Dick Simmons

Star of 'Sergeant Preston of the Yukon'

Richard W. Simmons, actor: born St Paul, Minnesota 19 August 1913; three times married (one son, one daughter); died Oceanside, California 11 January 2003.

Dick Simmons was a familiar figure to cinemagoers of the Forties and Fifties, appearing in over 50 features, though nearly always in supporting roles. It was television that eventually made him a star in 1955, when he played the leading role of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman in the series Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Handsome, square-jawed and sturdy, he cut a dashing figure as he tracked criminals across the frozen North in his broad-brimmed hat and scarlet uniform.

Born in St Paul, Minnesota, in 1913, Simmons attended the University of Minnesota where he studied drama. His passion, though, was aviation, and as a boy he cleaned hangars at a nearby airport and persuaded the owner to teach him to fly. He graduated during the Depression, and decided to see the United States by stowing away on freight trains, visiting Mexico and South America and taking jobs as ranch hand, rodeo rider and seaman on a tanker.

In Los Angeles he worked as a parking attendant until, while fencing at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, he was spotted by a talent scout for the producer David O. Selznick, who needed a double to perform Ronald Colman's fencing scenes in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). The experience set Simmons on a show-business career, and he played his first acting role in A Million to One (1937). His rich baritone voice brought him considerable work on radio and as an MC.

Film work was sporadic, including small parts in One Million BC (1940) and Sergeant York (1941), but whenever there was no acting offer he returned to flying. He was a member of the Army Air Corps Reserves and worked as a commercial pilot for Northwest Airlines. Then, in 1942, while he was on holiday at a dude ranch, Louis B. Mayer spotted him riding a frisky stallion and offered him a contract at MGM.

He had one of his better earlier roles in Pilot No 5 (1943) as one of five pilots being considered for a suicide mission. A more typical role was that of an Army captain who unsuccessfully tries to woo a singer (Kathryn Grayson) who loves a private (Gene Kelly) in Thousands Cheer (1943). Simmons was then called to do war service, and flew as a fighter pilot in England.

After the Second World War, he featured on hundreds of radio shows, and on screen was given one of his most memorable roles, that of the gigolo with a Southern drawl in Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake (1946). In Love Finds Andy Hardy (1946) he actually got the girl – winning Bonita Granville from the star Mickey Rooney.

Simmons had an unusual assignment in George Sidney's The Three Musketeers (1948). As the lisping fop Count de Wardes he had only one scene, but his voice in it was dubbed by the picture's star Gene Kelly, so that later Kelly (as D'Artagnan) could convincingly impersonate the Count in a night-time tryst with the evil Milady de Winter (Lana Turner). He had another good role in The Well (1951), a moving plea for racial tolerance in which he was a sheriff's deputy organising the rescue of a little black girl who has fallen into a well.

Nineteen fifty-four was the year in which Simmons finally achieved star billing (albeit as Richard Simmons) in Republic's serial Man with the Steel Whip. With his hair darkened, he played the Zorro-like black-masked hero El Latigo.

The following year Simmons was given the role with which he is most closely identified, in Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, which ran on television from 1955 to 1958. Aided only by his black horse Rex and his malamute dog Yukon King, Preston single-handedly enforced law and order each week on the Canadian frontier, ending each show with the words, "Well King, this case is closed." Simmons also directed several of the 30-minute episodes.

Throughout the Sixties, he appeared in countless television shows, and hosted 100 episodes of the true-life series Adventure Calls. A helicopter crash which broke his back and both legs interrupted his acting career, and his last role was in the television movie Don't Push, I'll Charge When I'm Ready (1977).

Tom Vallance

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star