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A popular and talented leading man for five decades, Lloyd Bridges began his career playing gritty men of action in films like "Home of the Brave" (1949) and "High Noon" (1952) and finished it as a madcap player in such slapstick films as "Airplane!" and "Hot Shots!" (1991). Along the way, he became a television star thanks to "Sea Hunt" (syndicated, 1958-1961) and starred in numerous television series and movies. The father of actors Jeff and Beau Bridges and grandfather to Jordan Bridges, he experienced a career upswing in the 1980s thanks to "Airplane!" and worked tirelessly in dramas, comedies and everything in between until his death in 1998. His tenacity, talent and charisma made him a favorite of multiple generations of viewers.Born in San Leandro, CA on Jan. 15, 1913, Lloyd Vernet Bridges, Jr. was the son of a local hotelier and movie theater owner. Active in sports and scholastic pursuits at Petaluma High School, he pursued a degree in political science at UCLA but found himself devoting more time to school theater productions. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Howard, who later penned the Oscar-winning script for "Gone with the Wind" (1939), encouraged Bridges to follow his interest...
A popular and talented leading man for five decades, Lloyd Bridges began his career playing gritty men of action in films like "Home of the Brave" (1949) and "High Noon" (1952) and finished it as a madcap player in such slapstick films as "Airplane!" and "Hot Shots!" (1991). Along the way, he became a television star thanks to "Sea Hunt" (syndicated, 1958-1961) and starred in numerous television series and movies. The father of actors Jeff and Beau Bridges and grandfather to Jordan Bridges, he experienced a career upswing in the 1980s thanks to "Airplane!" and worked tirelessly in dramas, comedies and everything in between until his death in 1998. His tenacity, talent and charisma made him a favorite of multiple generations of viewers.
Born in San Leandro, CA on Jan. 15, 1913, Lloyd Vernet Bridges, Jr. was the son of a local hotelier and movie theater owner. Active in sports and scholastic pursuits at Petaluma High School, he pursued a degree in political science at UCLA but found himself devoting more time to school theater productions. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Howard, who later penned the Oscar-winning script for "Gone with the Wind" (1939), encouraged Bridges to follow his interest in acting, which he took to heart. In 1935, shortly after graduating from UCLA, he joined a touring production of "The Taming of the Shrew" and followed it across country before settling in New York City. Bridges supported himself in a variety of jobs, including acting teacher and recording plays and novels for the American Foundation for the Blind while treading the boards in New York. An executive from Columbia Pictures discovered him in 1940 while performing in Ossining, NY. He was signed to a seven-year contract and earned his first screen credit in 1941's "The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance." A staggering amount of films in every genre followed, though few provided him with much of an opportunity to show his abilities. With his craggy features and drawling delivery, he was a go-to for second and third-string muscle in Westerns, gangster and war pictures like 1943's Humphrey Bogart picture, "Sahara."
Unsatisfied with the selection of roles being offered to him, Bridges ended his contract with Columbia in 1944. After a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, he returned to Hollywood as a freelancer. His first lead came in the 1945 serial adaptation of the popular comic strip "Secret Agent X-9" by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond. Eventually, the roles and the projects improved; the World War II drama "A Walk in the Sun" (1945) preceded Andre De Toth's Western drama "Ramrod," with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, before Bridges landed his breakthrough role in "Home of the Brave" (1949) as the sole Caucasian friend to African-American soldier James Edwards. The success of the film seemed to be the beginning of Bridges' climb to stardom. More hits followed in its wake, including the science fiction adventure "Rocketship X-M" (1950), with Bridges as its lead, and the Western classic "High Noon" (1952), with Bridges as Gary Cooper's deputy, who resigns in the face of a showdown with dangerous criminals. But the House Un-American Activities Commission's investigation into Communists in the entertainment industry slowed his momentum. In testimony before the Commission, Bridges admitted that he had been a member of the Actors' Lab, a theater group with ties to the Communist Party. Though eventually cleared by the FBI, Bridges was "greylisted," which excluded him from work in projects aside from low-budget features and television.
Appearances in countless live dramas and theatrical Westerns and mysteries kept Bridges busy for most of the 1950s. Few were remarkable, save for the Katherine Hepburn-Burt Lancaster drama "The Rainmaker" (1956) and an Emmy-nominated appearance on "The Alcoa Hour" (NBC, 1955-57) in 1957. Broadway offered him some exposure in 1956 when he replaced Franchot Tone in "Oh Men! Oh Women!" But his fortunes changed the following year when producer Ivan Tors cast him in the adventure series "Sea Hunt" as former Navy frogman Mike Nelson, who battled all manner of ocean-bound bad guys both above and below the waters. A colossal hit in syndication, it not only made Bridges exceptionally rich and famous, but also provided him with a weekly forum from which to talk about one of his favorite causes: the preservation of the oceans. In later years, he would continue to support it as a member of the American Oceans Campaign, Heal the Bay, and as honorary president of EarthTrust. In addition, it gave early screen exposure to his two sons, Jeff and Beau, who would play small parts throughout the series' run.
Following the conclusion of "Sea Hunt" in 1961, Bridges was in demand as a leading man on the small screen. Unfortunately, his subsequent efforts, while critically acclaimed, could not match the popularity of his underwater adventure series. "The Lloyd Bridges Show" (CBS, 1962-63) was an anthology series produced by Aaron Spelling with Bridges as author Adam Shepherd, who became the lead character in each week's story. The show attracted top talent in front of and behind the camera, including a script by future "Chinatown" scribe Robert Towne and an episode directed by John Cassavetes. It lasted just a season, as did his next effort, "The Loner" (CBS, 1965-66), a Western with Bridges as a former Union cavalry officer who traveled the country after the Civil War, encountering drama along the way. The series, created by Rod Serling, was noted for its realistic tone, but failed to find an audience among viewers accustomed to more straightforward shoot-em-ups. Reportedly, Bridges was considered for the leads in both "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69) and "Hawaii 5-0" (CBS, 1968-1980), but his reasons for declining the shows were not known.
As the 1960s faded into the new decade, Bridges was working regularly in television dramas and on episodic series. He was top-billed in several of the best TV movies of the period, including the Emmy-nominated "Silent Night, Lonely Night" (NBC, 1969), with Bridges and Shirley Jones as two troubled strangers who find solace in each other's arms, and "Haunts of the Very Rich" (ABC, 1972), about a planeload of visitors to a mysterious island retreat. He also joined son Beau, Richard Widmark, and Melvyn Douglas as one period in the life of "Benjamin Franklin" (CBS), a 1974 miniseries that netted five Emmys. However, his attempts to find a suitable weekly series continued to be thwarted; "San Francisco International Airport" (NBC, 1970-71) was part of the wheel series "Four in One" (NBC, 1970-71) and starred Bridges as the manager of the title location, while "Joe Forrester" (NBC, 1975) began life as an episode of "Police Story" (NBC, 1973-78). Unfortunately, the thoughtful, low-impact show about a veteran beat cop (Bridges) failed to draw much attention. During this period, Bridges also remained committed to ocean-related causes with the syndicated series "Water World" (1972-75).
Though Bridges had worked in nearly every genre throughout his career, comedy was an area that he was rarely given an opportunity to explore. That changed dramatically with the release of "Airplane!" Like Leslie Nielsen, another dramatic stalwart who had also come up from the ranks during the 1950s, the absurd slapstick Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy showcased a never-before-seen propensity for manic humor on Bridges' part; at one point in the film, he was glimpsed dangling from the ceiling after sniffing glue. A perennial favorite on cable and home video, it signaled the beginning of a second career as a comic actor.
Bridges was more popular than ever in the 1980s. Now in his seventh decade and displaying a mischievous twinkle in his flinty eyes, he tackled all parts with a gusto that belied his years. He was a regular in historical and biographical miniseries and TV movies, playing everyone from Jack Kelly, father of "Grace Kelly" (ABC, 1983) to Jefferson Davis in "North and South, Book II" (ABC, 1986). He also starred as the powerful head of a cosmetics company in the campy primetime soap "Paper Dolls" (ABC, 1984) and even returned to Broadway for a revival of "Man of La Mancha" in 1985. Though he frequently appeared with sons Jeff and Beau on television, the 1986 TV movie "The Thanksgiving Promise" (ABC) offered the rare opportunity for three generations of Bridges to co-star in a film when he was joined by Beau and grandson Jordan. In 1987, he enjoyed his first high profile feature role in years as Michigan Senator Homer S. Ferguson, whose dalliance brings down automotive entrepreneur Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges) in "Tucker" (1987).
Bridges bounced between TV and film throughout the 1990s; there was a reprisal, of sorts, of his "Airplane!" role as a dimwitted Navy admiral in "Hot Shots!" (1991) and its sequel "Hot Shots! Part Deux" (1993), and a curmudgeonly turn as Jeff Bridges' uncle in the soggy thriller "Blown Away" (1994). He also took on not one but two series during this period: David Milch's "Capital News" (ABC, 1990) was a drama set in a fictitious Washington, D.C. newspaper office, while "Harts of the West" (CBS, 1993-94) was a family comedy with son Beau taking over a dude ranch in Nevada and Bridges as a ranch hand. Both disappeared after a season, but Bridges continued to work steadily throughout the decade. A 1998 appearance as the absurdly fit senior citizen Izzy Mandelbaum on "Seinfeld" (CBS, 1990-1998) netted him his second Emmy nomination - 41 years after his first. After completing work on the comedy "Jane Austen's Mafia!" (1998) and an independent feature called "Meeting Daddy" (2000) with son Beau, the beloved actor died of natural causes at the age of 85 on March 10, 1998. "Meeting Daddy" was released posthumously. Bridges was cremated and his ashes given to his family.
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