He was in so many wonderful pictures. He could be a villain, or a loving Dad, as he so memorably was in 1944’s Meet Me In St. Louis.
He was also a sharp supporting player, with nearly 160 movie and tv credits accumulated over a 55 year career.
And, peculiarly, he and his longtime wife (Christine Gossett, below) were the center of an off-screen nightmare in 1964, in which the couple was held hostage in their North Hollywood home by a cash-hungry intruder demanding a $50,000 in ransom. Ames’ wife was kidnapped but freed after the intruder was apprehended and the money (more than $400,000 in todays dollars) was recovered.
Throughout his long career (Ames died in 1993 at the age of 91), the actor exuded authoritative intelligence no matter the role. He rarely if ever played a dummy. For some 30 years, he held various executive positions at the Screen Actor’s Guild, serving as the organization’s president from 1957 to 1979.
Born in Indiana as Harry Leon Wycoff, he yearned to be an actor early on and took to the stage in the Twenties and early Thirties. By the late Thirties he had graduated from myriad parts in Poverty Row studio productions into some interesting B pictures. One was director Ernst Lubitsch’s final film for Paramount, 1938’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, in which Ames appears uncredited as an ex-chauffeur.
His fully accredited role as Judy Garland’s father (and Mary Astor’s husband) in Meet Me In St. Louis propelled his career into A-list productions. His way with humorous one-liners impressed MGM, which signed up Ames and cast him in a series of key supporting roles. Here he is (below) offering paternal advice to a young Elizabeth Taylor in 1948’s A Date With Judy.
Ames appeared in darker roles in several noirs, including a celebrated stint as dogged district attorney Kyle Sackett in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, costarring Lana Turner and John Garfield. Here he is below squaring off against legal foe, Hume Cronyn.
We especially liked Ames’ slick legal turn in director Otto Preminger’s 1953 noir, Angel Face, costarring Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum.
Ames’ voluminous tv credits include appearances on such series as Life With Father (1953-1955), Father of the Bride (1961-62), Mister Ed (1963-1965) and My Three Sons (1968).
In his later years, Ames became known locally for his business ventures, notably auto dealerships in Southern California. He worked in moves until the mid-Eighties; his last was Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married filmed seven years before his death.