The Sad Suicide of Everett Sloane

Most film buffs, I imagine, know Everett Sloane (1909-1965) chiefly from his professional relationship with Orson Welles. He was with the Mercury Theatre in their radio productions and in their 1941 stage adaptation of Native Son, as well as Citizen Kane (1941, as Mr. Bernstein), Journey Into Fear (1943), The Lady from Shanghai (1946), and Prince of Foxes (1949). Welles also wanted him for Iago in his Othello (1955), which would have been incredible, but Sloane backed out, causing a permanent rift between the two.

Those who love Sloane as Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane may not be surprised that he had once worked as a runner on Wall Street. The 1929 Crash caused him pursue stage and radio careers. Wall-eyed and hook-nosed, you may say that he had a “good face for radio”, but it was also a good one for films, in certain kinds of character parts. Though his name was really WASPy sounding, Sloane was a Jew from New York, and often played characters that reflected his identity. Among his thousands of radio roles, regular slots on The Goldbergs, Bulldog Drummond, and The March of Time (on which he often portrayed Hitler). Sloane had a sort of whiny, gravelly voice, though he could deepen it as well, so his character range allowed him to play anything from dippy comic sidekicks to authoritative businessmen to gents much older than he was.

Of his ten Broadway shows, the original 1944 production of A Bell for Adano with Fredric March was probably his most significant. Notable screen roles outside the Welles orbit included Robert Aldrich’s film of Clifford Odets’ The Big Knife (1955), both the TV and film versions of Rod Serling’s Patterns (1955), Somebody Up There LIkes Me (1956), Lust for Life (1956, especially interesting as he had played Van Gogh himself on TV six years earlier), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Danny Kaye’s The Man from the Diner’s Club (1958) and the two 1964 Jerry Lewis comedies The Patsy and The Disorderly Orderly. (I tell you without shame that those had to have been among the first movies I saw him in)

Sloane did lots and lots of television, especially those live television dramas of the Playhouse 90 sort, but also such shows as Alfred Hitchock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, Bonanza, etc. He also provided the voice of Dick Tracy on the animated The Dick Tracy Show (1961). His last screen role was a 1965 episode of Honey West which aired posthumously.

Sloane also dabbled in songwriting. Several of his songs were used in the revue From A to Z (1960), which proved to be his last Broadway show. He also wrote the lyrics for The Andy Griffith Show theme, which ultimately weren’t used, in favor of the familiar whistling arrangement. Sloane was to guest star on that show later in a 1963 episode.

In 1965, Sloane became depressed about his worsening glaucoma and fearful of the prospect of going blind, a condition which could concievably be fatal to the career of an actor. (As someone who has attended theatre productions featuring blind actors, I know that that needn’t be the case, but certainly the condition of sightlessness would limit aspects of the job he loved.) He chose an exit from this world: 25 barbiturate capsules were the route he took. He was only 55 years old.