Craggy-faced, athletic veteran character actor who played hard-bitten or menacing types in numerous westerns and crime dramas. One of five brothers, Woodward grew up in Arlington, Texas. He had a keen interest in aviation early on and took flying lessons from 1941, getting his pilot’s license and subsequently served in both World War II (Army Air Corps) and Korea (Military Air Transport Command). Woodward first acted at Arlington State College, majoring in music and drama. He appeared for a while with the Margo Jones Repertory Theatre ’47 in Dallas and then went back to study for a degree in corporate finance at the University of Texas, graduating in 1948. At one time, he sang with a jazz band and as a member of a barber shop quartet as well as having a regular weekly gig as a talk show host on local radio. Possessed of a powerful bass-baritone voice, Woodward’s ultimate ambition had been to sing for the Metropolitan Opera. That didn’t pan out. Neither did his hope that moving to Hollywood in 1955 might open the door to a career in musicals. Instead, he successfully auditioned at Disney for The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), followed by a part in the western pioneer saga Westward Ho, the Wagons! (1956). His first big break was as co-star opposite Hugh O’Brian in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955), playing the role of Earp’s deputy Shotgun Gibbs for four seasons. This effectively typecast him as a western genre actor with a record number of guest spots on Gunsmoke (1955) and Wagon Train (1957). Nonetheless, his most famous role was that of “”the man with no eyes”, a sinister chain gang overseer in Cool Hand Luke (1967), distinguished by perpetually wearing reflective sunglasses. He also made two appearances on Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) (most famously as Simon Van Gelder, the first human with whom Spock ‘mind melds’) and played the shrewd Armani-suited oil tycoon Punk Anderson in 55 episodes of Dallas (1978).
Thomas Morgan Woodward was awarded the Golden Boot Award from the Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Fund in August 1988. In 2009, he became an inductee into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Privately, he was a respected authority on Early American Aircraft. According to his website, his main hobby was “restoring, rebuilding and flying antique airplanes”.
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