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William Dennis Weaver[1] (June 4, 1924 – February 24, 2006) was an American actor who was best known for his work in television and films. Weaver's two most notable roles were as Marshal Matt Dillon's trusty helper Chester Goode on the CBS western Gunsmoke and as Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud on the NBC police drama McCloud. He appeared in the 1971 television film Duel, the first film of director Steven Spielberg. He is also remembered for his role as the twitchy motel attendant in Orson Welles's film Touch of Evil (1958).

Dennis Weaver
Dennis Weaver 1960.JPG
Weaver in 1960
President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
1973–1975
Preceded by John Gavin
Succeeded by Kathleen Nolan
Personal details
Born (1924-06-04)June 4, 1924
Joplin, Missouri, U.S.
Died February 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 81)
Ridgway, Colorado, U.S.
Spouse(s) Gerry Stowell (m. 1945; his death 2006)
Children 3
Occupation Actor

Contents

Early lifeEdit

Weaver was born in Joplin, Missouri, the son of Walter Leon Weaver and his wife Lenna Leora Prather. His father was of English, Irish, Scottish, Cherokee, and Osage ancestry. Weaver wanted to be an actor from childhood. He lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, for several years and for a short time in Manteca, California. He studied at Joplin Junior College, now Missouri Southern State University, then transferred to the University of Oklahoma at Norman, where he studied drama and was a track star, setting records in several events. During World War II he served as a pilot in the United States Navy, flying Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft.[2] After the war, he married Gerry Stowell, with whom he had three children. Under the name Billy D. Weaver, he tried out for the 1948 U.S. Olympic team in the decathlon,[3] finishing sixth behind 17-year-old high school track star Bob Mathias. However, only the top three finishers were selected.[4] Weaver later commented, "I did so poorly [in the Olympic Trials], I decided to ... stay in New York and try acting."[3]

CareerEdit

Weaver's first role on Broadway came as an understudy to Lonny Chapman as Turk Fisher in Come Back, Little Sheba. He eventually took over the role from Chapman in the national touring company. Solidifying his choice to become an actor, Weaver enrolled in The Actors Studio,[5] where he met Shelley Winters. In the beginning of his acting career, he supported his family by doing odd jobs, including selling vacuum cleaners, tricycles, and women's hosiery.

In 1952, Shelley Winters helped him get a contract from Universal Studios. He made his film debut that same year in the movie The Redhead from Wyoming. Over the next three years, he played in a series of movies, but still had to work odd jobs to support his family. It was while delivering flowers that he heard he had landed the role of Chester Goode, the limping, loyal assistant of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) on the new television series Gunsmoke. It was his big break; the show would go on to become the highest-rated and longest-running live action series in United States television history (1955 to 1975). He received an Emmy Award in 1959 for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series.

 
Weaver as Chester, Milburn Stone as Doc, and Amanda Blake as Kitty in Gunsmoke, 1960

According to the Archive of American Television interview with Weaver, the producer had him in mind for Chester, but could not locate him, and was delighted when he showed up to audition. Never having heard the radio show, Weaver gave Chester's "inane" dialog his best Method delivery. Disappointed in his delivery, however, the producer asked for something humorous, and Weaver nailed it. The stiff leg came about when the producer pointed out that sidekicks almost always have some failing or weakness that makes them less-capable than the star. Weaver decided that a stiff leg would be just the right thing.[6]

Having become famous as Chester, he was next cast in an offbeat supporting role in the 1958 Orson Welles film Touch of Evil,[7] in which he played a face-twisting, body-contorting eccentric employee of a remote motel who nervously repeated, "I'm the night man." In 1960, he appeared in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled "Insomnia," in which his character suffers from sleeplessness due to the tragic death of his wife. He also co-starred in a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone titled "Shadow Play". In that episode Weaver's character is trapped inside his own revolving nightmare, repeatedly being tried, sentenced, and then executed in the electric chair.[8] Later, from 1964 to 1965, he portrayed a friendly veterinary physician in NBC's comedy-drama Kentucky Jones. His next substantial role was as Tom Wedloe on the CBS family series Gentle Ben, with co-star Clint Howard, from 1967 to 1969.

Weaver in 1970 landed the title role in the NBC series McCloud, for which he received two Emmy Award nominations. In 1974, he was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Limited Series (McCloud) and in 1975, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. The show, about a modern western lawman who ends up in New York City, was loosely based on the Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff. His frequent use of the affirming Southernism, "There you go," became a catchphrase for the show. During the series, in 1971, Weaver also appeared in Duel, a television movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg selected Weaver based on the intensity of his earlier performance in Touch of Evil.[9]

From 1973 to 1975, Weaver was president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Later series during the 1980s (both of which lasted only one season) were Stone in which Weaver played a Joseph Wambaugh-esque police sergeant turned crime novelist and Buck James in which he played a Texas-based surgeon and rancher. (Buck James was loosely based on real-life Texas doctor James "Red" Duke.) He portrayed a Navy rear admiral for 22 episodes of a 1983–1984 series, Emerald Point N.A.S..

In 1977 he portrayed a husband who physically abused his wife (portrayed by Sally Struthers) in the made-for-tv movie Intimate Strangers, one of the first network features to depict domestic violence. In 1978, Weaver played the trail boss R.J. Poteet in the television mini-series Centennial, in the installment titled "The Longhorns." Weaver also appeared in many acclaimed television films, including 'Amber Waves'(1980) with Kurt Russell. Also in 1980, he portrayed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for involvement in the Lincoln assassination, in The Ordeal Of Doctor Mudd and starred with his real-life son Robby Weaver in the short-lived NBC police series Stone.[10] In 1983, he played a real estate agent addicted to cocaine in Cocaine: One Man's Seduction. Weaver received probably the best reviews of his career when he starred in the 1987 film Bluffing It, in which he played a man who is illiterate. In February 2002, he appeared on the animated series The Simpsons (episode DABF07, "The Lastest Gun in the West") as the voice of aging Hollywood cowboy legend Buck McCoy.[11]

 
Weaver in August 1997.

For his contribution to the television industry, Dennis Weaver was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6822 Hollywood Blvd, and on the Dodge City (KS) Trail of Fame. In 1981, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers with the Bronze Wrangler Award at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Weaver as McCloud was used to promote a rock show in New York City.

Weaver's last work was done on an ABC Family cable television show called Wildfire, where he played Henry Ritter, the father of Jean Ritter and the co-owner of Raintree Ranch. His role on the show was cut short due to his death.

Personal lifeEdit

He married Gerry Stowell after World War II and they had three children: Richard, Robert, and Rustin Weaver. Dennis Weaver was a vegetarian since 1958 and student of yoga and meditation since the 1960s and a devoted follower of Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian guru who established the Self-Realization Fellowship in the United States.

Weaver's own home in Ridgway, Colorado, exemplified his commitment to preserving the environment. In the late 1980s, he commissioned architect Michael Reynolds to design and build his new residence, which incorporated into its construction various recycled materials, such as old automobile tires and discarded cans, and featured passive solar power and other eco-technologies. Weaver called his home "Earthship," the same name given to the design concept pioneered by Reynolds and advanced by him as part of what was then a growing interest in "sustainable architecture" by environmentalists. Weaver and his family lived at Earthship for over fourteen years, until 2004.[12]

In July 2003, Weaver lost a daughter-in-law, Lynne Ann Weaver, wife of son Robby Weaver, in Santa Monica, California, when a car driven at high speed plowed through shoppers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. She was one of ten people killed in the incident.[13]

ActivismEdit

Dennis Weaver was a renowned environmentalist, who promoted the use of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen and wind power, through The Institute of Ecolonomics, a non-profit environmental organization he established in 1993 in Berthoud, Colorado. "Ecolonomics" is a term formed by combining the words ecology and economics.[14][15] He was also involved with John Denver's WindStar Foundation, and he founded an organization called L.I.F.E. (Love is Feeding Everyone), which provided food for 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles.[14]

Weaver was also active in liberal political causes. He used his celebrity status as a fundraiser and organizer for George McGovern's campaign for president in 1972.[16]

In 2004, he led a fleet of alternative fuel vehicles across the United States in order to raise awareness about America's dependence on oil.[14]

Weaver was consistently involved with the annual Genesis Awards, which honor those in the news and entertainment media who bring attention to the plight and suffering of animals. Established by The Ark Trust, the award has been presented by the Humane Society of the United States since 2002.[17]

There will come a time ... when civilized people will look back in horror on our generation and the ones that preceded it — the idea that we should eat other living things running around on four legs, that we should raise them just for the purpose of killing them! The people of the future will say “meat-eaters!” in disgust and regard us in the same way we regard cannibals and cannibalism — Dennis Weaver[18]

DeathEdit

Weaver died of complications from cancer in Ridgway, Colorado, on February 24, 2006.[19]

Selected filmographyEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Dennis Weaver". The Independent. London. March 1, 2006. 
  2. ^ Kovalchik, Kara. "6 Famous Veterans from TV". Mental Floss. Retrieved July 4, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b [1] "Dennis Weaver, Olympic hopeful," GunsmokeNet.com
  4. ^ http://decathlonusa.typepad.com/deca/files/history_of_the_us_olympic_trials_repaired.pdf
  5. ^ Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 0-02-542650-8. 
  6. ^ Colman, Henry (24 September 2002). "Dennis Weaver – Archive Interview". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  7. ^ [2]"Touch of Evil," GunsmokeNet.com
  8. ^ Prejean, Jordan (2014). "Shadow Play", The Twilight Zone, season 2, episode 26; originally broadcast May 5, 1961; a detailed review and commentary about episode, The Twilight Zone Vortex. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  9. ^ From the director's commentary on Duel: Special Edition DVD, 2005.
  10. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946–Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1133. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  11. ^ [3]"Buck McCoy," GunsmokeNet.com
  12. ^ Ryon, Ruth (2004). "Dennis Weaver selling Colorado 'Earthship' home," SFGate (San Francisco, California). Republished real-estate news item from the Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2004, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
  13. ^ "Infant Dies From Injuries Suffered in Farmers Market Crash". Fox News. 2003-07-17. Retrieved 2016-11-25. 
  14. ^ a b c "A TV hero for real-life change: Dennis Weaver, actor, 1924–2006" in The Sydney Morning Herald, March 29, 2006, p. 29
  15. ^ [4] Institute of Ecolonomics
  16. ^ McGovern, George S., Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, Random House, 1977, pp. 173, 247
  17. ^ "Winners of the 2016 Genesis Awards," Human Society of the United States, Washington, D.C. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  18. ^ Berry, Rynn (1979). The Vegetarians. Autumn Press. p. 64. ISBN 9780394736334. 
  19. ^ "Dennis Weaver, 81; Star of `Gunsmoke,' `McCloud' Also Was Environmental Activist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 

External linksEdit