Brad Dexter can claim cinema fame on two counts. He is the least known of “The Magnificent Seven” and for movie buffs, he seems always to be the last actor named in quiz competitions. He also earned the eternal gratitude of Frank Sinatra when he resuced him from drowning when they were making the movie “None But the Brave” in 1964 in Hawaii where they were on location for the World War Two film. Finatra subsequently used Dexter in his production “Von Ryan’s Express”. Dexter died in California aged 85 in 2002.
Ronald Bergan’s “Guardian” obituary:
A question that comes up regularly in film trivia quizzes is to name the magnificent seven, of the 1960 John Sturges western. Easy to start with: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz. But if Brad Dexter, who has died aged 85, is usually the last to be mentioned, it is mainly because of the fame of the others; actually, he was rather good as the most mercenary of the septet.
As the cool and taciturn Harry Luck, he is the second to be selected by Brynner to defend a village of poor Mexican farmers from bandits. He believes the village is guarding a gold mine, despite everyone telling him that there is none. As he lies dying from a gunshot wound, he asks Brynner, “There really was gold up in those hills, wasn’t there?” In his last breath, he needs to know that he is not dying merely for the sake of some peasants. “Of course there was,” lies Brynner. “Lots of gold.” Dexter looks relieved: “Gee, that would’ve been swell.” And he dies happy.
As in The Magnificent Seven, Dexter was overshadowed in life by his friends. He played supporting roles to singer Peggy Lee, his first wife, in a stormy marriage that lasted barely one year (1953); was a confidant of Marilyn Monroe, with whom he appeared in The Asphalt Jungle (1950); became a personal and professional colleague of Frank Sinatra, and a buddy of Karl Malden.
Dexter, who was born Boris Milanovich, the son of Serbian immigrants in Nevada, and grew up speaking Serbo-Croat, shared a central European heritage with Malden. They met while serving in the wartime US army air corps, and were both cast in Moss Hart’s epic tribute to the air corps, Winged Victory, which opened on Broadway in 1943, before repeating their roles in the George Cukor film version the following year.
After jobs as a shoeshine boy and meat packer, Dexter took up acting seriously, studying at the Pasadena Playhouse and changing his name to Barry Mitchell. In 1949, while appearing on Broadway in the comedy Magnolia Alley, he was spotted by John Huston, who gave him the role of a hoodlum in The Asphalt Jungle, for which he became Brad Dexter.
In 1952, he continued in the same vein, as gangsters in Macao and The Las Vegas Story, both starring Jane Russell. In the former, directed by Josef Von Sternberg, he has a brutal fight with Robert Mitchum. In Phil Karlsen’s 99 River Street (1953), he was a sinister heavy making John Payne’s life a misery; he was a bank robber in Violent Saturday (1955), and played the smooth racketeer Bugsy Siegel in The George Raft Story (1961). “I love playing heavies,” Dexter commented. “It’s the best-written character. The hero is always bland.”
In 1965, while they were filming None But The Brave on a Hawaiian island, Dexter saved Sinatra’s life after diving in to save the director and star, who had been hit by a freak wave and dragged out to sea. His reward was to be made executive producer of Sinatra’s film company, although their friendship ended acrimoniously in 1967, while Sinatra was making The Naked Runner, produced by Dexter, in London, and after Dexter had advised Sinatra against marrying Mia Farrow, more than 30 years his junior.
Dexter continued to concentrate on producing, his best work being Lady Sings the Blues (1972), starring Diana Ross as Billie Holiday. He also produced a television series called Skag, starring Karl Malden as a union foreman who has a crippling stroke.
Dexter’s second wife, the Star-Kist tuna heiress Mary Bogdonovich, predeceased him. He is survived by his third wife, June Deyer, and a stepson.
· Brad Dexter (Boris Milanovich), actor, born April 9 1917; died December 12 2002
The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.