Lyle Bettger

Lyle Stathem Bettger (February 13, 1915 – September 24, 2003) was an American character actor who had roles in Hollywood films and television from the 1950s onward, often portraying villains. One such role was the wrathfully jealous elephant handler Klaus from the Oscar-winning film The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

Lyle Bettger
Born(1915-02-13)February 13, 1915
DiedSeptember 24, 2003(2003-09-24) (aged 88)
Years active19501980
Spouse(s)Mary Gertrude Rolfe, 1941–1996 (her death); 3 children

Early years

Bettger was born in Philadelphia, the son of Frank Bettger, an infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Mertie Stathem Bettger. He graduated from the Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.[1]


Bettger's theatrical debut was in Brother Rat at the Biltmore Theatre in New York City in 1936. His Broadway credits include Dance Night (1938), Summer Night (1939), The Flying Gerardos (1940–1941), The Moon Is Down (1942), All for All (1943), Oh, Brother! (1945), John Loves Mary (1947–1948), and Love Life (1948–1949).[2]

When Paramount sent a talent scout to see him, Bettger was signed to a three-year contract.


Bettger's movie career began when he was cast in The Lie in 1949.[3] Movie columnist Frank Neill reported, "On the basis of his performance in the movie, he has been signed to a juicy contract."[4]

Later Bettger was cast as the lead in the film noir No Man of Her Own (1950). He soon became a regular on the set of Westerns such as Denver and Rio Grande (1952), The Great Sioux Uprising (1953), Forbidden (1953), Drums Across the River (1954), Destry (1955), The Lone Ranger, (1956) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Lyle developed a reputation for playing the bad guy and excelled in villainous roles such as the menacing Joe Beacom in Union Station (1950) and the cold-blooded Nazi Chief Officer Kirchner in The Sea Chase (1955). One of his later roles was in the 1969 film Impasse as a bigoted World War II veteran.


Programs on which Bettger appeared in old-time radio included Grand Central Station.[5]


Bettger made many appearances in dramatic roles on television, starring in the 1957 series The Court of Last Resort[6] as well as guest starring on Hawaii Five-O, Rawhide, The Tall Man, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Blue Light, The Time Tunnel, Death Valley Days and Laramie, "Tales of Wells Fargo (TV series)

Personal life

Bettger was married to Mary Gertrude Rolfe from 1941 to her death in 1996. They had three children: Lyle, Jr., Frank, and Paula. She was an actress who played Henry Aldrich's sister in The Aldrich Family on radio,[7]. He died on September 24, 2003 in Atascadero, California aged 88. His remains were cremated. He was survived by his children and a sister.


Year Title Role Notes
1950No Man of Her OwnStephen 'Steve' Morley
1950Union StationJoe Beacom
1951The First LegionDr. Peter Morrell
1951Dear BratMr.Baxter
1952The Greatest Show on EarthKlaus
1952Denver and Rio GrandeJohnny Buff
1952Hurricane SmithClobb
1953The VanquishedRoger Hale
1953The Great Sioux UprisingStephen Cook
1953All I DesireDutch Heinemann
1953ForbiddenJustin Keit
1954Carnival StoryFrank Colloni
1954Drums Across the RiverFrank Walker
1955The Sea ChaseChief Officer Kirchner
1956The Lone RangerReece Kilgore
1956Showdown at AbileneDave Mosely
1957Gunfight at the O.K. CorralIke Clanton
1960Guns of the TimberlandClay Bell
1960BonanzaLem PartridgeEpisode: The Guilty
1964Combat!Captain BrauerEpisode: A Rare Vintage
1965Town TamerLee Ring / Marshal Les Parker
1966Johnny RenoMayor Jess Yates
1966Nevada SmithJack Rudabough
1966BonanzaJed FergusonEpisode: Something Hurt, Something Wild
1967Return of the GunfighterClay Sutton
1967The Fastest Guitar AliveCharlie
1969Hawaii Five-OJoe FletcherEpisode: "All the King's Horses"
1970The HawaiiansJanders
1971The Seven MinutesFrank Griffith
1973Hawaii Five-OKlepperEpisode: "The Sunday Torch"
1975Hawaii Five-OAdmiral DeanEpisode: "Murder: Eyes Only"
1976Hawaii Five-OKarl NortonEpisode: "Let Death Do Us Part"
1977Hawaii Five-ODr. Dimitri SartainEpisode: "Tsunami"
1977Hawaii Five-OJonathan KayeEpisode: "The Silk Trap"
1977Hawaii Five-OJonathan KayeEpisode: "Head to Head"
1978Hawaii Five-OMalcolm RhodesEpisode: "Invitation to Murder"
1978Hawaii Five-OJonathan KayeEpisode: "A Stranger in His Grave"


  1. Aaker, Everett (2006). Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6409-8. Pp. 49-51.
  2. "Lyle Bettger". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  3. Gwynn, Edith (August 30, 1949). "Hollywood". Pennsylvania, Pottstown. Pottstown Mercury. p. 4. Retrieved January 3, 2016 via
  4. Neill, Frank (September 26, 1949). "Around Hollywood". Pennsylvania, New Castle. New Castle News. p. 19. Retrieved January 3, 2016 via
  5. "Saturday Highlights". Iowa, Mason City. The Mason City Globe-Gazette. September 5, 1947. p. 1. Retrieved January 3, 2016 via
  6. Brooks, Tim & Marsh, Earle (1979). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-25525-9. P. 137.
  7. Gerhard, Inez (July 22, 1948). "Star Dust". Texas, Shiner. Shiner Gazette. p. 6. Retrieved January 3, 2016 via
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