John Vivyan
John R. Vukayan

(1915-05-31)May 31, 1915
DiedDecember 20, 1983(1983-12-20) (aged 68)
EducationAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1946–1983
Military career
Allegiance United States
U.S. Army
Years of service1941–1944
Service number36017866
Unit132nd Infantry Regiment

John Vivyan (May 31, 1915 – December 20, 1983)[1] was an American stage and television actor, who was best known for portraying the title character in the television series Mr. Lucky.

Early life

John Vivyan was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, apparently to parents of Serbian background.[2] There is very little information about his family or early life prior to his military service.

According to a later interview, his family moved to Chicago when he was still an infant.[3] He attended the Serbian Orthodox Church on Schiller Street as a boy, where he sang in the choir.[4] After a year at Lake View High School,[5] he dropped out to start work. He was employed by the Continental Can Company in Chicago during October 1940, when he registered for the draft as John Vukayan.[2] The Draft Registrar recorded him as being 6'3" and weighing 185 pounds, with brown eyes and hair, and a scar on his forehead.[2]

Military service

Two months before his 26th birthday, on April 8, 1941, he enlisted in the US Army.[6] His enlistment papers carried the name "John R. Vukayan", and noted he was a citizen, single, had completed one year of high school, and was semi-skilled in metal working.[6] He was assigned to the 132nd Infantry Regiment (Illinois National Guard), which deployed overseas to Australia in January 1942. From there his regiment moved to New Caledonia in March 1942, eventually forming part of the Americal Division. John's regiment was sent to take part in the Battle of Guadalcanal on December 8, 1942, and within a week was engaged in fighting off Japanese infiltrators. John was a corporal[7] with Company E of the 2nd Battalion, which was thrown into the Battle for Mt Austen on January 2, 1943. The battalion suffered heavy casualties during the fighting, one of whom was John, his left leg hit by gunfire.[8]

Evacuated from the Solomon Islands on January 6, 1943, he would spend the next fourteen months in Army hospitals recovering from his wounds.[8] He later recounted that the Army doctors had several times considered amputating the leg.[9] He was eventually moved stateside to a hospital in Michigan, where he recalled meeting actress Loretta Young when she visited wounded soldiers.[10] Awarded a Purple Heart[7] and Bronze Star[11][12] he was judged unfit for further active service and was discharged from the Army on March 23, 1944.[13] The injury to his left leg would continue to bother him and limit his physical activity for years to come.[5]

Early stage career

While pondering his career options during his long convalescence, John became interested in the theater.[5] In June 1946 he starts appearing as "John Vivyan" among the cast of the Barter Theatre group's junior company, at the "Barter Colony" near Abingdon, Virginia.[14] The circumstances of his adopting the stage name are not known, and from later sources it is apparent he retained "John R. Vukayan" as his legal name until at least 1960.[15] [16]

The Barter Theatre provided free room and board for prospective actors but no pay. When not performing, they were expected to help out with sets, lighting, and costumes, as well as work in the lodging and cafeteria used by the troupe. It was a lifestyle that appealed to many recently discharged veterans, thirty-six of whom, including John Vivyan, were inducted into the American Legion at a ceremony in July 1946.[17] Performances had short runs, often no more than two evenings and a matinee. At the time, the Barter Theatre group had no venue of its own, so plays were performed at the Municipal Theatre in nearby Abingdon. The Barter Theatre performers also entertained at local social clubs; John Vivyan sang Serbian folk songs at one such event.[18]

John Vivyan finished out his time with the Barter Theatre group during a 1946-47 winter tour of Virginia and South Carolina, in which the troupe alternated the plays Arms and the Man and Much Ado About Nothing.[19] [20]

Summer stock and New York television

Sometime during 1947 John Vivyan moved to Manhattan.[21] He used his G.I. Bill money to pay for lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts there.[22] After graduating, however, he was unable to find any acting jobs. He later told an interviewer that this was a grim period in his life.[21] He scraped by on doing summer stock theatre, performing work disdained by established actors for its low pay and grueling pace.

He also found work in the new television industry, doing a couple of minor roles each year from 1949 thru 1954.[9] New York City was a creative center for early live television, particularly anthology series, which featured a new story and cast with each episode. Film actors disliked the pressure of performing live, so an out of work stage actor had an advantage.

After years of near obscurity, John Vivyan caught a break in 1952. He was cast opposite June Havoc in a summer touring company production of W. Somerset Maugham's Rain.[23] This two month tour provided John Vivyan with the time to hone his portrayal of the unfortunate Rev. Davidson, drawing good reviews in several cities. He followed this success with a late summer engagement in a Noel Coward play, On Approval, with the popular Arthur Treacher casting reflected glory on his younger co-star.[24]

Following these off-season successes, John Vivyan landed a role in a high season production of a recent Broadway musical. Joan Blondell was the star of a multi-city tour for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with John playing her romantic interest.[25] The tour opened in Bridgeport, went to Boston and Washington, D. C., before finishing in Chicago.[26][27][28] At the latter, the local paper noted he attended services and sang with the choir at the same Serbian Orthodox Church to which he belonged growing up.[4]

The following years were less successful. John had only a few weeks acting during August 1953 with the musical Lady in the Dark, performed al fresco at Pitt Stadium, which starred Billie Worth and included Lee Bergere and a young Shirley Jones among the cast.[29] This was followed by an even quicker stint in a new play about the United Nations, called The Paradise Question. Starring Leon Ames, the show lasted only two weeks in New Haven, Connecticut and Philadelphia.[30] [31]

West Coast television

During 1954-56 John Vivyan did a few television shows on the West Coast, even as his New York TV work seemed to dry up. He also had an uncredited role in his first film, a Hitchcock docudrama called The Wrong Man. He still traveled between the coasts for stage work, but that ceased with 1957, when he did episodes of eight television shows in Hollywood, followed by eight more in 1958. From then on he resided permanently in Southern California.

Where his stage roles had largely seen him play lovers, his television roles were at first as victims[9] and then heavies.[21] By 1959 his schedule was filled with TV roles, on a dozen different series, with many featuring multiple appearances. He also did a second film, Imitation of Life, before being cast as the star in a new Blake Edwards series.[32]

He thrived on the fast pace and handling different characters, but faced a physical challenge with the many Western shows he was doing. He had no prior experience at riding a horse, and the necessity for a rider's left leg being the focal point for mounting and dismounting limited his ability to do so. More than one producer solved the problem by putting his character into a horse-drawn buggy instead.[33]

Mr. Lucky

Main article: Mr. Lucky (TV series)

Producer Blake Edwards had a hit with his unconventional TV detective show Peter Gunn in 1958-59, and decided to create another show around an equally unlikely protagonist. For the 1959-60 television season he sold CBS and two sponsors on Mr. Lucky, a professional gambler who helped out others. As with Peter Gunn actor Craig Stevens, John Vivyan was cast by Edwards for the way his appearance and style suggested film star Cary Grant. Edwards even took both lead actors to his own tailor, to make sure their clothes projected a debonair style.[34] John Vivyan's own comment to an interviewer was "Nobody said I looked like Grant before this series".[35]

The show was an immediate success, helped considerably by the Henry Mancini theme music and the presence of actor Ross Martin as "Andamo", Mr. Lucky's sidekick. Mr. Lucky had his gambling operation on a yacht called Fortuna II, anchored just beyond the then 3 mile legal limit for a major California port. Tom Brown played "Lt. Rovacs", a police officer who was grudgingly helpful to Mr. Lucky and Andamo.

Pippa Scott played a recurring character who served as Mr Lucky's occasional love interest. Off-camera, she reportedly called John Vivyan "Vookie", as a teasing reference to his real last name and the then popular character of "Kookie" on 77 Sunset Strip.[36] The real name of the character Mr. Lucky was never heard during the series, though a CBS network press release announcing a mid-season format change identified it as "Lucky Santell".[37]

The show used a former Las Vegas casino dealer named Joe Scott as the technical advisor for gambling.[38] He also played a dealer on the Fortuna II then its maitre d' after the casino yacht was converted to a restaurant.

Despite critical acclaim[39] and high ratings,[21] Mr. Lucky fell off the CBS schedule for the coming fall season.[40] Newspaper columnists offered several possible reasons, and for a while there was an effort by the producers to sell the show to other networks, but to no avail. Almost as soon as he became a star,[41] John Vivyan was no longer one.

Later career and life

John had once complained to a columnist that being on CBS limited the guest spots he could accept to that network's own shows.[40] Having gone through lean periods he was inclined to pursue performing opportunities whenever they arose. Following the cancellation of Mr. Lucky, he resumed doing stage work in between television shows. He also did another film, Rider on a Dead Horse (1962), and voice-over work for an animated short in 1963. He had a brief recurring role as the gangster Lepke Buchalter on The Lawless Years, but most of his other television work was for single appearances. These tapered off quickly to two or three shows a year, then became more infrequent as John Vivyan turned fifty in 1965. His stage work also ceased about the same time.

He did no performing work for seven years after open heart surgery, at age sixty, in 1975.[22] He then resumed doing television in 1982, appearing on commercials and an episode each of two popular shows, WKRP in Cinncinati and Simon & Simon. The latter show was broadcast just two weeks before he died of heart failure at Santa Monica Hospital on December 20, 1983.[22]

Personal life

John Vivyan told a newspaper columnist that he had tried marriage once, but it didn't work out.[12] There is no readily-available public record of his marriage, and he continued to be regarded as an eligible bachelor while active in show business.[42] During 1958 he dated Ellen Powell, the daughter of Joan Blondell and Dick Powell.[43] Later he was said to occasionally date actress Nita Talbot among others.[44]

According to newspapers, he owned a cabin cruiser which he used for deep sea fishing.[42] He lived in a modest apartment on Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood during most of his peak popularity. His main hobby was woodworking, and hand restoring old furniture that he would buy from second-hand shops.[42] He told an interviewer that he hadn't gambled since his Army days as "I get no kicks out of it".[12]

Stage performances

Listed by year of first performance
Year Play Role Venue Notes
1946 Stage Door Keith Burgess Barter Theatre His first credited performance; a reviewer placed him in a different role, that of "David Kingsley"[14][45]
My Sister Eileen Wreck Loomis Barter Theatre A co-star in this production was USN veteran and future character actor Karl Lukas[46]
Arms and the Man Russian Officer Barter Theatre Governor William Tuck attended this revival performance[47] [48]
Much Ado About Nothing Balthasar / Third Watch Barter Theatre Both John Vivyan and Karl Lukas doubled up on parts in this staging[49]
1950 Two Blind Mice Tommy Thurston Chapel Playhouse, Guilford His first leading role, for a summer stock production [50]
Life With Father Chapel Playhouse, Guilford [51]
Goodbye, My Fancy Matt Cole Chapel Playhouse, Guilford From the 1948 Broadway hit written by Fay Kanin[52]
Born Yesterday Paul Verrell Chapel Playhouse, Guilford [53]
Harvey Dr. Sanderson Chapel Playhouse, Guilford [54]
You Have To Be Crazy Ned Vernon Chapel Playhouse, Guilford Written by the Chapel Playhouse's director, Charlotte Buchwald[55]
Private Lives Elyot Chapel Playhouse, Guilford John Vivyan's grueling summer ended with his seventh major role [56]
1952 Rain Rev. Henry Davidson Summer Circuit Tour June Havoc starred in this production of the 1922 Broadway play[23]
On Approval Richard Halton Casino Theatre, Newport Following a two month tour, Vivyan did this week-long engagement[24]
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Harry Touring Company Vivyan played opposite Joan Blondell in a tour of major cities[26] [25] [27]
1953 Lady in the Dark Randy Curtis Pitt Stadium Billie Worth was the star for this production of the 1941 Broadway musical[29]
The Paradise Question Abdullah Ibn Rashid Touring Company Leon Ames headed the cast in this original production[30][31]
1954 Wish You Were Here Pinky Harris Music Hall at Fair Park Summer production for the Texas State Fair starred Gale Storm[9]
1955 Starlight, Star Bright Westport_Country_Playhouse Terry Moore starred in this original production[57]
Oh Men! Oh Women! Arthur Turner Clinton Playhouse, CT Walter Abel starred in this adaption from the Broadway hit[58]
Wish You Were Here Pinky Harris Music Circus This was John's second time playing this role[59]
1963 Tchin-Tchin Caesario Grimaldi Touring Company With co-star Martha Scott this production played Miami and Los Angeles
1964 Tovarich Mikail Music Hall at Fair Park He had second billing to star Ginger Rogers in this musical


Film (by year of first release)
Year Title Role Notes
1956 The Wrong Man Det. Holman An uncredited part in a Hitchcock docudrama was his first known film role
1959 Imitation of Life Young Man
1962 Rider on a Dead Horse Hayden
1963 The Plain Man's Guide to Advertising (Voice) An animated short
Television (in original broadcast order)
Year Series Episode Role Notes
1949 Studio One Two Sharp Knives Policeman New York based anthology series
1950 Studio One Give Us Our Dream Based on a 1947 novel, it starred Josephine Hull[9]
1950-51 Martin Kane, Private Eye 3 Episodes That he did three episodes is known only from later interviews[9][12]
1952 Celanese Theater The Petrified Forest Gangster He was uncredited in this New York based anthology series[9]
Man Against Crime Vivyan's character was killed by mobsters[9]
1953 Omnibus A Lodging For The Night Starred Yul Brynner, Vivyan played murder victem[9]
Rocket Rangers His character suffers a broken neck[9]
1954 Robert Montgomery Presents The Pink Hippopotamus His character is gunned down by Russian soldiers[9]
Justice His last known New York TV work[9]
The Jack Benny Program His first known West Coast TV work had him play a drunk[9]
1955 Producers' Showcase Cyrano de Bergerac A live color production that starred Jose Ferrer
1956 Matinee Theatre The Password Elena Verdugo was his co-star[60]
1957 Dr. Christian The Bite Brother Jonas
Highway Patrol Nitro Richard Goff
The Joseph Cotten Show Alibi For Murder Harry
State Trooper Safe on a Boat Gil Henderson
The Millionaire The Laura Hunter Story Bart Hewitt
The Loretta Young Show The Little Witness Mack Barron
Maverick The Quick and the Dead John Stacey
Tombstone Territory Desert Survival Glade Rafferty
1958 Colt .45 Mirage George F. Foley
Sugarfoot Deadlock Victor Valla
Maverick Blackfire Cousin Millard
Adventures of Superman The Gentle Monster Duke
Harbor Command The Psychiatrist Leon Faulkner
Maverick The Judas Mask Walter Osbourne
Walt Disney Presents Ambush in Laredo Marlowe An uncredited role in this installment of Disney's Texas John Slaughter
Rough Riders The Counterfeiters Brink Mantell
1959 The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp Last Stand at Smokey Hill Hoarce Collins
77 Sunset Strip The Girl Who Couldn't Remember Mitch Abercrombie
Yancy Derringer Duel at the Oaks Charles LeBow
Rawhide Incident of the Dog Days Toby Clark
Bat Masterson A Matter of Honor Chip Grimes
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp Dodge Is Civilized Mike DeGraff
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp Kelly Was Irish Mike DeGraff
The Texan The Smiling Loser George Nolan
Mackenzie's Raiders Ambush Sam Bates
The Lawless Years Four the Hard Way Big Ziggy Adams
Men into Space Moon Probe Ground Controller
The Lawless Years The Big Greeny Story Lepke
Tombstone Territory Red Terror of Tombstone Howard Mansfield
Not For Hire The Soldier's Story Bruno
Mr. Lucky (All 34 Episodes) Mr. Lucky Weekly on Saturday evenings from Oct 24, 1959 thru June 18, 1960
The Lawless Years The Big Man Louis Otto
Walt Disney Presents The Robber Stallion Jason Hemp Another role in Disney's Texas John Slaughter
Walt Disney Presents Wild Horse Revenge Jason Hemp Continuation of Disney's Texas John Slaughter
Maverick A Cure For Johnny Rain Tinhorn
1960 Lock Up Poker Club Tony Alden
Bat Masterson The Hunter Sir Edward Marston
The Dinah Shore Chevy Show Arabian Nights Sinbad the Sailor
1961 Death Valley Days The Lady Was an M.D. Ed Taylor
The Lawless Years Louy K:Part 2 Sing Sing Lepke
Louy K:Part 3 Birth of the Organization Lepke
Louy K:Part 4 Heydays of the Organization Lepke
Louy K:Part 5 The Disintegation Lepke
Ike, The Novelty King Lepke
King of Diamonds Diamonds Come in Cans Captain Leo Talvo
1962 King of Diamonds The Magic Act Sutton
The Beachcomber The Larcenous Lover Tim O'Hara
Death Valley Days Showdown at Kamaaina Flats Jeremy Whitlock
His Model Wife (Pilot) John Lauran John and Jeanne Crain co-starred in this unsold pilot
1963 The Lucy Show Lucy Becomes a Reporter Argyle Nelson
Empire Down There, the World Shelly Hanson
Rawhide Incident of White Eyes Beaumont Butler
1964 Petticoat Junction Visit From a Big Star Lane Haggard
Daniel Boone Not in Our Stars Major Halpern
1967 Mr. Terrific Try This on For Spies Boris Boraser
1968 Batman Penguin's Clean Sweep Bank Manager An uncredited role that marks how quickly fame fades
1970 Paris 7000 To Cage a Lion Jacques
The FBI The Witness George Petrarkis
1971 The Smith Family Taste of Fear Craig Saunders
1974 Police Story Wolf Sgt. Grady A few months after this episode aired John Vivyan had open heart surgery
1982 WKRP in Cinncinati Jennifer and Johnny's Charity Mr. Mittenhof
1983 Simon & Simon Betty Grable Flies Again Farley Broadcast on December 8, 1983, two weeks before John Vivyan's death


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