NAME: Bradford Dillman
DESCRIPTION: Actor-turned-football historian.
LAST SEEN: On the sidelines.
Football is a field that Lost and Found generally passes on. Yet when a book analyzing the draft picks of the New York Giants by actor Brad Dillman landed on our desk, we had to run with the ball.
“Football has been my life,” says Dillman from his home in Montecito, near Santa Barbara.
Well, not entirely.
Dillman is best known for playing Artie Straus, one of a pair of murderers in the film “Compulsion,” based on the Leopold-Loeb thrill killing. His portrayal put Dillman in a three-way tie with fellow cast members Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell for best actor at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. The pic remains a classic of the adolescent killer genre, in which the current “Heavenly Creatures” is the latest installment.
A tony East Coast education including Hotchkiss and Yale preceded the actor’s professional career. Of Dillman, who made Fence Club, Torch Honor Society and Yale Dramatic Assn., classmate and novelist John Knowles wrote, “In the false dawn which university life can be, we were both coming up like thunder.”
No Yale dandy, Dillman went directly from a B.A. in English literature to Marine boot camp. It was during the Korean War, but Dillman’s two-year stint was Stateside, teaching combat vets how to communicate their battle skills to fresh recruits.
Once back in civvies, Dillman headed for Gotham, studying at the Actors Studio, working Off Broadway, manning the night desk at a hotel of ill repute and rooming in Hell’s Kitchen with Knowles while the writer penned his classic novel “A Separate Peace.”
Dillman caused a sensation on Broadway in 1956 when he originated the role of Edmund Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” “It was the big break of my career,” Dillman recalls. “I was one lucky guy.”
The break landed Dillman a contract with 20th Century Fox, which, says Dillman, “was sinking in the Nile” during production of its big-budget fiasco “Cleopatra.” Dillman fell afoul of studio bigwigs by turning down scripts in which he was cast to play pop star Fabian’s brother.
Along came “Circle of Deception,” a 1960 thriller in which Dillman co-starred with Suzy Parker, the actress-model who defined high style in the ’50s. They were married in 1963, the second go-round for each.
Since then, Dillman has worked in various films and TV series, as, in his words,”a Safeway actor.”
“I had six kids and had to put food on the table, ” he explains without regret.
His friend Angela Lansbury still employs his acting talents on “Murder, She Wrote” at least once a year.
But his obsession is football, particularly the 49ers of his hometown, San Francisco. The game’s fascination for him is “so many characters, so many personalities.” Which is how Dillman came to author a book about football, focusing on the Giants for their commercial appeal.
“Inside the New York Giants, ” published by Third Story Press, tells the story of each player drafted by the Giants from 1967 to the present. I t is actually the first of a planned 28-volume set, one for each pro team-all of which exist in manuscript form, nicknamed “the doorstop” by Dillman’s wife.
“It’s essential for an actor to have a hobby for the time when the telephone doesn’t ring,” says Dillman.
He and Parker may be found these days in booth 10 at Joe’s Cafe in Montecito-the same spot in which they were married many a football season ago.