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Lew Ayres, born Lewis Frederick Ayres III (December 28, 1908 – December 30, 1996) was an American actor.


Ayres was born in Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker and reared in San Diego, Californiamarker, Ayres began acting in bit player roles in films in 1927. He was discovered in 1927 playing banjo in the Henry Halstead Orchestra as Halstead was recording one of the earliest Vitaphone movie shorts called Carnival Night in Paris (Warner Brothers, 1927). Ayres wrote, "I was a member of Henry Halstead's orchestra in 1927 at the Mission Beach Ballroom in San Diego, Californiamarker for the summer. My instruments were tenor banjo, long-neck banjo and guitar. After a hiatus, I rejoined Mr. Halstead with a new group, including Phil Harris, on New Year's Eve the same year for the opening night of the Beverly Wilshire Hotelmarker, a memorable occasion."

Ayres played opposite Greta Garbo in 1929's The Kiss, but it was his starring role in 1930's All Quiet on the Western Front which made him a star. Ayres was Janet Gaynor's leading man in Servants' Entrance (1934), which featured a combination of live action and Walt Disney animation in a musical dream sequence. He played the title role in Young Dr. Kildare in 1938 and became a matinee idol, starring in several Kildare films. During this time, Ayres also co-starred with Joan Crawford and James Stewart in The Ice Follies of 1939.

Mirroring his anti-war and medical roles in his film work, Ayres was a pacifist who sought to become a member of the Medical Corps during World War II. The military would not guarantee him that position, so he declared as a conscientious objector, and reported to a CPS camp. Having such a well-known public figure take this stance was poor publicity for the military, and it led to changes in the rules, at which point Ayres was then able to join the Medical Corps. He served in the Pacific theater and in New Guineamarker.

In 1948 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Johnny Belinda, but his career was sparse after the war. Costar Jane Wyman fell in love with Ayres and left her husband Ronald Reagan for him, albeit unsuccessfully.

In the summer of 1958, Ayers hosted eleven original episodes of a CBS Western anthology television series called Frontier Justice, a production of Dick Powell's Four Star Television. He was offered the part of Dr. Kildare in an NBC series, but his (now prescient) request that the show not have cigarette advertising torpedoed that. The part went in 1961 to Richard Chamberlain.

He played the role of the governor in the pilot episode of the TV CBS series, Hawaii Five-O. He chose not to move to Hawaii to do the series, but did appear in the show in other roles from time to time. He also had many guest roles in other television programs.

His 1976 documentary film Altars of the World brought his Eastern philosophical beliefs to the screen and earned him critical acclaim. Ayres' science-fiction roles included appearances in the second season of The Bionic Woman as a pacifist scientist, Dr. Elijah Cooper, in the 1977 two-part episode "Doomsday Is Tomorrow," and as a pacifist politician in the original Battlestar Galactica film in 1978.

Late in life, he appeared on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as the father of the Murray Slaughter character played by Gavin MacLeod. The episode involved Mary's May-November romance with Mr. Slaughter, Sr.


Ayres was married three times. He was married to actress Lola Lane from 1931 until 1933 and to actress Ginger Rogers from 1934 until 1940. His third marriage, to Diana Hall, lasted from 1964 until his death from complications while in a coma at the age of 88. They had one son, Justin, born in 1968.


In 1949 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Johnny Belinda. In 1975 he was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series in Kung Fu episode The Vanishing Image. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 6385 Hollywood Blvd.

Selected filmography


  1. Lyon, Christopher; Susan Doll and James Vinson. "Ayres, Lew." The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers Retrieved September 30, 2008.

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