His radio and TV career surpassed his film career but William Bendix made quite a splash in films. (There he is above with Alan Ladd in 1946’s The Blue Dahlia.)
He was an odd star, not a leading man, not quite a character actor. And despite the pronounced Brooklyn accent he employed in many roles, he hailed from Manhattan in New York City.
He excelled in a broad range of roles: unsavory thugs, taxi drivers, cops, battle-scarred G.I.’s, shady gumshoes and various types of working stiffs. He reached his peak of fame in television playing one of the medium’s first blue-collar stalwarts.
Bendix’ movie work was distinguished by roles in films of Alfred Hitchcock and Josef von Sternberg, among many other prestige directors. His career as a fairly lengthy one although his life was not — he died at in 1964 at age 58.
But perhaps his most memorable role was in Hitchcock’s rescue-at-sea drama in Lifeboat. Ben played an earthy grunt who loses his marbles as the unforgiving sun and ensuing thirst take their tolls on a boatload of World War II shipwreck survivors.
Bendix also excelled in roles as varied as a stalwart baseball figure (See the chap to the left below) and as a corrupt detective. With that mugg, he was a natural. Talent was an added advantage.
Some notions about William Bendix:
— He was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for 1942’s Wake Island. Bendix was a natural for war movies.
— Bendix’ appearance in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was important for a special reason. His character reads a newspaper ad showing a figure that looks remarkably like director Hitchcock, who often appeared in cameos in his pictures.
— Bendix costarred with Robert Mitchum in Macao, directed by von Sternberg.
— Bendix achieved national popularity for his ingratiating tv performance as Chester A. Riley on the long running series, The Life of Riley. But he was not the first actor to play the role. Jackie Gleason was.
— Because of its popularity first on radio and then tv, The Life of Riley Bendix played the title role in director Irving Brecher’s 1949 film, The Life of Riley.