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Dan Duryea - Heel with a Heart

Dan Duryea

Heel with a Heart

By Mike Peros
Series: Hollywood Legends Series

Hardcover : 9781628462326, 254 pages, 65 b&w illustrations, October 2016
Paperback : 9781496830739, 254 pages, 65 b&w illustrations, August 2020

The biography of a devoted family man best known for his roles as abusive villains


Dan Duryea (1907–1968) made a vivid impression on moviegoers with his first major screen appearance as the conniving Leo Hubbard in 1941's classic melodrama The Little Foxes. His subsequent film and television career would span from 1941 until his death. Duryea remains best known for the nasty, scheming villains he portrayed in such noir masterpieces as Scarlet Street, Criss Cross, and The Woman in the Window. In each of these, he wielded a blend of menace, sleaze, confidence, and surface charm. This winning combination led him to stardom and garnered him the adoration of female fans, even though Duryea's onscreen brutality so often targeted female characters. Yet this biography's close examination of Duryea's oeuvre finds him excelling in various roles in many genres—war films, westerns, crime dramas, and even the occasional comedy.

Dan Duryea: Heel with a Heart is a full-scale, comprehensive biography that examines the tension between Duryea's villainous screen image and his Samaritan personal life. At home, he proved to be one of Hollywood's most honorable and decent men. Duryea remained married to the former Helen Bryan from 1931 until her death in 1967. A dedicated family man, he and Helen took an active role in raising their children and in the community.

In his career, Duryea knew villainous roles were what the public wanted—there would be a public backlash if fans read an article depicting what a decent guy he was. Frustrated that he couldn't completely shake his screen image and public persona, he wrestled with this restriction throughout his career. Producers and the public did not care to follow any new directions he hoped to pursue. This book, written with Duryea's surviving son Richard's cooperation, fully explores the life and legacy of a Hollywood icon ready for rediscovery.


"Peros focuses mainly on Duryea's artistic output, moving the reader through each credit from the actor's Hollywood debut, The Little Foxes, through his final major role, on the prime-time soap Peyton Place. Peros writes with the informal enthusiasm of a fan, gifting the reader an exhaustive review of the complete works of Duryea—including true Hollywood classics (Ball of Fire, The Pride of the Yankees), forgotten flops (Chicago Calling), and guest spots on early television shows (December Bride, Wagon Train). "

- Publishers Weekly

"With thorough research and the assistance of Duryea's son Richard, Peros crafts a well-intentioned biography best suited to film noir completists. "

- Library Journal

"Mr. Peros fills the pages of Dan Duryea: Heel with a Heart with detailed synopses of his subject's more than sixty films and several dozen television appearances—a yeoman's chronicle that brings welcome attention to some lesser-known Duryea items (such as the recently restored 1949 noir Too Late for Tears). "

- Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

"If you're looking for a guided chronological tour of Duryea's career from the moment of his onstage breakthrough . . . complete with a comprehensive overview of his television work, this is an awfully handy piece of work. "

- Nick Pinkerton, Film Comment

"What Peros's biography lacks in raunchy revelations it makes up for in sheer thoroughness. . . . This book is a tribute to a fine actor and a thoroughly likable man. "

- Philip Kemp, Sight and Sound

"Dan Duryea: Heel with a Heart is a gracefully written, much-needed accounting of the actor’s life and career, providing a granular look at his prolific output covering more than 100 credits—westerns and comedies besides film noir—spread over nearly 35 years. "

- Joe Morella and Frank Segers, Classic Movie Chat, February 2017

"As a result, this biography is a fascinating read and well worth enjoying in terms of learning about the balance of a personal and professional life as a villainous on-screen persona. I definitely recommend this biography to fans of film noir and fans of the “bad boys and girls” of the screen. There are many film characters we love to hate, but learning more about the real lives of the individuals who brought these characters to the screen is well worth the read. "

- Hometowns to Hollywood

"Dan Duryea may be a 'forgotten' actor, but he still looms large—vivid and vastly entertaining—for fans of films noir and westerns. Few actors created such a distinctive niche: smooth, snaky villain with the lilting voice and lethal backhand. Fans who have always cherished the squirmy menace he exuded can now finally appreciate the man himself—which will make them marvel even more at the persona he perfected."

- Eddie Muller, author most recently of The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics from the Classic Era of Film Noir and coauthor of Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star

"Mike Peros's Dan Duryea: Heel with a Heart is an extensively researched career biography of the talented and memorable actor who has, until now, received only minimal critical attention. The book clearly represents a labor of love for its author. . . . It provides useful dates and background information for Duryea's many roles and charts a clear career trajectory."

- William Luhr, author of Film Noir, professor of English and film at Saint Peter's University, and co-chair of the faculty-level Columbia University Seminar on Cinema and Interdisciplinary Interpretation