959, the fourth-season premiere of the series, in which he and Tennessee Ernie performed a comedy skit about a safari.[7]

In NBC's Wagon Train ("Around the Horn", 1958), Bendix played the captain of a sailing cargo ship who shanghaied Major Adams (Ward Bond), Bill Hawks (Terry Wilson) and Charlie Wooster (Frank McGrath), forcing them to work on his ship. On November 16, 1959, Bendix appeared on NBC's color broadcast of The Steve Allen Plymouth Show with Jack Kerouac. A color videotape of the broadcast survives. Bendix starred in all 17 episodes of the NBC western series Overland Trail (1960) in the role of Frederick Thomas "Fred" Kelly, the crusty superintendent of the Overland Stage Company. Doug McClure, later Trampas on The Virginian, co-starred as his young understudy, Frank "Flip" Flippen. He guest-starred in an episode of Mister Ed ("Pine Lake Lodge", 1961) which served as a back door pilot for a proposed sitcom that was not picked up.[8]

In the fall of 1964, an American situation comedy starring Bendix and Martha Raye was scheduled to air on CBS, but due to Bendix's shaky health, the network decided not to air the program. This action resulted in a lawsuit from Bendix for $2.658 million in May, with the actor stating that the decision hurt his career and that he was in excellent health and could perform all of the requirements of the agreement. The case was settled out of court. Bendix died on December 14, 1964, of complications from pneumonia.[9]

Reflections[edit]

Bendix saw advantages to both film and stage work. "“Films take tremendous pressure off – you can always reshoot a scene. But on the stage you can work with a part, build it from performance to performance.”[2]

As a professional, he was pragmatic and unsentimental about his career. His credo, he remarked, was, “Save a buck or two and keep on acting – that's me.” In an interview in 1960 he summed up his life: “I've had a long, – varied, pleasant, eventful career. I don't hate anybody and I don't have any bitter thoughts. I started out without any advantages, but I've been lucky and successful and I've had fun.” [2]

Personal life[edit]

Bendix married a childhood friend, Theresa Stefanotti, on October 22, 1927. They remained married until his death 37 years later in 1964. The couple had a daughter, Lorraine, and adopted another, Stephanie.[2]

Bendix died in Los Angeles at age 58 in 1964 as the result of a chronic stomach ailment that brought on malnutrition and ultimately lobar pneumonia.[citation needed] He was interred at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles.

Bendix was a Republican. During the 1944 presidential election campaign, he attended a massive rally organized by David O. Selznick in the Los Angeles Coliseum in support of the Dewey-Bricker ticket as well as Governor Earl Warren of California.[10]

Complete filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Director Notes
1940 They Drive by Night Truck Driver Watching Pinball Game Raoul Walsh uncredited
1942 Brooklyn Orchid Timothy "Tim" McGuerin Kurt Neumann
1942 Woman of the Year "Pinkie" Peters George Stevens
1942 Wake Island Pvt. Aloysius K. "Smacksie" Randall John Farrow Best Supporting Actor nomination
1942 The Glass Key Jeff Stuart Heisler
1942 Who Done It? Detective Brannigan
1942 Star Spangled Rhythm Herman the Husband in Bob Hope Skit Paul Weatherwax
1942 Two Mugs from Brooklyn Timothy 'Tim' McGuerin Kurt Neumann
1943 The Crystal Ball Biff Carter Elliott Nugent
1943 Taxi, Mister Tim McGuerin Kurt Neumann
1943 China Johnny Sparrow John Farrow
1943 Hostages Underground Leader Frank Tuttle
1943 Guadalcanal Diary Corp. Taxi Potts Lewis Seiler
1944 Lifeboat Gus Smith Alfred Hitchcock
1944 Skirmish on the Home Front Herb Miller short
1944 The Hairy Ape Hank Smith Alfred Santell
1944 Abroad with Two Yanks Biff Koraski John E. Burch (assistant)
1944 Greenwich Village Danny O'Mara Walter Lang
1945 It's in the Bag William Bendix Richard Wallace
1945 Don Juan Quilligan Patrick Michael "Don Juan" Quilligan Frank Tuttle
1945 A Bell for Adano Sgt. Borth Henry King
1945 Duffy's Tavern William Bendix Hal Walker
1946 Sentimental Journey Donnelly - Uncle Don Walter Lang
1946 The Blue Dahlia Buzz Wanchek George Marshall
1946 The Dark Corner Stauffer a.k.a. Fred Foss Henry Hathaway
1946 White Tie and Tails Larry Lundie Charles Barton[1]
1946 Two Years Before the Mast First Mate Amazeen John Farrow
1946 Rough But Hopeful Himself short
1947 I'll Be Yours Wechsberg William A. Seiter
1947 Calcutta Pedro Blake John Farrow
1947 Blaze of Noon Porkie Scott John Farrow
1947 The Web Lt. Damico Michael Gordon
1947 Variety Girl Himself George Marshall
1947 Where There's Life Victor O'Brien Sidney Lanfield
1948 The Time of Your Life Nick H. C. Potter
1948 The Babe Ruth Story George Herman 'Babe' Ruth Roy Del Ruth
1948 Race Street Lt. Barney Runson Edwin L. Marin
1948 10,000 Kids and a Cop Neighborhood Policeman short documentary
1949 Cover Up Sheriff Larry Best Alfred E. Green
1949 The Life of Riley Chester A. Riley Irving Brecher
1949 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Sir Sagramore Tay Garnett
1949 Streets of Laredo Reuben "Wahoo" Jones Leslie Fenton
1949 The Big Steal Capt. Vincent Blake Don Siegel
1949 Johnny Holiday Sgt. Walker Willis Goldbeck
1950 Kill the Umpire Bill "Two Call" Johnson Lloyd Bacon
1951 Gambling House Joe Farrow Ted Tetzlaff
1951 Detective Story Det. Lou Brody William Wyler
1951 Submarine Command CPO Boyer John Farrow
1952 A Girl in Every Port Timothy Aloysius "Tim" Dunnovan Chester Erskine
1952 Macao Lawrence C. Trumble Nicholas Ray
1952 Blackbeard the Pirate Ben Worley Raoul Walsh
1954 Dangerous Mission Chief Ranger Joe Parker Louis King
1955 Crashout Van Morgan Duff Lewis R. Foster
1956 Battle Stations Buck Fitzpatrick
1958 The Deep Six "Frenchy" Shapiro Rudolph Maté
1959 Idol on Parade Sgt. Lush John Gilling
1959 The Ransom of Red Chief Bill Driscoll TV movie
1959 The Rough and the Smooth Reg Barker Robert Siodmak
1961 Johnny Nobody James Ronald Mulcahy Nigel Patrick
1961 The Phony American Sergeant Harrigan, USAF Ákos Ráthonyi
1962 Boys' Night Out Slattery Michael Gordon
1963 For Love or Money Joe Fogel Michael Gordon
1963 The Young and the Brave Sgt. Peter L. Kane Francis D. Lyon
1964 Law of the Lawless Sheriff Ed Tanner William F. Claxton
1964 Young Fury Blacksmith, Joe Christian Nyby

Partial television credits[edit]

Dramatic radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
February 28, 1944 Lux Radio Theatre Guadalcanal Diary
January 23, 1950 Lux Radio Theatre I'll Be Yours
May 8, 1950 Lux Radio Theatre Life Of Riley

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bruce Eder (2015). "William Bendix - About This Person - Movies & TV". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 17, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "William Bendix, Actor, 58, Is Dead; Stage and Screen Veteran Capped Career With Riley", New York Times, December 15, 1964
  3. ^ "Worst Movie Biopics: Real-Life Catastrophes". Moviefone. November 5, 2009. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  4. ^ Hal Erickson (2015). "The Babe Ruth Story (1948)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  5. ^ Shaughnessy, Dan (April 3, 1986). "Duke as Williams? A Prince of an Idea". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 30, 2013 – via Spokane Chronicle.
  6. ^ "Busy Doing Nothing – From the film "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court" (1949)". International Lyrics Playground. Bing Crosby, William Bendix, Cedric Hardwicke (Film Soundtrack)- 1949
  7. ^ "Ford Show – Season 4". ernieford.com. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  8. ^ Irvin, Richard. "Spinning Laughter: Profiles of 111 Proposed Comedy Spin-offs and Sequels that Never Became a Series". BearManor Media – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Manbeck, John B.; Singer, Robert, eds. (2002). The Brooklyn Film: Essays in the History of Filmmaking. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. p. 26. ISBN 978-0786414055.
  10. ^ Jordan, David M. (2011). FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-253-35683-3.
  11. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 16, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved May 23, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  • Smithsonian Collection: Old Time Radio All-Time Favourites, liner notes from audio cassette box set. Joe Bevilaqua. Radio Spirits: Schiller Park, 1994.
  • John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)

External links[edit]