Walter Davis Pidgeon (September 23, 1897 – September 25, 1984) was a Canadian American actor who starred in many films, including Mrs. Miniver (below), The Bad and the Beautiful, Forbidden Planet, Advise and Consent, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Funny Girl and Harry in Your Pocket.
Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, Pidgeon was the son of Hannah (née Sanborn), a housewife, and Caleb Burpee Pidgeon, a haberdasher. Walter had a brother named Larry Pidgeon, who was an editorial writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Pidgeon attended local schools and the University of New Brunswick, where he studied law and drama. His university education was interrupted by World War I, and he enlisted in the 65th Battery, Royal Canadian Field Artillery. Pidgeon never saw action, however, as he was severely injured in an accident. He was crushed between two gun carriages and spent seventeen months in a military hospital. Following the war, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked as a bank runner, at the same time studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was a classically trained baritone.
Discontented with banking, Pidgeon moved to New York City, where he walked into the office of E.E. Clive, announced that he could act and sing and could prove it. After acting on stage for several years, he made his Broadway debut in 1925.
Pidgeon made a number of silent films in the 1920s. He became a huge star with the arrival of talkies, thanks to his singing voice. He starred in extravagant early Technicolor musicals, including The Bride of the Regiment (1930), Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1930), Viennese Nights (1930) and Kiss Me Again (1931). He became associated with musicals, and when the public grew weary of them his career began to falter. In 1935 he took a break from Hollywood and did a stint on Broadway, appearing in the plays Something Gay, Night of January 16th, and There's Wisdom in Women. When he returned to movies, he was relegated to playing secondary roles in films like Saratoga and The Girl of the Golden West. One of his better known roles was in The Dark Command, where he portrayed the villain (loosely based on American Civil War guerrilla William C. Quantrill) opposite John Wayne, Claire Trevor, and a young Roy Rogers.
It was not until he starred in the Academy Award-winning Best Picture How Green Was My Valley (1941) (above) that his popularity returned. He then starred opposite Greer Garson in Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor) and its sequel, The Miniver Story in 1950. He was also nominated in 1944 for Madame Curie, again opposite Garson. His partnership with her continued throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s with Mrs. Parkington (1944), Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsyte Woman (1949), and finally Scandal at Scourie (1953). He also starred as Chip Collyer in the comedy Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) and later as Colonel Michael S. 'Hooky' Nicobar, who is given the difficult task of repatriating Russians in post-World War II Vienna in the drama film The Red Danube (1949).
Although he continued to make films, including The Bad and the Beautiful (above) and Forbidden Planet (below), Pidgeon returned to work on Broadway in the mid-1950s after a 20-year absence.
He was featured in Take Me Along (below) with Jackie Gleason and received a Tony Award nomination for the musical play.
In 1962, he portrayed General Augustus Perry in the episode "The Reunion" on CBS's Rawhide (below).
He continued making films, playing Admiral Harriman Nelson in 1961's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (above) , James Haggin in Walt Disney's Big Red (1962), and the Senate Majority Leader in Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent (below).
His role as Florenz Ziegfeld (below) in Funny Girl (1968) was well received. Later, he played Casey, James Coburn's sidekick, in Harry in Your Pocket (1973).
Pidgeon guest-starred in the episode "King of the Valley" (November 26, 1959) of CBS's Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. Pidgeon plays Dave King, a prosperous rancher who quarrels with his banker over a $10,000 loan. When the banker dies of a heart attack on the job after a confrontation with King, it is discovered that the bank is missing $50,000. Leora Dana plays Anne Coleman, the banker's widow and the rancher's former paramour. The banker lost the funds with a bad investment, but the irate and uninformed townspeople are blaming King. Karl Swenson appears in this episode as Will Harmon.
His other television credits included Breaking Point, The F.B.I., Marcus Welby, M.D., and Gibbsville. In 1963 he guest starred as corporate attorney Sherman Hatfield in the fourth of four special episodes of Perry Mason while Raymond Burr was recovering from surgery.
Pidgeon was active in the Screen Actors Guild, and served as president from 1952 to 1957. He tried to stop the production of Salt of the Earth, which was made by a team blacklisted during the Red Scare. He retired from acting in 1978.
He died on September 25, 1984 in Santa Monica, California at age 87 following a series of strokes.
In lieu of burial, Walter Pidgeon's body was donated to UCLA Medical School.
Walter Pidgeon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6414 Hollywood Blvd.
Boris Karloff (1887-1969) His famous last words were: "Walter Pidgeon" Why the actor most famous for his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster mentioned the Canadian actor is unknown.
Pidgeon married twice. In 1919, he wed the former Edna Muriel Pickles, who died in 1921 during the birth of their daughter, also named Edna. In 1931, Pidgeon married his secretary, Ruth Walker, to whom he remained married until his death.
Pidgeon was a Republican. In 1944, he joined other celebrity Republicans at a rally in the Los Angeles Coliseum arranged by David O. Selznick in support of the Dewey−Bricker ticket as well as Governor Earl Warren of California, who would be Dewey's running mate in 1948. The gathering drew 93,000, with Cecil B. DeMille as the master of ceremonies and short speeches by Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney. Despite the good turnout at the rally, most Hollywood celebrities who took a public position sided with the Roosevelt-Truman ticket.
Miss Nobody (1926)
Old Loves and New (1926)
The Gorilla (1927)
Turn Back the Hours (1928)
Clothes Make the Woman (1928)
Her Private Life (1929)
Bride of the Regiment (1930)
Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1930)
Viennese Nights (1930)
Going Wild (1930)
Kiss Me Again (1931)
The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933)
Journal of a Crime (1934)
My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937)
The Girl of the Golden West (1938)
The Shopworn Angel (1938)
Too Hot to Handle (1938)
Listen, Darling (1938)
Society Lawyer (1939)
Stronger Than Desire (1939)
6,000 Enemies (1939)
Dark Command - William 'Will' Cantrell (1940)
It's a Date (1940)
Nick Carter, Master Detective (1940)
Phantom Raiders (1940)
Sky Murder (1940)
Flight Command (1940)
Design for Scandal (1941)
Man Hunt (1941)
Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
White Cargo (1942)
Madame Curie (1943)
Mrs. Parkington (1944)
Week-End at the Waldorf (1945)
The Secret Heart (1946)
Holiday in Mexico (1946)
If Winter Comes (1947)
Julia Misbehaves (1948)
Command Decision (1948)
That Forsyte Woman (1949)
The Red Danube (1949)
The Miniver Story (1950)
The Unknown Man (1951)
Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951)
Quo Vadis (1951) (Narrator)
Soldiers Three (1951)
The Sellout (1952)
Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Scandal at Scourie (1953)
Dream Wife (1953)
Deep in My Heart (1954)
Executive Suite (1954)
The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
Hit the Deck (1955)
The Glass Slipper (1955) (Narrator)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
The Rack (1956)
These Wilder Years (1956)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Advise and Consent (1962)
The Two Colonels (1962)
Big Red (1962)
Warning Shot (1967) (TV movie)
Funny Girl (1968)
The Vatican Affair (1968)
Rascal (1969) (voice)
The Mask of Sheba (1970)
The Neptune Factor (1973)
Harry in Your Pocket (1973)
Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
Two-Minute Warning (1976)
Year Program Episode/source
1952 Screen Guild Theatre "Heaven Can Wait"
1953 Lux Radio Theatre The People Against O'Hara
1. Joseph Berger (September 26, 1984). "Walter Pidgeon, Actor, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-25. Walter Pidgeon, the courtly actor who distinguished his 47-year career with portrayals of men who prove both sturdy and wise, died yesterday at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87 years old and had suffered a series of strokes. ...
3. Foster, Charles. "The Gentleman from Saint John". www.new-brunswick.net.
4. "Zane Grey Theatre: "King of the Valley", November 26, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base.
5. "Walter Pidgeon". northernstars.ca (The Canadian Movie Database).
6. David M. Jordan, FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2011), pp. 231–232
7. Kirby, Walter (April 6, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 52.
8. Kirby, Walter (March 8, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46.