Dan Duryea: A Short Biography


Written and Posted by Sarah
He was born Daniel Edwin Duryea, the second son of Richard and Mabel Duryea of White Plains, New York. He graduated with an English degree from Cornell University in 1928, having been president of the college drama society --- a job he took over from fellow actor, Franchot Tone.

Once Duryea graduated, he joined his father in the advertising business, getting a job as a space salesman with an advertising agency. The fast pace of the profession proved strenuous and after a few years he suffered a serious heart attack while playing a game of basketball at a picnic. It was touch and go for months while he spent almost a year in bed rest. The doctors finally told him that he would survive, but that he would never again be able to hold a full-time job. Faced with the task of finding a less stressful occupation for himself, Duryea turned to acting.

He gained experience by working in summer stock before landing a bit-part on Broadway in 1935. Four years later, he played the role of Leo in "The Little Foxes". It was this role that shot him to stardom. After playing the part for the entire Broadway run and the national tour, Samuel Goldwyn bought the film rights to the play and Duryea was taken to Hollywood to portray his role on the Silver Screen. It was the start of a long career in which he was usually the villain in films that ranged from film noir to Westerns.

He appeared in films such as: The Pride of the Yankees, Mrs. Parkington, Scarlet Street and Lady on a Train. He also played the heavy in a lot of Westerns opposite such stars as Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper and Audie Murphy. These included the films Along Came Jones, Winchester '73, Night Passage, and Ride Clear of Diablo. In the 1950s he added television to his career with guest appearances on such shows as Wagon Train, Bonanza, and G.E. True Theater, a performance that earned him an Emmy nomination. He even had his own TV show, The Adventures of China Smith.

In 1932, he had married Helen Bryan, the daughter of a co-worker in the advertising field. She was also from White Plains and had arranged to pick her father up after work. They offered Duryea a ride, and it was virtually love at first sight. They were married for almost 35 years and had two sons, Richard and Peter. Duryea was soft-spoken and a dedicated family man who went out of his way to correct his professional image in his private activities. He was devoted to gardening, boating and various community activities which included the PTA and acting as commander of a boy scout troop. Helen died of a heart attack in January 1967, just before their 35th wedding anniversary. He only survived her by a year and a half, dying of cancer a few months after an unsuccessful operation. He and Helen are buried side-by-side at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.