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Arthur Kennedy; Actor, 5-Time Oscar Nominee

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Veteran character actor Arthur Kennedy--who played roles ranging from the dreamy idealist to the cynical heel in more than 70 movies and was a five-time Oscar nominee--has died of cancer in Branford, Conn., a family friend said Saturday.

Kennedy, 75, died Friday night at the Connecticut Hospital in Branford, where he had been admitted in October, said Allan Nixon, a longtime friend and fellow actor.

Although he never won an Academy Award, Kennedy’s nominations were seen as a tribute to his devotion to the craft of acting.

He won a Tony Award in 1949 for the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and a New York Film Critics Award for best actor in the 1951 film “Bright Victory.”

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“He was one of the best,” actor James Stewart, who worked with Kennedy in two Westerns--"Bend of the River” and “Man From Laramie"--in the 1950s, told the New York Post. “He had a natural honesty, which showed in every one of his portrayals.”

Among his film credits were “The Glass Menagerie;” “A Summer Place;” “Elmer Gantry;” “High Sierra” and “They Died With Their Boots On.”

One of Kennedy’s most memorable roles was that of crusty foreign correspondent Jackson Bentley, who chronicled the life of T.E. Lawrence in the 1962 film classic “Lawrence of Arabia.”

At the start of the David Lean film, which won seven Oscars, Bentley is seen giving a wry two-line eulogy of Lawrence:

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“He was a poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior,” he said. “He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey.”

In addition to an Oscar nomination for “Bright Victory,” Kennedy’s other Academy Award nominations were for his roles in “Champion” in 1949; “Trial” in 1955; “Peyton Place” in 1957 and “Some Came Running” in 1959.

During his heyday, Kennedy was a tireless worker who believed an actor must always practice his trade. At one point, he started a theater workshop in Hollywood so actors could polish their talents.

“Actors need this,” he told legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. “Painters paint alone, musicians play or sing alone, but what can an actor do when he isn’t working?”

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He also said he had no great admiration for present-day screen idols saying that, for the most part, they do not work at expanding their range.

“I think they’re accomplishing nothing, playing the same part over and over again, generally speaking,” he said. “It has nothing to do with acting and it doesn’t add up to much. They don’t gamble with their careers.”

Born Feb. 17, 1914, in Worcester, Mass., John Arthur Kennedy attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology and was discovered by James Cagney, who saw him perform on stage in Los Angeles.

Kennedy moved to Hollywood in 1940, where he launched his movie career in “City for Conquest” as the prodigy brother for whom Cagney sacrifices all.

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He later signed a contract with Warner Bros. and worked with Ronald Reagan during World War II, appearing with Reagan and Errol Flynn in “Desperate Journey,” a 1942 film about three prisoners of war in Nazi Germany who fight their way to freedom.

Kennedy’s last film, “Grandpa,” was finished four months ago and is scheduled for release in the spring. It was his 73rd film role.

“Signs of Life,” his next-to-last film, was released last April.

A resident of Savannah, Ga., in recent years, Kennedy had lived for many years in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, Nixon said.

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He is survived by a daughter, Laurie, of New York, Nixon said.

Kennedy will be buried alongside his wife of 45 years, Mary, at the family farm in Nova Scotia, Nixon said.


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