Wright King, Actor in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and 'The Twilight Zone,' Dies at 95
By one estimate, he got to kiss Vivien Leigh 48 times while making the Elia Kazan movie. He later appeared in 'Planet of the Apes' and on 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'
Wright King, whose character received a kiss from Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire during its original Broadway run, its first national tour and in the classic Marlon Brando-Vivien Leigh film, has died. He was 95.
King died Nov. 25 in the Woodland Hills area, family spokesman Jared Stine told The Hollywood Reporter.
The Oklahoma native also was memorable in a pair of Twilight Zone episodes, playing a newspaper reporter who thinks a man (Dennis Weaver) facing the death penalty may be innocent in 1961's "Shadow Play" and the janitor/business tycoon who buys rights to land that will someday sprout oil in 1963's "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville."
King portrayed the chimp veterinarian Dr. Galen who saves Charlton Heston's life in the original Planet of the Apes (1968) and played Jason Nichols, Steve McQueen's deputy sheriff, on CBS' Wanted: Dead or Alive in 1960.
King had limited acting experience when he auditioned for director Elia Kazan, producer Irene Selznick and actress Uta Hagen (who was starring as Blanche) for the part of the young newspaper collector in the upcoming Chicago production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
He was hired and also got to work with Anthony Quinn as Stanley Kowalski (and Jack Palance as Quinn's understudy), then spent all of 1948 with the Streetcar national tour.
When Hagen was asked to take over for Jessica Tandy in the Broadway production that had debuted with Brando playing Stanley in December 1947, the actress brought King along with her.
In Kazan's 1951 movie version, Leigh's Blanche flirts with King's boyish and bashful Evening Star newspaper collector, saying, "You make my mouth water." She kisses him "just once, softly and sweetly" on the lips before telling him to "run away now, quickly … It would be nice to keep you, but I've got to be good — and keep my hands off children."
On a Warner Bros. soundstage in 1950, King spent a whole day kissing Leigh. "Counting rehearsals and actual takes, [King] kissed her 48 times," Sam Stagg wrote in his 2005 book, When Blanche Met Brando.
"She was lovelier than you could imagine, and on the darkened movie set, when the light hit her, she was just gorgeous," King said in a 2008 interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "She seemed to float across the room to me. My God, the technique, the professionalism!"
King was born on Jan. 11, 1923, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. He graduated from a high school in Mount Vernon, Illinois, and won a scholarship to the St. Louis School of Theatre before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1943. He was on a ship headed for Japan when World War II was declared over.
King hitchhiked from Mount Vernon to New York City and got a job playing Aladdin for eight months — at $35 a week — in a national theater production that catered to children. Later, he worked for the Yiddish Art Theatre.
After Streetcar closed on Broadway in 1949, King played the newspaper collector in a short run at the City Center in New York. "Two days later, I got a call; [Kazan] wanted me for the film," he said. "I never wanted to be a movie star, but I sure wanted to be in that movie.
"Kazan was wonderful, but he liked to manipulate his actors to get what he wanted. At one point, he got me very disoriented and confused on the set, the camera was rolling, and that's the shot he used."
King later became a regular in Westerns, appearing in such films as The Young Guns (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Stagecoach to Fury (1956), The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959) and Cast a Long Shadow (1959) and on TV in Gunsmoke, The Gabby Hayes Show and Cheyenne.
"I thanked God for my early horseback riding on the farm and that old Okie accent that I could drag up on a moment's notice," he said in an interview for the 2016 book The Encyclopedia of Feature Players of Hollywood, Volume 2.
King also appeared on Broadway in 1950's The Bird Cage with Melvyn Douglas and Stella Adler, played inventor Earnest P. Duckweather on the 1953-54 syndicated TV comedy The Johnny Jupiter Show and showed up in other films like The Bold and the Brave (1956), Finian's Rainbow (1968) and King Rat (1965).
Survivors include his sons, Wright Jr., Michael and Meegan, and several grandchildren. His wife of 60 years, June — whom he met when she was a secretary at the New York Times radio station WQXR — died in 2008.