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Van Heflin

Best known for his Academy Award win for Johnny Eager. He was the first actor to win an Academy Award for a role in a gangster movie.

Van Heflen



A Woman Rebels 



The Outcasts of Poker Flat 

Flight From Glory

Annapolis Salute 

Saturday’s Heroes 



Back Door to Heaven 



Santa Fe Trail 



The Feminine Touch 

H.M. Pulham, Esq. 

Johnny Eager 



Kid Glove Killer 

Grand Central Murder 

Seven Sweethearts 

Tennessee Johnson 



Presenting Lily Mars 



The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 

Till the Clouds Roll By 




Green Dolphin Street 



B.F.’s Daughter 

Tap Roots 

The Three Musketeers

Act of Violence 



Madame Bovary 

East Side, West Side 




The Prowler

Week-End with Father



My Son John 

The Golden Mask 




Wings of the Hawk




The Raid 

Woman’s World

Black Widow 



Battle Cry 

Count Three and Pray 






3:10 to Yuma 



Gunman’s Walk 

La tempesta 



They Came to Cordura 



5 Branded Women 

Under Ten Flags 



The Wastrel 



Cry of Battle



The Greatest Story Ever Told 

Once a Thief 






The Man Outside 



The Ruthless Four 



The Big Bounce 




Neither Are We Enemies 


Van Heflin was nominated for and won one Academy Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Johnny Eager (1941). – WON

He was the first actor to win an Academy Award for a role in a gangster movie.

I just didn’t have the looks and if I didn’t do a good acting job I looked terrible. ~ Van Heflin

Van Heflin was born Emmett Evan Heflin Jr. in Walters, Oklahoma, on December 13, 1908, the son of Fanny Bleecker (née Shippey) and Dr. Emmett Evan Heflin, a dentist.

Heflin’s sister was Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Frances Heflin (who married composer Sol Kaplan). Heflin attended Classen High School in Oklahoma City (One source says Long Beach Polytechnic High School.) and the University of Oklahoma, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1932 and was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He earned a master’s degree in theater at Yale University.

Heflin began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1930s before being signed to a contract by RKO Radio Pictures. He made his film debut in A Woman Rebels (1936), opposite Katharine Hepburn. He was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was initially cast in supporting roles in films such as Santa Fe Trail (1940), and Johnny Eager (1942), winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the latter performance.

MGM began to groom him as a leading man in B movies, and provided him with supporting roles in more prestigious productions. Heflin continued to hone his acting skills throughout the early 1940s. He provided a compelling characterization of the embattled President Andrew Johnson in Tennessee Johnson (1942), playing opposite (and at odds with) Lionel Barrymore who, in the role of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, failed to have Johnson convicted in an impeachment trial by the slimmest of margins. Heflin served during World War II in the United States Army Air Corps as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe and with the First Motion Picture Unit.

Playing a huge variety of roles in both films and on stage, probably his best-known film became the 1953 classic western Shane, in which he co-starred with Alan Ladd. As Joe Starrett, the plain, honest farmer who tries to unite a small community of ‘sodbusters’ his performance is a bedrock of the film, although it was not recognized among the awards of 1953. Among his other notable film credits are Presenting Lily Mars (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Possessed (1947), Green Dolphin Street (1947), Act of Violence (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948), Madame Bovary (1949), The Prowler (1951) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957).

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was a radio detective drama that aired from June 17, 1947, through September 15, 1951, first heard on NBC in the summer of 1947 starring Van Heflin (June 12, 1947 – Sept 9, 1947). He also acted on the Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense, Cavalcade of America and many more radio programs.

His film “Cry of Battle” was playing at the Texas Theatre in Dallas on November 22, 1963. His name and the film title appear on the marquee. It was that theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Heflin appeared in a short but dramatic role as an eyewitness of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from death in the 1965 Bible film, The Greatest Story Ever Told. After seeing the miracle he ran from Bethany to the walls of Jerusalem and proclaimed to the guards at the top of the wall that Jesus was the Messiah.

After a six-month marriage to actress Eleanor Shaw (née Eleanor Scherr, died 2004), he married RKO contract player Frances Neal. They had two daughters, actresses Vana O’Brien and Cathleen (Kate) Heflin, and a son, Tracy. The couple divorced in 1967.

Heflin’s last film was Airport (1970). He played “D. O. Guerrero”, a failure who schemes to blow himself up on an airliner so that his wife (played by Maureen Stapleton) can collect on a life insurance policy.

On June 6, 1971, Heflin had a heart attack while swimming in a pool. Medics took him to a hospital, and though he lived for six weeks, he apparently never regained consciousness. Van Heflin died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on July 23, 1971, aged 62. He had left instructions forbidding a public funeral. Instead, his cremated remains were scattered in the ocean.

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