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Obituary

Gene Evans; Actor Known for 'Tough Guy' Roles

April 03, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gene Evans, character actor best known for his roles as director Samuel Fuller's quintessential tough guy, beginning in "The Steel Helmet," has died. He was 75.

Evans, most commonly cast as a soldier, lawman or heavy in his more than 30 war, western and other films, died Wednesday in Jackson, Tenn., where he had retired to farm.

A World War II sergeant, the burly red-bearded Evans met the director, who had been a decorated corporal in the war, at the casting cattle call for "Helmet."

"He throws me a rifle and says, 'Rack it back!' " Evans recalled for The Times in 1951 after the Korean War film became the sleeper hit of the year. "This is a Garand, an M-1, and tricky to breech. But I do it. I guess he decided then and there that I was his Sgt. Zack."

Fuller gave the title helmet, which Evans wore in the film, to the actor as a Christmas present. Evans returned it decades later at a Fuller film retrospective at USC.

Evans made four more films for Fuller--"Fixed Bayonets" in 1951, "Park Row" in 1952, "Hell and High Water" in 1954 and "Shock Corridor" in 1963.

The actor became a "Fuller favorite," Times film writer Kevin Thomas wrote last year, because he depicted "a solid, ultra-masculine guy, tough but reflective."

Evans was also memorable as a key character, Molumphrey, in the 1959 comedy "Operation Petticoat," starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

Other films included "The War Wagon," "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid."

On television, the stolid Evans acted frequently in movies and miniseries and had major roles in a few series. He was the Montana rancher Rob McLaughlin, who owned the title horse Flicka, in "My Friend Flicka" in 1956-58 and Sgt. Hanrahan to Anthony Franciosa's detective in "Matt Helm" in 1975-76. Evans also played charter airline owner Spencer Parish in the short-lived 1976 series "Spencer's Pilots."

Born Eugene Barton Evans in Holbrook, Ariz., Evans grew up in Colton, Calif., where his parents ran a small grocery store. He began acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he worked painting scenery, and the Penthouse Theater in Altadena, where he started as a stagehand.

Evans also worked as a midget-auto racer, carpenter, dishwasher and bouncer and lived in the women's restroom of a used car lot where he washed cars in the lean days when he tried to break into acting.

He made his film debut in 1947 in "Under Colorado Skies."

Evans is survived by a daughter, Alison Price, of Jackson; a brother, Bud Evans, of Colton; and three nieces.

The family has asked that memorial donations be sent to the Gene Evans Memorial Fund, Jackson Theater Guild, 206 E. Main St., Jackson, Tenn. 38301.

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