The Bottom Line
Gig Young was a three-time Oscar nominee (winning once) who made a name for himself as one of the first distinct character actors of the American film era. He spent his entire life making memorable roles in movie after movie, only to have it all end in tragedy under mysterious circumstances.
His First Gig
Young was born Byron Barr on November 4, 1913 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. When he was only 3, his parents moved to Washington, D.C.. Byron joined the theater at an early age, playing community roles as early as 7. He worked all through high school at a local passion play theater, then made a move to Pasadena at the age of 20.
While working at a major playhouse in town, he was signed by Warner Brothers to a minor studio contract. He was given bit parts throughout 1940 and 1941, all of them uncredited. One of Byron's major setbacks was that there was another actor at the studio named Byron Barr - Young's first wife claimed he occasionally lost roles due to this confusion. In 1942, he was given his first relatively major speaking part, as a character named "Gig Young" in The Gay Sisters. From there on out, he used the name of his character around Hollywood.
The Big Gig
Young's acting career was interrupted when he was drafted and assigned to the Coast Guard in 1942. He remained on post in Oregon for the duration of World War II. In 1948, he got his first big break, co-starring with Sydney Greenstreet in the old English romantic drama The Woman In White. That same year he starred as Porthos in George Sidney's classic The Three Musketeers alongside Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, and Vincent Price.
Young had now firmly established himself as the leading man's trusty and humorous sidekick. He was also notorious with the ladies around town - he was married 5 times all in all, and had many affairs with starlets and stars. Still, Young was a fairly rare commodity - he was the consummate professional on the set, and his roles had a wonderful shine to them.
In 1951, Young received his first Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role in Come Fill The Cup. In 1955, he was given the job of hosting a new television show called "Warner Brothers Presents." The show was half an hour of various dramas, westerns, and comedies, and then another half an hour of interviews and footage from upcoming WB productions. The show only lasted one season, but Young continued to be an outstanding actor. In 1956, he married "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery.
In 1958, he received his 2nd nomination, this time for the Clark Gable/Doris Day vehicle Teacher's Pet. In 1963, he was given another lead television role in "The Philadelphia Story." Again, the show was a flop. That same year marked his divorce with Montgomery, who was sick of his womanizing. Despite these setbacks, Young seemingly had no end to his appeal as the second banana: from For Love Or Money to City That Never Sleeps, Young's dashing good looks and keen wit made him invaluable to the WB lot.
Finally, in 1969, Young was rewarded for his years on the silver screen, capturing the Best Supporting Actor for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as Rocky, the head barker for a Great Depression-era dance marathon. Young also took the lead in B-movies such as Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and A Ticklish Affair. Young never seemed quite comfortable in the leading roles, and he was certainly never given much of an opportunity while actors such as Gable, Alan Ladd, Robert Taylor, Gregory Peck, and James Caan were around.
The Final Gig
After another short-lived TV series, "Gibbsville," Young became friends with martial arts expert Bruce Lee. He starred in Lee's posthumous Game Of Death in 1978. In June of that year, he was cast as the Waco Kid in Mel Brooks' upcoming comedy Blazing Saddles. To top that off, he married Kim Schmidt, a 31-year-old German actress in September. Young was 65 at the time.
No one suspected anything was wrong. To this day, no one knows exactly what transpired. On October 19, 1978, responding to a call reporting gunshots, New York City police officers barged in on Young's apartment and found both Young and Schmidt dead. Apparently Young had killed Schmidt and then turned the gun upon himself.