Dick Purcell

Richard Gerold Purcell Jr. (August 6, 1905 – April 10, 1944)[1] was an American actor best known for playing Marvel Comics' Captain America in the 1943 film serial, co-starring with Lorna Gray and Lionel Atwill.[2] Purcell also appeared in films such as Tough Kid (1938), Accidents Will Happen (1938), Heroes in Blue (1939), Irish Luck (1939), The Bank Dick (1940), and King of the Zombies (1941),

Dick Purcell
Publicity photograph with Dick Purcell, Mantan Moreland, and Patricia Stacey in King of the Zombies (1941)
Richard Gerold Purcell, Jr.

(1905-08-06)August 6, 1905
DiedApril 10, 1944(1944-04-10) (aged 38)
EducationFordham University
Years active19141944
EmployerWarner Brothers
Known forCaptain America
Spouse(s)Ethelind Terry (19421942) (divorced)

Early life

Purcell was born in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1905 (not 1908, as many sources suggest). One of 5 children, he attended Catholic grade school and high school, before enrolling as a student at Fordham University in The Bronx in New York City.

Theatre and early film work

While in New York City, Dick Purcell began his acting career in theatre, appearing in at least three plays: Men in White, Sailor, Beware! and Paths of Glory. During his time acting in Paths of Glory, a talent scout spotted Purcell and this led to a small role in the film Ceiling Zero (1936). His next film was Man Hunt (1936), in which Purcell had a larger role as a newspaper reporter. Purcell appeared in eleven films in 1936 alone.

Captain America

Captain America (1944) is a Republic serial film loosely based on the comic book character Captain America. It was the last Republic serial made about a superhero. It also has the distinction of being the most expensive serial that Republic ever made.

The serial sees Captain America, really District Attorney Grant Gardner, trying to thwart the plans of The Scarab, really museum curator Dr. Cyrus Maldor—especially regarding his attempts to acquire the "Dynamic Vibrator" and "Electronic Firebolt", devices that could be used as super-weapons.

Dick Purcell won the role as Grant Gardner / Captain America, being cast as the hero despite supposedly appearing a bit overweight.[3]

The role that made Dick Purcell famous turned out to be his last, and in fact he died a few weeks after filming was completed, before the film serial was released to enormous success. According to film historian Raymond Stedman, the strain of filming Captain America had been too much for his heart,[4] and he collapsed in the locker room at a Los Angeles country club on 10 April 1944, shortly after playing a round of golf.

Selected filmography


  1. Selective Service Registration Cards, WWII Draft Registration Cards for California, 10/16/1940 - 03/31/1947, published by National Archives and Records Administration
  2. Dick Purcell on IMDb
  3. Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "10. The Long-Underwear Boys "You've Met Me, Now Meet My Fist!"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 255, 258–259, 263. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9.
  4. Stedman, Raymond William (1971). "5. Shazam and Good-by". Serials: Suspense and Drama By Installment. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-8061-0927-5.
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