Monday, August 13, 2018

Remembering Neville Brand - television and movie actor by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #westerns #goldenageofhollywood

I'm turning once again to the Golden Age of Hollywood for the topic of this month's article. (Read my John  Wayne article HERE).

Lawrence "Neville" Brand, a familiar face in movies and on television from 1949 through the early 1980s, was born on August 13, 1920 in Griswold, Iowa. He died in Sacramento, California on April 16, 1992.

Neville Brand was one of seven siblings in a family that moved several times before he ended up in high school in Kewanee, Illinois. In 1939, he joined the Illinois Army National Guard as a private then enlisted in the US Army as a corporal (infantryman) on March 5, 1941 and was discharged in 1945.

During his military service, he rose to rank of sergeant and platoon leader. He was wounded in action in 1945. Of his many military awards, he received the Silver Star (gallantry in combat) and a Purple Heart (wounded in combat).

According to his IMDb bio, "It was while he was in the army that he made his acting debut, in Army training films, and this experience apparently changed the direction of his life. Once a civilian again, he used his GI Bill education assistance to study drama with the American Theater Wing and then appeared in several Broadway plays. His film debut was in Port of New York (1949). Among his earliest films was the Oscar-winning Stalag 17 (1953)."

He reportedly once said of himself in an interview, "With this kisser, I knew early in the game I wasn't going to make the world forget Clark Gable."

Neville Brand as Al Capone
(attribution below)
Two quotes about Brand's acting from Wikipedia:

Early roles: "His hulking physique, rough-hewn, craggy-faced looks and gravelly voice lead to him largely playing gangsters, western outlaws, and other screen 'heavies', cops, and other tough-guy roles throughout his career."

(Doesn't this also remind you of Charles Bronson?)

"He had the distinction of being the first actor to portray outlaw Butch Cassidy in the film The Three Outlaws opposite Alan Hale, Jr. as the Sundance Kid."

Brand rose quickly as a bankable actor in other movies: Halls of Montezuma (1950), Man Crazy (1953), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Return from the Sea (1954), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). 

He played a tough guy in the Elvis Presley movie Love Me Tender (1956). He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Willie Stark in Kraft Theater's All the King's Men (1958). He portrayed Al Capone on television and film. His first film role was as a sadistic hoodlum opposite Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A (1950).

D.O.A. (attribution below)
Television acting offered countless opportunities. He took on a variety of characters, and it wasn't long before his career balanced on the edge of being typecast as a villain. He managed to sidestep the typical-for-the-time Hollywood character typecasting and created a unique persona through his diverse roles from comedy to drama to out-and-out villainous characters whether it was television, stage, or big screen.

The New York Times wrote in his obituary,

His looks helped him get parts but also tended to stereotype his career. A sympathetic news article in 1963 said that 'in 50 screen roles he has never been without a gun and has consistently been cast as a soldier or a gangster,' a pattern that was being broken then with a new role as a spear-brandishing Viking.

This is a quote from his Bio on the IMDb website. He said of himself about playing villains:

"...I don't go in thinking he's a villain. The audience might, but the villain doesn't think he's a villain. Even a killer condones what he's done. I just create this human being under the circumstances that are given. I don't think he's a villain. Everybody just condones his own actions."

When you look at his list of acting credits on the website IMDb, you can follow his career through his early uncredited performances to his plethora of bit parts to his recurring television roles to his movies.

His television credits are impressive. In the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed he showed up in just about every popular television series: Fantasy Island, Baretta, McCloud, Kojak, Police Woman, Bonanza, Marcus Welby, M.D., Alias Smith and Jones, The Virginian, Daniel Boone, Tarzan, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Death Valley Days... The list goes on and on.

I remember him most for his recurring character Texas Ranger Reese Bennett in the television western Laredo (56 episodes from 1965-1967) and Disney's That Darn Cat! (1965). [What can I say? I was a kid, and I had two Siamese cats.]

Neville Brand as Reese Bennett - Laredo 
(attribution below)

What memories do you have of Neville Brand?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Prairie Rose Publications
YouTube Channel

**D.O.A. image attribution: By Film screenshot - D.O.A. film, Public Domain,
**Neville_Brand_1966 image attribution: By NBC Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain,
**Neville_Brand_as_Al_Capone_The_Untouchables_1959 image attribution: By NBC Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain,


  1. Very interesting post, Kaye, about one of the screen's most distinctive 'heavies.' It's a strange coincidence that of the 4 most decorated U.S. servicemen of World War 2, two were actors prominent in westerns - AUDIE MURPHY the most decorated, and Neville Brand the 4th most decorated.

    1. Andrew,

      I'd read that about Neville Brand being the fourth most decorated U.S. serviceman from WWII. One site I browsed disputed that honor, but there was no explanation, so I didn't follow that trail into the research woods. *wink*

  2. I always loved Mr. Brand. It was said by the actors of the TV series "Combat", where he guest starred (and an amazing performance in the episode 'Fly Away Home') that while he drank a great deal, he was always reading and learning. That statement alone endeared him to me even more than anything else. His comment about villians is so spot on. I believe that's one of the reasons he was so good at what he did. When younger, I would watch almost everything he did. By the way "Stalag 17" is a terrific film and one of my favoite WWII films. Doris

    1. Doris,

      In his biographies, there is a tidbit about his personal library having over 30,000 books at one point. Apparently, there was a house fire that destroyed many of the books, but still. 30,000 books. Wow. I agree about "Stalag 17". William Holden shined in his role.

  3. Sadly, I didn't recognize the name, but I sure remember the face. Some actors made a great living playing a heavy and he's certainly an example. Thanks for the interesting post, Kaye.

    1. Elizabeth,

      Neville Brand, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Lee Marvin... the list goes on and on for memorable Hollywood 'heavies'.

  4. Very interesting & well done bio. For me, Al Capone will always be Neville Brand in several episodes of The Untouchables (my favorite being the 2-part episode, The Big Train).

    1. I agree. Neville Brand 'owned' the Al Capone role in The Untouchables.

  5. I remember him from so many of the shows mentioned. Combat was one of my fave shows--don't ask me why, I was a young girl who should have been watching Walt Disney instead--and I remember seeing him in that and in so many other tv and movie roles. Oddly enough, one of his biggest compliments probably came from my mom who would always say, "Oh, that old Neville Brand! He always plays a villain." The fact that she identified him so completely with the roles she'd seen him in was a compliment to his acting ability. (Same with Lee Marvin...she never got over him being Liberty Valance...) LOL

    Great post, Kaye!

    1. Cheryl,

      Neville Brand, Jack Elam, and Jack Palance really put the evil in their villains. I loved just about everything Lee Marvin did, but his Liberty Valance was over-the-top fabulous. I liked Combat, also, and right at the end of Combat's tv run, I was hooked on The Rat Patrol.

    2. We won't tell anyone I own the full set of DVDs for both shows. *Shhhh!* Doris

    3. Doris,

      I've often considered purchasing the Rat Patrol series. Maybe I'll get both. lol

  6. Brand was outstanding in the unforgettable Billy Wilder film "Stalag 17." A very talented and professional actor.

  7. marishabowiemayer@gmail.comFebruary 2, 2019 at 12:48 AM

    I am a huge Neville Brand fan. He was such a great actor. I especially liked him as Al Capone in the "Untouchables".

  8. I've always been in love with Neville Brand. A handsome, multi-talented actor who, I feel, didn't get as much credit as he deserved