By Mike Peros
Dan Duryea is one those actors who is unforgettably identifiable. I can still recall the first time I saw him on the TV screen as a kid who loved westerns. I had no idea who the actor’s name was but to this day I’ve never forgotten his character’s name, Whitey Kincade. It was an Audie Murphy western titled Ride Clear of Diablo. Duryea was of course the bad guy opposite Audie’s good guy but Duryea’s outlaw was so damned likable I was rooting for him at the fadeout. From that moment forward, I knew that I was going to be a life long fan of the actor who played a heel who did indeed have a heart as Whitey Kincade, Dan Duryea.
To this day actors are still being typecast though I don’t believe it’s as noticeable as it was during the studio era and Dan Duryea is a prime example of an actor who never escaped the indelible impression he made on movie goers as a despicable character in his film debut, The Little Foxes. Duryea was cast in the film after scoring a success in the role on Broadway. It’s interesting to note that an earlier stage role got him noticed for The Little Foxes play. That of the cowardly Bob Ford who famously shot Mr. Howard (Jesse James) in the back. Right from the beginning it would appear that Duryea’s career path was set as a man who could deliver villainy to the masses. And do it superbly.
Not knowing much besides the obvious in the career of Duryea, Peros book gives us a look behind the villainy at a devoted family man who was married to the same woman, Helen, from 1932 till her sudden death in 1967. He fathered two children, Peter and Richard and again seemed to do his best to raise them outside the world of Hollywood. Peros covers Dan’s career trajectory from Foxes forward in films where the studios continued to showcase his villainy and those that tried to break the mold. Films like The Pride of the Yankees and Sahara opposite Bogie. Mostly to no avail and when he teamed with Fritz Lang for a trio of titles, he proved a perfect fit for the world of Noir and left us many classics to enjoy. The Woman In The Window, Black Angel, Criss Cross and Too Late For Tears which has recently been rescued from obscurity to great acclaim.
With the fifties came the western and Dan’s encounter with Jimmy Stewart in Winchester ’73 is as explosive a scene as the western had yet delivered up to 1950. Dan proved himself a great addition for western movies during the height of the genre’s popularity. The book also brought to my attention the movies where he continued to attempt a change of image. Comedies like White Tie and Tails or Kathy ‘O and his move to television as China Smith, a show he headlined for two separate stints. The book also serves as an overview of the extensive television work that Duryea did throughout the 50’s and 60’s.
I rarely miss an opportunity to see a Dan Duryea film that may be new to me so I’ll admit to skipping over some of the pages within Peros’ book as he has a tendency to play spoiler. If I had seen the movie he’s recounting I would read on but if it’s a new to me title then I’d read the historical data but scan past the plot summary. No harm done.
If anything I came away liking Duryea the man and that’s not something I say about every film star I read about from the past. One thing the book does is compare Dan to Richard Widmark and that’s something that seems so obvious yet I’d never done it. They kind of look alike and appear to be about the same size. Both started off playing outright villains. The difference is Widmark got out from under Tommy Udo’s long shadow though it still lingered for the balance of his illustrious career. Truthfully, I was reminded of Robert Ryan when reading this. Like Ryan, Dan was married to the same woman for life and stayed out of the Hollywood lifestyle preferring to raise a family and get involved in local small town activities. Both actors are heavily remembered for their contributions to the Noir genre but were easily cast in westerns and dramas. And again, both actors never really escaped their first success. Dan’s Little Foxes and Ryan’s Crossfire.
A worthwhile edition for those looking to read up on both Duryea the star and Duryea the family man.
So while the smiling Whitey Kincade is my earliest memory of Dan, what’s yours?
I love Dan Dureya. He was sooo good in Scarlet Street!
Yes those 3 films he made with Fritz Lang are great. Especially Street and Window.
You summarized it for me when it comes to Dan Duryea: I can’t help but cheer for the guy even though he’s the villain. He has such charisma on screen that a person is almost mesmerized by him.
Also, I really like that he had such a long-term monogamous relationship.
Yes Dan had the ability to cast a spell on viewers and made most every movie he ever appeared in better. hard to take your eyes off him even though he was often the second lead.
My late brother-in-law (an actor,Larry Pennell) said Dan Duryea was a really great guy, one of the nicest in the profession.
The book painted as a really decent guy so I’m not surprised.
I’m a big fan of Dan Duryea too! In a way it’s a pity he became typecast in the slimy weasel role since having seen him in other films which allowed him to stretch beyond it he was quite appealing. However it’s hard to imagine someone who could have portrayed those villains better than he.
I’d heard that behind the scenes he was a nice family oriented man, including being a leader of the Boy Scouts. I’ve read the same about Robert Ryan and Richard Widmark. It seems that being able to unleash all that rage at work they were shorn of it in their private lives.
I see the similarities between Duryea and Widmark but the latter was able to separate from his venality much more than the former. Widmark switched much more easily into the romantic/hero roles only returning to the bastards when he wanted to whereas with Duryea it was very rare. Aside from Widmark being more conventionally handsome I think one of the keys was in their smiles. When Widmark smiled the world lit up, he could make it menacing if he wanted with body language and attitude but if he was playing a good sort it was warm and engaging. With Duryea no matter how he tried there was always a hint, often much more than a hint, of danger or an oily obsequiousness to that grin and it kayoed his romantic prospects. Too bad but he was still very good at what he did and surprisingly adaptable to the Western genre which gave his career longevity.
My faves of his films that I’ve seen where his was a major part-The Little Foxes, The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street, Larceny, Criss Cross (though it’s really Yvonne de Carlo who’s the standout), Johnny Stool Pigeon, Winchester ’73, This Is My Love (both he and Linda Darnell are exceptional in this one), Foxfire (the picture’s not much but it’s one of his best good guy roles) and The Bounty Killer.
I too see the similarities now between Dan and Richard but honestly never really noticed it till reading this. I’ve heard he’s good in Bounty Killer and will have to check it out,. Have a copy so will have to get at it. Only one from that list of faves I haven’t seen yet. Seemed like a genuine, solid family man.
That looks like a cool book…I’ll see if my library carries it. And I can’t remember which film was my first Duryea, but it was definitely a film noir! (And Mike, I’m so far behind reading your reviews…I apologize. I’m going to read them all throughout the coming week, without commenting, and get myself caught up to current times. So look for a flood of ‘Likes’ from me in your inbox!)
Nice to learn about Duryea off camera and the roles he took I haven’t yet seen. Plenty of TV work as well. No need for apologies here, cheers’ pal.