The character actor has a special talent…the ability to wrap a unique persona around a role to give it a dimension, depth and mood soon identified with that actor alone. In the golden age of film, stars brought the audiences to the theater but often it was the character actors who kept them in their seats.


Dan Duryea

1907 – 1968

.the bad-ass villain with a secret life.


He gave up his passion for acting to pursue a more stable job in advertising ...but that dog-eat-dog world literally broke his heart. So Dan went back to creating characters for stage and screen that lacked any shred of compassion. After all, he had learned from the best.

Dan Duryea played every heel imaginable.... hustlers, hoodlums, gangsters and gunmen. But when he went home at night, this vicious badman turned into a pussycat. He was married to the same woman for 37 years, raised two sons and was a card-carrying member of the PTA.... a Hollywood enigma.

Dan and Helen Bryan Duryea

He was born Daniel Edwin Duryea in White Plains, NY on January 23rd, 1907, the son of textile salesman Richard Duryea and his wife Mabel. The passion for acting began when he was just a teenager in the drama club at his high school. At Cornell University where he majored in English, Dan replaced actor Franchot Tone as president of the school's famous Dramatic Society. Dan's passion for acting never wavered but after graduation in 1928 he followed his parents' advice to get a “real” job. So he took a sales job at the N.W. Ayer advertising agency in New York. In 1932, he met and married Helen Bryan of Scarsdale, NY. She was the daughter of a co-worker and they met when she picked her father up after work. They moved to Philadelphia where Dan was to open a new branch of the ad agency. But the strain of the job took its toll. Dan had a heart attack and the doctor prescribed another job with less stress. So Dan went back to acting!








Dan at Cornell a divinity student in “Many Mansions”

...on Broadway in “Dead End”

He took a trip on the summer straw hat circuit and when the road company ran out of steam he headed for New York. In 1935, Dan got a part in schoolmate Sidney Kingsley's Dead End before Sam Goldwyn snatched up the rights to the play for a film taking only the principal players, including the famous Dead End Kids, back to Hollywood with it. A role as a divinity student in the short-lived Many Mansions kept the wolf from the door until 1937. Then Dan got his first Western stage role as Bob Ford, the dirty little coward who shot “Mr. Howard” ( an alias for Jesse James) in Missouri Legend. That play also had a short run. But his performance caught the attention of producer Herman Shumlin who cast him as Leo Hubbard, the slimy nephew in The Little Foxes starring Tallulah Bankhead. The play ran a year and Duryea got rave reviews. He and Helen took time out for the birth of a son, Peter, but this time when Sam Goldwyn took the play west, Dan Duryea went with it.



as Leo Hubbard in “The Little Foxes”..the movie!

Dan Duryea never returned to Broadway. Movies became the only game in town. According to Dan, his film portrayal of Leo Hubbard “ started me off on the road to Hell as a badman and ever since I've been portraying the most hateful screen characters you can think of.” He would also tell Hedda Hopper some years later that “ “I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters.” And he proved it.






Reading scripts

Next Dan went into Ball of Fire (MGM 1941) with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck as the wisecracking but very ticklish Duke Pastrami. He met Gary Cooper again in Pride of the Yankees (MGM 1942) as the snide press box reporter Hank Hanneman and, in his first film western Along Came Jones (RKO 1945). After his stellar performance in 1945's The Woman in the Window Dan began to get star billing and a few more sympathetic the 1946 noir film The Black Angel he played the alcoholic musician who exposes a killer (Peter Lorre) and, in 1947, the ersatz butler/man-about- town in White Tie and Tails. But never fear, he blew away both Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo in the 1949 film Criss Cross. To no one's surprise, Dan Duryea became one of the movies' most popular character actors. He was voted one of the ten most promising stars of the day in a poll of motion picture exhibitors by the Motion Picture Herald (1946) ahead of Robert Mitchum!





a gangster's henchman in “ Ball of Fire “ (1941)

a blackmailer in “The Woman in the Window” (1945)

a killer in “Criss Cross “ (1949)

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the Duryeas (Dan, Helen and 3 year old son Peter) had welcomed another son, Richard. Dan signed a contract at Universal for five years, bought a home and a acre on Mulholland Drive, took up gardening, built a clubhouse and a sailboat for the boys and became a scout leader. He even bought a 20-room apartment house and did all the maintenance himself. While Dan had no problem with his villainous image, he didn't want his boys to remember him as the guy who “took potshots at Gary Cooper”. Now is that any way for a gun-totin', sneaky sidewinder to behave?



He sows...

..and he reaps!

Out for a walk!

A family that laughs together

...and plays together!

Peter does “Star Trek” alone..

..and “Taggart” with his dad.


In 1948 Duryea came back and expanded the role of Leo Hubbard when he portrayed the character's father in Lillian Hellman's prequel Another Part Of the Forest at Universal-International. Dan also had his Universal contract revised to one film a year for four years so he could freelance to other studios. The Los Angeles Times called him “one of film's most memorable menaces. (Duryea) slew good guys with a sneer and belted heroines black and blue....and his female audiences loved every minute of it”.Ironically Dan did it all while living a squeaky clean existence on the home front. What he didn't realize at the time was that both boys would grow up and work in the industry...Peter as an actor and Richard as a talent agent!

Here are just a little more of our star!.....


Along Came Jones (1945)

Black Bart 1948

Winchester 73 (1950)

Ride Clear of Diablo (1954)

Night Passage (1957)

By the 1950s Dan was doing flawed, rough-around-the edges good guys or bad guys who found redemption in mid-level to low budget adventure films. He had also discovered television was another way to bring home the bacon. He received an Emmy nomination for his role in a General Electric Theater episode, gave a memorable performance as a broken-down gunfighter who got a second chance on “Twilight Zone”, and scored big on such favorite Western sagas as “Wagon Train”, “Rawhide” and “The Barbara Stanwyck Show”. From 1952 to 1954 he had his own series on CBS playing “China Smith”, a soldier of fortune in Singapore.


“The Underworld Story” with Herbert Marshall (1950)

“Chicago Calling” (1951)

On the road with James Stewart in “Thunder Bay”. (1953)

“Kathy O' “ with Patty McCormack(1958)

Teamed with Jimmy Stewart again in “ Flight of the Phoenix” (1965)......... and on television...

” China Smith “ his own series (1954-1956)

...and as Cliff Grundy on the “Wagon Train” series (1956-1957)


By the 1960s television had became Dan's main focus although he continued to work in features overseas, often B-pictures, in Italy and West Germany. But his fans still preferred his westerns like Taggart (1964) and The Bounty Killer (both with son Peter) and regular appearances on television favorites like Rawhide, Wagon Train, and Peyton Place. In 1965, he enjoyed one of his best film roles as a meek oil company accountant in Aldrich's "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965).

Then, on January 21st , 1967 Helen Bryan Duryea died from a heart ailment. Dan followed her sixteen months later on June 8th, 1968 after a failed cancer operation. He was 61 years old.They are both buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Dan Duryea 1907 – 1968

gravestones at Forest Lawn

In Memoriam...Peter Lane Duryea (1939 - 2013)


Peter Duryea appeared in six films and thirty television shows but finally rejected the fast-paced Hollywood lifestyle and moved to Canada in 1973. His obituary read “To most of the world, Peter Duryea was best known for a bit role (he played the Enterprise navigator in the pilot episode of ) the original Star Trek series. But on Kootenay Lake, he was a revered East Shore elder and environmentalist who fought against clearcut logging and started a now-thriving nature retreat.”

He is survived by his longtime partner, Jane Bryan with whom he shared a video production company, daughter Star and brother Richard. Peter is buried in Gray Creek,

British Columbia, Canada.