Thursday, April 24, 2014

Movie, TV, and Stage Actor J.D. Cannon ... "McCloud" Co-Star [otd 04/24]

J.D. Cannon as western detective Harry Briscoe
in Alias Smith & Jones. ABC TV trailer.
Long-time stage, movie, and TV actor John Donovan "J. D." Cannon was born April 24, 1922 in Salmon, Idaho. A child of the Depression, teen-aged “Jack” (as he was then known) worked as a ranch hand, trapper, and outdoor guide.

He graduated from Salmon High School in 1940. Cannon credited his high school English teacher with arranging to get him to New York City and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts there. That training was interrupted by service in the U. S. Army in 1942-1945.

After the war, he pursued further theatrical study in New York. Like most young actors, Cannon worked a variety of jobs to support himself: tour guide, restaurant cashier, and whatever else came along. He began his acting career in the Fifties on the stage.

J. D. proved his acting range in a wide variety of roles. These included Petruchio in the comedy The Taming of the Shrew, some serious Shakespearean characters, and – of course – assorted villains, often depraved. All that work helped hone his craft, but he never landed a plum starring role in a major production.

He first appeared on television in 1958, on the Phil Silvers Show, the "Sergeant Bilko" comedy. Cannon played Master Sergeant Sherman (aka "Sherman the Shark"), a poker hustler. Then, in 1960, his serious acting credits landed him the role of U. S. President Andrew Jackson on the program Omnibus, funded by the Ford Foundation. He also had the lead role in two U.S. Steel Hour productions. The following year, he played the lead role in two episodes of the prestigious Play of the Week.

Still, in a 1970 interview, Cannon said, “It’s only been in the last ten years that I’ve been able to support myself as an actor.”

That was when, in the early Sixties, he began making a steady living with minor roles in hit TV shows. He appeared on such series as The Naked City, Wagon Train, The Untouchables, Rawhide, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Cannon also had roles in The Chrysler Theater and played Texas patriot Sam Houston for an episode of the series Profiles in Courage. He appeared in two made-for-TV movies in 1964 and 1965.

According to the Internet Movie Database, he played a police sergeant in his first standard movie role – An American Dream in 1966. He then had a minor speaking part as a prisoner in Cool Hand Luke, which starred Paul Newman. Despite his formidable acting ability, movie producers almost always typecast Cannon as a "heavy" or, at best, an unsympathetic character. Thus, in 1970 he appeared as a mobster in the minor cult classic, Cotton Comes to Harlem.
McCloud, program publicity photo, NBC.

Cannon did somewhat better with his many roles in made-for-TV movies. One 1974 role emphasized his acting range: that of a man involved in an inter-racial love affair, set in 1918 South Carolina. Although some affiliate stations declined to air the show, it was hailed as "an unusual combination of courage and taste in the welter of the prime-time pulp grind."

Cannon basically made his living for some thirty years as a TV actor, appearing in at least 80 episodes of numerous programs. Probably his best-known portrayal was that of Chief of Detectives Peter Clifford on the long-running series McCloud, which starred Dennis Weaver. His final appearance was a role on Law & Order, in 1991. He died in June 2005.
                                                                                 
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
"J. D. Cannon, 83, Dies; Actor on McCloud," New York Times, June 5, 2005
"J. D. Cannon Filmography," The Internet Movie Database.
Dick Kleiner, “Big Fish From Salmon,” The Springfield Union, Springfield, Massachusetts (August 20, 1970).

3 comments:

  1. Why is there so little information about the "person?" There's nothing about his family in Salmon, growing up during the depression, etc. There are no comments from others who worked with him. Is he really an enigma?

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  2. It's a terrible shame, but we really do know very little about J.D. as a person. Unlike so many (with far less to say), I could find no autobiography or "tell all" interview by Cannon. I did find some comments about his work from fellow actors (highly complimentary). But he was little more than part of the furniture -- a foil for the big star -- for reviewers and (I suppose) viewers. I watched some of the old clips, and he was surely one of the finest actors we've ever had. Yet he was grossly under-appreciated. The obit in the NY Times was just 192 words long ... what a sad commentary on what we value as a society (or don't).

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  3. I saw Mr. Cannon in "The King and I" at a theater in the round in 1963 (I think). I had an aisle seat, and caught a glimpse of his face as he walked up the aisle past me. Not only was he quite good, but he was also having a good time playing the role. The production remains one of my favorites.

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