A rather wanderlust fellow before he latched onto acting, Denver Pyle–who made a career of playing drawling, somewhat slow Southern types–was actually born in Colorado in 1920, to a farming family. He attended a university for a time but dropped out to become a drummer. When that didn’t pan out he drifted from job to job, doing everything from working the oil fields in Oklahoma to the shrimp boats in Texas. In 1940 he moseyed off to Los Angeles and briefly found employment as a (somewhat unlikely) NBC page. That particular career was interrupted by World War II, and Pyle enlisted in the navy. Wounded in the battle of Guadalcanal, he received a medical discharge in 1943. Working for an aircraft plant in Los Angeles as a riveter, the rangy actor was introduced to the entertainment field after receiving a role in an amateur theater production and getting spotted by a talent scout. Training with such renowned teachers as Maria Ouspenskaya and Michael Chekhov, he made his film debut in The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947). Pyle went on to roles in hundreds of film and TV parts, bringing a touch of Western authenticity to many of his roles. A minor villain or sidekick in the early 1950s, he often received no billing. Prematurely white-haired (a family trait), he became a familiar face on episodes of Gunsmoke (1955) and Bonanza (1959) and also developed a close association with actor John Wayne, appearing in many of Wayne’s later films, including The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Alamo (1960), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973). Pyle’s more important movie roles came late in his career. One of his most memorable was in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) as Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, the handcuffed hostage of the duo, who spits in Bonnie’s (Faye Dunaway) face after she coyly poses with him for a camera shot. He settled easily into hillbilly/mountain men types in his later years and became a household face for his crotchety presence in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1977) and, especially, The Dukes of Hazzard (1979). He died of lung cancer at age 77.
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