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Melvyn Douglas

Best known for his roles in Ninotchka and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and his Academy Award winning roles in Hud (1963) and Being There (1979).

Melvyn Douglas



Tonight or Never




The Wiser Sex

The Broken Wing

As You Desire Me

The Old Dark House



The Vampire Bat


Counsellor at Law



Woman in the Dark

Dangerous Corner



She Married Her Boss

Mary Burns, Fugitive

Annie Oakley



The Gorgeous Hussy

Theodora Goes Wild

And So They Were Married



Captains Courageous

I Met Him in Paris


I’ll Take Romance



There’s Always a Woman

Arsène Lupin Returns

The Toy Wife

Fast Company

That Certain Age

The Shining Hour



There’s That Woman Again

Tell No Tales


The Amazing Mr. Williams

Good Girls Go to Paris



Too Many Husbands

He Stayed for Breakfast

Third Finger, Left Hand

This Thing Called Love



That Uncertain Feeling

A Woman’s Face

Two-Faced Woman



We Were Dancing

They All Kissed the Bride



Three Hearts for Julia



The Sea of Grass

The Guilt of Janet Ames



Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House



A Woman’s Secret

The Great Sinner



My Forbidden Past

On the Loose



Billy Budd






Advance to the Rear

The Americanization of Emily




Once Upon a Tractor



Lamp at Midnight






Companions in Nightmare



I Never Sang for My Father

Hunters Are for Killing



Death Takes a Holiday



The Candidate

One Is a Lonely Number



The Tenant



Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Intimate Strangers



The Seduction of Joe Tynan

Being There



The Changeling

Tell Me a Riddle



Ghost Story

The Hot Touch


Melvyn Douglas was nominated for two and won both Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Awards for

He was also nominated for a Best Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award for I Never Sang for My Father (1970).

The Hollywood roles I did were boring; I was soon fed up with them. It’s true they gave me a worldwide reputation I could trade on, but they also typed me as a one-dimensional, non-serious actor. ~ Melvyn Douglas

Melvyn Douglas (born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg) was born in Macon, Georgia on April 5, 1901. He was the son of Lena Priscilla (née Shackelford) and Edouard Gregory Hesselberg, a concert pianist and composer. His father was a Jewish emigrant from Riga, Latvia, then part of Russia. His mother, a native of Tennessee, was Protestant. He took the surname of his maternal grandmother and became known as Melvyn Douglas.

Douglas was married briefly to artist Rosalind Hightower, and they had one child, (Melvyn) Gregory Hesselberg, in 1926. Hesselberg, an artist, is the father of actress Illeana Douglas.

Douglas developed his acting skills in Shakespearean repertory while in his teens and with stock companies in Sioux City, Iowa, Evansville, Indiana, Madison, Wisconsin and Detroit, Michigan. He served in the United States Army in World War I. He established an outdoor theatre in Chicago. 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. Douglas shared top billing with Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton in James Whale’s sardonic horror classic The Old Dark House in 1932.

In 1931, Douglas married actress-turned-politician Helen Gahagan. 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.

(L to R) Conrad Veidt, Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas in A Woman's Face

(L to R) Conrad Veidt, Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas in A Woman’s Face

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 Joan Crawford in three films: As You Desire Me (1932), Ninotchka (1939) and Garbo’s final film Two-Faced Woman (1941). One of his most sympathetic roles was as the belatedly attentive father in Captains Courageous (1937).

During World War II, Douglas served first as a director of the Arts Council in the Office of Civilian Defense, and he then again served in the United States Army rising to the rank of Major. According to his granddaughter Illeana Douglas, it was in Burma when he first met his future Being There co-star Peter Sellers, who was in the Royal Air Force during the war. 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 Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock.

From November 1952 to January 1953, Douglas starred in the DuMont detective show Steve Randall (Hollywood Off Beat) which then moved to CBS. In the summer of 1953, he briefly hosted the DuMont game show Blind Date. 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.

As Douglas grew older, he took on the older-man and father roles, in such movies as Hud (1963), for which he won his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, The Americanization of Emily (1964), an episode of The Fugitive (1966), I Never Sang for My Father (1970), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and The Candidate (1972). He won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the comedy-drama Being There (1979). However, Douglas confirmed in one of his final interviews that he refused to attend the 52nd Academy Awards because he could not bear competing against child actor Justin Henry for Kramer vs. Kramer.

In addition to his Academy Awards, Douglas won a Tony Award 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.

Douglas’ final screen appearance was in Ghost Story (1981). He did not finish his role in the film The Hot Touch (1982) before his death.

Melvyn Douglas died a year after his wife, in 1981, aged 80, from pneumonia and cardiac complications in New York City.

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