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Happy Birthday, Barry Sullivan!

When actor Barry Sullivan—born Patrick Barry Sullivan in 1912 on this date in New York City—was approached to star in Harbourmaster, a television series from the prolific Ziv studios, he had one question for the producers: “Why do you want to do a series about a guy and a boat?”

“Did you ever want to own a boat?” Sullivan was asked. And he had to admit, they had him there. But the first time Barry took the throttle of the Blue Chip II, the 30-foot cruiser belonging to his character on the show (Captain David Scott), he let it out and sped out of the harbor, providing the cameraman with “a good shot.” Except speeding out of any harbor is frowned upon in nautical circles (“The wake can cause a lot of damage,” Sullivan recalled), of which Barry was informed via a dressing down from the real harbourmaster.

Barry Sullivan was born the seventh son of a seventh son. (Spooky!) Barry’s only real ambition as a young shaver was to make the football team. He attended several prep schools before his enrollment at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx got him a spot on the varsity squad and chosen as an all-PSA League Quarterback. After graduation, Sullivan attended New York University (to study law) briefly, and then played pro baseball for a few years before returning to “the halls of ivy” on a football scholarship to Temple University. Barry worked odd jobs from doorman to department store buyer until someone suggested to him that with his good looks and stature (he was 6’3″) he’d do very well in acting.

Barry Sullivan joined a stock company and then made his Broadway debut in 1936’s I Want a Policeman. It was a flop, as were those that followed: St. Helena (1936), All That Glitters and Eye On the Sparrow (both 1938). Sullivan wouldn’t appear in a hit play until he replaced actor Theodore Newton as “Bert Jefferson” in the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman smash The Man Who Came to Dinner. Even with that success, stage stardom proved elusive for Barry; his next hit wouldn’t surface until he took over for Henry Fonda in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954). Sullivan’s reprisal of the Barney Greenwald role on a special 1955 telecast of Ford Star Jubilee nabbed him his only Emmy Award nomination (Best Actor, Single Performance); he lost to that presentation’s star, Lloyd Nolan (who played Captain Queeg).

Barry Sullivan’s acting success would arrive in the form of motion pictures. As a struggling New York stage actor, he moonlighted in several film shorts cranked out by Educational Pictures, including 1937’s Dime a Dance—which also features June Allyson, Imogene Coca, and Danny Kaye. Once Barry established himself in Hollywood, he got plum roles in movies like The Woman of the Town (1943), Lady in the Dark (1944), And Now Tomorrow (1944), Duffy’s Tavern (1945), Getting Gertie’s Garter (1945), Suspense (1946), Framed (1947), The Gangster (1947), and Smart Woman (1948). Sullivan remembered that making The Great Gatsby (1949) was a particularly trying experience, because of his and star Alan Ladd’s height differences. (Ladd had to stand on a crate…Sullivan in a hole.)

Although he never achieved major stardom, Barry Sullivan was enough of a silver screen presence to make frequent guest appearances on radio, emoting on dramatic anthologies such as The Cavalcade Of AmericaFamily TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHollywood Star PlayhouseThe Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreThe NBC University TheatreStars Over Hollywood, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre. Other programs on which Barry guest starred include Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood and Obsession. Sullivan had a regular radio gig in the summer of 1947 when he took over Dick Powell’s role of “Richard Rogue” on the series Rogue’s Gallery. He also made appearances on the 1947-48 syndicated program The Unexpected and filled in for star Vincent Price (who was “delayed in Paris”) on The Adventures of the Saint in 1950.

Signing with M-G-M in 1950, Barry Sullivan made many of his most memorable motion pictures, including a particularly nasty turn as Loretta Young’s husband/tormenter in Cause for Alarm! (1951) and as a shady lawyer in No Questions Asked (1951). Barry was also among the high-profile cast of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952; as director “Fred Amiel”) and continued throughout the decade in such features as Jeopardy (1953), Strategic Air Command (1955), Queen Bee (1955), The Maverick Queen (1956), Forty Guns (1957), and Another Time, Another Place (1958). Sullivan continued to work in films (he has a nice bit as a bishop in Oh, God! [1977]) but by the mid-50s had started to transition to small screen work. In addition to the previously mentioned Harbourmaster (also known as Adventure at Scott Island), Ziv Productions had Barry play “Ken Thurston” (the role made famous on radio by Herbert Marshall) on their successful TV adaptation of The Man Called X (1956-57). (Barry also branched out to behind-the-camera work, directing episodes of Harbourmaster and Highway Patrol.)

Barry Sullivan’s most successful small screen venture was The Tall Man, a Western that aired over NBC-TV from 1960 to 1962. Barry played legendary lawman Pat Garrett, with Clu Gulager as his “nemesis” William H. Bonney (better known as “Billy the Kid”). Sullivan’s last regular weekly series was also a Western. On The Road West (a 1966-67 series produced by Gunsmoke’s Norman Macdonnell) Barry was patriarch Ben Pride, a homesteader leading his wife and children through Kansas in the 1860s. Until his retirement in 1981, and eventual passing in 1994 (at the age of 81), Sullivan was a much-in-demand guest star on such classic TV favorites as Barnaby JonesBen CaseyCannonThe High ChaparralIronsideIt Takes a ThiefThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.Mission: ImpossibleThe Name of the GamePerry Mason, and The Streets of San Francisco.

Both “The Ghost That Giggled” (09-17-50) and “Dossier on a Doggone Dog” (09-24-50)—the two broadcasts of The Adventures of the Saint that feature Barry Sullivan filling in as Simon Templar for missing star Vincent Price—are available on the Radio Spirits release The Saint is Heard. You’ll also find a surviving broadcast (06-29-47) of Rogue’s Gallery with our birthday boy in the role that Dick Powell made famous on the collection Blue Eyes.  Why not put these in your shopping cart in honor of Barry’s birthday today?

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