WITH his lanky frame and morose, craggy features Royal Dano rarely added cheerfulness to cinematic proceedings. Rather he was a harbinger of doom - a pessimistic preacher, a weary cowpoke or jaded killer.
One of those reliable Hollywood players, a veteran of over 70 films, whose face is more familiar than his name, Dano was a professionally respected actor who could add a touch of individuality and grim distinction to the most mundane photoplay. He also made a virtually separate career portraying Abraham Lincoln, and has been heard by thousands as the voice of the former President in the Lincoln exhibits in Disneyland and Disney World.
Born in 1922 in New York, he started his acting career in the theatre, making his Broadway debut as the businessman Mr Shears in the satirical hit musical Finian's Rainbow (1947). Most of his Broadway shows were failures (including another musical Three Wishes for Jamie in 1952), but in The Tall Kentuckian (1953) he portrayed Lincoln for the first time.
He entered films playing 'The Moocher', a Skid Row vagrant and contact for drug pushers in Undercover Girl (1950). Variety called his performance 'topnotch', and he made even greater impact as 'The Tattered Man' in John Huston's The Red Badge of Courage (1951), the much-edited but still impressive version of Stephen Crane's classic Civil War story. In Nicholas Ray's remarkable western Johnny Guitar (1954) he was the consumptive intellectual gang member who is killed when he tries to warn his boss of a traitor in their midst. He was a less sympathetic villain in Anthony Mann's Man of the West (1958) as a crazed mute who kills a harmless Mexican woman for no reason at all. A favourite of the director, he had roles in Mann's Bend of the River (1952), The Far Country (1955) and Cimarron (1960). He was Elijah in Huston's Moby Dick (1956) and had a rare noble role as Peter in Ray's King of Kings (1961).
In a television version of Huckleberry Finn (1975) he was an avuncular Mark Twain, but the same year played the more typical role of a death-obsessed artist in Willard Huyck's surreal zombie movie Messiah of Evil. A frequent guest star in television series such as Death Valley Days and Lost in Space, he continued acting until 1984, later films including The Outlaw Josey Wales (1977), The Right Stuff (1983) and Teachers (1984).