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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor (Magazine Publishing) - Wimbledon - £23-26K

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor - Wimbledon...

Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publishing) - Wimbledon - £26-30K

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publish...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests