Few people in Portadown realise it, but the town once produced a Hollywood Academy Award (Oscar) nominated actor – Brian Donlevy, who was born in Castle Street and was noted in Tinsel Town for playing dangerous tough guys, from the 1930 until the late 1960s.
His moment of glory came in the 1939 production of ‘Beau Geste’ when he co-starred with Hollywood legend Gary Cooper, and with Ray Milland and Susan Hayward.
He was nominated for his the role as Sergeant Markoff in the screen adaption of the famed novel by P.C. Wren. But the Award for Best Supporting went to Thomas Mitchell for ‘Stage Coach’, the John Ford blockbuster which starred none other than John Wayne.
Until then, Donlevy was mainly a co-star, but the Oscar gave his career a real boost, and soon he was receiving billings with the likes of John Wayne (’Allegheny Uprising’) Victor Mature (’Kiss of Death’), Edward G. Robinson
(‘Barbary Coast’), Barbara Stanwyck (Cecil B DeMille’s ‘Union Pacific’), Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart (‘Destry Rides Again’), Bing Crosby (‘Birth of the Blues’), and other legends like Dorothy Lamour, Joel McCrea and Henry Fonda.
His full name was Waldo Brian Donlevy and records show that his family moved from Portadown to Wisconsin, America, circa 1912 where his father found a job as a supervisor in a woollen mill. Young Brian was a hero in his private life, for in 1916 (then in his mid-teens) he lied about his age and entered World War One. He went to France with Company C, 127th Infantry Regiment, and was later a pilot.
He started his acting career in the silent movies, and his major break came with Edward G. Robinson and ‘Barbary Coast’, followed by an impressive series of movies as mentioned in this article. His last major movie was in Pit Stop, released in 1969.
He played the lead in the British science-fiction horror film The Quatermass Xperiment (called The Creeping Unknown in the US) for the Hammer Films Company, playing the lead role of Professor Bernard Quatermass. The film was based on a 1953 BBC Television serial of the same name. The character had been British, but Hammer cast Donlevy in an attempt to help sell the film to North American
audiences. He also appeared in a variety of television series from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s. In 1966 in one of the final episodes of Perry Mason, ‘The Case of the Positive Negative,’ he played defendant General Roger Brandon. He also
guest-starred on such popular programmes as Wagon Train and Rawhide. His last film role was in Pit Stop, released in 1969. He died in April 1972, aged 75 from throat cancer
In the grand Hollywood tradition, Donlevy was married three times - firstly to Yvonne Grey from 1928–36; then to actress Marjorie Lane from 1936–1947, and finally to Lillian Arch Lugosi (the
ex-wife of Bela Lugosi, famous for playing Dracula) from 1966 until his death. His ashes were scattered over Santa Monica Bay. He was survived by his wife and a daughter,
It will come as a surprise that the town produced such a famous and prolific movie star. But Portadown isn’t all that adept at remembering its famed citizens and it might not be a bad idea to provide traditional blue plaque in Castle Street, which is so
much changed in recent years from the residential area it once was.
If there are any descendants of the Donlevy clan remaining in Portadown, we would be delighted to hear from them – phone 0770