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From the Archives: Heart Attack Fatal to Actor Walter Huston

From the Archives: Heart Attack Fatal to Actor Walter Huston
Walter Huston in "A House Divided." (UCLA Film and Television Archive)

Walter Huston, 66, one of the modern theater's greatest actors, died yesterday in his suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel.

He was the victim of a heart attack, his physician, Dr. Verne Mason, said.

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The veteran actor was in excellent spirits and felt fine when he awoke Thursday—his 66th birthday.

He attended a birthday luncheon with some old friends, including Paul Kohner, his agent; Charles Kern, Robert Gordon and Kohner's 13-year-old daughter, Lupita. He laughed and told stories and was the life of the party.

Severe Pains

But he passed up a dinner in his honor that night and went to bed with severe pains in the back. Dr. Mason was called, but Huston insisted the party to on without him.

It did, and his birthday was toasted by his son John, screen writer and producer, and by more old friends, Broadway Producer Jed Harris, Actor Spencer Tracy, Writer Charles Grayson and Producer Sam Spiegel.

The party shuttled back and forth between the restaurant, where it was held, and the Huston hotel suite.

Widow in New York

That night Dr. Mason, Kern and John Huston stayed at the actor's bedside. He awakened about 6 a.m. Two hours later he died.

His widow, Actress Nan Sunderland, who costarred with Huston in one of his greatest stage successes, "Dodsworth," was notified of his death in New York and last night was on the way here.

Huston was frequently referred to as one of the most beloved performers in the entertainment field. His friends included stagehands and extras as well as actors, writers and directors.

He had spent most of 48 years in the theater. He had acted in stock companies, Broadway hits, vaudeville, radio, television and the movies. In each field, he had been a headliner and a star.

His range in roles was amazing. With equal facility, he played comedy and drama and character parts. In recent years he had played a song and dance man and had starred in a musical show.

In motion pictures his greatest roles were those of Abraham Lincoln in the D.W. Griffith production of that title, the Devil in "All That Money Can Buy," and the sourdough prospector in "The Treasure of Sierra Madre."

Won Oscar

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He was given the Academy Award Oscar for this latter performance. The motion picture was written and directed by his son John, who won two Academy Awards for it.

Huston had been one of the most eminent actors on the Broadway stage since his first starring role as Marshall Pitt in "Mr. Pitt" in 1924. He starred in many of the early Eugene O'Neill plays including his famous role of Ephraim Cabot in "Desire Under the Elms."

Audiences still remember his characterization of blusty Nifty Miller in "The Barker" in 1927 and his soft-voiced Sam Dodsworth in 1935.

Huston had made his home in California since 1929 but he was always only an occasional resident of Los Angeles. During recent years, when not at work on a motion picture, he had divided his time between his mountain lodge at Running Springs near Lake Arrowhead, and his 8000-acre ranch in the White River country near Porterville.

Native of Toronto

He was a native of Toronto and grew up there headed for a career as an engineer. He liked to say that a "hell-fire and brimstone" preacher turned him to acting.

"I imitated him one day in church, waving my arms around and aping his gestures," Huston told an interviewer. "That was my first public appearance. The only applause I got was a spanking."

He ran away from home at the age of 18 and joined a traveling stock company. When a Canadian Sheriff closed it down, he rode the rods of a freight train to New York and got a walk-on part with Richard Mansfield. That was in 1902. Three years later he quit the stage to try engineering and contracting. But the footlight fever was too strong in him. He returned to vaudeville in 1909.

He became a headliner in a vaudeville act called Whipple & Huston and in 1915 married his vaudeville partner, Bayonne Whipple. They were divorced in Reno in 1931 and he married Miss Sunderland in November of that year.

He finished his last picture, "The Furies," three weeks ago and took a New York vacation with Mrs. Huston. He was in New York when his friend, Kurt Weill, composer, died last week. Mrs. Huston has been staying at the Weill home with the composer's widow.

Huston returned here Tuesday and was scheduled to begin a new picture, "Old 880," at 20th Century-Fox studios next Monday. He was tested for the part and had costume fittings Wednesday.

Aided Bond Drive

He was a member of the Lambs Club, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Actors' Betterment Association and Actors' Equity. During the war he headed the motion picture division of the Treasury Department's $1,000,000,000 bond drive and was a tireless speaker and performer at rallies for the war effort.

His first motion picture was "Gentlemen of the Press." Others include "Rhodes," "The Virginian," "The Criminal Code," "The Light That Failed," "Rain," "Gabriel Over the White House," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Shanghai Gesture," "The Outlaw," "Mission to Moscow," "The North Star" and "Dragon Seed."

Funeral arrangements will be made after the arrival of Mrs. Huston. Pierce Bros. Beverly Hills Mortuary will be in charge.

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