Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Law of the Badlands (RKO, 1950) and Larry Johns

Today I watched the 1950 Tim Holt starrer Law of the Badlands, a customarily fine effort from director Lesley Selander and the Holt unit. I noticed a “new” name – to me, at least – in one Larry Johns, who plays the film's counterfeiter; or as Chico calls it, “fighter counter.” Actually, I've noticed the name Larry Johns on one previous occasion, ever so fleetingly depicted in a fairly new biography of Robert Mitchum. Plus, I have in my collection the portrait from the 1946 Academy Players Guide. But exactly who was this Larry Johns, who also turned up in quite a few TV oaters? Well, the following clipping goes into almost tedious detail. But here it is, and in its entire length. Enjoy!

From the Long Beach Independent Press Telegram, June 22, 1958

'Lean, Hungry Look' Asset
L i k e Shakespeare's Cassius, "Yond Larry Johns has a lean and hungry look." In Larry's case, it has been a valuable asset, giving him the distinctive appearance of a professional actor, which he is. Besides, our week's unattached man about town, director of Long Beach Community Players and freelance motion picture, television and radio actor, doesn't like to cook. Which could account, in part, for the hungry look. He's a man who has spent his entire life in show business and knows it backwards, forwards, onstage and from the wings.
* * * *
SCENE I, ACT I. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio [October 25, 1903]. The plot began to thicken early for Larry. One day, when he was absent from high school and couldn't defend himself, they elected him president of the drama class. A key character enters the scene and sets the pace: his dramatics teacher, s p o t t i n g Larry as a "n a t u r a 1" for theater work, encouraged him to make it his career. The best words of advice any stage aspirant ever had came from this coach (and Larry has passed it along to amateurs ever since) [including in the late 1930s, neophyte Robert Mitchum!]: "There is nothing sorrier in the world than a sorry actor. Don't confine your knowledge just to acting — be prepared for any phase of work in the theater and you can make it a success". He followed those valuable stage directions and, needless to say, he's never been "sorry" in either sense of the word!
* * * *
LARRY RECEIVED both his bachelor and master of arts degrees from the Busch Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Arts at the University of Chicago. A twist of fate as tricky as a second act curtain tied his future to Long Beach Community Playhouse at a time before there was a local little theater here. The late Elias Day [who discovered Laraine Johnson, a starlet who changed her name to Laraine Day in his honor], then one of the "Mr. Bigs" in theatrics and a director at the conservatory, assigned Larry to his first professional acting job, giving him the part of Daddy Long Legs in "Vauxhall" for the Chautauqua circuit. When Mr. Day — or "Daisy" as everyone called him — went into semi - retirement, he moved to Long Beach to become director of the local players and this was liaison between Larry and our town. After three years in Chautauqua, Johns felt he was ready for the big time — New York — and, sure enough, he was! Broadway welcomed him and for 17 years he played character roles in a long list of shows including such hits as "Town Boy,"
starring Ralph Bellamy; "Tide Rising," with Grant Mitchell; "The Story of Mary Suratt," with Dorothy Gish and Kent Smith; "Libel," with Colin Clive and Wilfred Lawson. Concurrently, between New York engagements, he acted with top stock companies, trading cues with such stars as Shirley Booth, Ed Gardener and Thelma Ritter;
* * *
WHEN THERE wasn't an acting assignment Larry, unlike so many other young actors, was rarely out of work because he was to the theater what a "switch hitter" is to baseball. He could join a company as stage manager, director or set designer, and,
over the years, he found himself preferring the production work to acting. Johns is six feet tall, when he b o t h e r s to stand up straight, which isn't often. He has a posture to match his easy-going personality. His voice, naturally soft, is husky, probably from projecting it to be heard clearly in the last rows of theaters in all 48 states, five Canadian provinces, Europe, South America and Mexico. By the time he was 26 his hair had turned completely gray. It intensifies his naturally tawny complexion and deep-set blue eyes. Other strictly personal .statistics: favorite color - blue; favorite
food - kidney saute (great Caesar's ghost!); he's a member of Long Beach Rotary; for an evening out likes nothing better than dinner in a sophisticated restaurant followed by attending the theater, (of course), and "live", (naturally!).
* * *
DOES HE LIKE the sack look? No! Finds women who are tall and blonde most appealing. If they're beautiful, so much the better. Then we asked the $64,000
question: "Does the thought of ending single blessedness appeal?" We got a $66,000 answer: quote — No man should live alone — unquote! Larry's most recent television work has included roles in "Cheyenne", "Sky King", "Cavalcade of America", "Rin Tin Tin" and "Wild Bill Hickok". Looks like Hollywood has him tabbed as a western hombre and that's fer shore, podner. Annually at Christmas time he goes on a Broadway binge, seeing every top new show in town, covering the theaters two a day. He thinks "Time Remembered" with Helen Hayes this year's best play. All-time favorites are "Death Takes a Holiday", "On Borrowed Time", "Our Town". He considers Julie Harris and Susan Strasburg [sic], in that order, the best young actresses in the country; Paul Muni the finest stage actor.
* * *
TINKERING WITH theatrical lighting effects is not only part of his regular worn but his favorite hobby. For active sports he likes tennis and bowling; spectator sports, baseball and football. If Larry could write the script for the balance of his life story he'd go right on directing plays for the Community Players and, when retirement age comes, his third act would be played half in New York each year and half in Long Beach right up to the final curtain.

Larry Johns, who was born Lawrence Giddings Johns, retired from films and television around 1961 and passed away in Los Angeles on January 12, 1987.

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