‘Streetcar Named Desire,’ ‘Gunsmoke’ Actor Wright King Dead at 95
Actor Wright King, who appeared in films like A Streetcar Named Desire and Planet of the Apes, died last week. He was 95.
Family spokesman Jared Stine told The Hollywood Reporter that King died on Sunday, Nov. 25 in the Woodland Hills area.
In Elia Kazan’s Chicago production of A Streetcar Named Desire, he got the role of the young newspaper collector on limited acting experience. He was then hired for the 1948 national Streetcar tour, as well as the classic Marlon Brando-Vivian Leigh film.
In Kazan’s 1951 movie version, Leigh’s Blanche DuBois kisses King’s character “just once, softly and sweetly” on the lips before telling him to “run away now, quickly … It would be nice to keep you, but I’ve got to be good — and keep my hands off children.”
“Counting rehearsals and actual takes, [King] kissed her 48 times,” wrote Sam Stagg in his 2005 book When Blanche Met Brando.
King didn’t seem to mind. “She was lovelier than you could imagine, and on the darkened movie set, when the light hit her, she was just gorgeous,” King said in a 2008 interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “She seemed to float across the room to me. My God, the technique, the professionalism!”
He also appeared in two episodes of Twilight Zone; first in 1961’s “Shadow Play” as a newspaper reporter who is sympathetic to a man facing the death penalty, and second in 1963’s “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville as a janitor/eventual business tycoon who buys rights to land that will one day produce oil.
The Oklahoma native also portrayed the chimp veterinarian Dr. Galen who saves Charlton Heston’s life in the original Planet of the Apes and played Steve McQueen’s deputy sheriff, Jason Nichols, on CBS’ Wanted: Dead or Alive in 1960.
Following the success of Streetcar, King became a regular in Westerns, like The Young Guns(1958), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Stagecoach to Fury (1956), The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959) and Cast a Long Shadow (1959) — as well as Western TV in Gunsmoke, The Gabby Hayes Showand Cheyenne.
“I thanked God for my early horseback riding on the farm and that old Okie accent that I could drag up on a moment’s notice,” he said in an interview for the 2016 book The Encyclopedia of Feature Players of Hollywood, Volume 2.
King mostly retired from acting by the late 1970s with just one screen credit in 1987 before leaving the business.
Born on Jan. 11, 1923 in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, King graduated from high school in Mount Vernon, Illinois and attended the St. Louis School of Theatre on scholarship before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1943, where he served on a ship headed for Japan just as the war was declared over.
From Mount Vernon, he hitchhiked to New York City, where he got a job playing Aladdin for $35 a week for eight months in a national theater production that catered to children.
He is survived by his sons, Wright Jr., Michael and Megan, and several grandchildren. His wife June, who he was married to for 60 years, died in 2008.