Day Four of Noirvember: The Noirish Life of Gig Young

Today’s Noirvember post peers inside the shadowy life of actor Gig Young, who was born Byron Elsworth Barr on today’s date in 1913 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The film and TV star was bitten by the acting bug while in high school and later landed a scholarship to the acclaimed Pasadena Community Playhouse (which has provided training to a veritable who’s who of stars over the years, including Dana Andrews, Eve Arden, Frances Dee and Tyrone Power). Spotted by a Warner Bros. talent scout while appearing in a local play, the actor signed a contract with the studio and in 1942 changed his name to Gig Young after a character he played in a Barbara Stanwyck starrer, The Gay Sisters. Several years and numerous films later, he left Warner Bros to freelance.

After years of playing supporting parts, Young landed starring roles in a pair of noirs, Hunt the Man Down (1950) for RKO and City That Never Sleeps (1953) for Republic Studios. In non-noir performances, he earned Oscar nominations for Come Fill the Cup (1951) and Teacher’s Pet (1958). In both, he played characters with an affinity for alcohol – ironic, given the actor’s real-life struggles with the bottle off-screen. Also in the 1950s, Young started appearing on the small screen, in such shows as Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and Robert Montgomery Presents.

Elizabeth Montgomery and Young were married for seven years.

Speaking of Robert Montgomery, in 1956, Young married Montgomery’s daughter, actress Elizabeth Montgomery, who was 20 years his junior. It was Young’s third marriage – his first ended in divorce after seven years, and his second wife died of cancer two years after the couple married. Robert Montgomery was not pleased with his daughter’s choice of spouse – he did not attend the wedding and reportedly stated that he didn’t see the value in his child marrying someone who was “almost as old and not one quarter as successful as I am.”

Elizabeth Montgomery left Young in the early 1960s, reportedly because of his alcoholism. There were also rumors of domestic violence. The same year that his divorce to Montgomery became final, Young married real estate agent to the stars, Elaine Garber. The two had a daughter, Jennifer, but the marriage lasted only three years, and during a legal battle over child support, Young denied that he was the girl’s father; he lost his non-paternity lawsuit five years later. (Incidentally, in the 1970s, Elaine Garber Young underwent a cosmetic procedure in which her doctor injected loose silicone into her face. Over time, the silicone began to move underneath her skin, causing eye problems and disfigurement. She would go on to undergo 46 operations, and became a vocal activist against improperly trained cosmetic surgeons. The doctor who’d started the problem later committed suicide. She died of cancer in 2006; the tumor began in her face.)

Young won an Oscar for his performance in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Young was nominated for his third Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1969, for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – in it, he played the unscrupulous emcee of a Depression-era dance marathon. For the actor, the third time was the charm, and he took home the golden statuette, but the famed Oscar curse was in full effect where Young was concerned. He continued to act, but his alcoholism increasingly affected the roles he was offered and his ability to perform. In 1974, he was tapped to star as the Waco Kid in Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, but in Young’s first scene, the actor was unable to speak his lines and “started throwing up green stuff all over the set,” according to Brooks. Young was fired and replaced by Gene Wilder.

Four years after this incident, on September 27, 1978, Young married for the fifth time, to 31-year-old German art gallery employee, Kim Schmidt. Three weeks later, Young fatally shot his wife and then killed himself. Beside the bodies was Young’s Oscar, which he left in his will to his agent. His will also left ten dollars to his only child. He left no note; his specific motivation remains a mystery.

The story of Gig Young offers up a tale darker than most noirs. It’s almost beyond belief. But it happened.

Join me tomorrow for Day Five of Noirvember — where I promise my post won’t be quite so bleak.

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 4, 2018.

9 Responses to “Day Four of Noirvember: The Noirish Life of Gig Young”

  1. Gig Young was a very good actor with depth ,nuance and range.He played a straight character in the noirish Desperate Hours. As a sober alcoholic I know the pain the disease inflicts on the addict and the loved ones in his life.Unfortunately Gig lived in a time when alcoholism wasn’t thought so much as a disease.And people like Dean Martin and Phil Harris (just to name two)could make a living being “funny drunks”.Thankfully things have changed .Robert Downey Jr. is living proof that one can get clean and stay clean.

    • Yes, it’s sad that Young wasn’t able to get the help that he so obviously needed. Interestingly, I just wrote the other day about Dana Andrews, who was able to get sober, and was a strong champion for letting the public know that alcoholism is a disease.

  2. Wow, I had no idea of all this about him. I always think of him as his character in That Touch of Mink and Teacher’s Pet. How sad.

  3. His story has always fascinated me…

  4. Such a sad end for one so talented. (LOVED his performance in “They Shoot Horses”.) He had his share of struggles, and I wish that wasn’t the case.

  5. […] Day Four: The Noirish Life of Gig Young […]

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