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Lon McCallister, 82; Actor Had Brief but Busy Career Before Becoming Investor

June 18, 2005|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Lon McCallister, who began his career as a teenage actor in the 1930s with small roles in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and other family films and later played supporting roles in such popular movies as "Winged Victory," has died. He was 82.

McCallister died June 11 of heart failure at his home in the Lake Tahoe area, his brother, Lynn, told The Times. He had been in declining health for some months.

The actor had a brief but prolific Hollywood career, appearing in more than 40 movies before he left the business by choice at age 30. He used his money to make investments in Los Angeles real estate, his brother and friends said.

"Being a movie star was great, but I never considered doing it for a lifetime," McCallister said in an interview for "Who's Who in Hollywood" by David Ragan (1992). "I wanted to be myself, to go where I pleased without causing a traffic jam. I've succeeded in this, and I'm happy."

Born Herbert Alonzo McCallister Jr. in Los Angeles, he was known as Buddy to his family and friends. He attended high school at Marken Professional School, a training ground for the entertainment industry.

McCallister began his acting career playing small parts in movies that starred the biggest names in the business. At 13, he had an uncredited role in "Romeo and Juliet" (1936), with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard as the leads. The film's director, George Cukor, became a close friend and later cast McCallister in a supporting role as a pilot in "Winged Victory" (1944), based on the Broadway production.

The dimpled McCallister usually played the wholesome type. At 15, he was one of the schoolboys in the Tom Sawyer film starring Tommy Kelly (1938). The same year, he had a small role in "Judge Hardy's Children," starring Mickey Rooney.

McCallister gave a standout performance as a shy GI in "Stage Door Canteen" (1943), about a wartime romance between a soldier and a canteen hostess. The film, featuring Katharine Hepburn, Harpo Marx and many other stars of the day, boosted McCallister into bigger roles, including starring opposite Jeanne Crain in "Home in Indiana" (1944).

The actor was drafted into the Army in 1944 and went back to Hollywood after he was discharged. On the set of the dark thriller "The Red House" (1947), he met actress Allene Roberts. They played friends who fell in love, and they remained close friends in real life.

"Lon was one of the most caring men -- sensitive toward others -- I've ever known," Roberts said Tuesday.

She and other friends said McCallister left the industry because his career wasn't going the way he wanted.

"He got some good roles in Hollywood, but he probably had bigger expectations than were met," Roberts said.

McCallister traveled the country, kept up with friends and continued to speculate in real estate. He owned houses and apartment buildings in L.A. and more recently had invested in Lake Tahoe-area and other Northern California real estate.

In addition to his brother, McCallister is survived by his sister, Kathleen McCallister Price.

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