Victor Jory: From Dawson to Dodge

Victor Jory (1902-1982) is best remembered for his scoundrel parts, although several of his role were in the “good guy” side of the column. He’s always reminded me a little of Charles Middleton, with better acting ability.

Jory was born in Dawson City, Yukon, an excellent background for the many westerns he would distinguish with his talents. A brawny guy, he’d wrestled and boxed in his youth, attended a drama academy, and barnstormed with stock companies. A small role in Renegades (1930) with Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy was his first screen part. Memorable turns from the first phase of his career include Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Dario (the main character) in Escape from Devil’s Island (1935), Injun Joe in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), overseer Jonas Wilkerson in Gone with the Wind (1939), Yancey (the villain) in Dodge City (1939) and the title character in the serialized screen adaptation of The Shadow (1940). Jory was well prepared for the latter, having appeared in other B movie fodder such as films in the Nero Wolfe, Lone Wolf, Bulldog Drummond, and Charlie Chan series. In the ’40s and ’50s he did dozens of westerns, usually playing deperadoes or (less often) Native American characters.

Interestingly, during that period he also returned to the stage, acting in eight Broadway plays, including the original production of The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1943-45, later made into a film), the title characters in King Henry VIII (1946-47) and John Gabriel Borman (1946-47), a revival of Sidney Howard’s Yellow Jack (1947) directed by Martin Ritt, and two Shaw plays, Androcles and the Lion (1947) and The Devil’s Disciple (1950). During this period he also did voices and narration for several of George Pal’s Puppetoons shorts.

Naturally Jory guested on many of the major TV series (especially westerns and dramas) starting in the 1950s, and he was a regular on the cop show Manhunt (1959-61). During this high profile period, he had good roles in major films like Tennessee WilliamsThe Fugitive Kind (1960) and Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker (1962).

It is interesting to note that despite Jory’s proven track record as an actor, throughout the years he would continue to take bit roles as semi-mute non-Europeans. In Valley of the Kings (1954) he is a Tuarag Chief, in John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn (1964) a Cheyenne Chief, in Papillion (1973) a Central American Indian, and in his last film Mountain Men (1980) with Charlton Heston and Brian Keith, a Commanche Chief.