Tom Ewell

Tom Ewell (born Samuel Yewell Tompkins, April 29, 1909 – September 12, 1994) was an American film, stage and television actor, and producer.[1]

Tom Ewell
Ewell in 1958
Samuel Yewell Tompkins

(1909-04-29)April 29, 1909
DiedSeptember 12, 1994(1994-09-12) (aged 85)
Years active1928–1986
Judith Abbott
(m. 1946; div. 1947)

Marjorie Sanborn (m. 19481994)
(his death)

His most successful and arguably most identifiable role was that of Richard Sherman in The Seven Year Itch, a role that he originated in the Broadway stage production (1952–1954) and reprised in the 1955 Hollywood film adaptation. He received a Tony Award for the play and a Golden Globe Award for the film. He appeared in several other light comedies of the 1950s, most notably The Girl Can't Help It (1956), though he preferred the stage.[2]

Early life and career

Ewell was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, the son of Martine (née Yewell) and Samuel William Tompkins.[3] His family expected him to follow in their footsteps as lawyers or whiskey and tobacco dealers, but Ewell decided to pursue acting instead. He began acting in summer stock in 1928 with Don Ameche before moving to New York City in 1931. He enrolled in the Actors Studio.

He made his Broadway debut in 1934 and his film debut in 1940, and for several years, he played comic supporting roles. His acting career was interrupted during World War II when he served in the United States Navy.[4][5]

After World War II, Ewell attracted attention with a strong performance in the film Adam's Rib (1949), and he began to receive Hollywood roles more frequently. Ewell continued acting in summer stock through the 1940s: He starred opposite June Lockhart in Lawrence Riley's biographical play Kin Hubbard in 1951, the story of one of America's greatest humorists and cartoonists. With this play, he made his debut as a producer. In 1947, he won a Clarence Derwent Award for his portrayal of Fred Taylor in the original Broadway cast of John Loves Mary.[2][6]

His most successful and, arguably, most identifiable role came in 1952, when he joined the Broadway production of The Seven Year Itch as protagonist Richard Sherman. With Vanessa Brown as "The Girl", Ewell played the part more than 900 times over three years, as he indicated in a mystery guest appearance on the June 12, 1955 airing of What's My Line? to promote the 1955 film adaptation.[2][6] He earned both the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for portraying Sherman.

He enjoyed other film successes, including The Lieutenant Wore Skirts with Sheree North and The Girl Can't Help It (both 1956) opposite Jayne Mansfield. In The Girl Can't Help It, Julie London appears as a mirage to Tom Miller (Ewell) singing her signature song, "Cry Me a River".[6] He played Abel Frake in the 1962 version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair. In 1956, at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, he co-starred with Bert Lahr in the U.S. premiere of Waiting for Godot.

However, as his film and theater careers seemed to have reached their peaks, he turned his attention to television. Over several years, he played guest roles in numerous series, and received an Emmy Award nomination for his continuing role in Baretta. In 1982, he co-starred as the drunken town doctor in the short lived comedy Best of the West. His final acting performance was in a 1986 episode of Murder, She Wrote.[6]


From September 1960 to May 1961, Ewell starred in his own television series, in the self-titled The Tom Ewell Show, which lasted for one season.[6]

In 1970 Ewell appeared as Hoy Valentine in "The Men From Shiloh" (the rebranded name of The Virginian) in the episode titled "With Love, Bullets and Valentines." In the mid-1970s, Ewell enjoyed popular success with a recurring role as retired veteran policeman Billy Truman in the 1970s Emmy-winning TV series Baretta. Ewell appeared in 36 episodes of the TV-cop series, which starred Robert Blake as Detective Tony Baretta, until its end in 1978. In 1979, he was a guest star on the TV series Taxi. Ewell also co-starred from 1981 to 1982 in the short-lived TV series Best of the West.[6]

Personal life

On March 18, 1946, he married Ann Abbott, daughter of Broadway director George Abbott; the short-lived marriage ended in divorce a year later. Ewell then married Marjorie Sanborn on May 5, 1948; they had a son, Taylor.


On September 12, 1994, Tom Ewell died of undisclosed causes, aged 85, at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. His widow, Marjorie, said he had suffered a long series of illnesses. Ewell was also survived by his son, Taylor, and by his 105-year-old mother, Martine Yewell Tompkins (1889–1998),[7] who lived in Curdsville, Kentucky, where she died at age 109.[8]


In 2003, Ewell was inducted into the Owensboro High School Hall of Fame.


Year Title Role Notes
1940They Knew What They WantedNew Hired HandUncredited
1941Back in the SaddleFight SpectatorUncredited
1941Desert BanditOrdway - Texas Ranger
1949Adam's RibWarren Attinger
1950A Life of Her OwnTom Caraway
1950American Guerrilla in the PhilippinesJim Mitchell
1950Mr. MusicHaggerty
1951Up FrontWillie
1952Finders KeepersTiger Kipps
1952Lost in AlaskaNugget Joe McDermott
1952Back at the FrontWillie
1955The Seven Year ItchRichard Sherman
1956The Lieutenant Wore SkirtsGregory Whitcomb
1956The Great American PastimeBruce Hallerton
1956The Girl Can't Help ItTom Miller
1958A Nice Little Bank That Should Be RobbedMax Rutgers
1962Tender Is the NightAbe North
1962State FairAbel Frake
1970Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody CameBilly Joe Davis
1972To Find a ManDr. Hargrove
1972They Only Kill Their MastersWalter
1974The Great GatsbyMournerUncredited
1979Butterflies in HeatHadley Crabtree
1983Easy MoneyScrappleton


  1. "Tom Ewell". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  2. Tom Ewell at the Internet Broadway Database
  3. "Tom Ewell biography". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  4. Barnes, Brooks. "Movies – The New York Times". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  5. Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997; ISBN 1557509379; OCLC 36824724.
  6. Tom Ewell on IMDb
  7. "RootsWeb: Database Index". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  8. Profile Archived 2004-12-16 at the Wayback Machine, Owensboro Messenger-Enquirer; accessed December 18, 2016.
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