Percy Helton

Percy Alfred Helton (January 31, 1894 – September 11, 1971) was an American stage, film, and television actor.[1] He was one of the most familiar faces and voices in Hollywood of the 1950s.

Percy Helton
Helton in Criss Cross (1949)
Percy Alfred Helton

(1894-01-31)January 31, 1894
DiedSeptember 11, 1971(1971-09-11) (aged 77)
Resting placePierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary
Years active1896–1970
Edna Eustace Helton
(m. 1931; died 1971)


A native of the Manhattan borough in New York City, Helton began acting at the age of two, appearing in vaudeville acts with his British-born father, Alfred "Alf" Helton (born William Alfred Michel).[2] By 1906 he was a cast member in the Broadway production of Clara Lipman's play Julie BonBon, which premiered that year on New Year's Day in the Lew M. Field Theater.[3] Helton would go on to perform in many other Broadway plays before joining the United States Army in World War I. Deployed to Europe during the war, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his duty with the 305th Field Artillery of the American Expeditionary Forces' 77th Division.[4]

Helton returned to acting and singing professionally after his discharge from the army. However, in one of his subsequent stage roles he was required to shout and scream his lines during much of the play. The resulting stress and damage to his vocal chords after repeated performances left him permanently hoarse, with a raspy falsetto voice and a breathy delivery.[5] That change in his voice altered Helton's career. He remained in acting but chiefly as a character actor in a wide range of films and television programs in the 1950s and 1960s. Among those programs were three guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the role of Asa Cooperman in the 1961 episode "The Case of the Pathetic Patient" as a pawn broker in the 1961 episode "The Case of the Torrid Tapestry." and as a hotel clerk in the 1965 episode "The Case of the Careless Kitten." Some examples of the films in which he performed include Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Criss Cross (1949), The Set-Up (1949), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). He is a particular favorite of film noir fans, having co-starred in several classics of the genre. It was his performance in one of those films, Wicked Woman (1953), where Helton reached perhaps the apex of his career in his characterization of "Charlie Borg." In that role he portrayed a foolish neighbor who gets lured to his possible doom by a devious waitress played by Beverly Michaels.

In 1955, Helton was cast as Alex Grant, who is arrested for a 15-year-old murder when he returns to a mining camp, in the episode, "The Hangman Waits" of the western anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. Things look bleak for Grant until his youthful lawyer, Greg Lewis (Clark Howat), locates a corroborating witness, 75-year-old Harry Gander (Hank Patterson), whose personal diary clears the suspect. James Seay played corrupt district attorney Lucius Peck.[6]

Personal life and death

Percy Helton married actress Edna Helton (née Eustace) on October 24, 1931 and was married to her until his death. They had no children.[7][8]

He died at age 77 at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center on September 11, 1971, the year of his final film appearance. His ashes are inurned at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles, California.

Partial filmography

Television appearances


  1. "Percy Helton (1894–1971)". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  2. "Stars of Broadway #1024: Percy Helton," Travalanche. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  3. Rollins, Scott. "Film and TV Trivia": Percy Helton. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  4. Obituary, "Percy Helton, Actor in 200 Films, is Dead." The New York Times. September 14, 1971. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  5. "Percy Helton," Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  6. "The Hangman Waits". Death Valley Days, Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  7. "Percy Helton," NNDB. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  8. "JR" (2006). "You Know the Face But What's the Name?" "Character Actor Hall of Fame: Percy Helton." Online source devoted to biographical profiles and trivia relating principally to actors who are or were frequent supporting cast members in films and on television; December 5, 2006. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
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