John Arthur Kennedy (February 17, 1914 – January 5, 1990) was an American stage and film actor known for his versatility in supporting film roles and his ability to create “an exceptional honesty and naturalness on stage”, especially in the original casts of Arthur Miller plays on Broadway. He won the 1949 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Miller’s Death of a Salesman. He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for the 1955 film Trial, and was a five-time Academy Award nominee.
City for Conquest (1940) as Eddie Kenny
High Sierra (1941) as ‘Red’
Knockout (1941) as Johnny Rocket
Strange Alibi (1941) as Joe Geary
Bad Men of Missouri (1941) as Jim Younger
Highway West (1941) as George Foster
They Died with Their Boots On (1941) as Ned Sharp
Desperate Journey (1942) as Flying Officer Jed Forrest
Air Force (1943) as Bombardier
Reconnaissance Pilot (1943, documentary short) as Decoration Announcer (voice, uncredited)
Resisting Enemy Interrogation (1944) as Sgt. Alfred Mason (uncredited)
Ditch and Live (1944, Short) as Captain Scott H. Reynolds (uncredited)
Time to Kill (1945, Short) as Narrator (uncredited)
Target – Invisible (1945, documentary short) as Narrator (uncredited)
Devotion (1946) as Branwell Brontë
It’s Your America (1946, Short) as Soldier (uncredited)
Boomerang (1947) as John Waldron
Cheyenne (1947) as Chalk
The Walking Hills (1949) as Chalk
Champion (1949) as Connie
The Window (1949) as Ed Woodry
Too Late for Tears (1949) as Alan Palmer
Chicago Deadline (1949) as Tommy Ditman
The Glass Menagerie (1950) as Tom Wingfield
Bright Victory (1951) as Larry Nevins
Red Mountain (1951) as Lane Waldron
A folyó mentén (Bend of the River) (1952) as Emerson Cole
Rancho Notorious (1952) as Vern Haskell
The Girl in White (1952) as Dr. Ben Barringer
The Lusty Men (1952) as Wes Merritt
Impulse (1954) as Alan Curtis
Crashout (1955) as Joe Quinn
The Man From Laramie (1955) as Vic Hansbro
The Desperate Hours (1955) as Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard
Trial (1955) as Barney
The Naked Dawn (1955) as Santiago
The Rawhide Years (1956) as Rick Harper
Peyton Place (1957) as Lucas Cross
Twilight for the Gods (1958) as First Mate Ramsay
Rohanva jöttek (Some Came Running) (1958) as Frank Hirsh
The Ten Commandments (1959, TV Movie)
Home Is the Hero (1959) as Willie O’Reilly
A Summer Place (1959) as Bart Hunter
Elmer Gantry (1960) as Jim Lefferts
Claudelle Inglish (1961) as Clyde Inglish
Murder, She Said (1961) as Dr. Quimper
Barabbas (1961) as Pontius Pilate
Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man (1962) as Dr. Adams
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) as Jackson Bentley
Attack and Retreat (1964) as Ferro Maria Ferri
Cheyenne Autumn (1964) as Doc Holliday
Murieta (1965) as Capt. Love
Joy in the Morning (1965) as Patrick Brown
Nevada Smith (1966) as Bill Bowdre
Fantastic Voyage (1966) as Dr. Duval
Monday’s Child (1967) as Peter Richardson
Day of the Evil Gun (1968) as Owen Forbes
A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (1968) as Tuscosa Marshal Roy W. Colby
Anzio (1968) as Maj. Gen. Jack Lesley
Hail, Hero! (1969) as Albert Dixon
Shark! (1969) as Doc
The Movie Murderer (1970, TV Movie) as Angus MacGregor
My Old Man’s Place (1971) as Walter Pell
A Death of Innocence (1971, TV Movie) as Mark Hirsch
Crawlspace (1972, TV Movie) as Albert Graves
I Kiss the Hand (1973) as Don Angelino Ferrante
Ricco the Mean Machine (1973) as Don Vito
The President’s Plane Is Missing (1973, TV Movie) as Gunther Damon
The Man from Independence (1974) as Tom Pendergast
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) as The Inspector
The Antichrist (1974) as Bishop Ascanio Oderisi
Killer Cop (1975) as Armando Di Federico
Rome Armed to the Teeth (1976) as Ruini
Ab morgen sind wir reich und ehrlich (1976) as Mike Jannacone
La spiaggia del desiderio (1976) as Antonio
The Sentinel (1977) as Monsignor Franchino
Nine Guests for a Crime (1977) as Uberto
Gli ultimi angeli (1978) as Il nonno
Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks (1978) as Mr. Jackson
Cyclone (1978) as The Priest
Porco mondo (1978) as Senator Merelli
Covert Action (1978) as CIA Chief of Station, Athens
The Humanoid (1979) as Dr. Kraspin
Signs of Life (1989) as Owen Coughlin
I figli del vento (1989, TV Movie)
Grandpa (1990) (final film role)
Awards and honors
In 1949, Kennedy won a Tony Award for best supporting actor as Biff in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Morosco Theatre.
The New York Film Critics named him Best Actor for Bright Victory (1951).
His performance in Trial won him a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.
His portrayal of the newspaper reporter in Elmer Gantry (1960) gained him a Film Daily Award and a Limelight Award.
Kennedy, Claude Rains and Robert Duvall share the record of four losing nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, although Duvall won for Best Actor in 1983. Kennedy also received a nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Bright Victory (1951).
Year Award Film Winner
1949 Best Supporting Actor Champion Dean Jagger – Twelve O’Clock High
1951 Best Actor Bright Victory Humphrey Bogart – The African Queen
1955 Best Supporting Actor Trial Jack Lemmon – Mister Roberts
1957 Best Supporting Actor Peyton Place Red Buttons – Sayonara
1958 Best Supporting Actor Some Came Running Burl Ives – The Big Country
Early life and education
Kennedy was born on February 17, 1914, in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Helen (née Thompson) and J.T. Kennedy, a dentist. He attended South High School, Worcester and Worcester Academy. At Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh he studied drama, graduating with a B.A. in 1934.
Kennedy moved to New York and, billed as John Kennedy, joined the Group Theatre. He then toured with a classical repertory company. In September 1937, he made his Broadway debut as Bushy in Maurice Evans’ Richard II at the St. James Theatre. In 1939 he played Sir Richard Vernon in Evans’ Henry IV, Part 1.
Kennedy made his entry into films when he was discovered by James Cagney. His first film role was of Cagney’s younger brother in City for Conquest in 1940. He was equally adept as hero or villain, and was noted for his mastery of complex, multifaceted roles. He appeared in many Western films and police dramas.
During World War II, Kennedy served from 1943 to 1945 in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) making aviation training films, both as a narrator and an actor. Many of those films serve as historical records of how aviators were trained and flight equipment was operated.
Kennedy appeared in many notable films from the early 1940s through mid-1960s, including High Sierra, Champion, They Died with Their Boots On, The Glass Menagerie, The Desperate Hours, Trial, Peyton Place, Some Came Running, Elmer Gantry, The Man from Laramie, Barabbas, Lawrence of Arabia, Nevada Smith and Fantastic Voyage.
Of Kennedy’s film work, he is perhaps best-remembered for his collaborations with director Anthony Mann and co-star James Stewart on Bend of the River (1952) and The Man from Laramie (1955), in both of which he played sympathetic villains.
He also enjoyed a distinguished stage career over the same period, receiving a Tony Award for his role of Biff Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949). He inaugurated three other major characters in Miller plays: Chris Keller in All My Sons (1947), John Proctor in The Crucible (1953) and Walter Franz in The Price (1968). In 1961 he played the title role in Becket, opposite Laurence Olivier as Henry II.
On February 5, 1959, Kennedy appeared on the episode “Make It Look Good” of CBS’s Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre.
In 1974, Kennedy was a regular on the short-lived ABC police drama Nakia, as Sheriff Sam Jericho.
Waning interest, ill-health, then comeback
With the death of his wife in 1975, failing eyesight, alcoholism, and thyroid cancer, Kennedy was reported as having lost interest in filmmaking. After Covert Action (1978), his next films were The Humanoid (1979) and Signs of Life (1989).
Kennedy married Mary Cheffey (1915–1975) in March 1938. They had two children: actress Laurie Kennedy and Terence.
During the last years of his life, Kennedy suffered from thyroid cancer and eye disease. He spent much of his later life in Savannah, Georgia, out of the public eye. He died in 1990 in Branford, Connecticut of a brain tumor. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, near his home at Lequille, Nova Scotia, Canada; his wife Mary is also buried there.
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