Gig Young

This article is about the American actor Byron Barr who assumed the name Gig Young. For the American actor born in Iowa, see Byron Barr.
Gig Young

Young in 1953
Born Byron Elsworth Barr
(1913-11-04)November 4, 1913
St. Cloud, Minnesota, U.S.
Died October 19, 1978(1978-10-19) (aged 64)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Cause of death Gunshot wound (self inflicted)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1940-1978
Spouse(s) Sheila Stapler
(m. 1940; div. 1947)

Sophie Rosenstein
(m. 1950; d. 1952)

Elizabeth Montgomery
(m. 1956; div. 1963)

Elaine Williams
(m. 1963; div. 1966)

Kim Schmidt
(m. 1978; d. 1978)
Children Jennifer Williams Young

Gig Young (born Byron Elsworth Barr; November 4, 1913 October 19, 1978) was an American film, stage, and television actor. Known mainly for second leads and supporting roles, Young won an Academy Award for his performance as a slimy dance-marathon emcee in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? An alcoholic, Young was implicated in the murder-suicide that resulted in the deaths of his wife and himself in 1978.

Early life and career

Born Byron Elsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minnesota, he and his older siblings were raised by his parents, John and Emma Barr, in Washington initially.[1] When he was six, his family moved back to their hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina, where he was raised.[2] He developed a passion for the theatre while appearing in high school plays, and after some amateur experience he applied for and received a scholarship to the acclaimed Pasadena Community Playhouse. While acting in Pancho, a south-of-the-border play by Lowell Barrington, he and the leading actor in the play, George Reeves, were spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout. Both actors were signed to supporting player contracts with the studio.[3] His early work was un-credited or as Byron Barr (not to be confused with another actor with the same name, Byron Barr).

After appearing in the 1942 film "The Gay Sisters[4]" - written by Stephen Longstreet[5] (1907-2002) - as a character named "Gig Young", the studio determined that "Gig Young" should become Barr's stage and professional name.[6]

Young appeared in supporting roles in numerous films during the 1940s, and came to be regarded as a popular and likable second lead, playing the brothers or friends of the principal characters. Young took a hiatus from his movie career and enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 1941 where he served as a pharmacist's mate in the US Coast Guard until the end of World War II.[7] In early 1942, in an uncredited bit part and nearly unseen, in his distinctive voice, he had one line, "How's the ice?", in the Bette Davis film The Man Who Came to Dinner.[8] Less than two years later, he played opposite her as her much-younger beau in Old Acquaintance.

After Young's return from the war, Warner Bros. dropped his option. He then began freelancing at various studios, eventually obtaining a contract with Columbia Pictures before returning to freelancing. During those years, Young began to play the type of role that he would become best known for, a sardonic but engaging and affable drunk. His dramatic work as an alcoholic in the 1951 film Come Fill the Cup with James Cagney and his comedic role as a tipsy but ultimately charming intellectual in Teacher's Pet starring Clark Gable and Doris Day earned him nominations for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was the funny sidekick to Cary Grant in "That Touch of Mink" (1962) with Doris Day.

Success and decline

In 1955, Young became the host of Warner Bros. Presents, an umbrella title for three television series (Casablanca, King's Row, and Cheyenne) that aired during the 1955-56 season on ABC Television.[9] He played a supporting role the same year in the Humphrey Bogart thriller The Desperate Hours. Young is also remembered by many James Dean fans for the "driving safety" interview made shortly before Dean's fatal car accident in September, 1955. On the 1964-65 NBC series The Rogues, he shared appearances on a rotating basis with David Niven and Charles Boyer.[10]

Young won the Academy Award for his role as Rocky, the dance marathon emcee and promoter in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? According to his fourth wife, Elaine Williams, "What he was aching for, as he walked up to collect his Oscar, was a role in his own movie—one that they could finally call 'a Gig Young movie.' For Young, the Oscar was literally the kiss of death, the end of the line".[11] Young himself had said to Louella Parsons, after failing to win in 1951, "so many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have had bad luck afterwards."[11]

After a substantial supporting role in Lovers and Other Strangers in 1970, alcoholism began to cost him roles. He collapsed on the set of the comedy film Blazing Saddles during his first day of shooting due to alcohol withdrawal, and was fired.[12][13] Young's last role was in the 1978 film Game of Death, released nearly six years after the film's star, Bruce Lee, died during production in 1973.[14]

Personal life

Young was married five times; his first marriage to Sheila Stapler lasted seven years, ending in 1947. In 1950, he married Sophie Rosenstein, the resident drama coach at Paramount, who was several years Young's senior. She was soon diagnosed with cancer, and died just short of two years after the couple's wedding. After her death, Young was engaged to actress Elaine Stritch.[15]

He met actress Elizabeth Montgomery after she appeared in an episode of Warner Bros. Presents in 1956, and the two married later that year.[12] In 1963, Montgomery divorced Young because of his alcoholism.[16]

Young married his fourth wife, real estate agent Elaine Williams, nine months after his divorce from Montgomery was final. Williams was pregnant with Young's child at the time and gave birth to his only child, Jennifer, in April 1964. After three years of marriage, the couple divorced. During a legal battle over child support with Williams, Young denied that Jennifer was his biological child. After five years of court battles, Young lost his case.[17]

On September 27, 1978, Young, age 64, married his fifth wife, a 31-year-old German magazine editor named Kim Schmidt.[18] He met Schmidt in Hong Kong while working on Game of Death.[19]


On October 19, 1978, three weeks after his marriage to Schmidt, the couple was found dead at home in their Manhattan apartment. Police theorized that Young shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself. A motive for the murder-suicide was never made clear.[20] Young was at one time under the care of the psychologist and psychotherapist Eugene Landy, who would later have his professional California medical license revoked amidst accusations of ethical violations and patient misconduct.[21]

He was buried in the Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina[22] in his family's plot along with his parents, siblings and an uncle.[2] Young's will, which covered a $200,000 estate, left his Academy Award to his agent, Martin Baum and Baum's wife, Bernice;[11] however, Young's daughter Jennifer launched a campaign in the early 1990s to get the award back from his agent, and struck an agreement that she would get the award back upon the agent's death, which occurred in 2010.[2]

For his contribution to the television industry, Young has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard.


Year Title Role Notes
1940 Misbehaving Husbands Floor Walker Credited as Byron Barr
1941 Here Comes the Cavalry Trooper Rollins Credited as Byron Barr
Sergeant York Marching soldier Uncredited
Dive Bomber Pilot Abbott Uncredited
Navy Blues Sailor in storeroom Uncredited
One Foot in Heaven First Groom Asking for Dog License Uncredited
The Tanks Are Coming Jim Allen Credited as Byron Barr
You're in the Army Now Soldier Uncredited
They Died with Their Boots On Lt. Roberts Uncredited
1942 The Man Who Came to Dinner Bit part Uncredited
Captains of the Clouds Student pilot Credited as Byron Barr
The Male Animal Student Uncredited
The Mad Martindales Peter Varney Credited as Byron Barr
The Gay Sisters Gig Young Credited as Byron Barr (credited as Gig Young in later rereleases)
1943 Air Force Co-Pilot
Old Acquaintance Rudd Kendall
1947 Escape Me Never Caryl Dubrok
1948 The Woman in White Walter Hartright
Wake of the Red Witch Samuel 'Sam' Rosen
The Three Musketeers Porthos
1949 Lust for Gold Pete Thomas
Tell It to the Judge Alexander Darvac
1950 Tarnished Joe Pettigrew
Hunt the Man Down Paul Bennett
Target Unknown Capt. Reiner
1951 Only the Valiant Lt. William Holloway
Slaughter Trail Ike Vaughn aka Murray
Come Fill the Cup Boyd Copeland Nominated: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Too Young to Kiss John Tirsen
1952 Holiday for Sinners Jason Kent
You For Me Dr. Jeff Chadwick
1953 The Girl Who Had Everything Vance Court
Arena Hob Danvers
City That Never Sleeps Johnny Kelly
Torch Song Cliff Willard
1954 Young at Heart Alex Burke
1955 The Desperate Hours Chuck Wright
1957 Desk Set Mike Cutler
1958 Teacher's Pet Dr. Hugo Pine Nominated: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated: Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
The Tunnel of Love Dick Pepper
1959 Ask Any Girl Evan Doughton
The Story on Page One Larry Ellis
1962 That Touch of Mink Roger
Kid Galahad Willy Grogan
Five Miles to Midnight David Barnes
1963 For Love or Money 'Sonny' John Dayton Smith
A Ticklish Affair Key Weedon
1965 Strange Bedfellows Richard Bramwell
1967 The Shuttered Room Mike Kelton
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Rocky Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated: BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1970 Lovers and Other Strangers Hal Henderson
1973 A Son-in-Law for Charlie McReady Charlie McReady
1974 Deborah
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Quill
1975 Michele
The Killer Elite Lawrence Weyburn
The Hindenburg Edward Douglas
1978 Game of Death Jim Marshall
Year Title Role Notes
1950 The Silver Theater Episode: "Lady with Ideas"
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Episode: "Ned McCobb's Daughter"
The Bigelow Theatre Episode: "Lady with Ideas"
1953 Robert Montgomery Presents Episode: "The Sunday Punch"
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Episode: "Part of the Game"
1954 Producers' Showcase Simon Gayforth Episode: "Tonight at 8:30", Segment "Shadow Play"
Lux Video Theatre Episode: "Captive City"
1955–1956 Warner Brothers Presents Host 36 episodes
1956 The United States Steel Hour Dave Corman Episode: "Sauce for the Goose"
1957 Climax! Edgar Holt Episode: "Jacob and the Angels"
Studio One Philip Adams/Alan Fredericks Episode: "A Dead Ringer"
1958 Goodyear Theatre Herman Worth Episode: "The Spy"
1959 The Twilight Zone Martin Sloan Episode: "Walking Distance"
The Philadelphia Story C.K. Dexter Haven Television movie
1960 Ninotchka Leon Dolga Television movie
Shirley Temple's Storybook Miles Hendon Episode: "The Prince and the Pauper"
1961 The Spiral Staircase Stephen Warren Television movie
1962 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Duke Marsden Episode: "A Piece of the Action"
1963 Kraft Suspense Theatre Hugo Myrich Episode: "The End of the World, Baby"
1964–1965 The Rogues Tony Fleming 22 episodes
1965 The Andy Williams Show Himself 1 episode
1968 Companions in Nightmare Eric Nicholson Television movie
1971 The Neon Ceiling Jones Television movie
Nominated: Emmy Award for Best Lead Actor - Single Appearance
1974 The Great Ice Rip-Off Harkey Rollins Television movie
1975 John O'Hara's Gibbsville
a.k.a. The Turning Point of Jim Malloy
Ray Whitehead Television movie
1976 McCloud Jack Haferman Episode: "The Day New York Turned Blue"
Sherlock Holmes in New York Mortimer McGrew Television movie
Gibbsville Ray Whitehead 6 episodes
1977 Spectre Dr. Ham Hamilton Television movie

Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Category Film
1952 Academy Award Nominated Best Actor in a Supporting Role Come Fill the Cup
1959 Teacher's Pet
1970 Won They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
1971 BAFTA Award Nominated Best Supporting Actor They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
1971 Emmy Award Nominated Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role The Neon Ceiling
1959 Golden Globe Award Nominated Best Supporting Actor Teacher's Pet
1970 Won They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
1971 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Won Best Supporting Actor They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
1958 Laurel Award Nominated Top Male Comedy Performance Teacher's Pet (Placed 4th)
1959 Won Top Male Supporting Performance The Tunnel of Love
1963 Top Male Supporting Performance That Touch of Mink


  1. Parish, James Robert (2002). The Hollywood Book of Death: The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More Than 125 American Movie and TV Idols (3 ed.). Contemporary Books. p. 335. ISBN 0-8092-2227-2.
  2. 1 2 3 Gig Young's family grave & info
  3. Cozad, W. Lee (2006). More Magnificent Mountain Movies: The Silverscreen Years, 1940-2004. W. Lee Cozad. p. 147. ISBN 0-9723372-2-9.
  4. Longstreet, Stephen (1942). The Gay Sisters. USA: Random House / Grosset Dunlap. pp.
  5. Longstreet, Stephen (1942). The Gay Sisters. USA: Random House/Grosset Dunlap. pp.
  6. Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era To 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 810. ISBN 1-55783-551-9.
  7. "Coast Guard History: Gig Young". 2008-07-22.
  9. Thompson,, Robert J.; Burns, Gary (1999). Making Television: Authorship and the Production Process. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 95–96. ISBN 0-275-92746-6.
  10. Guida, Fred; Wagenknecht, Edward (2006). A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: A Critical Examination of Dickens's Story and Its Productions on Screen and Television. McFarland. p. 193. ISBN 0-7864-2840-6.
  11. 1 2 3 Holden, Anthony (1993). Behind the Oscar: The Secret History of the Academy Awards. Simon & Schuster. p. 275. ISBN 0-671-70129-0.
  12. 1 2 Donnelly, Paul (2005). Fade To Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries (3 ed.). Omnibus. p. 746. ISBN 1-84449-430-6.
  13. Parish, James Robert (2008). It's Good to Be the King: The Seriously Funny Life of Mel Brooks. John Wiley and Sons. p. 9. ISBN 0-470-22526-2.
  14. Eleftheriotis, Dimitris; Needham, Gary (2006). Asian Cinemas: A Reader and Guide. University of Hawaii Press. p. 423. ISBN 0-8248-3085-7.
  15. Kirsta, Alix (20 February 2009). "Nobody's Perfect". Telegraph. Retrieved 20 April 2009. Despite a long engagement to Gig Young and living with Ben Gazzara, whom she threw over for Rock Hudson ('and we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be') she got married only once, at the age of 47, to the actor John Bay whom she met in London on Small Craft Warnings.
  16. Strodder, Chris (2000). Swingin' Chicks of the '60s: A Tribute to 101 of the Decade's Defining Women. Cedco Pub. p. 167. ISBN 0-7683-2232-4.
  17. Lindsay, Mark; Lester, David Lester (2004). Suicide By Cop: Committing Suicide by Provoking Police to Shoot You. Baywood Publishing Company, Inc. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-89503-290-2.
  20. Darst, Elizabeth (March 15, 2002). "OSCARS: Woman Seeks Dad's Statuette". People. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
  21. "Obituary: Eugene Landy". The Telegraph. March 31, 2006. Archived from the original on February 25, 2008.
  22. Brettell, Andrew; King, Noel; Kennedy, Damien; Imwold, Denise (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather. Barrons Educational Series. p. 292. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
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