A biography of the stage and screen star who could never escape the role of dashing villain
Throughout the 1940s, Zachary Scott (1914-1965) was the model for sophisticated, debonair villains in American film. His best-known roles include a mysterious criminal in The Mask of Dimitrios and the indolent husband in Mildred Pierce. He garnered further acclaim for his portrayal of villains in Her Kind of Man, Danger Signal, and South of St. Louis. Although he earned critical praise for his performance as a heroic tenant farmer in Jean Renoir's The Southerner, Scott never quite escaped typecasting.
In Zachary Scott: Hollywood's Sophisticated Cad, Ronald L. Davis writes an appealing biography of the film star. Scott grew up in privileged circumstances—his father was a distinguished physician; his grandfather was a pioneer cattle baron—and was expected to follow his father into medical practice. Instead, Scott began to pursue a career in theater while studying at the University of Texas and subsequently worked his way on a ship to England to pursue acting. Upon his return to America, he began to look for work in New York.
Excelling on stage and screen throughout the 1940s, Scott seemed destined for stardom. By the end of 1950, however, he had suffered through a turbulent divorce. A rafting accident left him badly shaken and clinically depressed. His frustration over his roles mounted, and he began to drink heavily. He remarried and spent the rest of his career concentrating on stage and television work. Although Scott continued to perform occasionally in films, he never reclaimed the level of stardom that he had in the mid-1940s.
To reconstruct Scott's life, Davis uses interviews with Scott and colleagues and reviews, articles, and archival correspondence from the Scott papers at the University of Texas and from the Warner Brothers Archives. The result is a portrait of a talented actor who was rarely allowed to show his versatility on the screen.
Ronald L. Davis is professor emeritus of history at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of several books on Hollywood, including Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream, The Glamour Factory: Inside Hollywood's Big Studio System, and Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy (University Press of Mississippi).