Myron Healey

'Wonderfully nasty' character actor


Myron Healey, actor: born Petaluma, California 8 June 1923; four times married (two daughters); died Burbank, California 21 December 2005.

Many character actors are known by name only to enthusiasts, but Myron Healey (whose death in December has just been made public) was so prolific that it is particularly surprising that he falls into that category - he is estimated to have appeared in over 160 feature films and twice that many television shows. With his deep voice and wily smile, he was often cast as the villain, particularly in westerns.

Born in Petaluma, California, in 1923, he appeared in high-school plays and sang on local radio as a teenager. He moved in the early Forties to Hollywood, where he studied acting and appeared in musicals for the Armed Forced Victory Committee.

Given a contract by MGM in 1942, he made his screen début with an unbilled bit part in the MGM musical Thousands Cheer (1943). In this all-star patriotic movie, he was featured in a station sequence near the start kissing his sweetheart goodbye in a way that prompts a solitary soldier (Gene Kelly) to kiss a girl he has never met before (Kathryn Grayson), launching the film's romantic plot.

Healey himself served in the Second World War from 1943 as an Air Corps navigator and bombardier. (After the war he continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve, retiring in the early 1960s as a captain.) Returning to Hollywood in 1945, he had difficulty finding work until signed by Monogram to appear in the string of westerns they were producing, starring Johnny Mack Brown, Jimmy Wakely and Whip Wilson.

His first film for Monogram was also his first as a villain, opposite Brown in Hidden Danger (1948). Healey's cads were notable for being clean-cut and shaven, sleeker and slicker than the average western bad guy.

He also worked as a writer and dialogue director, and wrote the script (including a juicy role for himself) for the Johnny Mack Brown film Colorado Ambush (1951), in which the star played a federal agent tracking down a gang who rob payroll stages. As the leader of the gang, Healey was described by one critic as "wonderfully nasty". Healey also provided the story for another Brown vehicle, Texas Lawmen (1951).

The demise of the "B" western in the Fifties led to more diverse acting roles in crime, war and science-fiction films. He was a post office clerk in Nicholas Ray's masterly thriller In a Lonely Place (1950), and a thug in Allan Dwan's film noir (in colour), Slightly Scarlet (1956). He had a notable "good guy" role (and co-star billing) in one of Republic Studio's last cliff-hanging serials, Panther Girl of the Kongo (1955), helping the heroine Phyllis Coates combat giant claw monsters (actually crayfish in miniature sets with a giant claw for an occasional close-up).

By this time Healey had become established as a regular performer on television, having made his small screen début in the series The Lone Ranger (1949-57). His numerous credits included such westerns as The Gene Autry Show, Cheyenne, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke and Bonanza, plus other shows such as Perry Mason, Sea Hunt and The Incredible Hulk.

He is particularly remembered for two roles in western shows - his taking over from Douglas Fowley as "Doc" Holliday in the popular series starring Hugh O'Brian, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1958-59), and his portrayal of a sadistic sergeant who gives Robert Horton 20 lashes with a bullwhip in an episode of Wagon Train titled "The Traitors" (1961).

During his big-screen career he appeared with many of Hollywood's principal western stars, including Randolph Scott in Shoot-out at Medicine Bend (1957), Barbara Stanwyck in Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), and John Wayne in both Rio Bravo (1959) and True Grit (1969).

He had a rare leading role in the monster movie Varan the Unbelievable (1962). In this production, which combined sequences from a Japanese movie, Daikaiju Baran, with new American scenes, Healey was a naval commander who goes to Japan to conduct scientific experiments in the ocean, awakening a prehistoric monster which sinks a ship and smashes a plane, and is heading for Tokyo when Healey devises a concoction of chemicals that kill the monster when shot into it.

Healey retired in 1988, but returned to acting to play a doctor in Little Giants (1994), a family film about a group of misfits who form a football team. Recently he had been appearing at film conventions and festivals to talk to fans, and stated that he enjoyed playing villains:

It's just plain interesting, the fact that you're not a nice guy. I enjoyed that much more than playing a hero.

Tom Vallance

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