Brian Donlevy

Biography: Waldo Bruce Donlevy (as he was born) began his life in Cleveland, Ohio* on February 9th, 1901. In 1916 he joined up with General Pershing's troops in the raid on Pancho Villa as a bugler and then (lying about his age ) he was a pilot under Lafayette Escadrille in World War I. His military "training" continued with two years at Annapolis in Maryland. But he gave that career up to become an actor.
His Hollywood career actually began in New York, where he did several stage plays and a few silent films. But his "break" came in 1935 with the role of Knuckles Jacoby, the tough guy all in black, in the Edward G. Robinson film "Barbary Coast". After that Brian hardly had a year where he didn't make a film (1936 saw him in seven films)! By 1939 he had received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role of the sadistic Sergeant Markoff in Paramount's remake of Beau Geste.
But unlike most celebrities of his day, Brian didn't "do the Hollywood scene". Oh, he'd
Waldo Bruce Donlevy (as he was born) began his life in Cleveland, Ohio* on February 9th, 1901. In 1916 he joined up with General Pershing's troops in the raid on Pancho Villa as a bugler and then (lying about his age ) he was a pilot under Lafayette Escadrille in World War I. His military "training" continued with two years at Annapolis in Maryland. But he gave that career up to become an actor.
His Hollywood career actually began in New York, where he did several stage plays and a few silent films. But his "break" came in 1935 with the role of Knuckles Jacoby, the tough guy all in black, in the Edward G. Robinson film "Barbary Coast". After that Brian hardly had a year where he didn't make a film (1936 saw him in seven films)! By 1939 he had received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role of the sadistic Sergeant Markoff in Paramount's remake of Beau Geste.
But unlike most celebrities of his day, Brian didn't "do the Hollywood scene". Oh, he'd attend a Hollywood premier now and then but not like his fellow thespians such as Errol Flynn or Humphrey Bogart. He stayed out of the public eye much like Don Ameche (whom he starred with in "In Old Chicago").

In 1936 Brian was married for the second time (his first marriage was to a New York showgirl that ended with a Las Vegas divorce). The second Mrs. Donlevy was a petite and young singer, Marjorie Lane. They divorced in 1947. That marriage produced Brian's only child, a lovely daughter, Judy. In 1966 Brian took his third wife, Lillian Lugosi (the ex-wife of Bela Lugosi). They were married until his death in 1972. Brian died of throat cancer that year in Woodland Hills, California. He was cremated and his ashes were spread over the Santa Monica Bay.
His divorce from Marjorie Lane was not a pleasant one. Ms. Lane had been caught by a private detective, hired by Brian, in a hotel room in compromising conditions. The divorce was dragged across the newspapers and caused great pain and embarrassment for Brian. While Brian did get custody of daughter, Judy, it seems that a rift was developed between them and the last verified information regarding this was that Judy did not communicate with her father after she was on her own. According to Brian's last wife, Lillian, Judy refused to see him while he was in the hospital, didn't attend the funeral nor contact Lillian after her father's death. It was reported that Judy stopped contact with her father when he refused to give her some money that she asked for (not having the funds to spare ... Brian died nearly penniless) but whether or not this is the true reason remains a mystery.
Brian Donlevy's "tough guy with a soft side" image is as original as they come. He had an ability to do everything from drama to comedy, westerns to war films, to science fiction. He was definitely a Super Star that, due to Hollywood's view of what a leading man should be, never made it out of supporting roles (which is odd as he was a very handsome man; tanned and muscular with a hairy chest, piercing grey/blue eyes and a broad, flashing smile). Even though he proved himself more than capable of handling leading roles (as is evident in the 1940 comedy "The Great McGinty" and the 1939 drama "Behind Prison Gates" as well as the 1949 film "Impact") Hollywood never "saw it" in him. And being shorter than the average leading man of his day (such as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and Clark Gable) Brian was not considered "leading man material". His stocky build and, at times, gruff voice made him perfect for the tough-guy "heavies". But from the mid 1920s to 1961 he made over 89 films and more than proved his ability to handle the title that he rightfully earned ... "SUPER STAR."
Bio by: J. Byron Dean
© 1996-2004
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