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Van Heflin
Heflin in 1941
Emmett Evan Heflin Jr.

(1908-12-13)December 13, 1908
DiedJuly 23, 1971(1971-07-23) (aged 62)
Alma materUniversity of Oklahoma
Yale University
Years active1928–1971
Eleanor Scherr (a.k.a. Eleanor Shaw)
(m. 1934; div. 1936)
Frances E. Neal
(m. 1942; div. 1967)

Emmett Evan "Van" Heflin Jr. (December 13, 1908[1] – July 23, 1971) was an American theatre, radio, and film actor. He played mostly character parts over the course of his film career, but during the 1940s had a string of roles as a leading man. Heflin won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Johnny Eager (1942). He also had memorable roles in Westerns such as Shane (1953), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and Gunman's Walk (1958).

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Early life

Heflin was born in Walters, Oklahoma, the son of Fanny Bleecker (née Shippey) and Dr. Emmett Evan Heflin, a dentist.[1][2] He was of Irish and French ancestry.[3] Heflin's sister was Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Frances Heflin (who married composer Sol Kaplan). Heflin attended Classen High School in Oklahoma City. One source says Long Beach Polytechnic High School.[1] He also went to the University of Oklahoma, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1932[1] and was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He earned a master's degree in theater at Yale University.[4] He was an accomplished seaman prior to his acting career and was in a US Army artillery unit during WWII.[5][6][3]



Heflin began his acting career on Broadway in the late 1920s. He appeared in Mr. Moneypenny (1928), The Bride of Torozko (1934), The Night Remembers (1934), Mid-West (1936), and End of Summer (1936).[7] After this, Katharine Hepburn helped him secure a film contract with RKO Radio Pictures and he did a screen test in New York.[8]: 25 


Heflin made his film debut in A Woman Rebels (1936), opposite Katharine Hepburn, whom he played opposite in the stage version of The Philadelphia Story. He followed it with The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937), billed third after Preston Foster and Jean Muir, and Flight from Glory (1937), a Chester Morris programmer where Heflin played an alcoholic pilot.

Heflin was in Annapolis Salute (1937), then was given his first lead role in Saturday's Heroes (1937), playing a star quarterback.

Heflin returned to Broadway for Western Waters (1937–38) and Casey Jones (1938), the latter for the Group Theatre and directed by Elia Kazan.

In Hollywood Heflin had a support role in Back Door to Heaven (1939). He returned to Broadway where he played Macaulay Connor opposite Katharine Hepburn, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Booth in The Philadelphia Story, which ran for 417 performances from 1939 to 1940. It led to Heflin being offered a choice character part in the Errol Flynn western Santa Fe Trail (1940) at Warners, playing a villainous gun seller. The movie was a big hit.[9]


Not being "swamped with offers" after Santa Fe Trail, Heflin contacted Billy Grady, an MGM talent scout, and arranged for a screen test, which Heflin did opposite Donna Reed. He received a stock deal from MGM, which initially cast Heflin in supporting roles in films such as The Feminine Touch (1941) and H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941).[8]: 37–39 

He had a part as Robert Taylor's doomed best friend in Johnny Eager (1942), which won Heflin an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and was a box office success.[8]: 42 


MGM began to groom Heflin as a leading man in B movies, giving him the star role in Kid Glove Killer (1942), directed by Fred Zinnemann, and Grand Central Murder (1942). Both were popular.

Encouraged, MGM cast him as Kathryn Grayson's love interest in a musical, Seven Sweethearts (1942), then was given the star role in an "A" film, as the embattled President Andrew Johnson in Tennessee Johnson (1942), playing opposite (and at odds with) Lionel Barrymore who, in the role of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, failed to have Johnson convicted in an impeachment trial by the slimmest of margins. The film was a box office flop.

Heflin was Judy Garland's love interest in Presenting Lily Mars (1943), then he enlisted in the army.

Heflin served during World War II in the United States Army Air Force as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe and with the First Motion Picture Unit. He appeared in a training film, Land and Live in the Jungle (1944).

When Heflin returned to Hollywood, MGM lent him to Hal Wallis to star opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). He was in the all-star musical Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) then was loaned to Warner Bros to co star with Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947).

Back at MGM he co-starred with Lana Turner in Green Dolphin Street (1947), a big prestige film for the studio and their biggest hit of 1947. He was reunited with Stanwyck in B.F.'s Daughter (1948) and was loaned to Walter Wanger for Tap Roots (1948), where he was top billed; both lost money.

MGM cast him as Athos in The Three Musketeers (1948), a huge success. He was top-billed in Zinnemann's Act of Violence (1949), and supported Jennifer Jones in Madame Bovary (1949). Both movies were acclaimed but lost money. He then made a third film with Stanwyck, East Side, West Side (1950), but he was now billed beneath James Mason. While that production did not lose money, it only netted a small profit for the studio.


The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was a radio detective drama that aired from June 17, 1947, through September 15, 1951, first heard on NBC in the summer of 1947 starring Van Heflin (June 12, 1947 – September 9, 1947). He also acted on the Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense, Cavalcade of America and many more radio programs.

Leaving MGM

Heflin began appearing on television on episodes of Nash Airflyte Theatre and Robert Montgomery Presents (an adaptation of Arrowsmith).

Heflin had the lead role in a Western at Universal, Tomahawk (1951) and starred in a thriller directed by Joseph Losey, The Prowler (1951).

At Universal he made a family comedy with Patricia Neal, Week-End with Father (1951), then he was an FBI man in Leo McCarey's anti-Communist My Son John (1952).

Heflin went to England to star in South of Algiers (1953). He appeared in a huge success as the honest farmer in Shane (1953) with Alan Ladd.

However he followed it up with action films at Universal: Wings of the Hawk (1953), and Tanganyika (1954). He starred in an independent Western, The Raid (1954) and was one of many stars in 20th Century Fox's Woman's World (1954).

Heflin stayed at Fox to star in Black Widow (1954) and he was top billed in Warners' Battle Cry (1955) based on Leon Uris's best seller which was a major hit at the box office.

After a Western, Count Three and Pray (1955), Heflin starred in Patterns (1956) based on a TV play by Rod Serling. He also did a Playhouse 90 written by Serling, "The Dark Side of the Earth", and "The Rank and File"; he also did "The Cruel Day" by Reginald Rose.

Heflin returned to Broadway to appear in a double bill of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays which ran for 149 performances under the direction of Martin Ritt.

Heflin had an excellent part in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) with Glenn Ford. He made a Western with Tab Hunter, his old Battle Cry co star, Gunman's Walk (1958). That was made for Columbia, with whom Heflin signed a contract to make one film a year for five years.[10]


Heflin then went to Italy to star in Tempest (1959). He was billed after Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth in They Came to Cordura (1959).

Heflin went back to Europe for 5 Branded Women (1960), which he starred in for Martin Ritt, Under Ten Flags (1960), and The Wastrel (1961). In Hollywood he appeared on The Dick Powell Theatre.

Heflin went to the Philippines to star in a war film Cry of Battle (1963). This was playing at the Texas Theatre in Dallas on November 22, 1963. His name and the film title appear on the marquee. It was that theatre where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination.

Heflin had another Broadway hit in the title role of A Case of Libel (1963–64) which ran for 242 performances.

Later career

Heflin appeared in a short but dramatic role as an eyewitness of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from death in the 1965 Bible film, The Greatest Story Ever Told. After seeing the miracle he ran from Bethany to the walls of Jerusalem and proclaimed to the guards at the top of the wall that Jesus was the Messiah.

Heflin returned to MGM for a support part in Once a Thief (1965). He was in the remake of Stagecoach (1966) and went to Europe to star in The Man Outside (1967) and Every Man for Himself (1968).

In the US he was in the TV movies A Case of Libel (1968), and Certain Honorable Men (1968) and he had a support part in The Big Bounce (1969).

Heflin's last feature film was Airport (1970). He played "D. O. Guerrero", a failure who schemes to blow himself up on an airliner so that his wife (played by Maureen Stapleton) can collect on a life insurance policy. It was an enormous success.

His last TV movies were Neither Are We Enemies (1970) and The Last Child (1971).

Personal life

Heflin had a six-month marriage to actress Eleanor Shaw (née Eleanor Scherr) in the mid-thirties. In 1942, Heflin married RKO contract player Frances Neal. They had two daughters, actresses Vana O'Brien and Cathleen (Kate) Heflin, and a son, Tracy. The couple divorced in 1967.[4]

Heflin was the grandfather of actor Ben O'Brien and actress Eleanor O'Brien. Van Heflin's sister Frances Heflin, nickname "Fra", regularly appeared as Mona Kane, mother of Erica, in the daytime television drama series All My Children. She played the role from January 5, 1970, until her death in June 1994. He was also the uncle of Marta Heflin[11] and Mady Kaplan, both actresses, and director Jonathan Kaplan. Heflin's brother, Martin, a public relations executive, was married to American theatre producer Julia Heflin.[11]


On June 6, 1971, Heflin had a heart attack while swimming in a pool. Medics took him to a hospital, and though he lived for nearly seven weeks, he apparently never regained consciousness. Van Heflin died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles on July 23, 1971, at 6:43 am, aged 62.[12] He had left instructions forbidding a public funeral. Instead, his cremated remains were scattered in the ocean.[13]


In 1960, Heflin was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his contributions to motion pictures at 6311 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard.[14] He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1964.[15]

In February 2016, a biography, Van Heflin: A Life in Film, by Derek Sculthorpe, was published by McFarland & Company of Jefferson, North Carolina.


Year Title Role Notes
1936 A Woman Rebels Lord Gerald Waring Gaythorne
1937 The Outcasts of Poker Flat Reverend Samuel 'Sam' Woods
Flight From Glory George Wilson
Annapolis Salute Clay V. Parker
Saturday's Heroes Val Webster
1939 Back Door to Heaven John Shelley
1940 Santa Fe Trail Carl Rader
1941 The Feminine Touch Elliott Morgan
H.M. Pulham, Esq. Bill King
Johnny Eager Jeff Hartnett Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1942 Kid Glove Killer Gordon McKay
Grand Central Murder 'Rocky' Custer
Seven Sweethearts Henry Taggart
Tennessee Johnson Andrew Johnson
1943 Presenting Lily Mars John Thornway
Screen Snapshots: Hollywood in Uniform Himself Short subject
1944 Land and Live in the Jungle 1st Lieutenant Lynn Harrison Uncredited / Documentary
1945 Land and Live in the Desert Narrator Uncredited / Short subject
1946 The Strange Love of Martha Ivers Sam Masterson
Till the Clouds Roll By James I. Hessler
1947 Possessed David Sutton
Green Dolphin Street Timothy Haslam
1948 B.F.'s Daughter Thomas W. Brett
Tap Roots Keith Alexander
The Secret Land Narrator Documentary
The Three Musketeers Athos
1949 Act of Violence Frank R. Enley
Madame Bovary Charles Bovary
East Side, West Side Mark Dwyer
1951 Tomahawk Jim Bridger
The Prowler Webb Garwood
Week-End with Father Brad Stubbs
1952 My Son John Stedman
1953 South of Algiers Nicholas Chapman
Shane Joe Starrett
Wings of the Hawk Irish Gallager
1954 Tanganyika John Gale
The Raid Maj. Neal Benton / Neal Swayze
Woman's World Jerry Talbot
Black Widow Peter Denver
1955 Battle Cry Maj. Sam Huxley – CO, 2nd Bn., 6th Marine Regt.
Count Three and Pray Luke Fargo
1956 Patterns Fred Staples
1957 3:10 to Yuma Dan Evans
1958 Gunman's Walk Lee Hackett
Tempest Emelyan Pugachov
1959 They Came to Cordura Sgt. John Chawk
1960 5 Branded Women Velko
Under Ten Flags Captain Bernhard Rogge
1961 The Wastrel Duncan Bell
1963 Cry of Battle Joe Trent
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Bar Amand
Once a Thief Inspector Mike Vido SFPD
1966 Stagecoach Marshal Curly Wilcox
1967 The Man Outside Bill MacLean
1968 The Ruthless Four Sam Cooper
1969 The Big Bounce Sam Mirakian
1970 Airport D.O. Guerrero

Television credits

Year Title Role Notes
1950 The Nash Airflyte Theater Llano Kid Episode: "A Double-Dyed Deceiver"
1950 Robert Montgomery Presents Dr. Martin Arrowsmith Episode: "Arrowsmith"
1951 The Ken Murray Show Himself Episode: "Van Heflin"
1957–1960 Playhouse 90 Captain / Bill Kilcoyne / Col. Sten 3 episodes
1961 The Dick Powell Show Sergeant Paul Maxon Episode: "Ricochet"
1963–1964 The Great Adventure Himself – Narrator / Himself – Announcer 13 episodes
1965 The Teenage Revolution Narrator Documentary
1968 A Case of Libel Robert Sloane Television film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1968 The Danny Thomas Hour Kreutzer Episode: "Fear Is the Chain"
1968 Certain Honorable Men Champ Donohue Television film
1970 Neither Are We Enemies Joseph of Arimathea Television film
1971 The Last Child Senator Quincy George Television film, (final film role)

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1947 The New Adventures of Philip Marlowe, NBC Red Wind
1949 Lux Radio Theatre Green Dolphin Street[16]
1953 Theater of Stars The Apple Tree[17]
1953 Suspense The Case of the Marie [sic] Celeste[18]
1953 Suspense The Shot[19]


  1. ^ a b c d Everett, Dianna. "Heflin, Emmett Evan (1908–1971)". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  2. ^ Parker, John. Who's Who in the Theatre: Volume 17, Part 1. Pitman, 1952, p. 762.
  3. ^ a b Niderost, Eric (April 1996). "Van Heflin - An Actor's Soul, A Seaman's Heart". Classic Images. Archived from the original on April 27, 2006. Retrieved April 2, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Van Heflin dead at 60". Montreal Gazette. July 24, 1971. p. 36. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  5. ^ "Heflin At The Bar". The New York Times. January 19, 1964. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 26, 2022.
  6. ^ "Heflin, Emmett Evan". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved November 26, 2022.
  7. ^ "Van Heflin". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on May 24, 2017. Retrieved September 11, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Sculthorpe, Derek (March 9, 2016). Van Heflin: A Life in Film. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-9686-0.
  9. ^ "News of the Screen: Van Heflin Signed for Villain in 'Santa Fe Trail' – 'Fugitive From Justice,' 'Wagons Westward' Today Of Local Origin". The New York Times. July 6, 1940. p. A9. Retrieved April 2, 2022.
  10. ^ Hopper, Hedda (July 8, 1958). "Margaret Leighton in 'Sound and Fury'". Los Angeles Times. p. C6.
  11. ^ a b Vitello, Paul (September 25, 2013). "Marta Heflin, Actor, Dies at 68; Waif Seen in Altman Films". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  12. ^ "Van Heflin dies of heart attack". The Gettysburg Times. Associated Press. July 23, 1971. Retrieved April 2, 2022.
  13. ^ Begg, Paul (July 22, 2014). Mary Celeste: The Greatest Mystery of the Sea. Routledge. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-317-86531-5.
  14. ^ "Van Heflin". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  15. ^ "Emmett Evan "Van" Heflin". Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 6, 2015. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  16. ^ "Radio's Golden Age". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (2): 40–41. Spring 2013.
  17. ^ Kirby, Walter (May 17, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved June 27, 2015 – via
  18. ^ Kirby, Walter (June 7, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 50. Retrieved July 1, 2015 – via
  19. ^ Kirby, Walter (October 11, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 50. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via

Further reading

Sculthorpe, Derek (2016). Van Heflin: A Life in Film. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-9686-0

External links

This page was last edited on 20 June 2024, at 02:50
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