From the Archives: Victor Mature, Beefcake Star of ‘40s and ‘50s, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Victor Mature, the brawny, broad-shouldered actor who was one of Hollywood’s first beefcake stars, has died. He was 86.

Mature, who played numerous leads during the 1940s and ‘50s, including Doc Holliday in John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine,” was a shrewd real estate investor who was able to retire decades ago. He had been lured out of retirement only a few times since the mid-1960s.

He lived on 11 acres of rolling hills in Rancho Santa Fe and spent his days playing golf and monitoring his investments.


During the past three years, he had suffered from cancer, friends said. A funeral service is scheduled for today in Louisville, Ky., Mature’s hometown.

The San Diego County coroner’s office said it was notified that Mature died Wednesday.

Mature appeared in 72 movies--many of them forgettable--and was often cast in roles that allowed him to appear shirtless and display his powerful physique. By the late 1940s, however, he gained critical acclaim in such films as “Cry of the City” and “Kiss of Death.”

In “My Darling Clementine,” he portrayed Doc Holliday and was paired with Henry Fonda, who played Wyatt Earp. The 1946 version of the fabled gunfight at the O.K. Corral is considered one of Ford’s finest films.

Mature never appeared to take his acting career--or himself--too seriously. He often quipped that he was in the business for the money.

Once, he applied for membership in the Los Angeles Country Club. His application was rejected on the grounds that he was an actor.

“Not true,” Mature replied. “I’ve never been an actor--and I’ve got 70 movies to prove it.”

Those who worked with Mature, however, knew he took his craft seriously. He had a strong theatrical foundation, and appeared in more than 100 plays at the Pasadena Playhouse before his first movie role.

Despite his macho image, Mature used to joke that he would never put himself in harm’s way on a set.

During the making of “Samson and Delilah” in 1949, Cecil B. De Mille wanted Mature to wrestle with a tame movie lion named Jackie during an action sequence. Mature refused.

“But Jackie never hurt anyone; he doesn’t even have any teeth,” De Mille argued.

“Yeah?” Mature replied. “I don’t want to be gummed to death, either.”

A stuntman wrestled with the lion.

In the early ‘50s, Mature was popular enough as an actor to command a $5,000-a-week contract at 20th Century Fox.

Among Mature’s most acclaimed films were “The Shanghai Gesture” (1941), directed by Josef von Sternberg; “My Gal Sal” (1942), with Rita Hayworth; “I Wake Up Screaming” (1941), with Betty Grable; “Wabash Avenue” (1950), again with Grable; “The Robe” (1953), as the slave Demetrius; a sequel, “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954); and “Chief Crazy Horse” (1954), in which he played the title role.

Mature was reluctant to leave his placid life in San Diego County for the rigors of a movie set. In 1972, however, he agreed to portray Mafia boss Carmine Ganucci in “Every Little Crook and Nanny,” and received rave reviews.

“I’d rather laze around,” Mature told one reviewer. “There’s a lot to be said for loafing if you know how to do it gracefully.”

He was as much a lady’s man off the screen as he was on it. Mature dated stars such as Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner, and was married five times.

He was born in 1913 in Louisville. His father, an Austrian immigrant, was an executive in a commercial refrigeration company, and he wanted his son to join him in the business.

Instead, Mature moved to California in the mid-1930s and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1939, he made his screen debut with a small role in “The Housekeeper’s Daughter.” He was an immediate hit with audiences, and the next year was given the lead, as a caveman, in “One Million B.C.”

During World War II, he served in the Coast Guard.

Survivors include his wife, Lorey, a former Chicago opera singer, and their daughter, Victoria, 24, who recently graduated from an opera program at UC San Diego.