×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Victor Mature dies at 86

Thesp had leading roles in over 50 films

Victor Mature, the beefy leading man of the ’40s and ’50s whose films included “Kiss of Death” and “Samson and Delilah,” died Wednesday in Rancho Santa Fe following a three-year battle with cancer. He was 86.

Announcement of his death, funeral arrangements and other information were delayed at his widow’s request, Encinitas Mortuary spokesman Joe Reynolds said.

Though he admitted to being a better golfer than actor, Mature, who had leading roles in almost 50 films, came along at a time when inscrutable leading men with muscular physiques were in fashion. Never averse to publicity, he played up his sobriquet “the Hunk,” which gave him needed visibility to compete with some of his more talented contemporaries like Charlton Heston and Robert Mitchum.

Biblical to noir

He is best remembered for Biblical spectacles including Cecil B. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” and “The Robe,” but turned in some of his best work in films noir like “Kiss of Death” and “Cry of the City” as well as John Ford’s classic Western “My Darling Clementine.”

But since the late ’50s, except for occasional small roles as in the early ’80s TV remake of “Samson and Delilah,” Mature rarely worked in the business. He never took acting too seriously, he confessed. Nor marriage, to some extent: He was wed five times.

Born in Louisville, Ky., Mature left school in his teens and became a successful candy wholesaler. With that money he started a restaurant in 1935 only to sell it a short time later to head to California where he intended to become an actor.

He studied at Pasadena Playhouse’s drama school and in 1936 made his debut there in “Paths of Glory.” Odd jobs sustained him over the next couple of years until he landed a fellowship at the Playhouse and a leading role in “Autumn Crocus.”

First film role

A year later while acting in Ben Hecht’s “To Quito and Back,” he was spotted by producer Hal Roach, who gave him a small role in “The Housekeeper’s Daughter” with Joan Bennett. The brief appearance resulted in a deluge of fan mail, and he was thrown into a leading role in “One Million B.C.,” a subpar caveman tale.

The poorly reviewed film gave him a profile as a brawny, he-man type, and he capitalized on the attendant publicity. In 1940, Roach sold half of Mature’s $250-a-week, seven-year contract to RKO, which put him in the film version of “No, No Nanette.” He continued in a musical vein, moving on to Broadway in Moss Hart’s play with music “Lady in the Dark” opposite Gertrude Lawrence. It was here that the description “hunk” was ascribed to him. And it stuck.

Of his early films, the thriller “I Wake Up Screaming,” co-starring Betty Grable, was one of his better efforts, but not “Shanghai Gesture,” also in 1941. At this point, Fox took over his contract and paid him $1,200 a week while casting him in musical vehicles with Grable and Rita Hayworth such as “Song of the Islands” and “My Gal Sal.”

War years

During the war, Mature signed up with the Coast Guard and was assigned to duty patrolling the North Atlantic. His only acting work during the period was the musical “Tars and Spars” for recruitment purposes.

After the war, he landed a plum role in “My Darling Clementine.” Other strong vehicles included “Moss Rose” in 1947 and the noir “Cry of the City.”

His biggest success would be as Samson in DeMille’s 1950 version of “Samson and Delilah,” for which he was paid $50,000. Neither he nor co-star Hedy Lamarr were right for the roles, but DeMille worked his usual unintentionally campy magic.

Mature worked in a range of films throughout the ’50s, from musical comedies like “Wabash Avenue” and “Million Dollar Mermaid” to Westerns like “Chief Crazy Horse” and action films such as “Dangerous Mission” and “Betrayed.” But he is best remembered for beefcake spectacles like “Androcles and the Lion,” “The Robe,” “Demetrius and the Gladiators” and “The Egyptian.”

After such a spate, it was hard to see him in anything else, which is why by the early ’60s he’d joined the exodus of American actors to Italy, where he starred in “Hannibal” and “The Tartars.”

But by the end of the decade he was reduced mostly to cameos, some spoofing his persona such as “After the Fox,” a comedy with Peter Sellers, and the Monkees’ “Head.”

Appropriately, he came out of retirement in 1983 to play Samson’s father in a TV remake of “Samson and Delilah.”

Survivors include his wife, Lorey, a former Chicago opera singer, and their daughter, Victoria, 24, who recently graduated from an opera program at the U. of California, San Diego.

A funeral service will be held today in Louisville.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

More Film

  • Nadine Labaki

    Cannes: Nadine Labaki to Head Un Certain Regard Jury

    Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has been named president of the jury for Un Certain Regard in Cannes. The Festival said Labaki had been chosen after “moving hearts and minds at the last Festival de Cannes with her Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated ‘Capernaum,’ which won the Jury Prize.” The organizers noted Labaki’s films have all [...]

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Unveils Four More French Originals, 'Gims,' 'Anelka,' 'Move,' 'Of Earth And Blood'

    As it prepares to open a fully-staffed office in France and ramp up its investment in local originals, Netflix has unveiled three new documentaries, “Move” (working title), “Gims” (working title), and “Anelka” (working title), and the feature film “Of Earth And Blood” while at Series Mania in Lille. Announced during a panel with Netflix’s commissioning [...]

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT Miramax has acquired film rights to Lauren Iungerich’s holiday-themed screenplay “I [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. Warner Bros. has been developing the project for many [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content