Oscar Actors: Dall, John–Background, Career, Awards

Updated June 29, 2022
Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: N0

Nationality: NYC

Social Class: Middle; father civil engineer

Race/Ethnicity/Religion

Family: one brother, older; father suicide, when Dall was 9

Education:

Training: Theodora Irvine School of Theater; Pasadena Playhouse

Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

Breakthrough Role: The Corn Is Green, 25

Oscar Role:

Other Noms: The Corn Is Green

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image:

Last Film: Atlantis, the Lost Continent [ 1961; aged 41

Career Output: about 10

Film Career Span: 1945-1961

Marriage: Gay; partner actor

Politics:

Death: 1971; aged 50

John Dall (born John Dall Thompson; May 26, 1920–January 15, 1971) was an American actor.

Primarily a stage actor, best remembered today for two film roles: the cool-minded intellectual killer in Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), and the companion of trigger-happy femme fatale Peggy Cummins in the 1950 film noir Gun Crazy.

He also had a substantial role in Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960).

He first came to fame as the young Welsh mining prodigy who comes alive under the tutelage of Bette Davis in The Corn Is Green (1945), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

John Dall Thompson (he used his middle name for his acting career)[1] was born in New York City on May 26, 1920, the younger son of Charles Jenner Thompson and his wife Henry (née Worthington).

His father was a civil engineer. His elder brother, Worthington Thompson, was later decorated lieutenant in the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team.

In the 1920s the Thompsons moved to Panama, where Charles worked on construction of the airport there. While in Panama, Dall was in a theatre when a cast member fell ill and Dall stepped in; this inspired his desire to act.

His father committed suicide in 1929, and his widow returned to New York City with John the following year.

Dall attended Horace Mann School and briefly enrolled at Columbia University, where he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps by studying engineering.

Acting was his true vocation, so he left Columbia and studied at the Theodora Irvine School of Theater and the Pasadena Playhouse. He also studied at the Petit Theatre in New Orleans.

Dall spent six years acting in stock companies, Clare Tree Major’s Children’s Theatre. He also worked in companies headed by Aline MacMahon, Arthur Byron, Ruth Weston and Edith Atwater.

Dall had small roles on Broadway during the 1941–42 season in R.U.R. and Janie. In 1942–43 he played the lead of Quizz Martin in the touring company The Eve of St Mark. He was well received and replaced William Prince on Broadway when Prince took vacation.

His performance was spotted by Jack Warner’s wife and resulted in screen test for Dall. Warner offered him contract but he would only take it if he could have time off to do a play. (Warners also signed Prince.)

Dall made his film debut in The Corn Is Green (1945), directed by Irving Rapper. Richard Waring was originally slated to play the role, but had been called into the army. The film was shot in the middle of 1944. Warners were impressed with the rushes and signed Dall to a new contract.

Dall returned to the stage to play lead in Norman Krasna’s Dear Ruth (1944), directed by Moss Hart. It was a huge success. The New York Times said Dall gives “a graceful and easy performance”.

Even before The Corn Is Green was released Warners announced Dall was one of six contractees they intended to build into a star (the others were Lauren Bacall, Dane Clark, Faye Emerson, Robert Hutton and William Prince.

After The Corn Is Green, Dall received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He was called one of the “hottest finds” in Hollywood, and Warners tried to find film co-starring Joan Lorring.

The film rights to Dear Ruth were sold to Paramount who cast William Holden in the part originated by Dall. Warners brought the rights to John Patrick’s play The Hasty Heart and announced Dall would play the role originated by Richard Basehart.

Warners gave Dall 3 months to perform The Hasty Heart (1945) on stage on the road.

However, the film was not made for several more years by which time Richard Todd had been cast in the role.

In May 1946, Warners released Dall from his contract. He only made one film for the studio.

Paramount announced they were interested in signing Dall and Edward G. Robinson for a role in adaptation of The Wayfarers. In May 1946 he signed 7-year deal with David O. Selznick’s Vanguard Films. Dall performed Hasty Heart in summer stock.

Dall wound up making no films for Selznick. Instead he went over to Universal, where he signed a contract. He played Deanna Durbin’s love interest in Something in the Wind (1947). He was in Another Part of the Forest (1948), based on the play by Lillian Hellman.

Hitchcock cast Dall in Rope (1948) as one of two killers (the other played by Farley Granger) who match wits with James Stewart. The film was not a big hit on release but its reputation has since grown.

After Rope it was reported he would make Shadow of Fear for Michael Curtiz but this did not materialize.

Dall did “The Wind and the Rain” for Theatre Guild on the Air then returned to Broadway to appear in Daniel Taradash’s adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Red Gloves with Charles Boyer, directed by Jed Harris. It was a minor hit. Brooks Atkinson said Boyer and Dall’s acting were the best thing about the production.

Dall made his TV debut in “Miracle in the Rain” for The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre in 1949. He appeared as lead in Gun Crazy (1950) opposite Irish actress Peggy Cummins.

Dall had a supporting role in The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950).

He was in the short-run revival of The Heiress (1950) on Broadway with Basil Rathbone.

In October 1950 Dall said that TV acting was better done by movie actors, who understood technique, than stage actors, who needed audience response.

In late 1950, he appeared in The Man by Mel Dinelli on stage in Los Angeles with Gladys George. The Los Angeles Times said he played his role with “tremendous assurance”.

In stock he appeared in The Hasty Heart (1952), Gramercy Ghost (1952),[49] The Moon is Blue (1953), The Man Who Came to Dinner, and Born Yesterday (1953).

Dall did much work in television, appearing in guest roles on such shows as Lights Out (“Pit of the Dead”), The Clock (“A Right Smart Trick”), Studio One in Hollywood (“The Doctor’s Wife”[52]), Broadway Television Theatre (“Outward Bound”, “The Hasty Heart”), Suspense (“The Invisible Killer”, “The Tenth Reunion”), General Electric Theatre (“The Coward of Fort Bennett”) and Schlitz Playhouse (“And Practically Strangers”). Other theatre performances in stock included The Male Animal (1954).

Dall returned to Broadway for Leslie Stevens’ Champagne Complex, which had a short run.

Dall’s first film in 8 years was Spartacus (1960), where he played a Roman soldier.

He was the villain in MGM’s Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), his final theatrical feature.

Dall guest-starred in four episodes of TV’s Perry Mason, including playing murder victim Edward Franklin in the 1962 episode “The Case of the Weary Watchdog” and murder victim Colin Durant in the 1963 episode “The Case of the Reluctant Model”.

Historians William J. Mann and Karen Burroughs Hannsberry have remarked that Dall was gay but claimed i interviews to have had a brief marriage in the early 1940s.

No marriage certificate has come to light, and his death certificate records him as “never married”. At a studio request, Hedda Hopper once linked his name with Jane Withers romantically.

According to music journalist Phil Milstein, at the time of his death Dall had lapsed into alcoholism and was living with his partner, actor Clement Brace (died 1996).

Dall sustained a serious fall while visiting London in October 1970 and died of cardiac arrest, a complication of myocarditis, at his home in Beverly Hills, California, on January 15, 1971, aged 50.

His body was donated to medical science.

Dall’s papers are held at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California.

Filmography

1945 The Corn Is Green Morgan Evans
1947 Something in the Wind Donald Read
1948 Another Part of the Forest John Bagtry
1948 Rope Brandon Shaw
1950 Gun Crazy Bart Tare
1950 The Man Who Cheated Himself Andy Cullen
1960 Spartacus Marcus Glabrus
1961 Atlantis, the Lost Continent Zaren