Oscar Actors: Begley, Ed–Background, Career, Awards, Cum Advantage (Tony Award)

Updated: June 26, 2020

Ed Begley Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No; his son, Ed Begley Jr. actor

Social Class: Irish immigrants; working class

Family: He ran away from home at 11

Education: No formal education


Radio Debut: in his teens

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut: 1917, age 16; 1943; age 42

Film Debut: Boomerang, 1947; age 46

Oscar Role: Sweet Bird of Youth, 1962; age 61

Other Noms: No

Other Awards: Tony Award; Emmy nom

Career Output: 35 features

Film Career Span: 1947-

Marriage: 3


Death: 1970; age 69

Born Edward James Begley on March 25, 1901 in Hartford, Connecticut.

At 11, after only five years of grammar school, Ed Begley ran away from home to join a traveling carnival, then worked at an assortment of odd jobs and served in the US Navy before embarking on a showbusiness career as a radio announcer in 1931.

Film and Broadway Debut: 1947

In 1943, he made his Broadway stage debut, and in 1947 he created the Joe Keller role on Broadway in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” directed by Kazan. That same year he made his film debut in Boomerang, also directed by Kazan. From then on he was kept busy in a wide range of roles, on stage and in films.

After brilliant portrayal of William Jennings Bryan during 789 performances in Broadway’s “Inherit the Wind,” he took over the opposing role of Clarence Darrow from Paul Muni in 1955.


Begley appeared in 12,000 radio shows, 250 TV shows, a dozen Broadway plays, and 35 motion pictures.

Screen Image: Typecasting

On the screen he usually played imposing heavy types, often a corrupt businessman or politician. Among his most impressive appearances were those in Patterns and 12 Angry Men, in which he repeated earlier TV triumphs.

Oscar Alert

In 1962, Ed Begley won the Supporting Actor Oscar in a race that included Victor Buono in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” Telly Savalas

He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) and appeared in such classics as 12 Angry Men (1957) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964).

He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Matthew Harrison Brady in TV adaptation of Inherit the Wind. He is the father of actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr.

Begley was born in Hartford, Connecticut, son of Hannah (née Clifford) and Michael Joseph Begley, Irish immigrants.

After he dropped-out of school as a fifth-grader, Begley ran away from home several times, going to work for “carnivals, fairs, and small circuses.” Later he sold brushes, delivered milk, and served in the US Navy during WWI.

Begley began his career as a Broadway and radio actor in his teens. He appeared in the hit musical “Going Up on Broadway” in 1917, and in London the next year.


He later acted in roles as Sgt. O’Hara in the radio show The Fat Man. His radio work included Stroke of Fate and a period as Charlie Chan, among other roles. He also starred in the 1950s radio program Richard Diamond, Private Detective, playing Lieutenant Walter Levinson, head of homicide at the 5th Precinct, Manhattan. He was elected a member of The Lambs in 1943. In the late 1940s, he began appearing regularly in supporting film roles.

In the 1952–1953 TV season, Begley co-starred with Eddie Albert in the CBS sitcom Leave It to Larry. Begley, only five years older than Albert, played the father-in-law and employer of Albert’s character, Larry Tucker, a shoe salesman, who with his young family lives with Begley.

In 1954 Begley starred in the NBC Television show Robert Montgomery Presents in “Big Boy”, an episode sponsored by Lucky Strike, as Joe Grant, an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, who worked on the famous Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotives.

He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), at age.

Some of his other notable films include Deadline – U.S.A. (1952), 12 Angry Men (1957) as juror #10, The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), and Wild in the Streets (1968). One notable role Begley played both on television (twice in 1955) and in the theatrical film (1956) is William (Bill) Briggs, one of three primary characters in Rod Serling’s “Patterns.”


In 1956, he appeared in the Broadway production of “Inherit the Wind,” as Matthew Harrison Brady, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play.

In 1968 he appeared with Clint Eastwood in the western “Hang ‘Em High.”

His other TV work included appearances on Justice, Empire, The Virginian, Bonanza, The Fugitive, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Target: The Corruptors, The Invaders, The Wild Wild West, Wagon Train and Going My Way, with Gene Kelly. Among his many Broadway credits were All My Sons and Our Town.

Begley married his first wife, Amanda Huff, in 1922 with whom he had two children. Huff died in 1957. His second marriage ended in divorce and his third wife, Helen, survived him. Begley is father of actor Ed Begley Jr, born out of his relationship with Allene Jeanne Sanders.

Begley died of a heart attack in Hollywood, California.