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William Bendix was born in New York City in 1906. Although he seems like the quintessential boy from Brooklyn (with his classic "Brooklyn" accent) he actually grew up in Manhattan! He failed as a grocer, and started performing in nightclubs and acting. His rough looks, his burly build, and his accent forced him into secondary roles right from the start, but his ability to play both comedy and drama meant there was a part for him in virtually any movie. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in just his fourth movie, Wake Island, and he had many memorable performances in the 1940s, including as an ultra tough guy in The Glass Key, and as one of the passengers in Hitchcock's Lifeboat. It seemed likely that he would spend a career in supporting roles, but in 1944 he was cast as the lead in the radio show 'The Life of Riley', as Chester A. Riley, quintessential 'everyman' (his catchphrase was 'What a revoltin' development this is'), and the show became wildly popular. That success made Bendix so popular he got the lead in several movies, including as Babe Ruth in The Babe Ruth Story (especially meaningful to Bendix, because he had been a batboy for the Yankees during Ruth's prime), and in the movie version of The Life of Riley. In 1949, after the movie version of The Life of Riley came out, a TV version was planned, but Bendix couldn't make that because of his radio contract. So Jackie Gleason was cast instead, but audiences didn't like him in "Bendix's role", and the show was cancelled (and thankfully so, because had he been a success in that role, Gleason likely would never have made The Honeymooners!). When the radio show ended, Bendix finally made a TV version of the show, and it too was a big hit, running for six years. After the show went off the air Bendix continued to do much work in TV, movies, and radio, but sadly he got sick and passed away in 1964, when he was just 58. William Bendix was a great hard working character actor, who became a leading star late in life, thanks to one great role, and he certainly deserved that success!
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