Arthur O’Connell

O’Connell was born on March 29, 1908 in Manhattan, New York. He made his legitimate stage debut in the middle 1930s, at which time he fell within the orbit of Orson Welles‘ Mercury Theatre. Welles cast O’Connell in the tiny role of a reporter in the closing scenes of Citizen Kane (1941), a film often referred to as O’Connell’s film debut, though in fact he already had appeared in Freshman Year (1938) and had costarred in two Leon Errol short subjects as Errol’s conniving brother-in-law.

After numerous small movie parts, O’Connell returned to Broadway, where he appeared as the middle-aged swain of a spinsterish schoolteacher in Picnic – a role he played in the 1956 film version, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. Later, the jaded looking O’Connell frequently was cast as 40ish losers and alcoholics; in the latter capacity he appeared as James Stewart‘s boozy attorney mentor in Anatomy of a Murder (1959), and the result was a second Oscar nomination.

In 1959, O’Connell also played the part of Chief Petty Officer Sam Tostin, engine room chief of the fictional World War II submarine USS Sea Tiger, opposite Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in Operation Petticoat. In 1961, O’Connell played the role of Grandpa Clarence Beebe in the children’s film Misty, the screen adaptation of Marguerite Henry‘s story of Misty of Chincoteague.  In 1962, he portrayed the father of Elvis Presley‘s character in the motion picture Follow That Dream, and in 1964 in the Presley-picture Kissin’ Cousins. In the same year, O’Connell portrayed the idealist-turned-antagonist Clint Stark in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, which has become a cult classic, and in which O’Connell’s is the only character other than star Tony Randall to appear as one of the “7 faces.” O’Connell continued appearing in choice character parts on both television and films during the 1960s, but avoided a regular television series, holding out until he could be assured top billing. 

On Christmas Day, 1962, O’Connell was cast as Clayton Dodd in the episode “Green, Green Hills” of the western series Empire, starring Richard Egan as the rancher Jim Redigo. This episode features Dayton Lummis as Jason Simms and Joanna Moore as Althea Dodd. In 1966, he guest-starred as a scientist who regretfully realized that he has created an all-powerful android in an episode of the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, titled “The Mechanical Man.” In the February 1967 episode “Never Look Back” of the TV series Lassie, he played Luther Jennings, an elderly ranger who monitors the survey tower at Strawberry Peak and who takes it hard when he finds he’ll lose his job when the tower is slated for destruction.

Ill health forced O’Connell to reduce his acting appearances in the middle 1970s, but the actor stayed busy as a commercial spokesman, a friendly pharmacist who was a spokesperson for Crest.

At the time of his death from Alzheimer’s disease in California in May 1981, O’Connell was appearing by his own choice solely in these commercials. O’Connell is interred at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York

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