Charismatic character star Edward James Begley was born in Hartford, Connecticut of Irish parents and educated at St.Patrick’s school. His interest in acting first surfaced at the age of nine, when he performed amateur theatricals at the Hartford Globe Theatre. Determined to make his own way, he left home aged eleven and drifted from job to job, had a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, then worked in a bowling alley replacing pins, joined carnivals and circuses. In 1931, he appeared in vaudeville and was also hired as a radio announcer, his voice broadcast to nationwide audiences. It took him several years to establish himself on the legitimate stage, but in 1943, he had a role in the short-running play ‘Land of Fame’.
His first success was the 1947 Arthur Miller play ‘All My Sons’ and this was followed by the 1925 Scopes Trial fictionalisation ‘Inherit the Wind’ (1955-57), which ran for 806 performances at the National Theatre. Ed, co-starring with Paul Muni, played the part of Matthew Harrison Brady (played in the 1960 motion picture by Fredric March) and won the 1956 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Upon Paul Muni’s departure from the cast, Ed used the opportunity to play the part of Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy’s role in the film) with equal vigour. In 1960, he starred as Senator Orrin Knox in the political drama ‘Advise and Consent’. Ed’s movie career began with Boomerang! (1947), a murder mystery set in his native Connecticut, directed by Elia Kazan. Heavy-set and with bushy eyebrows, the archetypal image of Ed Begley on screen is as a gruff, blustery, often heavily sweating (and sometimes corrupt) politician or industrialist. He proved his mettle in a number of classic films, including Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) and On Dangerous Ground (1951). Whether as the sympathetic executive in Patterns (1956), a bigoted ex-cop turned bank robber in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), or the crazed billionaire bent on world domination of Billion Dollar Brain (1967), he tackled every part that came his way with conviction. The culmination of his work was a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role of Boss Finley in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth (1962). In addition to countless radio broadcasts, Ed was also busy in television in the 1950’s and 60’s. Among frequent guest starring appearances, his dynamic characterisations in two episodes of The Invaders (1967) (‘The Betrayed’ and ‘Labyrinth’) stand out in particular. Ed Begley died of a heart attack in April 1970 in Hollywood at the age of 69.
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