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William Bendix (January 14, 1906 – December 14, 1964) was an Americanmarker film, radio, and television actor, remembered best for portraying clumsily earnest aircraft plant worker Chester A. Riley in radio and television's The Life of Riley.

Early life

Bendix, named for his paternal grandfather, was born in Manhattanmarker, New York Citymarker, the only son of Cleveland-born Oscar and London-born Hilda (née Carnell) Bendix. As a youth in the early 1920s, Bendix was a batboy for the New York Yankees and said he saw Babe Ruth hit more than a hundred home runs at Yankee Stadium. In 1927, he married Theresa Stefanotti. Bendix worked as a grocer until the Great Depression.

Film

Bendix began his acting career at age 30, by way of the New Jersey Federal Theater Project, and made his film debut in 1942. He played in supporting roles in dozens of Hollywoodmarker films, usually as a warm-hearted soldier, gangster or detective. He started with appearances in film noir films including a memorable performance in The Glass Key (1942), which also featured Brian Donlevy and Veronica Lake. He soon gained more attention after appearing in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) as Gus, a wounded and dying American sailor.

Bendix's other well-known movie roles include his portrayal of baseball player Babe Ruth in The Babe Ruth Story (1948) and Sir Sagramore opposite Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949), in which he took part in the famous trio, "Busy Doing Nothing". He also played Nick the bartender in the 1948 film version of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life starring James Cagney. Bendix had also appeared in the stage version, but in the role of Officer Krupp (a role played on film by Broderick Crawford).

Radio and Television

It was Bendix's appearance in The McGuerins of Brooklyn, playing a rugged blue-collar man, that led to his most famous role. Producer/creator Irving Brecher saw Bendix as the perfect personification of Chester A. Riley, giving a second chance to a show whose audition failed when the sponsor spurned Groucho Marx for the lead. With Bendix stumbling, bumbling, and skating almost perpetually on thin ice, stretching the patience of his otherwise loving wife and children, The Life of Riley was a radio hit from 1944 through 1951, and Bendix even brought an extended adaptation to Lux Radio Theater. He made Riley's frequent exclamation, "What a revoltin' development this is," into a national catchphrase.

Bendix wasn't able to play the role on television at first---a contracted film commitment prevented it. The role went to Jackie Gleason and the show aired a single season beginning in October 1949. Despite winning an Emmy award, the show ended, in part because Gleason wasn't entirely acceptable as Riley when Bendix was so identified with it on radio. But Bendix was available for a new television version in 1953, and this time the show clicked. The second television version of The Life of Riley ran from 1953 to 1958---long enough for Riley to become a grandfather.

On the 1952 television program This Is Your Life, it was claimed that he was a descendant of the 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn.

In 1958, Bendix played the lead role in Rod Serling's The Time Element. The Time Element was a time travel adventure about a man named Peter Jenson who travels back to Honolulu in 1941 and unsuccessfully tries to warn everyone about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1960, Bendix starred in seventeen episodes of the NBC western series Overland Trail in the role of Frederick Thomas "Fred" Kelly, the crusty superintendent of the Overland Stage Company. Doug McClure, later Trampass on NBC's The Virginian co-starred as his young understudy, Frank "Flip" Flippen. The program was similar to another offering on ABC the following season, Stagecoach West.

Death

Bendix died in Los Angelesmarker in 1964, the result of a chronic stomach ailment which brought on malnutrition and ultimately lobar pneumonia. He was interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemeterymarker. Bendix was survived by his wife Theresa and two children (Lorraine and Stephanie) from their 37 years of marriage.

Selected filmography





References

  • Smithsonian Collection: Old Time Radio All-Time Favourites, liner notes from audio cassette box set. Joe Bevilaqua. Radio Spirits: Schiller Park, 1994.
  • John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)


Notes



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