• 21 August 1901
  •  Los Angeles, California, USA

Harvey Stephens

Biography

At age 30, actor Harvey Stephens had a sophisticated charm and staid, long-jawed handsomeness that seemed ideal for the big screen, particularly in elegant or period settings. A veteran of a handful of Broadway shows by the time he made his sudden move to film, he was handed on a silver platter a debut starring role. The drawback was that playing opposite him would be a Broadway legend and one the boldest scenery chewers of all-time -- Tallulah Bankhead. The "leading man" opportunities went quickly downhill from there for Harvey but he redeemed himself quite well in the next few years as a poised second lead player and (later) dependable character actor on TV. Born on August 21, 1901, the Los Angeles native attended U.C.L.A. before training with Walter Hampden's repertory company for two years as well as in various other stock companies. He had already married Beatrice Nichols in 1929 by the time he established himself on Broadway. Taking his first Broadway bow with a role in "Other Men's Wives" (1929), he went on to appear in "Dishonored Lady" (1930) with the great Katharine Cornell and "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" (1931) with Herbert Marshall and Zita Johann by the time Hollywood came calling. Paramount's Pre-Code drama The Cheat (1931) was an auspicious first assignment For Harvey in which he was cast as decent, upper-scale guy Jeffrey Carlyle, the concerned husband to voracious party girl and gambler Elsa Carlyle, played to the hilt by Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead, the larger-than-life celebrity deemed too big for the screen, took no prisoners and Harvey was dwarfed for most of the proceedings. Despite his obvious talent, Harvey's big chance for stardom was snuffed out. This would be his first and only chance at male star movie material. Continuing diligently on Broadway in such plays as "The Animal Kingdom" (1932) with Leslie Howard, "Best Years" (1932), "Conquest" (1932), "I Loved You Wednesday" (1932) and "The Party's Over" (1933), Fox signed Harvey up in 1933 and from there he appeared in second leads and/or "other man" parts, bolstering a number of quality films and providing a good-looking distraction between some of Hollywood's most popular cinematic stars. His first ruffled up the Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter coupling in the comedy Paddy the Next Best Thing (1933). From there he enjoyed playing cads, flirts, and various wealthy suitor types who tried to come between some of Hollywood's glossiest and most popular pairings: William Powell and 'Myrna Loy' in Evelyn Prentice (1934); Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy in Whipsaw (1935); Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in Maid of Salem (1937); and Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray in Swing High, Swing Low (1937). By the end of the decade, however, Harvey was receiving credit much further down the list, especially in the higher-quality films of a Beau Geste (1939), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Sergeant York (1941) and Lady in the Dark (1944). By the end of WWII, his film career had subsided drastically. As such, he returned to Broadway in 1944 with both "Over 21" starring Ruth Gordon and "Violet". In 1949 he had an officious featured role in the musical classic "South Pacific" starring Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza in the non-singing role of Lt. Harbison, only one of two non-singing parts in the show. He stayed with the show for several years. TV occupied much of Harvey's time in the 1950s, now a well-oiled character actor, but he never found any one series that might have given his character name a noticeable boost. His last Broadway role came with "Time Limit" (1956). Following unbilled roles in The Young Lions (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Advance to the Rear (1964), he ended his career on TV in 1965 with an episode of "Bonanza," then retired quietly to the Southern California area. Harvey died just a few days before Christmas in 1986 at the Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, and was survived by present wife Barbara and three children. He was 85 years old.

Filmography

Movie Name Release Date
Maid of Salem February 12, 1937
Father Duffy of the Fighting 69th January 27, 1940
Joy in the Morning May 5, 1965
Whipsaw (Unexpected Bride) December 18, 1935