Arthur Kennedy

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Arthur Kennedy
Kennedy (right) in Stage 67 (1966)
John Arthur Kennedy

(1914-02-17)February 17, 1914
DiedJanuary 5, 1990(1990-01-05) (aged 75)
EducationCarnegie Mellon University (BFA)
Years active1937–1990
Mary Cheffey
(m. 1938; died 1975)

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.[1] 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.

Early life and education[edit]

Kennedy was born on February 17, 1914, in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Helen (née Thompson) and John Timothy "J.T." Kennedy, a dentist. He attended South High School, Worcester, and graduated from Worcester Academy. He studied drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, graduating with a B.A. in 1934.[2]


Kennedy moved to New York City 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.[2]

Kennedy made his entry into films when he was discovered by James Cagney.[citation needed] His first film role was of Cagney's younger brother in City for Conquest in 1940. 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 serve as historical records of how aviators were trained and flight equipment was operated.[citation needed]

Kennedy appeared in many notable films from the early 1940s through mid-1960s, including High Sierra, Champion, They Died with Their Boots On, The Glass Menagerie, The Desperate Hours, Trial, Peyton Place, Some Came Running, A Summer Place, Elmer Gantry, The Man from Laramie, Barabbas, Lawrence of Arabia, Nevada Smith 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 of which he played sympathetic villains. Kennedy also enjoyed film success in England during the 1950s, usually playing the lead role in b-movies whenever an American character was needed. He played mostly laid-back ladies' men, avuncular husband types or down-on-their—luck con men chancing it in the UK.[citation needed]

He also enjoyed a distinguished stage career over the same period, receiving a Tony Award for his role of Biff Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949). He 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.

On February 5, 1959, Kennedy appeared on the episode "Make It Look Good" of CBS's Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre.[citation needed]

In 1974, Kennedy was a regular on the short-lived ABC police drama Nakia, as Sheriff Sam Jericho.

Waning interest, ill-health, then comeback[edit]

With the death of his wife in 1975, failing eyesight, alcoholism, and thyroid cancer, Kennedy was reported as having lost interest in filmmaking. After Covert Action (1978), his next films were The Humanoid (1979) and Signs of Life (1989).[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1949, Kennedy won a Tony Award for best supporting actor as Biff in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman at the Morosco Theatre.[2]

The New York Film Critics named him Best Actor for Bright Victory (1951).[2]

His performance in Trial won him a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.[2]

His portrayal of the newspaper reporter in Elmer Gantry (1960) gained him a Film Daily Award and a Limelight Award.[2]

Oscar nominations[edit]

Year Award Film Winner
1949 Best Supporting Actor Champion Dean JaggerTwelve O'Clock High
1951 Best Actor Bright Victory Humphrey BogartThe African Queen
1955 Best Supporting Actor Trial Jack LemmonMister Roberts
1957 Peyton Place Red ButtonsSayonara
1958 Some Came Running Burl IvesThe Big Country

Personal life[edit]

Kennedy married Mary Cheffey in March 1938. They had two children: actress Laurie Kennedy and Terence.[2][4]


During the last years of his life, Kennedy had thyroid cancer and eye disease. He spent much of his later life in Savannah, Georgia, out of the public eye.[5]



  1. ^ James C. McKinley Jr., "Arthur Kennedy, Actor, 75, Dies; Was Versatile in Supporting Roles", The New York Times, 7 Jan 1990, p 30, via ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) accessed 13 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Melissa Vickery-Bareford, "Kennedy, John Arthur", American National Biography Online, (Feb. 2000), accessed 13 Nov 13 2011.
  3. ^ Glenn Collins, "Arthur Kennedy: Comeback for a Curmudgeon", The New York Times, 30 Apr 1989, p H24, via ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) accessed 13 November 2011.
  4. ^ "Arthur Kennedy Biography (1914-1990)". Film Reference, Theatre, Film, and Television Biographies. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  5. ^ Macksoud, Meredith C.; Smith, Craig R.; Lohrke, Jackie (November 25, 2002). Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters: A Stage and Cinema Biography. McFarland. p. 142. ISBN 9780786413843 – via Internet Archive.

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