John Arthur Kennedy in Worcester, Massachusetts, 17 February 1914.
Attended Worcester Academy; studied acting at Carnegie Technical
Served in U.S. Air Force, 1943–45; made training films.
Married actress Mary Cheffey, 1938, children: Terence and Laurie.
1936—toured with Globe Theater; 1937—Broadway debut in
with Maurice Evans's company; 1939—appeared with Evans
Henry IV, Part I
; in Federal Theater production
Life and Death of an American
; 1940—film debut in
City for Conquest
opposite James Cagney: contract with Warners; 1947—appeared as
Chris Keller in Miller's
All My Sons
on Broadway (also originated roles of Biff in
Death of a Salesman
, 1947, John Proctor in
, 1954, and the doctor brother in
, 1968); 1954—first TV appearance; 1961—replaced Laurence
Olivier in title role of
on Broadway; 1974—in TV series
Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for
From a brain tumor, in Branford, Connecticut, 5 January 1990.
City for Conquest (Litvak); Santa Fe Trail (Curtiz)
High Sierra (Walsh) (as Red); Knockout (Clemens); Strange Alibi (Lederman); Highway West (McCann); Bad Men of Missouri (Enright) (as Jim Younger); They Died with Their Boots On (Walsh)
Desperate Journey (Walsh)
Air Force (Hawks)
Devotion (Bernhardt—produced 1943) (as Branwell Brontë)
Cheyenne (Walsh) (as The Sundance Kid); Boomerang! (Kazan)
Champion (Robson); The Window (Tetzlaff); Too Late for Tears (Haskin); Chicago Deadline (Allen); The Walking Hills (Sturges)
The Glass Menagerie (Rapper) (as Tom Wingfield)
Red Mountain (Dieterle); Bright Victory ( Lights Out ) (Robson)
Bend of the River ( Where the River Bends ) (Anthony Mann); Rancho Notorious (Lang); The Girl in White ( So Bright the Flame ) (Sturges); The Lusty Men (Ray)
Impulse (de Lautour)
Crashout (Foster); The Naked Dawn (Ulmer); The Man from Laramie (Anthony Mann); Trial (Robson); The Desperate Hours (Wyler)
The Rawhide Years (Maté)
Peyton Place (Robson) (as Lucas Cross)
Twilight for the Gods (Pevney); Some Came Running (Minnelli)
Home Is the Hero (Cook); A Summer Place (Daves)
Elmer Gantry (Brooks)
Murder She Said (Pollock); Claudelle Inglish ( Young and Eager ) (Douglas)
Adventures of a Young Man (Ritt) (as Doc Adams); Barabbas (Fleischer) (as Pontius Pilate); Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)
Cheyenne Autumn (Ford) (as Doc Holliday); Italiani brava gente ( Attack and Retreat ) (De Santis); Joaquin Murieta ( Vendetta ) (Sherman); Joy in the Morning (Segal)
Il chica del Lunes ( Monday's Child ) (Torre-Nilsson); Nevada Smith (Hathaway); Fantastic Voyage (Fleischer); The Brave Rifles (as narrator)
Day of the Evil Gun (Thorpe); Lo sbarco di Anzio ( Anzio ; The Battle for Anzio ) (Dmytryk); Un minuto per pregare, un instante per morire ( Escondido ; A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die ; Dead or Alive ) (Giraldi)
Hail Hero (Miller)
Shark! (Fuller—produced 1967); The Movie Murderer (Sagal—for TV)
My Old Man's Place ( Glory Boy ) (Sherin); A Death of Innocence (Wendkos—for TV); The President's Plane Is Missing (Duke—for TV); Crawlspace (Newland—for TV)
Bacciamo le mani ( Ferrente ; Kiss My Hand ; Mafia War ) (Schiraldi); Ricco (De Micheli)
Nakia (Horn—for TV); Fin de semana para los muertos ( The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue ; Don't Open the Window ) (Grau); L'anticristo ( The Antichrist ; The Tempter ) (De Martino) (as the Bishop); La polizia ha le mani legate ( The Police Can't Move ; Killer Cop ) (Ercoli)
Roma a mano armato ( Rome Armed to the Teeth ; Brutal Justice ) (Lenzi); La spiaggia del desiderio ( Emmanuelle on Taboo Island ) (D'Ambrosio); Nove ospiti per un delitto ( Nine Guests for a Crime ) (Baldi); The Sentinel (Winner)
Ab Morgen sind wir reich und ehrlich ( Rich and Respectable ) (Antel); Gli ultimi angeli ( L'avventurosa fuga ; Last Angels ) (Doria); Ciclon ( Cyclone ) (Cardona)
Sono stato un'agente CIA ( Covert Action ) (Guerrieri); Bermuda: la fossa maledetta ( La cueva de los tiburones ; Cave of Sharks ; The Sharks' Cave ) (Richmond); Porco mondo ( Porno ) (Bergonzelli)
L'unanoide ( The Humanoid ) (Lewis)
Movies Murderer (Sagal—for TV)
Signs of Life (for TV)
Marill, Alvin H., "Arthur Kennedy," in Films in Review (New York), March 1974.
Buckley, Michael, "Arthur Kennedy," in Films in Review (New York), December 1988 and January 1989; see also issues for August/September 1989 and January/February 1990.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 10 January 1990.
Cieutat, Michel, "Arthur Kennedy (1925–1990): Le desperado de l'ombre," in Positif (Paris), April 1990.
* * *
Arthur Kennedy's acting career represents one of solid, mainstream performance. In the 1940s he moved from minor roles in Warner Brothers staples ( High Sierra , Air Force ) to starring in "social problem" films such as Champion . The 1950s and 1960s saw Kennedy reach the peak of his movie career with appearances in a number of highly regarded Westerns ( The Man from Laramie , Bend of the River ) plus several money-making spectacles ( Elmer Gantry , Lawrence of Arabia ).
Kennedy, like many character actors of Hollywood's Golden Age, aspired to the stage. He received classical acting training at Carnegie Institute of Technology and in the mid-1930s moved to New York to "make it" on Broadway. At this point in his career he never did. There were occasional triumphs, including, for example, a Broadway debut in Richard III with Maurice Evans's company. But with his "discovery" by a Warner Brothers' talent scout, Kennedy, like many before him, moved to Hollywood. Success on Broadway (in Death of a Salesman ) came only after he became a name in the movies.
Kennedy's best film work came in a series of Westerns in the 1950s. In one brief span at the beginning of that decade he worked with Nicholas Ray, Fritz Lang, and Anthony Mann in three of the best Westerns ever made: The Lusty Men , Rancho Notorious , and Bend of the River . Later in the 1950s came yet another solid performance in Anthony Mann's The Man from Laramie .
For a time in the mid-1950s it seemed Kennedy might even become a movie star. He received Academy Award nominations for best supporting actor in 1955, 1957, and 1958, the last for the box office smash Peyton Place . But it was not to be. Rather than leading to major roles this succession of nominations (with no win) only permanently established him as an ever-reliable character actor.
Kennedy's career after 1960 produced few artistic triumphs. In part this is because he rarely worked for top-flight directors. Exceptions include John Ford ( Cheyenne Autumn ) and Sam Fuller ( Shark ). Like many a character actor of his generation, Kennedy turned more and more to television work. Although his lone attempt at a weekly series ( Nakia ) lasted for only 15 episodes, he achieved a degree of fame as a guest star in such anthology programs as General Electric Theater and Playhouse 90, and later in a number of movies made for television.