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Steve Cochran (May 25, 1917 - June 15, 1965) was an American film, television and stage actor. He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1939. After a stint working as a cowpuncher, Cochran developed his acting skills in local theatre and gradually progressed to Broadway, film and television.
|Born||Robert Alexander Cochran
May 25, 1917
Eureka, California, U.S.
|Died||June 15, 1965
Off the coast of Guatemala
|Cause of death||acute lung infection|
|Alma mater||University of Wyoming|
|Spouse(s)||Florence Lockwood (1935–1946; divorced) 1 child
Fay McKenzie (1946–1948; divorced)
Jonna Jensen (1961–1965; his death)
Christened Robert Alexander Cochran, the actor was born in Eureka, California, but grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, the son of a logger. While he appeared in high school plays, he spent more time delving into athletics, particularly shooting hoops.
After stints as a cowpuncher and railroad station hand, he studied at the University of Wyoming, where he also played basketball. Impulsively, he quit college in 1937 and decided to go straight to Hollywood to become a star.
Working as a carpenter and department store detective during his early days, he gained experience appearing in summer stock and in the early 1940s he was given the chance to work with the Shakespeare Festival in Carmel. There he played "Orsino" in "Twelfth Night", "Malcolm" in "Macbeth", "Horatio" in "Hamlet" and the ungainly title role of "Richard III".
Cochran performed in plays in the Federal Theatre Project in Detroit. During World War II he was rejected for military service due to a heart murmur but directed and performed in plays at a variety of Army camps.,
Goldwyn then put him in Wonder Man (1945) a Danny Kaye movie co-starring Virginia Mayo and Vera-Ellen; Cochran played a gangster. Columbia used him in another Boston Blackie, Blackie's Rendezvous (1945), where he played a villain, and in The Gay Senorita (1945), with Jinx Falkenburg.
Goldwyn used Cochran in another Danny Kaye movie with Mayo and Vera-Ellen, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). After United Artists borrowed him to play a gangster in The Chase (1946), Cochran appeared in his prestigious drama, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), playing a man who has an affair with Virginia Mayo while her husband Dana Andrews was away at war. The movie was a huge critical and commercial success.
Cochran supported Groucho Marx in Copacabanca (1947) for United Artists. Goldwyn got him to play another gangster opposite Kaye and Mayo in A Song is Born (1948), directed by Howard Hawks. He made his TV debut in "Dinner at Antoine's" for The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (1949) and followed this with "Tin Can Skipper" for NBC Presents (1949). He returned to Broadway for a short lived revival of Mae West's Diamond Lil, supporting West. This revived Hollywood's interest in him.
In 1949 Cochran went over to Warner Bros, where he played psychotic mobster James Cagney’s power-hungry henchman, Big Ed Somers, in the gangster classic White Heat (1949). He appeared opposite Mayo. Warner Bros would eventually take over Cochran's and Mayo's contracts from Goldwyn.
Cochran supported Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950), then was given his first lead role in Highway 301 (1950), playing a gangster. He was a villain to Gary Cooper's hero in Dallas (1950), and played a Ku Klux Klan member in Storm Warning (1951), with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day.
Cochran was a villain in Canyon Pass (1951), a Western, then was given the lead in Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951), which inspired Johnny Cash to write his song "Folsom Prison Blues".
Warners starred him in a war movie, The Tanks Are Coming (1951), and a Western, The Lion and the Horse (1952). He co-starred with Cornel Wilde in Operation Secret (1952) and supported Virginia Mayo in a musical, She's Back on Broadway (1953). In The Desert Song (1953), Cochran played Gordon Macrae's rival for Kathryn Grayson. He then left Warners.
He returned to television appearing in episodes of Lux Video Theatre ("Three Just Men" (1953)), and Studio One in Hollywood ("Letter of Love" (1953)). Cochran went to Germany to make Carnival Story (1954) for the King Brothers.
Back in Hollywood he made Private Hell 36 (1954) with Ida Lupino for director Don Siegel. He did "Foreign Affair" (1954) for Robert Montgomery Presents and "The Role of a Lover" (1954) and "The Most Contagious Game" (1955) for Studio One, "Trip Around the Block" (1954) and "The Menace of Hasty Heights" (1956) for The Ford Television Theatre, "The After House" (1954), "Fear is the Hunter" (1956), "Bait for the Tiger" (1957) for Climax!, and "The Seeds of Hate" (1955) for General Electric Theatre.
Cochran had the lead in an Allied Artists Western, Quantrill's Raiders (1958) and a Roger Corman gangster film, I Mobster (1959). Albert Zugsmith used him for the lead in The Beat Generation (1959) and The Big Operator (1959).
However from this point on Cochran worked mostly in television, guest starring in series such as 'Bonanza, The Untouchables, Route 66, Bus Stop, Stoney Burke, The Naked City, Shirley Temple's Storybook, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Virginian, Route 66, Death Valley Days, Mr. Broadway, Burke's Law and the 1959 episode "What You Need" (S1, Ep. 12; airdate: Dec. 25, 1959) of CBS's The Twilight Zone.
In 1953 Cochran formed his own production company, Robert Alexander Productions. His production company attempted to make some television series and other films such as The Tom Mix Story (with Cochran as Mix), Hope is the Last Thing to Die about the Mexican War, and Klondike Lou. However they were never produced with the exception of a television pilot where he played John C. Fremont in Fremont the Trailblazer.
However Cochran did write, produce, direct and star in Tell Me in the Sunlight (1965).
Cochran was a notorious womanizer and attracted tabloid attention for his tumultuous private life, which included well-documented affairs with numerous starlets and actresses. Mamie Van Doren later wrote about their sex life in graphic detail in her tell-all autobiography Playing the Field: My Story (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1987). He was also married and divorced three times, to actress Fay McKenzie, Florence Lockwood and Jonna Jensen. Cochran was the grandfather of film and television producer Alex Johns, who co-executive produced more than seventy episodes of the animated television series Futurama. In the 2002 documentary The Importance of Being Morrissey, Steven Morrissey claims that his parents named him after Steve Cochran.
On June 15, 1965, at the age of 48, Cochran died on his yacht off the coast of Guatemala, reportedly due to an acute lung infection. His body, along with two sixteen year old girls , remained aboard for ten days since the girls did not know how to operate the boat. It drifted to shore in Port Champerico, Guatemala, and was found by authorities.
There were various rumors of foul play and poisoning, but reportedly no new evidence was found.
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- Intermission by Anne Baxter
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