John Dall

John Dall (May 26, 1920 – January 15, 1971)[1][Note 1] was an American actor.

John Dall
Dall in 1948
John Dall Thompson

(1920-05-26)May 26, 1920[Note 1]
DiedJanuary 15, 1971(1971-01-15) (aged 50)
Years active1941–1965

Primarily a stage actor, he is best remembered today for two film roles: the cool-minded intellectual killer in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948), and the trigger-happy lead in the 1950 film noir Gun Crazy. He also had a substantial role in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). He first came to fame as the young prodigy who comes alive under the tutelage of Bette Davis in The Corn Is Green (1945), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Early life

John Dall Thompson (he used his middle name for his acting career)[1] was born in New York City on 26 May 1920,[3] the younger son of Charles Jenner Thompson (1873–1929)[7][8] and his wife Henry (née Worthington).[9][2] (Sources which cite Dall's birth name as John Jenner Thompson and his birth year as 1918[10][11] appear to be in error.[Note 1]) His father was a civil engineer. His elder brother, Worthington Thompson, was later a decorated lieutenant in the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team.[12][13]

In the 1920s the Thompsons moved to Panama, where Charles worked on the construction of the airport there.[10] While in Panama, Dall was in a theatre when a cast member fell ill and Dall stepped in; this caused him to get the desire to act.[14] His father committed suicide in 1929,[15] and his widow returned to New York City with John the following year.[3][Note 2]

John attended Horace Mann School and briefly enrolled at Columbia University, where he intended to follow in his father's footsteps by studying engineering. Deciding that acting was his true vocation, he left Columbia and studied at the Theodora Irvine School of Theater and the Pasadena Playhouse.[1][10] He also studied at the Petit Theatre in New Orleans.



Dall spent six years acting in various stock companies, notably Clare Tree Major's Children's Theatre. He also worked in companies headed by Aline MacMahon, Arthur Byron, Ruth Weston and Edith Atwater.[17]

Dall had small roles on Broadway during the 1941-42 season in R.U.R. and Janie. In 1942-43 he played the lead of Quizz Martin in the touring company The Eve of St Mark. He was well received and replaced William Prince on Broadway so Prince could take a vacation.[18] His performance was spotted by Jack Warner's wife and resulted in a Warners screen test for Dall.[19] Warner Bros. offered him a contract but he would only take it if he could have time off to do a play.[20] (Warners also signed Prince.[21])

The Corn Is Green

Dall made his film debut in The Corn Is Green (1945), under the direction of Irving Rapper. Richard Waring had been meant to play the part but had been called into the army.[22] The film was shot in the middle of 1944.[23] Warners were impressed with the rushes and signed Dall to a new contract.[24]

Dear Ruth

Dall returned to the stage to play the lead in Norman Krasna's Dear Ruth (1944), under the direction of Moss Hart. It was a huge success.[25] The New York Times said Dall gives "a graceful and easy performance".[26] Even before The Corn Is Green was released Warners announced Dall was one of six contractees they intended to build into a star (the others were Lauren Bacall, Dane Clark, Faye Emerson, Robert Hutton and William Prince.[27])

After The Corn Is Green was released, Dall received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He was called one of the "hottest finds" in Hollywood, and Warners tried to find a film for him and co-star Joan Lorring.[28]

The film rights to Dear Ruth were sold to Paramount who cast William Holden in the part originated by Dall. Warners brought the screen rights to John Patrick's play The Hasty Heart and announced Dall would play the role originated by Richard Basehart.[29] Warners gave Dall three months leave to perform The Hasty Heart (1945) on stage on the road.[30][31] However the film was not made for several more years by which time Richard Todd had been cast in the role.

In May 1946, Warners released Dall from his contract. He only made one film for the studio.[32]


Paramount announced they were interested in signing Dall and Edward G. Robinson for a role in an adaptation of The Wayfarers.[33] In May 1946 he signed a seven-year deal with David O. Selznick's Vanguard Films.[34][35] Dall performed Hasty Heart in summer stock.[36]

Dall wound up making no films for Selznick. Instead he went over to Universal, where he signed a contract.[37] He played Deanna Durbin's love interest in Something in the Wind (1947); the Los Angeles Times described him as "ill at ease".[38] He was in Another Part of the Forest (1948), based on the play by Lillian Hellman.

Rope and Gun Crazy

Alfred Hitchcock cast Dall in Rope (1948) as one of two killers (the other played by Farley Granger) who match wits with James Stewart. The film was not a big hit on release but its reputation has since grown.

After Rope it was reported he would make Shadow of Fear for Michael Curtiz[39] but this did not materialize.

Dall did "The Wind and the Rain" for Theatre Guild on the Air[40] then returned to Broadway to appear in Daniel Taradash's adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre's Red Gloves with Charles Boyer, directed by Jed Harris. It was a minor hit.[41] Brooks Atkinson said Boyer and Dall's acting were the best thing about the production.[42]

Dall made his TV debut in "Miracle in the Rain" for The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre in 1949. He appeared as one of the leads in Gun Crazy (1949), the other lead actor was Peggy Cummins.

Dall had a supporting role in The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950). He was in the short-run revival of The Heiress (1950) on Broadway with Basil Rathbone.[43][44]


In October 1950 Dall said that TV acting was better done by movie actors, who understood technique, than stage actors, who needed audience response.[45]

In late 1950, he appeared in The Man by Mel Dinelli on stage in Los Angeles with Gladys George.[46] The Los Angeles Times said he played his role with "tremendous assurance".[47]

In stock he appeared in The Hasty Heart (1952), Gramercy Ghost (1952),[48] The Moon is Blue (1953),[49] The Man Who Came to Dinner, and Born Yesterday (1953).[50]

Dall did much work in television, appearing in guest roles on such shows as Lights Out ("Pit of the Dead"), The Clock ("A Right Smart Trick"), Studio One in Hollywood ("The Doctor's Wife"[51]), Broadway Television Theatre ("Outward Bound", "The Hasty Heart"), Suspense ("The Invisible Killer", "The Tenth Reunion"), General Electric Theatre ("The Coward of Fort Bennett") and Schlitz Playhouse ("And Practically Strangers"). Other theatre performances in stock included The Male Animal (1954).[52]

Dall returned to Broadway for Leslie Stevens' Champagne Complex, which had a short run in 1955.[53][54]

Later career

Dall's first film in eight years was Spartacus (1960), where he played a Roman soldier.[55] He was the villain in MGM's Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), his final theatrical feature.[56]

Dall guest-starred in four episodes of TV's Perry Mason, including playing murder victim John Franklin in the 1962 episode "The Case of the Weary Watchdog".

Personal life

Film historians William J. Mann and Karen Burroughs Hannsberry have remarked that Dall was gay but claimed in media interviews[16] to have had a brief marriage in the early 1940s.[10][57] No marriage certificate has come to light, and his death certificate records him as "never married". Hedda Hopper once linked his name with Jane Withers romantically.[58] Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers has claimed that Dall was one of his most unusual clients, and liked to be tied upside down to trees in Laurel Canyon in the middle of the night. "He liked to hang upside down naked until morning. Once a week he wanted this."[59] According to music journalist Phil Milstein, at the time of his death Dall had lapsed into alcoholism and was living with his partner, actor Clement Brace (died 1996).[60][61]


Dall sustained a serious fall while visiting London in October 1970, and died of cardiac arrest, a complication of myocarditis, at his home in Beverly Hills, California on January 15, 1971, aged 50.[1] His body was donated to medical science.[2][Note 3]

Dall's papers are held at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California.[11]


1945The Corn Is GreenMorgan Evans
1947Something in the WindDonald Read
1948Another Part of the ForestJohn Bagtry
1948RopeBrandon Shaw
1950Gun CrazyBart Tare
1950The Man Who Cheated HimselfAndy Cullen
1960SpartacusMarcus Glabrus
1961Atlantis, the Lost ContinentZaren


YearTV showRoleEpisode
1949The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre"Miracle in the Rain"
1951Lights Out"Pit of the Dead"
1951The Clock"A Right Smart Trick"
1952Studio One"The Doctor's Wife"
1952SuspenseJim"The Invisible Killer"
1952Broadway Television TheatreHenry"Outward Bound"
1953Broadway Television Theatre"The Hasty Heart"
1954SuspenseJim"The Tenth Reunion"
1958General Electric TheaterLt. Reese"The Coward of Fort Bennett"
1959Schlitz PlayhouseHugh Mitchell"And Practically Strangers"
1962Perry MasonJulian Kirk"The Case of the Lonely Eloper"
1962Perry MasonEdward Franklin"The Case of the Weary Watchdog"
1963Perry MasonColin Durant"The Case of the Reluctant Model"
1965Perry MasonRoan DanielEpisode - "The Case of the Laughing Lady", (final appearance)

Radio credits

1953Theatre Guild on the AirQuiet Wedding[62]


1949This Is My BelovedNarratorAtlantic RecordsWalter Benton's poems set to music by Vernon Duke[63][64]


  1. While some sources cite Dall's year of birth as 1918, the date of 1920 is supported by the majority of sources, including published obituaries,[1][2] ship manifests,[3] and social security/death records.[4] The John D. Thompson recorded in New York City's birth indexes as having been born in Manhattan on 26 May 1920[5] is likely to be Dall. Dall's name does not appear alongside his parents and elder brother in the United States Census conducted in January 1920,[6] casting further doubt on a 1918 birthdate.
  2. Dall later claimed in media interviews to have acted on stage in Panama as a teenager with his parents in the audience,[16] but sources indicate he had returned to the US at the age of 10.
  3. Online sources attributing Dall's death to a "punctured lung" may be a garbled reference to his accident in London.


  1. "John Dall, 50, Oscar Nominee For 'Corn Is Green' Role, Dies". New York Times. January 18, 1971. Retrieved December 2, 2014. John Dall Thompson – he used the middle name for his career as an actor...
  2. "Actor, Brother of City Man, Is Dead". The Daily Times. Salisbury, Maryland. January 20, 1971. p. 7 via Worthington Thompson... is the only immediate survivor of John Dall... [who] died Friday in his Hollywood home of a heart attack. Mr. Thompson said today that his brother had never fully recovered from a fall last October in London. The 50-year-old actor was in Europe on business at the time... His grandfather was the late Dall Worthington of Baltimore County.
  3. "New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925–1957". FamilySearch. Retrieved December 3, 2014. John Dall Thompson ... Birth Year (Estimated): 1920
  4. "California Death Records". RootsWeb. Archived from the original on 2012-01-01. Retrieved December 3, 2014. DALL, John ... Death Date 01/15/71 ... Age 50 yrs
  5. "New York, New York, Births, 1910-1965". New York City Department of Health. Retrieved 2 February 2018 via
  6. "United States Census, 1920". FamilySearch. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  7. "United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918". Family Search. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  8. "Charles Jenner Thompson (1873–1929)". American Battle Monuments Commission. Archived from the original on 7 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  9. "Couple Married Here Last Monday". The Baltimore Sun. August 14, 1910. p. 8 via
  10. Burroughs Hannsberry, Karen (2003). Bad Boys: the Actors of Film Noir. McFarland. p. 176. ISBN 0786414847.
  11. "John Dall papers". Margaret Herrick Library. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  12. Astor, Gerald (2001). Battling Buzzards: The Odyssey of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team 1943-1945. New York: Random House. p. 108. ISBN 0440236932. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  13. "MailCall No. 2210" (PDF). 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team. April 20, 2014. p. 11. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  14. JOHN DALL COLOR PORTRAIT IN PICTURE SECTION Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]09 June 1946: g9
  15. "Report of the death of an American citizen (Charles Jenner Thompson)". American Consular Service. 3 September 1929. Retrieved 25 November 2015. Suicide. Pistol shot. (registration required)
  16. Cooke, Marion (August 1945). "Career Crasher". Motion Picture Magazine.
  17. John Dall of 'Corn Is Green' By E.C. Sherburne. The Christian Science Monitor (1908current file); Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass] 30 July 1945: 4.
  18. NEW LEADING MAN New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 28 May 1943: 18.
  19. John Dall, 50, Dies; Stage, Screen Actor Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 Jan 1971: 20.
  20. Before He Met 'Dear Ruth' The Christian Science Monitor (1908current file); Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass]05 Dec 1944: 5
  21. Lamour, De Cordova 'Medal for Benny' Duo: Republic Announces Plans to Film 'Secrets of the New York Police' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 Oct 1943: 14.
  22. 'THE CORN IS GREEN' ON WARNER'S LOT: Bette Davis Appears as Miss Moffat in Screen Version of the Popular Play By EZRA GOODMAN New York Times 30 July 1944: X3.
  23. Bette Davis in Barrymore Role in Film by Frank Daugherty Special to The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908current file); Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass] 28 July 1944: 4.
  24. Warner Bros. to Co-Star Reynolds and Hutton Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]05 Sep 1944: 15.
  26. THE PLAY By LEWIS NICHOLS. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 14 Dec 1944: 29.
  27. SCREEN NEWS: Robert Shayne Gets Lead in 'Three Strangers' Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]05 Jan 1945: 11
  28. Special Story to Star Finds Lorring and Dall Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]02 Apr 1945: A2.
  29. SCREEN NEWS: Warners Pay $100,000 Down for 'Hasty Heart' Joan Blondell Gets Top Part Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 19 Feb 1945: 21.
  30. Returning to Stage The Christian Science Monitor (1908current file); Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass]06 Aug 1945: 4.
  31. ON THE AISLE: "The Hasty Heart" Popular Comedy with John Dall and Dort Clark Amusing in Leading Roles "THE HASTY HEART" Cassidy, Claudia. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill] 25 Dec 1945: 23.
  32. PARAMOUNT BUYS HARVESTING STORY: Studio Will Produce Houston Branch's 'The Big Haircut' -- Lead to Alan Ladd, Special to THE New York Times (1923current file) [New York, N.Y], May 11, 1946, p. 34.
  33. LITVAK, SAM WOOD IN PICTURE DEALS: Profit-Sharing Agreements Are Made With Enterprise and International Groups Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 17 May 1946: 15.
  34. Drama AND FILMS: Vanguard Signs Dall; Fonda Films Selected Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 May 1946: 5.
  35. MARLENE DIETRICH TO RESUME CAREER: She Will Return to Screen as Star of 'Golden Earrings'-- 'OSS' Opens at the Gotham Role for Humphrey Bogart Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 25 May 1946: 21.
  36. Prospects for Autumn; Summer Playhouse Plans The Christian Science Monitor (1908current file); Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass] 15 July 1946: 4.
  37. Hedda Hopper LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]07 Jan 1947: A2.
  38. Deanna's Her 'Old' Self in 'Something in Wind' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]05 Sep 1947: A3.
  39. Paul Douglas Likely 'Four Wives' Opus Star Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 Apr 1948: 23.
  40. 'Wind And The Rain' On Theater Guild On Air Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill] 24 Oct 1948: n14.
  42. SARTRE AND BOYER: ' Red Gloves' Adapted for Use in New York By BROOKS ATKINSON. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 12 Dec 1948: X3.
  44. AT THE THEATRE: 'The Heiress' Put On at the City Center as the Last Play of the Winter Season By BROOKS ATKINSON. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]09 Feb 1950: 43.
  45. Dall Says Movie Actors Are Better Than Stage Stars as Television Performers Ames, Walter. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 Oct 1950: B6.
  46. Stars Chosen for 'The Man' Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Nov 1950: C9.
  47. 'The Man' Offers Faint Thrills at Las Palmas Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]06 Dec 1950: B11.
  48. WAGON' TO LEAVE SHUBERT TONIGHT: Loewe-Lerner Musical Play, Put on by Crawford, to Quit After 289 Performances By J. P. SHANLEY. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 19 July 1952: 8.
  49. STRAWHAT THEATRES LIST SUMMER PLANS New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 11 May 1953: 25.
  50. NEW PLAYWRIGHT ON SCENE TONIGHT: Louis Peterson's First Work, 'Take a Giant Step,' Deals With Challenge to Negro By LOUIS CALTA. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 24 Sep 1953: 38.
  51. June Lockhart, John Dall Have Leads in TV Drama Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]05 Oct 1952: w_a8.
  52. Tallulah, Maggie Vie as Attractions By Richard L. Coe. The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C] 24 Aug 1954: 22.
  54. 'CHAMPAGNE' POPS IN COMEDY TONIGHT: Play by Stevens at the Cort Co-Stars Donald Cook, Polly Bergen and John Dall By LOUIS CALTA. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 12 Apr 1955: 26.
  55. FOX LISTS 34 FILMS IN RECORD BUDGET: Studio to Invest 66 Million in 1959 -- Musicians Unit Files Unfairness Charge By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 22 Jan 1959: 27.
  56. FILM EVENTS: Two Stars Signed for Musical Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 June 1960: 10.
  57. Mann, William J. (2001). Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. Viking. p. 263. ISBN 0670030171.
  58. Hedda Hopper LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles Times (1923current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 Mar 1946: A7.
  59. Scotty Bowers: Twitter, 27 Aug 2018
  60. Milstein, Phil. "The Nightmare World of Dion McGregor". American Song-Poem Music Archives. Archived from the original on February 4, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  61. Israel, Lee (2008). Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger. Simon & Schuster. p. 65. ISBN 9781416553779. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  62. Kirby, Walter (March 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved June 25, 2015 via
  63. Atlantic Records records Benton's Beloved. Billboard. March 26, 1949. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  64. "David Edwards, René Wu, Patrice Eyries, Mike Callahan, and Randy Watts, ''Atlantic Album Discography, Part 1 100 & 400 Series (1949–1954)'' (Aug. 2010)". August 29, 2010. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
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