Howard Duff, whose resonant, cynical growl was the radio voice of detective Sam Spade and whose virile, well-traveled features became known later to two generations of filmgoers and TV viewers, died early Monday.
Duff, most recently on television as Sheriff Titus Semple on “Flamingo Road” and Sen. Henry Harrison O’Dell on “Dallas,” was stricken at his Santa Barbara home. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 76.
His wife of 17 years, Judy, said he had suffered a heart attack late Sunday night.
Duff died a day after taking part in a local telethon to raise money for victims of last month’s devastating Santa Barbara fire, which left hundreds homeless.
With former wife Ida Lupino, Duff became a favorite on the Hollywood scene, appearing opposite her in a short-lived TV situation comedy series in 1956-57 entitled “Mr. Adams and Eve.” It was a classic case of life imitating art as he portrayed half of a husband and wife film-star team battling with studios, agents and themselves.
He also was a regular on such television series as “Dante” (as an international adventurer), “Felony Squad” (as a police detective) and the anthology “Science Fiction Theater.” His nearly two dozen movies included “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Naked City,” “The Late Show,” “While the City Sleeps” and “A Wedding.”
He was a frequent guest on such TV shows as “The Golden Girls,” “Falcon Crest,” “Midnight Caller” and “Knots Landing,” appearing on the last as Paul Galveston.
He also appeared in the miniseries “War and Remembrance.”
But none of them ever seemed to recapture the Duff mystique as did Sam Spade, first heard over the nation’s airwaves in 1946.
The radio show, sponsored by Wildroot Cream Oil and adapted from Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 crime classic “The Maltese Falcon,” showcased Duff as Spade, a mildly alcoholic, mostly down-and-out private detective whose first question of prospective clients was, “How much money you got on you?”
After leaving the show Duff married Lupino. That was in 1951, four years after making his motion picture debut in “Brute Force.” They divorced in the early 1970s after having a daughter, Bridget, who was born in 1952. Along with his wife, she survives him as does a brother, Doug.