John Dehner (1915-1992) had all the necessary ingredients for major stardom: extremely good looks, an award-winning voice, acting ability and humor. Yet he was normally cast as a supporting player, and relegated to character parts. I chalk it up to a couple of different factors. One is a terrible screen name. His real surname was Forkum, not much better, but it makes the change even more unaccountable to me. He CHOSE that name? “Dehner” manages to be both weird and boring. Have you ever heard that name before? Dehner? Why’s it got an “h” in it? This is world and a business in which you can choose to be a Rock Hudson or a Tab Hunter or a Gig Young. John Dehner? NEXT!
The other factor I think is that Dehner started out in a completely different career. He began as an animator for Walt Disney. He worked on Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942). The Reluctant Dragon (1941) was his first on-camera screen credit (he’s the Baby Weems storyboard artist) and the experience seems to have turned his head. Thus, rather than coming to the screen as a stage actor, he worked his way up to bigger parts as an extra, and that process took many years. By the time he started to get better roles, he was beginning to mature, and hence, a character actor as opposed to a leading man. But honestly, with those pale blues eyes, classical nose, and dashing ‘stache, he might have been a matinee idol. He was certainly a much better actor than, say, Robert Taylor.
Dehner amassed close to 300 screen credits, in both film and television. He was especially associated with westerns, with prominent roles in classics of the genre like The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), Trooper Hook (1957), The Left Handed Gun (1958) and Man of the West (1958). He was also one of the major stars of old time radio during its’ final days, starring on shows like Have Gun Will Travel and Frontier Gentleman. On TV he frequently guested on programs like Wagon Train, Maverick, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and The Virginian. He’s in three episodes of The Twilight Zone; two of Columbo. He was also a regular on several series, though most of them lasted one season or less. These included The Roaring Twenties (1960-62), The Baileys of Balboa (1964-65), The Doris Day Show (1971-73), The New Temperatures Rising Show (1973-74), Big Hawaii (1977), Young Maverick (1979-80), Enos (1980-81), and Bare Essence (1983).
Dehner enjoyed something of a career Renaissance during his last couple of decades. Now an even more mature man, he still had the great looks and voice, an asset to any production. His roles were smaller but still decent, and he was in numerous hit films and prestige TV movies. In these later performances he was often cast as Generals, Admirals, Judges, business leaders, and other authority figures. They included They Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Dirty Dingus Magee (1970), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), Slaughterhouse Five (1972), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), The Missiles of October (1974), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Airplane II: The Sequel (1983), The Right Stuff (1983), The Winds of War (1983), Jagged Edge (1985), The Colbys (1986-87) and War and Remembrance (1988-89), his last.