Melvyn Douglas: Wikis


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Melvyn Douglas

in Ninotchka (1939)
Born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg
April 5, 1901(1901-04-05)
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
Died August 4, 1981 (aged 80)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1930–1981
Spouse(s) Rosalind Hightower (divorced) 2 children
Helen Gahagan (her death) 2 children

Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg (April 5, 1901 – August 4, 1981), better known as Melvyn Douglas, was an American actor.


Early life

Douglas (Douglas was the surname of his maternal grandmother) was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of Lena Priscilla (née Shackelford), a Protestant Tennessee-born Mayflower descendant, and Edouard Gregory Hesselberg, a Jewish concert pianist and composer from Riga, Latvia.[1][2] Though his father taught music at a succession of colleges in the U.S. and Canada, Douglas never graduated from high school.


Douglas developed his acting skills with stock companies in Sioux City, Iowa; Evansville, Indiana; Madison, Wisconsin, and Detroit, Michigan. He had a long theatre, film and television career as a lead player, stretching from his 1930 Broadway role in Tonight or Never (opposite his future wife, Helen Gahagan) until just before his death. He was the hero in the 1932 horror film The Vampire Bat and the sophisticated leading man in 1935's She Married Her Boss. He played opposite Joan Crawford in several films, most notably A Woman's Face (1941), and with Greta Garbo in three films: As You Desire Me (1932), Ninotchka (1939) and Garbo's final film Two-Faced Woman (1941).

During World War II, Douglas served first as a director of the Arts Council in the Office of Civilian Defense, and then in the United States Army. He returned to play more mature roles in The Sea of Grass and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. In 1959 he made his musical debut playing Captain Boyle in the ill-fated Marc Blitzstein musical Juno, based on Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.

In the summer of 1959, Douglas hosted eleven original episodes of a CBS Western anthology television series called Frontier Justice, a production of Dick Powell's Four Star Television.

In addition to his Academy Awards (see below), Douglas won a Tony for his Broadway lead role in the 1960 The Best Man by Gore Vidal, and an Emmy for his 1967 role in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. As Douglas grew older, he took on the older-man and father roles, in such movies as The Americanization of Emily (1964), Hud (1963), for which he won his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, The Candidate (1972) and I Never Sang for My Father (1970), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the dark comedy Being There (1979).

Douglas' final screen appearance was in Ghost Story (1981); he never finished his role in the film The Hot Touch (1982) before his death. Douglas has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 6423 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 6601 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life

Douglas was married briefly to Rosalind Hightower and they had two sons: Gregory Hesselberg in 1926 and Melvyn Hesselberg Jr. in 1930. In 1931 Douglas married actress-turned-politician Helen Gahagan. As a three-term Congresswoman, she was Richard Nixon's opponent for the United States Senate seat from California in 1950.

Nixon accused Gahagan of being a Communist because of her opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nixon went so far as to call her "pink right down to her underwear". It was Gahagan who popularized Nixon's epithet "Tricky Dick." Douglas and Gahagan had two children: Peter Gahagan Douglas (1933) and Mary Helen Douglas (1938). The couple remained married until Helen Gahagan Douglas' death in 1980 from cancer. Melvyn Douglas died a year later, in 1981, in New York City.

The film and television actress Illeana Douglas is Douglas's granddaughter by his son, Gregory Hesselberg.

Academy Awards and nominations

Year Award Film Outcome
1963 Best Supporting Actor Hud Won
1970 Best Actor I Never Sang for My Father Nominated
1979 Best Supporting Actor Being There Won

Partial filmography

Further reading

  • Douglas, Melvyn; Tom Arthur (1986). See You At The Movies : The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. ISBN 0819153907. 


External links



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