Forrest Tucker

Forrest Meredith Tucker (February 12, 1919 – October 25, 1986) was an American actor in both movies and television who appeared in nearly a hundred films.[1] Tucker worked as a vaudeville straight man at the age of only fifteen years old. A mentor provided funds and contacts for a trip to California, where party hostess Cobina Wright persuaded guest Wesley Ruggles to give Tucker a screen test, based on his photogenic good looks, thick wavy hair and height of six feet, five inches. Tucker was a sight reader who needed only one take and his film career started well despite a perception in most Hollywood studios that blond men were not photogenic. He enlisted during WW2. After twenty years spent mainly in Westerns and action roles, he returned to his roots, showing versatility as a comedic and stage musical actor. In the television series F Troop, he became identified with the character of Cavalry Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke (a manipulative character quite similar to Phil Silvers' role as MSgt. Ernie Bilko). Tucker struggled with a drinking problem that began to affect his performances in the later years of his career.

Forrest Tucker
Tucker in the title role of The Music Man (stage musical)
Forrest Meredith Tucker

(1919-02-12)February 12, 1919
DiedOctober 25, 1986(1986-10-25) (aged 67)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park
Years active1933–1986
Sandra Jolley
(m. 1940; div. 1950)

Marilyn Johnson
(m. 1951; died 1960)

Marilyn Fisk
(m. 1961; div. 1985)

Sheila Forbes
(m. 1986)

Early life and education

Tucker described himself as a farm boy. He was born in Plainfield, Indiana on February 12, 1919, a son of Forrest A. Tucker and his wife, Doris Heringlake.[1] His mother has been described as an alcoholic.[2] Tucker began his performing career at age 14 at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, pushing the big wicker tourist chairs by day and singing "Throw Money" at night. After his family moved to Washington, D.C., Tucker attracted the attention of Jimmy Lake, the owner of the Old Gaiety Burlesque Theater, by winning its Saturday night amateur contest on consecutive weeks. After his second win, Tucker was hired full-time as Master of Ceremonies at the theatre. However, his initial employment there was short-lived, as it was soon discovered that Tucker was underage. Tucker graduated from Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., in 1938. Tucker joined the United States Cavalry. He was stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington County, Virginia, but was discharged when his age became known. He returned to work at the Old Gaiety after his 18th birthday.



When Lake's theatre closed for the summer in 1939, Tucker was helped by a wealthy mentor to travel to California and try to break into film acting. He made a successful screen test, and began auditioning for movie roles. In his own estimation, Tucker was in the mold of large "ugly guys" such as Wallace Beery, Ward Bond and Victor McLaglen, rather than a matinee idol.[3] His debut was as a powerfully built farmer who clashes with the hero in The Westerner (1940), which starred Gary Cooper. Tucker stood out in a fight scene with Cooper. Tucker had a support role in The Great Awakening (1941) for United Artists. Overcoming a feeling in Hollywood that fair hair did not photograph well, he quickly attained leading man status, starring in PRC's Emergency Landing (1941). He signed a contract with Columbia Pictures.

Columbia Pictures

At Columbia Tucker had a support role in one of their Lone Wolf pictures, Counter-Espionage (1942), followed by a Boston Blackie entry, Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942). He was borrowed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for Keeper of the Flame with Tracy and Hepburn.[4]

World War Two

Like many other movie actors at the time, Tucker enlisted in the United States Army during World War II; he earned a commission as a second lieutenant.

Post War

Tucker resumed his acting career at war's end. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer borrowed him for the classic film The Yearling (1946). Warners borrowed him to play Errol Flynn's love rival with Eleanor Parker in Never Say Goodbye the same year.[5]

Back at Columbia Pictures, he was in Coroner Creek (1948) with Randolph Scott.

Republic Pictures

In 1948, Tucker left Columbia and signed with Republic Pictures. His first films for them were Hellfire (1949) and The Last Bandit (1949) with Wild Bill Elliott. He made Montana Belle for Republic with Jane Russell; it was sold to RKO.

Tucker had a good role in Republic's Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), as PFC Thomas, a Marine with a score to settle with John Wayne's Sergeant Stryker. He went back to Columbia to support Scott again in The Nevadan (1950).

Tucker was promoted to star roles with California Passage (1950). He followed this with Rock Island Trail (1950).

Tucker was back to supporting actor for Hoodlum Empire (1952) then over at Paramount he co-starred with Sterling Hayden in Flaming Feather (1952) and supported Charlton Heston in Pony Express (1953).

Tucker went to England in support of British film star Margaret Lockwood in Laughing Anne (1953), a co-production with Republic.

Back in the United States, he went back to work for Republic: San Antone (1953) with Rod Cameron; Flight Nurse (1953) and Jubilee Trail (1954) with Joan Leslie.

England and Crunch and Des

He returned to England to make another with Lockwood, Trouble in the Glen (1954), and stayed on to make Break in the Circle (1955) for Hammer Films.

Tucker made some films for Allied Artists, Paris Follies of 1956 (1955) and Finger Man (1955) in support of Frank Lovejoy, and then supported Randolph Scott once more in Rage at Dawn (1956).

Tucker had a two-year stint on television in the series Crunch and Des from 1955 to 1956 with Sandy Kenyon, featuring Forrest as a charter-boat captain in the Bahamas, was well received.

He was top billed in Fox's The Quiet Gun (1957) and supported Charlton Heston in Three Violent People (1957). Hammer Films in Britain asked him back to play the lead in The Abominable Snowman (1957). He stayed on in England for The Strange World of Planet X (1957), and The Trollenberg Terror (1958).

Auntie Mame

The year 1958 brought another turning point in his career, when he won the role of Beauregard Burnside, Mame's first husband in Auntie Mame, the highest grossing U.S. film of the year. Tucker showed a flair for light comedy under the direction of Morton DaCosta that had largely been unexplored in his roles in Westerns and science fiction films.[6]

He supported Joel McCrea in Fort Massacre (1958) and had the lead in Counterplot (1959).


Tucker was cast as Professor Harold Hill in the national touring production of The Music Man in 1958[7] and played the role 2,008 times over the next five years, including a 56-week run at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago.

Following his Music Man run, Tucker starred in the Broadway production of Fair Game for Lovers (1964).

Tucker played the outlaw Bob Dalton in the 1963 episode "Three Minutes to Eternity" of the syndicated Western series, Death Valley Days, a dramatization of the simultaneous bank robberies by the Dalton gang in Coffeyville, Kansas. Tom Skerritt portrayed the surviving Emmett Dalton; Jim Davis was cast as Grat Dalton. The episode was narrated by Stanley Andrews, known as "The Old Ranger".[8]

F Troop

Tucker turned to television for his most famous role, starring as frontier capitalist Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke in F Troop (1965–67). Though F Troop lasted only two seasons on ABC, the series has been in constant syndication since, reaching three generations of viewers. (Two of his Gunsmoke episodes feature Tucker in his cavalry uniform again, as the comic Sergeant Holly (1970), who in one scene "marries" and spends a hectic night with Miss Kitty.)

He appeared in many television series, including CBS's Appointment with Adventure in the 1956 series finale titled "Two Falls for Satan", ABC's Channing a drama about college life that aired during the 1963–64 season. In 1961, Tucker appeared on NBC in Audie Murphy's short-lived western series Whispering Smith.

Later career

After the close of F Troop, Tucker returned to films in character roles like The Night They Raided Minsky's (1969), Barquero (1970), Chisum (1970), Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol (1972), and Cancel My Reservation (1972). He had the lead in The Wild McCullochs (1975), and was a supporting actor in the television movie A Real American Hero (1978).

On television, Tucker was a frequent guest star, including a total of six appearances on Gunsmoke and the recurring role of Jarvis Castleberry, Flo's estranged father on the 1976-1985 TV series, Alice and its spinoff, Flo.

Tucker was a regular on three series after F Troop: Dusty's Trail (1973) with Bob Denver; The Ghost Busters (1975) which reunited him with F Troop co-star Larry Storch; guest star on The Bionic Woman as J.T. Conners and Filthy Rich playing the second Big Guy Beck. (1982–83). He continued to be active on stage as well, starring in the national productions of Plaza Suite, Show Boat and That Championship Season.

Tucker returned to the big screen, after an absence of several years, in the Cannon Films action film Thunder Run (1986), playing the hero, trucker Charlie Morrison. His final film appearance was Outtakes, a low-budget imitation of The Groove Tube.

Physique and gossip

At six feet five inches, Tucker tied Sterling Hayden as the tallest star in Hollywood.[9] Co-star Marie Windsor recalled that she was delighted to play opposite someone her 'own size'.[10][11] According to one story, while playing golf with Phil Harris he was denied a gimme and objected that the distance was so short that he could knock the ball in with his penis. On being challenged, he accomplished the feat.[12]

Personal life

Tucker married four times:

  1. Sandra Jolley (1919–1986) in 1940, divorced in 1950, daughter of the character actor I. Stanford Jolley (who also died of emphysema) and the sister of the Academy Award-winning art director Stan Jolley. They had a daughter, Pamela "Brooke" Tucker.[13]
  2. Marilyn Johnson on March 28, 1950 (died on July 19, 1960).
  3. Marilyn Fisk on October 23, 1961. They had a daughter, Cindy Tucker, and son, Forrest Sean Tucker.
  4. Sheila Forbes on April 15, 1986.

Tucker was a Republican.[14]


Tucker, who had battled lung cancer for more than a year, as well as having a series of minor illnesses, collapsed and was hospitalized, for the second time in a week, on his way to the ceremony for his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 21, 1986.[15][16] He died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital on October 25, 1986, a few months after the theatrical release of Thunder Run and Outtakes.[1] He was interred in Forest Lawn–Hollywood Hills Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.[15][17]

Selected filmography


  • Death Valley Days episode "Three Minutes to Eternity" (1963) .... Bob Dalton of the Dalton Gang.[18]
  • The Virginian (episode "Hideout" - 1965) .... Martin Evers
  • F Troop (1965-1967) .... Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke / Sgt. O'Rourke / Sgt. Morgan Sylvester O'Rourke
  • Daniel Boone episode "The Ballad of Sidewinder and Cherokee" (1967) .... Joe Snag
  • ’’Rawhide’’episode “Incident of the Death Dancer” Dec 5, 1967
  • Gunsmoke episode "Cattle Barons" (1967) .... John Charron
  • Gunsmoke episode "Sergeant Holly" (1970) .... Sgt. Emmett Holly
  • Gunsmoke episode "The War Priest" (1970) .... Sergeant Emmett Holly
  • Alias Smith and Jones episode "Alias Smith and Jones" (1971) .... Deputy Harker Wilkins
  • Night Gallery (1971) .... Dr. Ernest Stringfellow (segment "Dr. Stringfellow's Rejuvenator")
  • Columbo episode "Blueprint for Murder" (1972) .... Bo Williamson
  • Gunsmoke episode "Yankton" (1972) .... Will Donavan
  • Dusty's Trail (1973-1974) .... Mr. Callahan
  • The Ghost Busters (1975) .... Jake Kong
  • Little House on the Prairie episode "Founder's Day" (1975)
  • Kojak episode "On The Edge" (1975) .... Det. Paul Zachary
  • The Bionic Woman episode "The Deadly Missiles" (1976) .... J.T. Connors
  • Once an Eagle miniseries (1976) .... Col. Avery
  • The Rebels (1979, TV Movie) .... Angus Fletcher
  • Alice (1979) .... Edsel Jarvis Castleberry
  • Flo (1980) .... Jarvis Castleberry
  • Murder, She Wrote episode "It's a Dog's Life" (1984) .... Tom Cassidy


  1. Edwrad Hudson (October 27, 1986). "Forrest Tucker, 67, Is Dead. Film, TV, and Stage Veteran". New York Times.
  2. Raised by the Stars: Interviews with 29 Children of Hollywood Actors By Nick Thomas, chapter 12.
  3. John Kendall (October 27, 1986). "Forrest Tucker, Stage, TV and Film Star, Dies". Los Angeles Times.
  4. February 16, 2012, Just Shy of Respect: The Hollywood Life and Death of Alan Ladd
  5. "Fox to Star Boyer in Gambling Film: 'Any Number Can Play' to Be Based on Novel by Heth-- 'John L.' Held Over Here". The New York Times. 7 August 1945.
  6. The Milwaukee Sentinel - Jul 2, 1963
  7. Hudson, Edward. "Forrest Tucker, 67, Is Dead; Film, TV and Stage Veteran", The New York Times, October 27, 1986, accessed February 7, 2017
  8. "Three Minutes to Eternity on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  9. Raised by the Stars: Interviews with 29 Children of Hollywood Actors , Nick Thomas, chapter 12.
  10. Celebrity Diss and Tell: Stars Talk About Each Other, Boze Hadleigh p.181.
  11. Playbill - Issues 1-12 - (1992), p. 50.
  12. The Legend Of Forrest Tucker: (1997)
  13. Emily Mae Jolley - Entertainment News, Obituary, Media - Variety.
  14. Critchlow, Donald T. (21 October 2013). "When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics". Cambridge University Press via Google Books.
  15. "Forrest Tucker, Stage, TV and Film Star, Dies". 27 October 1986 via LA Times.
  16. "Actor Forrest Tucker Dies at 67". The Washington Post. 1986-10-27. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  17. Wilson, Scott (19 August 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland via Google Books.
  18. "Three Minutes to Eternity on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
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