HERO AND VILLAIN
by Linda C. Wood
Gerald Mohr was born in New York of Austrian parents on
11 June 1914. Educated at Dwight Preparatory School, young Gerald entered Columbia University to study medicine but, whilst in hospital recovering from an appendicitis operation, he was “discovered” by a fellow-patient who was working in radio. Gerald had a smooth, very pleasant baritone voice, ideal for radio. He became a cub reporter and station announcer and soon graduated to the ranks of the acting profession when he was invited to join the Orson Welles Mercury Theatre company, where he gained his acting training and expertise. He was also an excellent pianist and singer and expert horseman.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Rita Deneau, in 1938 and they had a son, Anthony, in 1947.
Tall, dark and handsome, film roles were quick to be offered the young actor. His first principal villain role came in the cliffhanger film series “Jungle Girl”, where he played Slick Latimer. Slick met a sudden, and slightly unusual, demise, when the villain received his “just desserts” in the last episode!
After War Service in the American Air Force, Gerald returned to become one of a number of actors who starred as “The Lone Wolf”, Michael Lanyard, a former jewel thief turned good guy. Gerald made 3 “Lone Wolf” movies, amongst other appearances in film noir. He also, during the 1940s and early 50s, acted and starred in over 500 radio shows, mainly for CBS Radio. He made over 100 appearances as Raymond Chandler’s private detective “Philip Marlowe”, a role in which he was much acclaimed.
As the television industry grew in the early 1950s, Gerald made the move to the new genre and appeared in shows like “I Love Lucy”, “The Jack Benny Program” and, of course, the best TV Westerns of the time, where he invariably played the blackhat baddie. To name but a few well-known series, he made 7 guest star appearances in “Maverick”, 2 in “Cheyenne”, 3 in “Bronco”, 3 in “Bonanza”, 3 in “Outlaws”, one “Rawhide”, one “Lawman” and, of course, his episode of “The Rifleman” – “Squeeze Play”. He also appeared in contemporary drama, guest starring in a number of episodes for the Dick Powell production company “Four Star”.
But it was as a villain that Gerald will be principally remembered. As in “Squeeze Play”, he always wore the black hat with pride, and a little jauntiness! His character, Willard Prescott, is essentially a businessman, trying to make a fast buck out of the incoming railroad. As in all his roles, Gerald played Prescott as a three-dimensional character, apparently willing to stop at nothing to gain his ends, but in the end he concedes defeat, cuts his losses and moves on. I particularly like the scenes he plays with Chuck Connors when Lucas rides into town and takes money previously offered him to repair the fence damage caused by Prescott’s henchmen, and then the later scene when he visits Prescott in his room to persuade Prescott to desist from harassing him.
Incidentally, Gerald also worked with Chuck Connors in 1954 in the film “Dragonfly Squadron”.
Also during 1954 Gerald was the star of a 41-part half-hour series called “Foreign Intrigue”, which was filmed in Stockholm. He played the hero of the piece, Christopher Storm, a hotel owner in post-War Vienna.
In 1957 he divorced Rita and in 1958 married Mai Dietrich, who had been a script supervisor working on “Foreign Intrigue”.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s Gerald continued to work in television, appearing in episodes of “Perry Mason”, “Hawaii Five-0”, The Dick Powell Theatre (immediately before his “The Rifleman” episode in 1962), “77 Sunset Strip” and “The Man from UNCLE”, to name but a few.
He returned to Stockholm in 1964 to make a spoof Western called “Wild West Story” where, unusually, the good guys spoke in Swedish and the blackhat baddies spoke in English! Needless to say, Gerald was the principal villain, dressed in all black with a gunbelt tricked in silver. He rode a white horse.
Gerald was by then fluent in Swedish and planned to start his own production company in Stockholm, but this business venture did not come to pass.
Sadly Gerald developed cancer in the mid-1960s but he continued working. He did voice-over work for serial cartoons like “The Fantastic Four” and “Aquaman” as well as TV work in “Laredo”, “Bonanza”, “Lost in Space” etc.
His last film role in 1968 was as Tom Branca in “Funny Girl”. He then guest starred in an episode of “The Big Valley” as a Mexican University Professor turned rebel, before again flying to Stockholm to make a pilot episode for a new TV series called “Private Entrance”. He completed the episode and was packing his suitcase to fly back to America the next day when he died of a heart attack in the evening of 9 November 1968.
For further information about Gerald’s career please see my website at: www.geraldmohr.biz.
Should you wish to contact me about Gerald my address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also see his
IMDB site for a full list of his film and TV work at:
Thank you Linda for doing this write up for the ranch.
Gerald Mohr might have only appeared on "The Rifleman" once, but what a powerful performance he gave.
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