Ray Walston Biography

Film Actor, Actor, Theater Actor, Television Actor, Comedian(1914–2001)
Actor Ray Walston enjoyed a successful acting career and is best known for his character Uncle Martin O'Hara on the CBS series My Favorite Martian.

Synopsis

Actor Ray Walston enjoyed a successful acting career and is best known for his character Uncle Martin O'Hara on the CBS series My Favorite Martian. Although it was difficult to escape the notoriety of the nation's favorite notion, Walston went on to star in several hit films including The Sting (1973), Silver Streak (1976) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).

Early Life

Actor. Born November 2, 1914, in Laurel, Mississippi. His parents, Harrie and Mittie Walston, led a modest life, with Mr. Walston bringing home merely ten dollars a week. The young Ray often attended the local movie house, where silent films awakened what would become a life long passion. After an adolescence interrupted by the ravages of the Great Depression, Walston, at age twenty-one, began to realize his dream of acting. He auditioned at a small local theater and won a part.

Professional Acting Debut

Walston began acting with Margo Jones' Community Players in Houston, Texas in 1938, and for almost four years he performed in a play every month. In 1943, he left Houston with Margo Jones, who was going to the Cleveland Playhouse in Ohio to direct Tennessee Williams' first play, You Touch Me. The 29-year-old Walston made his professional stage debut in the play. He worked under contract at the Cleveland Playhouse for two years and acted in 22 plays while simultaneously working on workshop productions, which he would show to the company after-hours.

Walston eventually began to crave a wider audience, and in 1945, he left Cleveland for New York with his new bride, Ruth Calvert. He worked consistently on Broadway, and in 1948 hit big playing Mr. Kramer in Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke. For his performance, the young thespian won a Clarence Dewart Award in 1949. He followed up this success with several hit performances. In 1950, he took a job playing Luther Billis in Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific and eventually brought the role to a production at London's Drury Lane Theatre for nine months. Returning to New York, he appeared in another Rogers and Hammerstein production, Me and Juliet, as well as a musical written by Truman Capote, House of Flowers. In 1956, Walston won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, for his performance in Damn Yankees, opposite Gwen Verdon. However, after 12 years on the New York stage, Walston wanted new challenges, and turned his attention toward Hollywood.

Big Screen Debut

In 1957, the 43-year-old actor made his big screen debut alongside Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield in Kiss Them For Me. Over the next few years he became one of the industry's most sought after character actors, appearing in the screen version of Damn Yankees (1958), South Pacific (1958), and the Academy Award-winning film, The Apartment (1960), directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine. However, it was on television that all of America fell in love with Ray Walston. In 1962, he was offered the title role in the television series, My Favorite Martian. He didn't want to do the show, initially, but agreed to make the pilot, convinced that it would never get on the air.

My Favorite Martian

In 1963, My Favorite Martian premiered on CBS, and the show went on to make Walston a household name. The countenance of his character, "Uncle Martin O’Hara" was on everything from magazine covers to lunch boxes. He attempted to continue his prosperous stage and film career, but the one film he appeared in, Wilder's Kiss Me Stupid (1967), was a disappointment and his Broadway show, Agatha Sue I Love You, lasted only four nights.

By the third season of My Favorite Martian, the ambitious Walston was ready to move on. It wasn't easy to escape the notoriety of the nation's favorite Martian, but over the next decade Walston fought for roles. The actor revived his film career with several hits including The Sting (1973), starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and Silver Streak (1976). In 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High the veteran actor introduced himself to a new generation of fans with his performance as the unflappable Mr. Hand.

Despite family troubles and rumors of divorce, he continued to work, and in 1992, won a role in the David E. Kelley television series, Picket Fences. At the age of 77, Walston once again created a fresh, unique character with Judge Henry Bone. He was twice awarded the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series.

Walston died on January 1, 2001, at his home in Beverly Hills, California, where he lived with his wife, Ruth. The couple had one daughter, Kate.

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