John Arthur Kennedy
February 17, 1914
Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||January 5, 1990 (aged 75)|
Branford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Education||Carnegie Mellon University (BFA)|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Cheffey (1938–1975)|
John Arthur Kennedy (February 17, 1914 – January 5, 1990) was an American stage and film actor known for his versatility in supporting film roles and his ability to create "an exceptional honesty and naturalness on stage", especially in the original casts of Arthur Miller plays on Broadway. He won the 1949 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Miller's Death of a Salesman. He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for the 1955 film Trial, and was a five-time Academy Award nominee.
Kennedy was born on February 17, 1914, in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Helen (née Thompson) and John Timothy "J.T." Kennedy, a dentist. He attended South High School, Worcester and Worcester Academy. He studied drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, graduating with a B.A. in 1934.
Kennedy moved to New York City and, billed as John Kennedy, joined the Group Theatre. He then toured with a classical repertory company. In September 1937, he made his Broadway debut as Bushy in Maurice Evans' Richard II at the St. James Theatre. In 1939 he played Sir Richard Vernon in Evans' Henry IV, Part 1.
Kennedy made his entry into films when he was discovered by James Cagney. His first film role was of Cagney's younger brother in City for Conquest in 1940. He was equally adept as hero or villain, and was noted for his mastery of complex, multifaceted roles. He appeared in many Western films and police dramas.
During World War II, Kennedy served from 1943 to 1945 in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) making aviation training films, both as a narrator and an actor. Many of those films serve as historical records of how aviators were trained and flight equipment was operated.
Kennedy appeared in many notable films from the early 1940s through mid-1960s, including High Sierra, Champion, They Died with Their Boots On, The Glass Menagerie, The Desperate Hours, Trial, Peyton Place, Some Came Running, A Summer Place, Elmer Gantry, The Man from Laramie, Barabbas, Lawrence of Arabia, Nevada Smith and Fantastic Voyage.
Of Kennedy's film work, he is perhaps best-remembered for his collaborations with director Anthony Mann and co-star James Stewart on Bend of the River (1952) and The Man from Laramie (1955), in both of which he played sympathetic villains. Kennedy also enjoyed film success in England during the 1950s, usually playing the lead role in b-movies whenever an American character was needed. He played mostly laid-back ladies' men, avuncular husband types or down-on-their—luck con men chancing it in the UK.
He also enjoyed a distinguished stage career over the same period, receiving a Tony Award for his role of Biff Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949). He inaugurated three other major characters in Miller plays: Chris Keller in All My Sons (1947), John Proctor in The Crucible (1953) and Walter Franz in The Price (1968). In 1961 he played the title role in Becket, opposite Laurence Olivier as Henry II.
On February 5, 1959, Kennedy appeared on the episode "Make It Look Good" of CBS's Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre.
In 1974, Kennedy was a regular on the short-lived ABC police drama Nakia, as Sheriff Sam Jericho.
With the death of his wife in 1975, failing eyesight, alcoholism, and thyroid cancer, Kennedy was reported as having lost interest in filmmaking. After Covert Action (1978), his next films were The Humanoid (1979) and Signs of Life (1989).
In 1949, Kennedy won a Tony Award for best supporting actor as Biff in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman at the Morosco Theatre.
The New York Film Critics named him Best Actor for Bright Victory (1951).
His performance in Trial won him a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.
His portrayal of the newspaper reporter in Elmer Gantry (1960) gained him a Film Daily Award and a Limelight Award.
Kennedy, Claude Rains, Robert Duvall, Jeff Bridges and Al Pacino share the record of four losing nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, although Duvall, Bridges and Pacino have all won for Best Actor. Kennedy also received a nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Bright Victory (1951).
|1949||Best Supporting Actor||Champion||Dean Jagger – Twelve O'Clock High|
|1951||Best Actor||Bright Victory||Humphrey Bogart – The African Queen|
|1955||Best Supporting Actor||Trial||Jack Lemmon – Mister Roberts|
|1957||Best Supporting Actor||Peyton Place||Red Buttons – Sayonara|
|1958||Best Supporting Actor||Some Came Running||Burl Ives – The Big Country|
Kennedy married Mary Cheffey (1915–1975) in March 1938. They had two children: actress Laurie Kennedy and Terence.
During the last years of his life, Kennedy had thyroid cancer and eye disease. He spent much of his later life in Savannah, Georgia, out of the public eye. He died in 1990 in Branford, Connecticut of a brain tumor. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, near his home at Lequille, Nova Scotia, Canada; his wife Mary is also buried there.