William Devane, the movie and television actor, was born in Albany, New York, the son of Joseph Devane, who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s chauffeur when he was Governor of New York. After graduating from New York City’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he appeared on-stage. He finally made his Broadway debut in “The Watering Place” with Shirley Knight, a flop that lasted but one performance. (He was more successful with “The Chinese and Dr. Fish” during the 1970 season, which lasted three weeks. His sole Broadway directorial effort, the Vietnam War drama “G. R. Point,” lasted for 32 performances in 1979 and brought Michael Jeter a 1979 Theatre World Award.)
He made his movie debut as a revolutionary in the independently produced In the Country (1967) and began appearing on series TV. He had a small but memorable part as the lawyer committed to free-enterprise in Robert Altman’s masterpiece McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) in 1971, but what made his reputation was his turn as President John F. Kennedy in the The Missiles of October (1974), a 1973 telefilm about the Cuban Missile Crisis. He made a bid for stardom with major roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot (1976) and John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) (both 1976) and The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977) (1977), as well as roles in Schlesinger’s Yanks (1979) and the TV adaptation of James Jones’ classic barracks drama From Here to Eternity (1979). However, any chances for a successful movie career essentially were doomed by the monumental failure of Schlesinger’s comedy Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), one of the great flops its time, bringing in only $2 million at the box office against a $24 million budget. Devane moved over to nighttime series TV, playing the cad Greg Sumner on the night-time soap opera Knots Landing (1979) for 10 years.
Because of his resemblance to President Kennedy and his ability to master a Kennedyesque Boston accent, Devane continues to be in demand as politicians, including presidents, in such shows as The West Wing (1999), 24 (2001), and Stargate SG-1 (1997).
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