Open main menu

Lyle Stathem Bettger (February 13, 1915 – September 24, 2003) was an American character actor who had roles in Hollywood films and television from the 1950s onward, often portraying villains. One such role was the wrathfully jealous elephant handler Klaus from the Oscar-winning film The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

Lyle Bettger
Lyle Bettger in The Greatest Show on Earth trailer.jpg
Born(1915-02-13)February 13, 1915
DiedSeptember 24, 2003(2003-09-24) (aged 88)
Years active1950–1980
Spouse(s)Mary Gertrude Rolfe, 1941–1996 (her death); 3 children

Early yearsEdit

Bettger was born in Philadelphia, the son of Frank Bettger, an infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Mertie Stathem Bettger. He graduated from the Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.[1]


Bettger's theatrical debut was in Brother Rat at the Biltmore Theatre in New York City in 1936. His Broadway credits include Dance Night (1938), Summer Night (1939), The Flying Gerardos (1940–1941), The Moon Is Down (1942), All for All (1943), Oh, Brother! (1945), John Loves Mary (1947–1948), and Love Life (1948–1949).[2]

When Paramount sent a talent scout to see him, Bettger was signed to a three-year contract.[citation needed]


Bettger's movie career began when he was cast in The Lie in 1949.[3] Movie columnist Frank Neill reported, "On the basis of his performance in the movie, he has been signed to a juicy contract."[4]

Later Bettger was cast as the lead in the film noir No Man of Her Own (1950). He soon became a regular on the set of Westerns such as Denver and Rio Grande (1952), The Great Sioux Uprising (1953), Forbidden (1953), Drums Across the River (1954), Destry (1955), The Lone Ranger, (1956) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Lyle developed a reputation for playing the bad guy and excelled in villainous roles such as the menacing Joe Beacom in Union Station (1950) and the cold-blooded Nazi Chief Officer Kirchner in The Sea Chase (1955). One of his later roles was in the 1969 film Impasse as a bigoted World War II veteran.[citation needed]


Programs on which Bettger appeared in old-time radio included Grand Central Station.[5]


Bettger made many appearances in dramatic roles on television, starring in the 1957 series The Court of Last Resort[6] as well as guest starring on Hawaii Five-O, Rawhide, The Tall Man, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Blue Light, The Time Tunnel, Death Valley Days and Laramie, "Tales of Wells Fargo (TV series)

Personal lifeEdit

Bettger was married to Mary Gertrude Rolfe from 1941 to her death in 1996. They had three children: Lyle, Jr., Frank, and Paula. She was an actress who played Henry Aldrich's sister in The Aldrich Family on radio,[7]. He died on September 24, 2003 in Atascadero, California aged 88. His remains were cremated. He was survived by his children and a sister.[citation needed]


Year Title Role Notes
1950 No Man of Her Own Stephen 'Steve' Morley
1950 Union Station Joe Beacom
1951 The First Legion Dr. Peter Morrell
1951 Dear Brat Mr.Baxter
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth Klaus
1952 Denver and Rio Grande Johnny Buff
1952 Hurricane Smith Clobb
1953 The Vanquished Roger Hale
1953 The Great Sioux Uprising Stephen Cook
1953 All I Desire Dutch Heinemann
1953 Forbidden Justin Keit
1954 Carnival Story Frank Colloni
1954 Drums Across the River Frank Walker
1954 Destry Decker
1955 The Sea Chase Chief Officer Kirchner
1956 The Lone Ranger Reece Kilgore
1956 Showdown at Abilene Dave Mosely
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Ike Clanton
1960 Guns of the Timberland Clay Bell
1960 Bonanza Lem Partridge Episode: The Guilty
1964 Combat! Captain Brauer Episode: A Rare Vintage
1965 Town Tamer Lee Ring / Marshal Les Parker
1966 Johnny Reno Mayor Jess Yates
1966 Nevada Smith Jack Rudabough
1966 Bonanza Jed Ferguson Episode: Something Hurt, Something Wild
1967 Return of the Gunfighter Clay Sutton
1967 The Fastest Guitar Alive Charlie
1969 Impasse Hansen
1969 Hawaii Five-O Joe Fletcher Episode: "All the King's Horses"
1970 The Hawaiians Janders
1971 The Seven Minutes Frank Griffith
1973 Hawaii Five-O Klepper Episode: "The Sunday Torch"
1975 Hawaii Five-O Admiral Dean Episode: "Murder: Eyes Only"
1976 Hawaii Five-O Karl Norton Episode: "Let Death Do Us Part"
1977 Hawaii Five-O Dr. Dimitri Sartain Episode: "Tsunami"
1977 Hawaii Five-O Jonathan Kaye Episode: "The Silk Trap"
1977 Hawaii Five-O Jonathan Kaye Episode: "Head to Head"
1978 Hawaii Five-O Malcolm Rhodes Episode: "Invitation to Murder"
1978 Hawaii Five-O Jonathan Kaye Episode: "A Stranger in His Grave"


  1. ^ Aaker, Everett (2006). Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6409-8. Pp. 49-51.
  2. ^ "Lyle Bettger". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  3. ^ Gwynn, Edith (August 30, 1949). "Hollywood". Pennsylvania, Pottstown. Pottstown Mercury. p. 4. Retrieved January 3, 2016 – via  
  4. ^ Neill, Frank (September 26, 1949). "Around Hollywood". Pennsylvania, New Castle. New Castle News. p. 19. Retrieved January 3, 2016 – via  
  5. ^ "Saturday Highlights". Iowa, Mason City. The Mason City Globe-Gazette. September 5, 1947. p. 1. Retrieved January 3, 2016 – via  
  6. ^ Brooks, Tim & Marsh, Earle (1979). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-25525-9. P. 137.
  7. ^ Gerhard, Inez (July 22, 1948). "Star Dust". Texas, Shiner. Shiner Gazette. p. 6. Retrieved January 3, 2016 – via  

External linksEdit