Jay C. Flippen

Jay C. Flippen (March 6, 1899 – February 3, 1971) was an American character actor who often played police officers or weary criminals in many films of the 1940s and 1950s.[1]

Jay C. Flippen
Flippen in the trailer for Hot Summer Night, 1957
Born(1899-03-06)March 6, 1899
DiedFebruary 3, 1971(1971-02-03) (aged 71)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles
Years active19281971
Ruth Brooks Flippen
(m. 1947; died 1981)


Born on March 6, 1899 in Little Rock, Arkansas,[2] Flippen was an established and respected vaudeville singer and stage actor before his film career. He had been discovered by famed African-American comedian Bert Williams in the 1920s. He called himself "The Ham What Am," and performed occasionally in blackface. Flippen attained the most coveted booking in vaudeville, headlining at the Palace Theatre in New York six times between March 1926 and February 1931.[3]

At one time he was also a radio announcer for New York Yankees games and was one of the first game show announcers. Between 1924 and 1929, Flippen recorded more than thirty songs for Columbia, Perfect and Brunswick.

His first film, the 1928 Warner Bros. short subject "The Ham What Am", captures his vaudeville performance, and there are other shorts in the 1930s, but his film career started in earnest in 1947. Some of Flippen's most noteworthy film work came in support of James Stewart in five of the films the two made under the direction of Anthony Mann during the 1950s. He gave notable supporting performances in three John Wayne films: as a humorous, larcenous Marine air crew line chief in Flying Leathernecks (1951); as Wayne's commanding general in Jet Pilot (1957); and as a wheelchair-bound senior partner of Wayne's in Hellfighters (1968). He also made a fourth film which co-starred John Wayne (How the West Was Won, 1962), but played his only scene with Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck.

He also appeared on television, including a 1960 guest-starring role as Gabe Jethrow in the episode "Four Came Quietly" on the CBS western series Johnny Ringo, starring Don Durant. In 1962, he guest starred on the ABC drama series Bus Stop as Mike Carmody in "Verdict of 12" and Follow the Sun as Fallon in "The Last of the Big Spenders." He also appeared on ABC's The Untouchables as Al Morrisey in "You Can't Pick the Number" (1959) and as Big Joe Holvak in "Fall Guy" (1962). In the 1962-63 season, Flippen was cast as Chief Petty Officer Homer Nelson on the NBC sitcom Ensign O'Toole, with Dean Jones in the starring role.

He also guest starred on CBS' The Dick Van Dyke Show in its first season, playing Rob Petrie's former mentor Happy Spangler. In 1964, he appeared as Owney in an episode of CBS' Gunsmoke with James Arness. In 1963, he guest starred on Bonanza. He appeared four times on NBC's The Virginian in the 1960s; in 1966, he appeared on the ABC comedy western The Rounders. In 1967, he and Tom Tryon guest starred in the episode "Charade of Justice" of the NBC western series The Road West. After a leg amputation in 1965, Flippen continued acting, usually using a wheelchair, such as in his comeback role in a 1966 episode of The Virginian, and his 1967 guest appearance in Ironside (Season 1 "A Very Cool Hot Car").

Personal life

He was married for 25 years to screenwriter Ruth Brooks Flippen.

While filming Cat Ballou in 1965, he had to have one of his legs amputated due to a serious infection, originally resulting from a minor scrape with a car door, and likely complicated with diabetes.[4] Flippen finished his scenes in that film in great pain, and after the amputation he took a short period of recuperation and healing, then returned to work, from that period forward taking roles that did not hide his disability.


Flippen died February 3, 1971, aged 71, during surgery for an aneurysm caused by a swollen artery, one month before his 72nd birthday.[1] He was interred in a crypt in the Corridor of Memories section at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Selected filmography


  • Wanted: Dead or Alive – episode "Miracle at Pot Hole" – Chute Wilson (1958)
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color – episode "The Griswold Murder" – Pop Griswold (1959)
  • The Untouchables – episode "You Can't Pick the Number" – Al Morrisey (1959)
  • Stagecoach Coast – episode "Not in Our Stars" – Aaron Sutter (1961)
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show – episode "The Return of Happy Spangler" – Happy Spangler (1962)
  • The Untouchables – episode "Fall Guy" – Big Joe Holvak (1962)
  • Ensign O'Toole – 32 episodes – Chief Petty Officer Homer Nelson (1962-1963)
  • Bonanza – episode "The Prime of Life" – Barney Fuller (1963)
  • Gunsmoke – episode "Owney Tupper Had a Daughter" – Owney (1964)
  • The Virginian – episode "Ride to Delphi" – Stage Depot Agent (uncredited) (1966)
  • The Virginian – episode "The Wolves Up Front, the Jackals Behind" – Pa Colby (1966)
  • A Man Called Shenandoah – episode "The Imposter" – Andrew O'Rourke (1966)
  • Ironside – episode "A Very Cool Hot Car" – Muldoon (1967)
  • The Virginian – episode "The Barren Ground" – Asa Keogh (1967)
  • The Virginian – episode "Stopover" – Judge (1969)
  • Rawhide – episode "Incident of the Widowed Dove" – Marshal Lindstrom (1959)
  • The Name of The Game – episode "Chains of Command" – Zack Whitten (1970)


  1. "Jay C. Flippen, Actor, Dies at 70 [sic]. Was Entertainer for 50 Years. Film and TV Star, Earlier a Vaudeville Comedian, Once Broadcast Yankee games". New York Times. February 5, 1971. Retrieved 2013-12-23.
  2. Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. p. 215. ISBN 9780786450190. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  3. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, p. 186
  4. J.C. Flippen profile, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, encyclopediaofarkansas.net; accessed March 26, 2017.
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