Lovable Leads and Comic Characters – David Wayne (1914 – 1995)

Posted in Rewind by - January 06, 2015
Lovable Leads and Comic Characters – David Wayne (1914 – 1995)

A cheery and very versatile performer, David Wayne was one of those actors like Jack Lemmon, who was comfortable in both comedy and drama, often excelling at both. A reliable lead in the Fifties and later a scene-stealing character actor, he gave many memorable performances in his 40 year career, both on screen and occasionally the stage.

Born Wayne James McMeekan on January 30th 1914, David Wayne first found great success on Broadway in 1947 before he began in the movies. He was the first actor to win a Tony award, for his supporting turn as the leprechaun Og, in ‘Finian’s Rainbow’, a part later played by Tommy Steele in the 1968 movie version. After debuting on screen in the excellent Jennifer Jones’ romancer ‘Portrait of Jennie’ (’48), Wayne had a memorable part as a pianist with a crush on Katherine Hepburn, in George Cukor’s classic comedy ‘Adam’s Rib’ (’49), which had Spencer Tracy and Hepburn as rival lawyers. Another good role came in 1951 with Joseph Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s superb 1931 German thriller ‘M’. Although not a patch on the original, it was a decent re-imagining and Wayne was very good as the child killer being hunted down by both the law and the underworld.

After supporting roles in a couple of early Marilyn Monroe comedies, ‘As Young As You Feel’ (’51) and ‘We’re Not Married!’ (’52), Wayne had a terrific lead role in the largely forgotten drama ‘Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie’ (’52). A wonderful piece of Americana, Wayne played a small town barber in a role which called upon him to age over many years, which he did convincingly. It remains my favourite role of his. The following year Wayne had his third appearance in a Marilyn Monroe movie, and it was a small but memorable one. In Jean Negulesco’s humorous but largely dated comedy ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (’53), his scenes on board a plane with Marilyn Monroe are genuinely funny, as they meet and fall in love over their shared short-sightedness.

A change of pace came in 1956 with the rugged gold rush adventure ‘The Naked Hills’, a solid movie with a good performance from Wayne. Another good dramatic turn came in Nunnally Johnson’s ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ (’57), as the husband of a woman with multiple personalities. It was a fine movie and deservedly won Joanne Woodward a well-deserved Oscar as the troubled wife. After playing a harassed television producer in fear for his job, in Paul Muni’s final film ‘The Last Angry Man’, Wayne mainly spent the next few years in television, giving some wonderful performances, including an excellent 1962 episode of ‘Naked City’ with Jean Stapleton, and a fun recurring role as The Mad Hatter in ‘Batman’ (’66-7). After playing a pathologist in the OK sci-fi thriller ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (’71) he was back in guest spot territory in the likes of ‘Mannix’ and ‘Ironside’ (’73). A good comedy role in a weak entry from Billy Wilder followed, when he played a fussy and effeminate reporter in ‘The Front Page’ (’74), alongside Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Better was Disney’s ‘The Apple Dumpling Gang’ (’75), a Don Knott’s comedy which had Wayne as Susan Clark’s pompous father.

With his movie career waning, David moved easily into television where he worked steadily for the next few years. He was the father to Jim Hutton’s sleuth in the short-lived ‘Ellery Queen’ (’75), and played “Digger” Barnes in the first season of ‘Dallas’ (’78). After co-starring as a gym owner in another Don Knott’s comedy; ‘The Prize Fighter’ (’79), Wayne had a recurring role in the medical drama ‘House calls’ (’79-’82). He was then the best thing in Richard Lester’s screwball feature ‘Finders Keepers’ (’84), as an aged train conductor boring passengers with his locomotive tales. A watchable comedy, it at least provided a funny early role for a young Jim Carrey. After a few more TV appearances and a poor post-apocalypse movie (1987’s ‘The Survivalist’), Wayne’s final role came in the charming television movie ‘Poker Alice’ (’87), which starred Elizabeth Taylor as a professional poker player in the old West.

Now retired from the screen after a five decade career, David Wayne celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary in 1991, two years before his wife’s death. David would later succumbed to lung cancer on February 9th, 1995, aged 81. A terrific and lovable actor, he was able to handle all genres and gave some memorably diverse performances on stage, screen and television.

Favourite Movie: Adam’s Rib
Favourite Performance: ‘Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie’

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