The name may have you scratchin’ your head a bit while searchin’ for your nearby trivia book, but oh…that intimidating face is so familiar. Peter Whitney’s over-powering frame, swarthy looks, bushy brows and maniacal look in his eye made him one of the most fearsome character actors to lump around in 40s, 50s and 60s film and TV. Born May 24, 1916 in New Jersey, Peter was of German ancestry and educated at Exeter Academy. He eventually moved to the Los Angeles area and trained with the Pasadena Community Playhouse, gaining valuable experience in summer stock as well. He made a play for films in the early 40s, deciding also to use his wife Adrienne’s middle name for his own stage moniker. His real name he felt sounded too German and might be detrimental to his WWII-era career. He and Adrienne went on to have three children. His mammoth features and pudding-like puss reminded one easily of a Charles Laughton without table manners.
He started his supporting career off promisingly at Warner Bros. at the outbreak of America’s involvement in WWII showing fine potential in such films as Underground (1941), his debut, Nine Lives Are Not Enough (1941) and Blues in the Night (1941) as assorted henchmen, cronies and just downright mean guys. Taking part in “A” quality casts such as in Action in the North Atlantic (1943) and Mr. Skeffington (1944), Peter played two of his most notorious roles at war’s end, that of murderous hillbilly twins Mert and Bert Fleagle in the riotous Fred MacMurray comedy Murder, He Says (1945) and as Peter Lorre’s seedy partner in the film noir Three Strangers (1946). Peter broke off from Warners in the post-war years but still yielded some fine entertainment with roles in such “B” fare as The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946), Blonde Alibi (1946), and an odd, romantic turn as Lt. Gates in the creepy Rondo Hatton crimer The Brute Man (1946).
In the mid-50s, TV took over a larger portion of Peter’s career. His imposing mug was featured in about every popular western and crime drama there was including “Gunsmoke,” “Wagon Train,” “The Rifleman,” “Bonanza,” “Perry Mason” and “Peter Gunn.” He finally cut loose a bit and spoofed his own grubby rube image with guest turns on such bucolic series as “Petticoat Junction” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the latter playing a greedy ne’er-do-well fellow rustic. His obesity may have triggered an early fatal heart attack at age 55 in 1972, which robbed Hollywood of a wonderfully unappetizing and scurrilous character actor. In addition to his wife and children, Peter was survived by four grandchildren
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