John Arthur Kennedy (February 17, 1914 – January 5, 1990) was an American stage and film actor known for his versatility in supporting film roles and his ability to create "an exceptional honesty and naturalness on stage", especially in the original casts of Arthur Miller plays on Broadway. He won the 1949 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Miller's Death of a Salesman. He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for the 1955 film Trial, and was a five-time Academy Award nominee.
Kennedy was born on February 17, 1914 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Helen (née Thompson) and J.T. Kennedy, a dentist. He attended South High School, Worcester and Worcester Academy. At Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh he studied drama, graduating with a B.A. in 1934.
Kennedy moved to New York and, billed as John Kennedy, joined the Group Theatre. He then toured with a classical repertory company. In September 1937, he made his Broadway debut as Bushy in Maurice Evans' Richard II at the St. James Theatre. In 1939 he played Sir Richard Vernon in Evans' Henry IV, Part 1.
Kennedy got his break when he was discovered by James Cagney. His first film role was of Cagney's younger brother in City for Conquest in 1940. He was equally adept as hero or villain, and was noted for his mastery of complex, multi-faceted roles. He appeared in many Western films and police dramas.
During World War II, Kennedy served from 1943 to 1945 in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) making aviation training films, both as a narrator and an actor. Many of those films today serve as an historical record of not only how aviators were trained but also how the equipment was operated.
He appeared in many notable films from the early 1940s through to the mid-1960s, including High Sierra, Champion, They Died with Their Boots On, The Glass Menagerie, Lawrence of Arabia, Peyton Place, Some Came Running, Elmer Gantry, and Fantastic Voyage.
Of Kennedy's film work, he is perhaps best-remembered for his collaborations with director Anthony Mann and co-star James Stewart on Bend of the River (1952) and The Man from Laramie (1955). In both films he played sympathetic villains.
He also enjoyed a distinguished stage career over the same period, receiving a Tony Award for the role of Biff Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949). Kennedy also inaugurated three other major characters in Miller plays: Chris Keller in All My Sons (1947), John Proctor in The Crucible (1953) and Walter Franz in The Price (1968). In 1961 he played the title role in Becket, opposite Laurence Olivier as Henry II.
With the death of his wife in 1975, failing eyesight, alcoholism, and thyroid cancer, Kennedy was reported as having lost interest in film-making. After Covert Action (1978), his next films were The Humanoid (1979) and Signs of Life (1989).
Kennedy, Claude Rains, and Robert Duvall share the record of four losing nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, although Duvall won for Lead Actor in 1983. He also received a nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Bright Victory (1951).
|1949||Best Supporting Actor||Champion||Dean Jagger – Twelve O'Clock High|
|1951||Best Actor||Bright Victory||Humphrey Bogart – The African Queen|
|1955||Best Supporting Actor||Trial||Jack Lemmon – Mister Roberts|
|1957||Best Supporting Actor||Peyton Place||Red Buttons – Sayonara|
|1958||Best Supporting Actor||Some Came Running||Burl Ives – The Big Country|
During the last years of his life Kennedy suffered with thyroid cancer and eye disease. He spent much of his later life in Savannah, Georgia, keeping out of the public eye. He died in 1990 in Branford, Connecticut of a brain tumor. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery (Nova Scotia), near his home at Lequille, Nova Scotia, Canada; his wife Mary is also buried there.
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