Although most of his greatest successes came on the Broadway stage, Arthur Kennedy received five Oscar nominations, four as Best Supporting Actor. Sadly he never won an Oscar.
Still, he will go down as one of the most recognizable and gifted character actors of the silver screen. For Kennedy lent support in dozens of features.
One of Joe’s favorites is 1949’s Too Late for Tears opposite Lizabeth Scott.
In other noir films the woman is often just the supporting player to the male lead. But in Too Late for Tears Scott IS the lead and is supported by three men, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore and Kennedy — who plays the honest-John husband that Scott bumps off to keep a valise full of cash someone tossed into her open convertible.
The upstanding husband (poor fellow!) wanted to turn in the cash to the cops. Scott, it turns out, is in cahoots with a sleazy private eye (Duryea), who slaps her around. Dan thinks that a few stiff smacks in the kisser will be enough to keep Liz in line, but she proved him wrong, writes Eddie Muller in his definitive 1998 tome, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir.
Nothing if not versatile, Kennedy was nominated for supporting actor in Champion in 1949, but lost to Dean Jagger for Twelve O’Clock High. In 1955 he was nominated for a little known film, Trial, but lost to Jack Lemmon in Mr. Roberts.
In 1957 Red Buttons in Sayonara beat him out when he was nominated for Peyton Place, and in the following year, although brilliant (as always) in Some Came Running, Kennedy lost to Burl Ives for The Big Country.
In fact Kennedy is tied with Claude Raines as having the most nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor with no Oscar win.
But unlike Raines, Arthur Kennedy also played leads in some films and has a nomination in the Best Actor category for his performance in 1951’s Bright Victory.
Kennedy was a member of the Group Theatre in New York and had done Broadway for several years when he was discovered by Jimmy Cagney (above right) and brought to Hollywood for a featured role in Cagney’s 1940 film City for Conquest.
In 1952’s The Lusty Men, Kennedy appeared supporting Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward under Nicholas Ray’s direction. And catch his turn as the double-crossing villain in the same year’s Bend of the River starring James Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann.
There’s little question that Kennedy’s international exposure reached a zenith as a result of his role in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia.
The actor plays an opportunistic but cynically perceptive journalist (said to be modeled on journalist-broadcaster Lowell Thomas) who frames the audience’s perception of the film’s protagonist for the rest of the world.
Kennedy’s performance is often recalled as is Claude Rains’ in the same picture, as a deeply cynical diplomat. Lawrence of Arabia won seven Oscars — none of which went to either Rains or Kennedy.