Look Who's a Hero! (1955 TV Guide)


TV Guide — Vol. 3, No. 23
04 Jun 1955, page 16-7

As TV's ‘China Smith,' Dan Duryea
Enjoys His Vacation From Villainy

"I've gotten more public recognition from 26 TV films," Dan Duryea noted recently, "than from more than 40 features and 12 years in Hollywood."

What this proves, even Duryea is not quite sure; but he does know this for certain: he's glad to get away from villainous roles.

A past master at playing mean, lowdown characters on screen, Duryea had reached the point, three years ago, where to know him was to hate him. He is that rare actor who can add all sorts of dimensions to a nasty character. With most villains, the audience is content with a good paste in the nose. With Duryea, nothing will do but slow torture.

"Only once during those movie days," Duryea says mournfully, "did someone stand up for me. I took my oldest boy, Pete, to see one of my pictures, figuring he was old enough by then to understand the difference between his father at home and his father as an actor. But when the hero got set to let me have it, Pete stood up on his seat and hollered, ‘Don't you dare shoot my daddy!'"

Duryea greeted the advent of television with all the fervor of a child left alone in a candy store. He shuffled through scores of scripts before stumbling on something called "The Affairs of China Smith." The hero ("Get that," Duryea marvels. "Hero yet!") is a light-hearted, light-fingered but hardly light-headed American adventurer. To the inspector of police in Singapore he is not-quite-lovable nuisance, whose regard for justice varies in direct proportion to the availability of a buck.

Before TV, Dan couldn't land a sympathetic movie tole for love or money. Now they're coming at him so fast he has to turn roles down. Additionally, China Smith has introduced him to a brand-new audience — the younger set, who for the most part had not been allowed to see the pictures Duryea had been making.

"Youngster asked me for my autograph recently," he muses, "and I automatically signed my name. Kid looked at it and snorted, ‘Not that— sign your real name, China Smith!'"

Duryea got his start some 15 years ago when a doctor told him that tramping around Philadelphia streets as an advertising space salesman wasn't doing his health any good. Duryea promptly set about turning a hobby into a profession and headed for New York, where four stage roles in three years brought him some experience, if not much else.

In Hollywood, he hit the villain jackpot in short order. But off-screen, Duryea is a veritable model of deportment. Married to the same wife for more than 20 years, he is the father of two strapping boys, Pete, 14, and Dick, 11, with whom he spends considerable time engaged in nothing more sinister than shooting, sailing and fishing.