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John Hodiak Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (5) | Trivia (6) | Personal Quotes (6)

Overview (3)

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Died in Hollywood, California, USA  (coronary thrombosis)
Height 5' 10" (1.78 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Pittsburgh-born John Hodiak was one of several up-and-coming male talents who managed to take advantage of the dearth of WWII-era superstars (MGM's Clark Gable, Van Johnson, Robert Taylor and James Stewart, among others) who were off serving their country. John's early death at age 41, however, robbed Hollywood of a strong player and promising character star.

Born on April 16, 1914, the eldest of four (one daughter was adopted), John was eight years old when his middle-class family moved to a thriving Polish community in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. His father, Walter, was born in the Ukraine and his mother, Anna, was Polish. Expressing interest in music and drama at an early age, he was encouraged by his father who had appeared in amateur shows. He found roles in school plays (done in Hungarian or Polish), sang in the Ukranian church choir, played the clarinet, and even took diction lessons. Not to be outdone, his athletic skills were also put on display. At one point, he was considered by the St. Louis Cardinals for their farm league but he declined the offer in favor of pursuing an acting career.

Following high school, John found work as a golf caddy and stockroom clerk (at a Chevrolet company) before breaking into radio (WXYZ) in Detroit and (later) Chicago. His more notable roles was as the title figure in "L'il Abner" (a role created on radio) and in the serials "Ma Perkins" and "Wings of Destiny". While in Chicago he was noticed by MGM talent agent Marvin Schenck and signed. Proud of his heritage, he refused to change his name to a more marquee-friendly moniker despite mogul Louis B. Mayer's concerns. Hodiak made his debut as a walk-on in A Stranger in Town (1943), and had a bit part in one of Ann Sothern's "Maisie" series Swing Shift Maisie (1943) before becoming her leading man in a subsequent entry (Maisie Goes to Reno (1944)) the following year.

His inability to sign up for military duty due to his high blood pressure ended up giving him a starring career. Attention started being paid after he played Lana Turner's soldier husband in Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944). An interested Alfred Hitchcock then borrowed John for the role of Kovac, the torpedoed ship's crew member, in one of his classic war dramas Lifeboat (1944) starring the irrepressible Tallulah Bankhead at 20th Century-Fox. The studio was so impressed with John's work in this that it cast him in two other quality films: Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944) and A Bell for Adano (1945), both of which showed off his quiet but rugged charm.

In the former he played the patriotic title role and co-starred with Anne Baxter. No sparks as of yet between these two, but a year or so later they reconnected at a party and started dating. They married on July 6, 1946. The second film, the exquisitely sensitive and moving war picture A Bell for Adano (1945) made him a star by Hollywood standards. Co-starring a rather miscast Gene Tierney (as a blonde Italian village girl) and William Bendix, John was more than up to the challenge of playing the role of U.S. Major Joppolo, originally created on Broadway by Fredric March. The irony of it all is that the actor never found better roles (at MGM) than the ones he filmed while lent out to Fox.

Back at MGM, John went through the usual paces. He was overlooked in the rousing Judy Garland vehicle The Harvey Girls (1946), but seemed much more at home in the film noir Somewhere in the Night (1946) and in the WWII drama Homecoming (1948) that starred Clark Gable and Lana Turner, with John and wife Anne Baxter serving as second leads.

With MGM's male roster of talent back home now from the war, John was unceremoniously relegated to second leads that supported the top-tier actors, including Gable, Spencer Tracy, Robert Walker, James Stewart and Robert Taylor. While several of his subsequent post-war films drew desultory reviews, notably the Greer Garson "Miniver" sequel The Miniver Story (1950), Hedy Lamarr's so-called tale of intrigue A Lady Without Passport (1950), and the Clark Gable western Across the Wide Missouri (1951), John did manage to co-star in two of MGM's more stirring war pictures -- Command Decision (1948) and Battleground (1949). Occasionally deemed "glum" and "wooden" by his harsher critics, John's MGM contract expired in 1951 and he began to freelance. Most of the work that followed were starring roles in low-budget entries. Battle Zone (1952) had John and Stephen McNally as two Korean war photographers distracted by the lovely Linda Christian, and Conquest of Cochise (1953) featured a miscast John as the famed Indian warrior.

John reaped better rewards on the stage during this time. Receiving excellent reviews following his 1952 Broadway debut as the sheriff in "The Chase" (he received the Donaldson Award), the actor returned to Broadway as Lieutenant Maryk in "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1954) co-starring Henry Fonda. He was extremely disappointed when former fellow MGM player Van Johnson was cast as the lieutenant in the acclaimed film version starring Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg.

The father of daughter Katrina Baxter Hodiak, who was born in 1951, John and Anne's varied backgrounds (he was middle class and she more high society -- her grandfather being the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright) and their busy film careers created significant problems. They divorced on January 27, 1953. John later built a home for his parents and younger brother in Tarzana, California and eventually lived there with them. His later years grew difficult and were plagued by self-doubt, a diminishing career and an equally diminishing social life.

John's key Broadway success in "Mutiny" led to a fine comeback role on screen as a prosecuting attorney in Trial (1955), finding "guest artist" work on dramatic TV as well. What might have led to a strong resurgence, however, was sadly cut short. On the morning of October 19, 1955, 41-year-old John suffered a coronary thrombosis and died instantly while shaving in the bathroom of his home. He was on his way to the 20th Century-Fox lot to complete final work on his last film, On the Threshold of Space (1956), when he was stricken.

The movie was released posthumously with John's role left intact. While no previous record of a heart ailment, per se, was ever uncovered, the hypertension that kept him out of the service, at a relatively young age, no doubt contributed to his death. It was an extreme shock to lose someone so relatively young, and even sadder for those he loved and left behind, including his 4-year-old daughter. Katrina Hodiak later became a composer, an actress and a theater director). John was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

Anne Baxter (7 July 1946 - 27 January 1953) (divorced) (1 child)

Trade Mark (5)

Alert and sensitive eyes
Distinctive, powerful, deep voice
Pencil thin mustache
Often played in movies set during World War II
Exotic racially ambiguous facial features

Trivia (6)

Born at 4:30pm-EST
Father of actress Katrina Hodiak from his marriage to actress Anne Baxter.
Buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California in the main mausoleum. Block 303 Crypt D-1.
He died while shaving at his parents house as he got ready to go to the studio to film On the Threshold of Space (1956).
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Radio at 6101 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Graduated from Hamtramck High School Class of 1932.

Personal Quotes (6)

No part has ever come easily to me. Every one has been a challenge. I've worked as hard as I could on them all.
I don't know whether I'm an actor or not because I've never been sure what acting is. I've played different types, but it seems to me they turn out to be just myself every time.
A lot of people claim to have discovered me, and a lot of people have helped me. Frankly every one of them is right, and I'm one actor who is plenty grateful.
There are many reasons why I want to arrive. I want other Ukranians to feel that they have a chance. Maybe not in this field, but in any other. I receive a lot of mail from Ukranians who thank me because I haven't changed my own name and because I don't pretend to be either Polish or Russian.
I've never been nervous about anything. I've always sat back and waited for things to happen. I've always felt that if I were the guy to do something, I'd be sought out to do it. Otherwise, I'd be far happier right where I was.
I never had a dramatic lesson, never formally studied diction, never had anybody to teach me timing. I just picked it all up as I went along. It's my belief that acting's essentially a quality within a person and not a mere bag of tricks and mannerisms to be exhibited externally.

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