Friday, September 21, 2012

THE LAST DAYS OF GIG YOUNG

Gig Young is one of those character actors that you saw in countless movies but probably do not remember his name. For me, I remember him with Doris Day and Frank Sinatra in the musical drama "Young At Heart" (1954) or on the episode of Twilight Zone where he is trying to recapture his youth by returning to his home town.

Young should have been elevated to the ranks of great actors like William Holden and Marlon Brando. He even won an Oscar in 1969, but it did not seem to be enough. Young's lifelong demons got the best of him, and the alcohol and depression he suffered contributed to his sad and shocking death.

Born Byron Elsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1913, his parents John and Emma Barr raised him and his older siblings in Washington D.C. He developed a passion for the theatre while appearing in high school plays, and after some amateur experience he applied for and received a scholarship to the acclaimed Pasadena Community Playhouse. While acting in Pancho, a south-of-the-border play by Lowell Barrington, he and the leading actor in the play, George Reeves, were spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout. Both actors were signed to supporting player contracts with the studio. His early work was uncredited or as Byron Barr (not to be confused with another actor with the same name, Byron Barr), but after appearing in the 1942 film The Gay Sisters as a character named "Gig Young", the studio decided he should adopt this name professionally.

Young appeared in supporting roles in numerous films during the 1940s, and came to be regarded as a popular and likable second lead, playing the brothers or friends of the principal characters. Young took a hiatus from his movie career and enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 1941 where he served as a pharmacist's mate in the US Coast Guard until the end of World War II. After Young's return from the war, Warner Bros. dropped his option. He then began freelancing at various studios, eventually obtaining a contract with Columbia Pictures before returning to freelancing. During those years, Young began to play the type of role that he would become best known for, a sardonic but engaging and affable drunk. His dramatic work as an alcoholic in the 1951 film Come Fill the Cup and his comedic role as a tipsy but ultimately charming intellectual in Teacher's Pet earned him nominations for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Gig Young won the Academy Award for his role as Rocky, the dance marathon emcee and promoter in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? According to his fourth wife, Elaine Williams, "What he was aching for, as he walked up to collect his Oscar, was a role in his own movie—one that they could finally call 'a Gig Young movie.' For Young, the Oscar was literally the kiss of death, the end of the line". Young himself had said to Louella Parsons, after failing to win in 1951, "so many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have had bad luck afterwards."

Young was married to actress Elizabeth Montgomery from 1956-63, a marriage that strained Elizabeth's relationship with her father, Robert Montgomery, who opposed the union. Young’s alcoholism continued to spiral out of control, and hastened the end of this already-abusive marriage. Young married five times and fathered a daughter in 1964, though he denied paternity until a five-year court case proved otherwise. Remember, no DNA testing then.

Alcoholism plagued his later years, causing him to lose acting roles. He was fired on the first day of shooting the comedy film Blazing Saddles after collapsing on the set due to withdrawals from alcohol.Young was an invisible presence in a terrible movie, The Hindenburg, also released in 1975, and then he hit rock bottom in 1978 when he was cast in a patchwork reworking of an unreleased kung-fu movie called Game of Death — incomplete footage of which was shot prior to star Bruce Lee’s death in 1973.


On October 19, 1978, three weeks after his marriage to Schmidt, the couple was found dead at home in their Manhattan apartment. Police theorized that Young first shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself in a murder-suicide. After an investigation, police stated Young had acted on the spur of the moment and his actions were not planned. His motive remains unclear. It was later revealed that Young had been receiving psychiatric treatment from the controversial psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy, who was later professionally decertified for his treatment of Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

Young's will, which covered a $200,000 estate, left his Academy Award to his agent, Martin Baum and Baum's wife. Young left his daughter, Jennifer, $10. Gig Young never did get his "own movie", but unfortunately he did get his "own headlines". Now instead of being known as a great actor, he is known as a sad, troubled, and confused murderer. Another sad story in Hollywood, that should have ended much differently...

19 comments:

  1. Such a sad story about a talented actor. You've written a thoughtful post and, honestly, it's made me a little "verklempt"!

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    1. Mr young is still a big movie legend,no matter what his personal life actions.He is still a movie star what are we....

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    2. Umm...we are people who don't kill someone else, hopefully? If he had molested a child or killed someone while driving drunk, would you still defend him and lecture us as to how he was a "legend?" Quit the celebrity bootlicking. It's not appealing.

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  2. The leaving the daughter $10 really sticks in my craw. That's just not a sign of a good guy, troubled by alcoholism or not.

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    1. There could well be more to the story that could alter your opinion. Without DNA technology it's very possible Young may have never acknowledged the girl's paternity despite the ruling of the court. It's also possible that like many divorced women the child was used as a weapon against the man. He had his troubles but no one I know is completely bad or good. I don't doubt that he behaved like a beast to one or all his wives, yet we have no idea what his underlying issues may have been. If he hadn't recognized his legal daughter in the will she may have fought the will in probate. It's not all that odd for a will to leave a $1 to family members while the assets go to a university or cause like the Heart Association. My wife's grandfather did this while donating millions to build a building named for him at a university. She got a $1 as did her mother, it wasn't taken as a slap in the face, the entire family backed the project.

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  3. Gig Young was trying to put this nicely a bozo, when he was married to Elizabeth Montgomery he was very abusive to her. Liz's father actor Robert Montgomery at one time got fed up and threatened him. He was an abusive psycho alcoholic.

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  4. metallic I always liked Gig Young sorry he had a sad end such a lovely character .Some one should have tried to find out what was troubling him then he may not have drunk so much.

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  5. Just saw the Twilight Zone he starred in, Walking Distance. This is one of my favorites and he was EXCELLENT in it.

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    1. Yes, he was a very gifted actor! Gig Young was also excellent in one of my favorites from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the gambler Duke Marsden in the 1962 episode, "A Piece of the Action"...and its sad ending...as in his real life.

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    2. Yes, I just saw that Alfred Hitchcock episode last night, then I came to read Gig Young's tragic end.

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  6. Yes I also just saw the Twilight Zone " Walking Distance" One of the best! Sad he had to end like that.

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  7. Why does Hollywood glorify Substance Abuse in so many ways, in so many many movies, and then turn a blind eye when they come home to roost?

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    1. You might ask the same question of smoking. Why are such a high percentage of actors in recent films smoking as part of their roles? The sheer numbers of dead, before their time, stars who died of smoking related causes is sobering. The studios in the not too distant past agreed with groups lobbying to stop the romanticizing of drug and tobacco use in movies, to clean up their act. That apparently is no longer in effect, the "beautiful people" starring in recent films are smoking at a rate many times greater than the population at large. The numbers of young people who are starting to smoke is rising again, I point to celebrities who smoke as being a major reason why.

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  8. He deserved the Oscar for Rocky from "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" But it's hard to find compassion for an alcoholic that was abusive to his wives, denied paternity of his only child, then leave her $10 when he kills himself (great dad!), shows up to acting jobs having seizures from alcohol withdrawal, and the ultimate asshole act, putting a bullet in the head of his young bride of 3 weeks who had no business in the first place marrying him. If he would have put down the bottle instead of feeling sorry for himself, perhaps he would have earned the respect of movie makers and they would have cast him in the leading roles he so desired.

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    1. You need to re-read your writing because you go full circle trashing the guy for having withdrawal seizures then a few words later you trash him for being unable to put down the bottle. You do understand that putting down the bottle so he could be sober while acting in the film was the reason he was having the seizures don't you? He had a disease that was bigger than he was,mthats all we know, I can't judge him on the very sketchy information provided.

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  9. Ruth Schmidt (Young)is buried at Eildon Cemetery in Victoria Australia

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  10. Gig had three failures near the end of his life: a failed play, a failed marriage and a failed night as a volunteer emcee, in which he spoke to long introducing a singer and was heckled and booed. The police also said they had never seen so many prescription pill bottles in one bathroom. He was a lonely, addicted man who was addicted to marriage also, for in those days, so was everyone else - constantly getting married, when it's yourself you should try to make happy first. For some though, that only comes with having someone else in your life.

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  11. He looked pretty good in the Twilight Zone episode. Usually hard drinkers show it after a few years. Too bad. He played many suave, light hearted male roles -- too bad he died in such tawdry circumstances. RIP.

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