David Brian: Mr. District Attorney

On the strength of his movie career alone, I doubt I would have done a post on actor David Brian (Brian Davis, 1914-1993), despite the fact that insomuch that he is remembered at all, that would be what he is best remembered for. We include him in our annals more for the reason that he was said to have started out as a song and dance man in vaudeville, night clubs, and presentation houses. I’ve come across no primary sources as yet that backs it up, but it’s included in every biography of him, and there’s no reason to doubt it. There was a Brian Davis (his given name) in the Broadway musicals Princess Charming (1930) and Bitter Sweet (1934), possibly the same person, although he would have been quite young in the first of those shows.

Brian clearly had some stage experience under his belt, for somehow, at the age of 35, he was an instant leading man at Warner Brothers. Typically, actors would reach that that status in one of two ways: 1) they would either already be a star in another medium, either the stage or radio; or 2) they’d start out in small supporting screen roles and work their way up. But Brian was immediately given a big supporting part (fourth billed, a sweet spot) in Flamingo Road (1949) starring Joan Crawford; then co-starred with her in The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and This Woman is Dangerous (1952). Crawford’s support is normally the reason given for this fast track. Thanks to Lance Werth of Lance’s Werthwhile Classic Movie Diary (a Crawford scholar) for confirming that they were involved romantically, at least according to David Bret’s Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr. The affair happened during a window between her marriages to Philip Terry and Alfred Steele. Brian was 6’4″, around the same size of John Wayne and James Arness, with a quirky WASP handsomeness not unlike that of Van Johnson’s.

But Brian also had several early credits without Crawford. His first screen role was in a new wrap-around designed for the 1949 re-release of the 1935 film G-Men. He appeared opposite Juano Hernandez in Intruder in the Dust (1949); both actors were nominated for Golden Globe Awards. He was also third billed behind Bette Davis and Joseph Cotten in Beyond the Forest in 1949. Just an all around fortuitous debut year. Also at this time, he married B movie actress Lorna Gray, a fellow veteran of variety entertainment, having divorced his previous wife a year earlier.

Brian went to star in the tv series Mr. District Attorney (1954) and to appear in movies like Springfield Rifle (1952), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), The First Traveling Saleslady (1956), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), How the West Was Won (1962), The Rare Breed (1966), Castle of Evil (1966), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969, starring Adam West) and Russ Meyer’s The Seven Minutes (1961). Starting in the 1960s, TV guest starring began to make up the bulk of his employment and you could see him on Star Trek, Honey West, Gunsmoke, Police Story etc. properly speaking his career ended in 1975, although he did emerge from a retirement to appear on a show called Father’s Day nearly a decade later.

For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.