August 27, 1896
Danville, Vermilion County
|Died||September 2, 1964
Pasadena, California, US
|Cause of death||Trichinosis|
|Resting place||Spring Hill Cemetery in Danville, Illinois|
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Actor, lawyer, professor|
|Spouse(s)||Joan Wheeler (1935–1964, his death)
Gillian Gilbert (? - ?)
Morris Ankrum (August 28, 1896 – September 2, 1964) was an American radio, television and film character actor.
Born Morris Nussbaum in Danville in Vermilion County in eastern Illinois, Ankrum originally began a career in academics. After graduating from The University of Southern California with a law degree, he went on to an associate professorship in economics at the University of California, Berkeley. While at Berkeley he became involved in the drama department and eventually began teaching drama and directing at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Before signing with Paramount Pictures in the 1930s, Nussbaum had already changed his last name to Ankrum. Upon signing with the studio, he chose to use the name "Stephen Morris" before changing it to Morris Ankrum in 1939.
Ankrum's stern visage and sharply defined features helped cast him in supporting roles as stalwart authority figures, including scientists, military men (particularly army officers), judges and even psychiatrists in more than 70 films, mostly B movies. One standout role was in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's production of Tennessee Johnson (1942), a biographical film about Andrew Johnson, the 17th U.S. president. As Sen. Jefferson Davis, Ankrum movingly addresses the United States Senate upon his resignation to lead the Confederate States of America as that republic's first—and only—president. Ankrum's film career was extensive and spanned 30 years. His credits were largely concentrated in the western and science-fiction genres.
In the sci-fi genre, he appeared in Rocketship X-M (1950), Flight to Mars (1951), as a Martian, Red Planet Mars (1952), playing the United States Secretary of Defense; the cult classic Invaders From Mars (1953), playing a United States Army officer; and as an Army general in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). In 1957 he played a psychiatrist in the cult sci-fi classic Kronos and had military-officer roles in Beginning of the End and The Giant Claw.
By the end of 1958 Ankrum's film career had essentially ended, though he continued taking television roles. In the syndicated series Stories of the Century Ankrum played outlaw Chris Evans, who with his young associate John Sontag, played by John Smith, turned to crime to thwart the Southern Pacific Railroad, which Evans and Sontag held in the contempt consistent with the theme of Frank Norris' muckraking novel, The Octopus: A Story of California.
Ankrum made 22 appearances on CBS's Perry Mason as one of several judges who regularly presided over the murder trials of Mason's clients from the show's first season in 1957 until his death in 1964. The show ended two years later.
On October 15, 1957, Ankrum had a major part in the episode "Strange Land" of the ABC/Warner Brothers western Sugarfoot, starring Will Hutchins. Ankrum played an embittered rancher named Cash Billings, who allows a hired gunman, Burr Fulton ( Rhodes Reason), to take over his spread, but Sugarfoot arrives to bring law and justice to the situation. Jan Chaney appears in the episode as Billings' daughter Anne, who takes a liking to Sugarfoot. Ankrum appeared again, as John Savage in 1959, in the Sugarfoot episode "The Wild Bunch". In 1961, he again played an embittered and this time paralyzed rancher, Cyrus Dawson, in the episode "Incident at Dawson Flats" of the ABC/WB western series, Cheyenne, with Clint Walker in the starring role, with other guest-starring parts for Jock Gaynor, Joan O'Brien, Gerald Mohr, and Hampton Fancher.
In the 1958-59 season Ankrum appeared 12 times in Richard Carlson's syndicated western series Mackenzie's Raiders, along with other cast "Raiders" Brett King, Jack Ging and Louis Jean Heydt. In the series set on the Rio Grande border, Carlson plays Col. Ranald Mackenzie, who faces troubles from assorted border outlaws.
Ankrum was cast in an episode of the 1959 CBS sitcom Dennis the Menace. He also made occasional uncredited appearances in several Roger Corman films. While busy in films and television, Ankrum was still involved in live theatre and continued to direct plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.
On September 2, 1964, Ankrum died of trichinosis. At the time of his death, he was still involved with Raymond Burr's Perry Mason series. His final appearance on Perry Mason, "The Case of the Sleepy Slayer," and his last film, Guns of Diablo, in which he was cast as Ray Macklin, were released in 1964 and 1965, respectively, after Ankrum's death.
Ankrum's remains are interred at Spring Hill Cemetery in Danville, Illinois.
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- Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), p. 113