John Dehner; Multifaceted Actor, Artist


John Dehner, whose long career helped define the phrase “working actor,” died Tuesday in Santa Barbara.

A spokesman for the BadgleyConnor Talent Agency said Thursday that the former disc jockey, Disney animator and amateur fencer, who once was voted “best radio voice” by Radio Life Magazine, was 76 and died in Santa Barbara of the complications of emphysema and diabetes.

On radio, he generally portrayed a series of commanding heroes; on television, fops or buffoons, while in films, he often was the cruel villain.

He was J. B. Kendall, the archetypal Brit dealing with the American West in “Frontier Gentleman,” considered one of the few rivals of “Gunsmoke” in radio legend. (Dehner was also a featured player on “Gunsmoke.”) He was Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel” when that show--in an odd switch--was spun off from Richard Boone’s TV antihero to radio. And he was a regular on the experimental, highly praised “CBS Radio Workshop.”

He segued to television as Commodore Cecil Wyntoon in “The Baileys of Balboa,” as Cy Bennett on “The Doris Day Show,” Jim Duke Williams on “The Roaring Twenties,” and the humorless, businesslike Marshal Edge Troy on “Young Maverick,” a short-lived spoof of the classic Western series of the 1950s.


He also was Adm. Ernest King in the 1988 miniseries “War and Remembrance.”

But his dozens of radio and TV credits paled alongside his more than 100 films. They ranged from a credit as the animator in Walt Disney’s “The Reluctant Dragon” in 1941 to an acting role in the “Jagged Edge” in 1985.

In between were featured, supporting and cameo appearances in such movies as “Boys From Brazil,” “Cheyenne Social Club,” “State Fair,” “Scaramouche,” “The Corn Is Green,” “Golden Earrings” and a string of forgettable, low-budget features such as “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters.”

The son of an artist, he was educated in Paris, where he became a champion fencer.

Back in his native New York City, the multifaceted performer got his first dramatic exposure on the stage where he acted and directed. He came to California and found work as an animator for Disney on “Fantasia,” “Bambi” and most of the studio’s cartoon characters.

After World War II service as a publicist trailing Gen. George Patton through Africa and Europe, he joined the staff of Los Angeles radio station KFWB, where he shared in the Peabody Award the staff won for coverage of the first United Nations conference.

Survivors include his wife, Evelyn, two daughters, four stepchildren and several grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m. at Carpinteria Cemetery in Ventura County.

Donations in Dehner’s name may be made to Diabetes Research, care of Sansum Medical Research Foundation, 2219 Bath St., Santa Barbara 93105.