Rory Calhoun

Rory Calhoun (born Francis Timothy McCown, August 8, 1922  April 28, 1999) was an American film and television actor, screenwriter and producer. He starred in numerous Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, and appeared in supporting roles in films such as How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

Rory Calhoun
Calhoun in 1961
Francis Timothy McCown

(1922-08-08)August 8, 1922
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedApril 28, 1999(1999-04-28) (aged 76)
Other namesSmoke
OccupationActor, screenwriter, producer
Years active19411993
Spouse(s)Lita Baron (1948–1970)
Sue Rhodes (1971–1979; 1982–1999)


Early life

Born Francis Timothy McCown in Los Angeles, California, Calhoun spent his early years in Santa Cruz, California.[1] The son of a professional gambler, he was of Irish ancestry.[1] He was only nine months old when his father died; Calhoun's mother remarried, and he occasionally went by Frank Durgin, using the last name of his stepfather.


At age thirteen, he stole a revolver, for which he was sent to the California Youth Authority's Preston School of Industry reformatory at Ione, California. He escaped while in the adjustment center (jail within the jail).

He left home at seventeen to escape beatings from his stepfather and began hot-wiring cars.[2]

After robbing several jewelry stores, he stole a car and drove it across state lines. This made it a federal offense, and when he was recaptured, he was sentenced to three years in prison. He served his sentence at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.[3] He remained there until he was paroled shortly before his twenty-first birthday.[4]

Acting career as Frank McCown

Calhoun worked at a number of odd jobs, including as a mechanic, a logger in California's redwoods, a hard-rock miner in Nevada, a cowboy in Arizona, a fisherman, a truck driver, a crane operator, and a forest firefighter.[5]

In January 1944, while riding horseback in the Hollywood Hills, he met actor Alan Ladd, whose wife, Sue Carol, was an agent. She arranged for him to have a screen test at 20th Century Fox, and he was cast in uncredited roles for Something for the Boys (1944), and Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944).[6] He had a one-line role in a Laurel and Hardy comedy, The Bullfighters (1945), credited under the name Frank McCown.

He also appeared in Where Do We Go from Here? (1945), The Great John L. (1945) (as Gentleman Jim Corbett), and Nob Hill (1945).

"I liked the money it brought in," said Calhoun. "And I felt it would be nice to go back to forestry with a neat bank roll when these fellows found me out. I never had any feeling I'd make good."[5]

David O. Selznick

Shortly afterwards, the Ladds hosted a party attended by David O. Selznick employee Henry Willson, an agent who was known for representing young actors. Willson signed McCown to a contract with Selznick's company Vanguard and his name was soon changed to Rory Calhoun.

According to Calhoun, Selznick told him his first name should be "Rory... because you're a Leo, Leos are lions, and lions roar." Selznick suggested either Donahue, Calhoun or Callahan as a surname, and he picked Calhoun.[2] (In another account of the story, Selznick named him "Rory" because he helped put out roaring fire blazes when a fire fighter and "Calhoun" because it sounded Irish.[6]

In 1945, Calhoun returned to prison after punching a detective.[7]

Calhoun was under contract to Selznick's company Vanguard, being used to do screen tests and make public appearances. His first public appearance in the film capital was as Lana Turner's escort to the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), a Selznick production. The glamorous blonde and her handsome companion attracted the paparazzi, and photos appeared in newspapers and fan magazines.

Calhoun did not appear in a film for a year before being loaned out to producer Sol Lesser for The Red House (1947) with Edward G. Robinson.[8] He was then loaned to Paramount to play the lead in a B movie, Adventure Island (1947) with fellow Selznick contractee Rhonda Fleming.

Calhoun was announced for a film called Jet Pilot with Fleming, Guy Madison and other Selznick contract players[9] but it was not made. Instead he was third lead in That Hagen Girl (1947) with Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple.[10]

Sam Newfield, who used Calhoun in Adventure Island, cast him again in Miraculous Journey (1948). For Monogram he and Guy Madison were in Massacre River (1949). At Fox, Calhoun played a second lead in Sand (1949)

In February 1949 Selznick did a deal with Warners lending them seven of his stars, including Calhoun—they took over half his pictures for the rest of his contract with Selznick.[11] He played the villain in Return of the Frontiersman (1950) and was hero of Monogram's County Fair (1950).

In August 1950, Calhoun signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox.[12] He had made no films for Selznick. "I didn't worry about it because it was like a long vacation without pay," he said later.[5]

20th Century Fox

During Calhoun's contract with 20th Century Fox. He was in A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950) and was second male lead in I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951) with Susan Hayward, and Meet Me After the Show (1951) with Betty Grable.

He went to Ventura to star in a Western Rogue River (1951).

He was promoted to co-star for With a Song in My Heart (1952) with Hayward and Way of a Gaucho (1952) with Gene Tierney, directed by Jacques Tourneur.


Calhoun was promoted to star in the Westerns The Silver Whip (1953) with Dale Robertson and Powder River (1953) with Corinne Calvet. He was in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) as the love interest of Betty Grable, then was back to second male leads in River of No Return (1954) as the boyfriend of Marilyn Monroe who loses her to Robert Mitchum. Both films were big hits. Calhoun then left Fox.


Calhoun starred in a Western, The Yellow Tomahawk (1954). He went to Columbia for A Bullet Is Waiting (1954)


Calhoun went to Universal for whom he made a Western, Four Guns to the Border (1954). He stayed there to star in the musical Ain't Misbehavin' (1955).

In 1955, Calhoun and Julie Adams co-starred in the film The Looters, the story of a plane crash in the Rocky Mountains. Part of the picture was filmed about Tarryall Creek in Park County in central Colorado. The advertising poster reads: "Five desperate men ... and a girl who didn't care ... trapped on a mountain of gale-lashed rock!"[13]

He then co starred with Jeff Chandler in The Spoilers (1955). While filming The Spoilers Confidential magazine revealed Calhoun's past as a prisoner. When the news came out he received an offer to play "The Champion" on Climax! and RKO asked him to be in The Treasure of Pancho Villa (1955). Ultimately the disclosure had no negative effect on Calhoun's career and only served to solidify his "bad boy" image.[6]

At Universal he was in Red Sundown (1956) and Raw Edge (1956).

He wrote the story for the film Shotgun (1955) made by Allied Artists and tried to star in it but Universal would not loan him out.

He also wrote novels such as The Man From Padera (1979) and Cerrado (1980).


In 1957, Calhoun formed Rorvic Productions, a production company with his partner, Victor Orsatti. In late 1956, he arranged to pull out of his contract with Universal and said his fee was $75,000 a film.[14]

He helped produce and starred in Flight to Hong Kong (1956), The Hired Gun (1957), Domino Kid (1957) and Apache Territory (1958).[15]

He made Utah Blaine (1957) for Sam Katzman and The Big Caper (1957) for Pine Thomas. For Kirk Douglas' company he appeared in Ride Out for Revenge (1958) and he went back to Universal for The Saga of Hemp Brown (1958).

The Texan

In 1958, on the recommendation of studio boss Desi Arnaz, Calhoun co-produced and starred in the CBS western television series The Texan, which aired on Monday evenings until 1960. He said in a 1959 article that the only two good films he made were With a Song in My Heart and How to Marry a Millionaire, the rest being "terrible".[16]

While filming The Texan, Calhoun would continue to produce and write screenplays throughout his career. The Texan could have filmed a third year had Calhoun not desired to concentrate on films.[17] On March 26, 1959, he appeared as himself in the episode "Rory Calhoun, The Texan" on the CBS sitcom December Bride, starring Spring Byington, a series then in its fifth and final season of production.


After The Texan ended, Calhoun starred in a stock car racing film, Thunder in Carolina (1960). He appeared on TV shows such as Gunsmoke, Death Valley Days, Zane Grey Theater and Bonanza.

Calhoun went to Spain for The Colossus of Rhodes (1961) directed by Sergio Leone. (He was robbed during filming.[18]) He did The Treasure of Monte Cristo (1961) in Britain then did Marco Polo (1962) in Italy.

He returned to the US to make several films for producer A.C. Lyles, such as The Young and The Brave (1963), Young Fury (1965) and Apache Uprising (1965) as well as other films such as Face in the Rain (1963).

Calhoun was considered for the lead of James West in the 1965-1969 CBS series The Wild Wild West, but the producers were not impressed with his screen test and instead chose Robert Conrad.[19][20]

He returned to Europe to make Our Men in Bagdad (1966) and The Emerald of Artatama (1969).

Later career

Calhoun continued to appear in both television and film throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including Thunder in Carolina, Rawhide, Gilligan's Island, Hawaii Five-O, Alias Smith and Jones and Starsky and Hutch.

In 1982, Calhoun had a regular role on the soap opera Capitol, having been persuaded to accept the role by his family after his regret over turning down a part on CBS's Dallas.[21] He stayed with the series until 1987.[22]

Calhoun became known to a new generation for several roles in cult films such as Night of the Lepus (1972), Motel Hell (1980), Angel (1984) and its sequel Avenging Angel (1985), as well as Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987).

His final role was that of grizzled family patriarch and rancher Ernest Tucker in the film Pure Country (1992).

Personal life

Calhoun was married twice. He had three daughters with first wife, Lita Baron (m. 1948-1970). When Baron sued Calhoun for divorce, she named Betty Grable as one of 79 women with whom he had adulterous relationships. Calhoun replied to her charge, "Heck, she didn't even include half of them".[15] Calhoun had one daughter with actress Vitina Marcus, and one daughter with second wife (m. 1971-1979; 1982-1999, his death), journalist Sue Rhodes.[1]


Rory Calhoun died on April 28, 1999 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, due to emphysema and diabetes. He was aged 76.[23]


For his contributions to the film and television industries, Calhoun was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with two stars in 1960. His motion pictures star is located at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard and his television star is located at 1752 Vine Street.[24][23]






  1. Oliver, Myrna (1999-04-29). "Rory Calhoun; Handsome Actor Starred in 1950s Westerns, TV Series". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-15.
  2. OLIVER, MYRNA (29 April 1999). "Rory Calhoun; Handsome Actor Starred in 1950s Westerns, TV Series". LA Times. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  3. "Rory Calhoun visits Missourian". Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  4. The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler, Carroll & Graf, 2005, p. 137 ISBN 0-7867-1607-X
  5. Hopper, Hedda (November 30, 1952). "Rory Roars On!". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. C10.
  6. Calhoun, Rory (August 28, 1955). "My Dark Years". The Washington Post and Times Herald. ProQuest 148706189.
  7. Tempo: Black-sheep Rory Calhoun comes clean in soap role Tempo Rory Calhoun: A black sheep comes clean in soap opera role Dorsey, Helen. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]25 Apr 1982: n1.
  8. "Grand and Temple to Co-Star for RKO – Will Share Leads in 'Bachelor and Bobby-Sox' – Danny Kaye Film Due Today at Astor". New York Times. April 18, 1946. p. 22. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  9. "Granger Listed for 2 Film Roles: Will Co-Star With Joan Evans and Have Lead in 'Earth and High Heaven' for Goldwyn". New York Times. September 13, 1948. p. 17. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  10. The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, pp. 141-142.
  11. "Selznick Stars To Do Movies for Warners". New York Times. February 21, 1949. p. 18. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  12. Brady, Thomas F. (August 17, 1950). "Boyer Gets Role in Drama at Fox – Will Play 65-Year-Old Doctor in Studio's 'Scarlet Pen' – Preminger Is Directing". New York Times. p. 24. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  13. Laura King Van Dusen, "Movie Making", Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013); ISBN 978-1-62619-161-7, pp. 182-183.
  14. Hopper, Hedda (January 27, 1957). "Rory Calhoun: 'It's TV For Me!'". Chicago Daily Tribune. ProQuest 180053179.
  15. Vallance, Tom (May 3, 1999). "Obituary: Rory Calhoun". The Independent. London, UK.
  16. Rory Calhoun Final Finds His Audience Vernon, Scott. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]24 May 1959: sw25.
  17. Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr. and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 110-112
  18. Rory Calhoun Robbed The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]29 Sep 1960: A21.
  19. Roman, Author James W From Daytime to Primetime: The History of American Television Programs Publisher Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005, p. 37
  20. "Shadoe Steele's Interview with Actor Robert Conrad".
  21. "Rory Calhoun Interview at Hollywood Cult Movies".
  22. "Rory Calhoun: Obituary". 1999-04-29. Archived from the original on 2009-01-30. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
  23. Oliver, Myrna (April 29, 1999). "Los Angeles Times - Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  24. "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Rory Calhoun". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
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