Cinema’s Forgotten Legends Series: Richard Carlson

The Greek philosopher Socrates once said “ Wisdom begins in wonder” and I feel that that’s the genuine description in the highest regards to the love, passion and appreciation one emulates from classic films; the individual I’m paying tribute to in my Cinema’s Forgotten Legends Series showcased a talent that provided audiences with a certain kind of cinematic depth, understanding, character & compelling nature by the extraordinary range of roles in a film/television career that’s lasted close to 40 years (1937-1975)–American screenwriter, actor/director of stage, film & television Richard Dutoit Carlson (b. on April 29th, 1912- d. on November 25th, 1977)

Film Actor Richard Carlson
 Actor Richard Carlson, circa 1950

Born in Albert Lea Minnesota- the youngest of 4 children to Mabel Du Toit & Henry Carlson an attorney, the acting bug hit Richard at a peculiar time in his life; his earliest ambition was to become a playwright but he found his first taste of both success & responsibility as an English instructor at the University of Minnesota. Carlson’s ardent passion for becoming a playwright at first seemed to enrich his very existence as he gained experience, maturity, growth and insight into something even greater; in his high school days, Richard Carlson became the valedictorian for the class of 1929 at Washburn High School and his ambitions proved to be a small but significant fruitful environment later on when his short stories/human interest articles began to receive publication by various magazines. The acting bug was just beginning to grow and Carlson knew it too; his country on the other hand had a much bigger but far more important job for him and so he served in WWII knowing that he was doing what was best for himself and the place in which he rightfully called home after many years. After the war, work had become difficult for him to find and it seemed that all was lost in Hollywood until 1948 when he starred in 2 low budget films Behind Locked Doors and The Amazing Mr. X; but despite this valiant effort of his film work, the genuine success of Hollywood’s Golden Era appeared to have evaded him…that is until 1950 when Carlson was cast alongside Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr in King Solomon’s Mines6

After the success of the film, Richard Carlson later on began to find his niche with the gradual development of rebuilding his film career; the newly rising film genre called science fiction along with the classic B pictures of the 1950s seemed like the quintessential picturesque vehicle for him and he worked the classic film genre to sheer perfection. Even though he’s best remembered to countless film fans as a cinematic icon of 1950s sci-fi and horror, Carlson actually only appeared in 4 of those particular films made during a 2 year period; I was able to view 19 of Richard Carlson’s films including A Millionaire for Christy (1951) The Duke of West Point (1938), Beyond Tomorrow (1940), The Howards of Virginia (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), The Affairs of Martha (1942), A Stranger in Town (1943), The Amazing Mr. X (1948), The Power (1968), Tormented (1960), The Helen Morgan Story (1957), Behind Locked Doors (1948), The Sound of Fury (1950), Flat Top (1952), The Magnetic Monster (1953), the TV movie Della (1964), It Came From Outer Space (1953), The Maze (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954 in which he both starred and directed) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)-but there are a few or more films that I would still very much like to view him in also like Back Street (1941), White Cargo (1942), Presenting Lily Mars (1943), King Solomon’s Mines  (1950) & finally All I Desire (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck. I was also able to see him in a number of episodes from the classic TV shows of Hollywood’s Yesteryear-some of which he had active roles later on in television-from such classics as Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, The Virginian, Wagon Train, The Fugitive, Bonanza, Thriller, Lancer, Burke’s Law, Crossroads, Lights Out & the Cold War American drama series I Led 3 Lives  (1953-56) based on a true story in which during all 115 episodes, Carlson portrayed real life Boston advertising executive Herbert A. Philbrick who permeated the U.S. Communist Party on behalf of the FBI during the 1940s; Richard Carlson later received the Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Television on February 8th, 1960 and just like so many wonderful actors like Joseph Cotten, Claude Rains and Lucille Ball to name a few8

Carlson wasn’t nominated for the Academy Award for any of his performances but I feel that the greatest reward that he’s ever received was knowing that his films are being seen, showcased and shared by so many passionate enthusiasts and lovers of all things classic. He was married to Mona Mayfield (October 10th, 1918-January 2nd, 1990) who appeared as the future Mrs. Richard Carlson in an episode of I Love Lucy  entitled The Fashion Show  (Season 4 Episode 19 that aired on February 28th, 1955); their marriage lasted 44 years from June 10th 1939 until his death in 1977 and gave 2 sons named Richard Henry and Christopher Hugh. On Friday November 25th1977, Richard Carlson passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 65; he was buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery; although it’s been more than 30 years since his death, I could never forget the impact his films made in my life. I’m very fortunate and appreciative of honoring Richard Carlson in my CFLS post as well as viewing his vast treasure trove of classic films; his legacy on the silver screen is all but forgotten especially in the 50s sci-fi genre world and his selfless cinematic art emanated by his craft and passion for the movies makes his presence even harder to forget…in a good way! There are many fans who can say that they have become appreciate of Richard Carlson and his films as much as I do, but his films like so many others mean something much more influential & meaningful to the classic film world; so many words could describe his monumental contribution to the Hollywood’s Golden Age but for me I say there’s only one…visualize! What I mean is that classic films are meant to commemorate, honor, respect, value, love and appreciate everything that we love about the movies (sounds a bit redundant but it’s the best advice that anyone has ever given me because it’s true and straight from the heart); classic movies are indeed my life’s blood and I consider all of them works of art in their own right because of individuals like Richard Carlson who makes us realize that legends may be gone but they are not forgotten. 7

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