Saturday State Post: Classic Movie Actors from Minnesota

For this week’s Saturday State Post, I decided to highlight some actors and actresses from my neighbor to the west, Minnesota since I recently watched a few movies with two of the actors on this list, Lew Ayres in Remember? (1939) and The Unfaithful (1947) and Warren William in The Case of the Howling Dog (1934).

A few of the actors and actresses from the state of Minnesota are:

Actor Warren William

Warren William

Born: December 2, 1894 in Aitkin, MN

Died: September 24, 1948 (age 53)

Married once – to his wife Helen for 25 years before his death in 1948

Known for the Movies: Three on a Match, Employees Entrance, Gold Diggers of 1933, Lady for a Day, Imitation of Life, Satan Met a Lady, The Wolf Man

My Favorite Warren William Movie: Three on a Match

Interesting Facts About Warren William:

  • He was the first actor to portray the character of defense attorney Perry Mason on the big screen, the first time was in the movie The Case of the Howling Dog (1934) which I recently watched on TCM. He played the character in a total of four movies.
  • He is sometimes referred to as “The King of Pre-Codes” because of his frequent portrayal of amoral, ruthless, and heartless businessmen in movies made in the early 1930s before the advent of the Production Code.
  • He was an amateur inventor who created items such as a lawn vacuum, a recreational vehicle, a rolling picnic table, and custom barbecue grills, receiving patents for a few of his inventions.
  • If you would like to learn more about Warren William, be sure to check out Cliff’s blog devoted solely to the actor!


Lew Ayres

Born: December 28, 1908 in Minneapolis, MN

Died: December 30, 1996 (age 88)

Married three times including to actresses Lola Lane and Ginger Rogers

Known for the Movies: The Kiss, All Quiet on the Western Front, Holiday, Young Dr. Kildare, These Glamour Girls, The Dark Mirror, Johnny Belinda, Advise & Consent

My Favorite Lew Ayres Movie: Holiday

Interesting Facts About Lew Ayres:

  • Before becoming an actor, he worked as a full-time musician playing the guitar and banjo in big bands including the Henry Halstead Orchestra.
  • Influenced by his role in the movie All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) he became a conscientious objector during World War II, which caused him to fall out of favor in Hollywood. However, after serving for over 3 years as a medic in a non-combat role, he revived his career and eventually went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Johnny Belinda (1948).
  • A student of comparative theology and Eastern philosophy, he won a Golden Globe award for his 1976 documentary Altars of the World, a film about world religions.


Virginia Bruce

Born: September 29, 1910 in Minneapolis, MN

Died: February 24, 1982 (age 71)

Married four times including once to actor John Gilbert and twice to the same man, writer and director Ali Ipar

Known for the Movies: Born to Dance, The Great Ziegfeld, The Invisible Woman, Pardon My Sarong

My Favorite Virginia Bruce Movie: Born to Dance

Interesting Facts About Virginia Bruce:

  • She intended to enroll in the music program at UCLA but was instead persuaded by her parents to get into acting. She was able to display her musical ability in the movie Born to Dance when she introduced the Cole Porter classic “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by singing it to Jimmy Stewart.
  • Along with fellow actresses Lucille Ball, Paulette Goddard, Bette Grable, and Ann Sothern, she was once a member of The Goldwyn Girls, a group of female dancers employed by Samuel Goldwyn who appeared in films from 1932-1955.
  • She divorced her third husband Ali Ipar so that he could join the Turkish military, which prohibited the promotion of men who were married to foreigners, but remarried him a year later. The marriage ended in divorce again 12 years later.

Actor Gig Young

Gig Young

Born: November 4, 1913 in St. Cloud, MN

Died: October 19, 1978 (age 64)

Married five times including once to actress Elizabeth Montgomery

Known for the Movies: Air Force, Old Acquaintance, Come Fill the Cup, Young at Heart, Desk Set, Teacher’s Pet, That Touch of Mink, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

My Favorite Gig Young Movie: Old Acquaintance


Interesting Facts About Gig Young:

  • His given name was Byron Barr but he changed it because there was another actor at that time with the same name. He chose Gig Young after playing a character by that name in the movie The Gay Sisters (1942).
  • Having battled alcoholism for many years, he lost several roles late in his career due to his drinking including a role in Blazing Saddles (1974) and as the voice of Charlie in the television show Charlies Angels.
  • In 1978, he murdered his 21 year old wife Kim Schmidt, and then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.


Richard Widmark

Born: December 26, 1914 in Sunrise Township, MN

Died: March 24, 2008 (age 93)

Married twice including once to Jean Hazlewood for 55 years until her death in 1997

Known for the Movies: Kiss of Death, Road House, Night and the City, Panic in the Streets, No Way Out, Pickup on South Street, The Alamo, Judgment at Nuremburg

My Favorite Richard Widmark Movie: Kiss of Death

Interesting Facts About Richard Widmark:

  • Despite playing many evil and psychopathic characters in movies, he was known in real life as a very mild-mannered and thoughtful man who denounced violence and guns and remained faithful and devoted to his wife of 55 years, Jean Hazlewood.
  • After his contract with 20th Century Fox ended, he created his own production company, Heath Productions, in order to have greater artistic control over his projects. He produced three films; Time Limit (1957), The Secret Ways (1961), and The Bedford Incident (1965).
  • In his later years, he split his time between an 80-acre ranch in Hidden Valley, California and a farm in Roxbury, Connecticut. You can see pictures of his farm house here from when it was up for sale a few years ago.


Judy Garland

Born: June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, MN

Died: June 22, 1969 (age 47)

Married five times

Known for the Movies: Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, Ziegfeld Girl, For Me and My Gal, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade, Summer Stock, A Star is Born, Judgment at Nuremburg

My Favorite Judy Garland Movie: A Star is Born

Interesting Facts About Judy Garland:

  • The daughter of vaudevillians Frank and Ethel Gumm, she made hundreds of stage and radio appearances in the 1920s and 1930s as part of the Gumm Sisters with her two older sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia. She of course emerged as the biggest star of the three and in 1935, changed her name to Judy Garland and signed a contract with MGM.
  • As I mentioned in a recent post, I normally don’t join debates about who really deserved to win an Academy Award, but I agree with the many people who believe she should have won the Oscar for her role in A Star is Born (1954). Groucho Marks apparently called her loss “the biggest robbery since Brink’s.”
  • Thanks to members of her London based international fan club, she has a variety of rose named after her, which was created by a British rose developer in the 1970s. Available in the U.S. starting in 1991, the yellow and red rose can be found outside of her mausoleum in Hartsdale, NY and the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Some of the other great actors and actresses from the state of Minnesota are William Demerest, Richard Dix, Walter Abel, Frank Albertson, E.G. Marshall, Jane Russell, James Arness, Peter Graves, Barbara Payton, Arlene Dahl, and Tippi Hedren.

Who is your favorite actor or actress from this list?

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  1. Karen says:

    Wow, I think this is my favorite one yet, Ginny! So much interesting stuff that I did not know. Loved learning that two of the actors are fellow Capricorns, and did not realize that Lew Ayres passed away on my birthday! Love the Judy Garland rose (so lovely and fragile), I totally forgot that Gig Young killed his wife before he committed suicide, and I’d love to know what Warren Willliam’s lawn vacuum did! Really good stuff!

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks Karen! I was pleasantly surprised when I found all that good info. I’m trying harder to find interesting facts beyond what you can find on IMDb or Wikipedia. That’s cool that you have something in common with a few of them. And for me, Gig Young is a fellow Scorpio and Virginia Bruce shared a birthday with my mom. :-)

  2. franceshd says:

    TERRIFIC info !

    Thanks for all the hard work you do coming up with these Goodies !

    ! Happy Spring !

  3. R.A. Kerr says:

    Wow – this is an impressive list of Minnesota alumni!

    Ah, Warren William – he made a great boozy, flirtatious Perry Mason, didn’t he? I’m glad you made note of his inventiveness, too. A clever fellow, that.

    • Ginny says:

      I know, for some reason I was surprised to find so many big names from Minnesota. The Midwest has definitely produced some great talent! I didn’t know much about Warren William until recently but I’ve really taken a liking to him. I have a couple more Perry Mason movies on my DVR right now that I can’t wait to watch.

  4. Rick says:

    Who would have thought that Minnesota had such an impressive list of Hollywood alumni? As for my faves, Warren William (the screen’s best Philo Vance) and the underrated Virginia Bruce (who deserved better roles). Clever idea for a post!

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks Rick! I just finished watching Warren William in his four Perry Mason movies, so now I’ll have to check him out in the movies where he plays Philo Vance. I can imagine that he’d be great in that role.