Jeff Chandler (December 15, 1918 – June 17, 1961) was an American film actor and singer in the 1950s, best remembered for playing Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), and for being one of Universal International's most popular male stars of the decade.
Chandler was born Ira Grossel to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of Anna (née Shapiro) and Phillip Grossel. He was raised by his mother after his parents separated when he was a child.
He attended Erasmus Hall High School, the alma mater of many stage and film personalities. His father was connected with the restaurant business and got his son a job as a restaurant cashier. Chandler said he always wanted to act, but courses for commercial art were cheaper, so he studied art for a year and worked as a layout artist for a mail order catalogue.
Chandler eventually saved up enough money to take a drama course at the Feagin School of Dramatic Art in New York. He worked briefly in radio, then got a job in a stock company on Long Island as an actor and stage manager. He worked for two years in stock companies, acting in a performance of The Trojan Horse with Gordon MacRae and his wife.
Chandler formed his own company, the Shady Lane Playhouse, in Illinois in 1941. This toured the Midwest with some success before the war came along.
He served in World War II for four years, mostly in the Aleutians, finishing with the rank of lieutenant. His enlistment record for the Cavalry on November 18, 1941 gave his height as six foot four inches and his weight as 210 pounds.
After being discharged from the military, Chandler moved to Los Angeles with $3,000 he had saved and soon found work as a radio actor. He appeared in episodes of anthology drama series such as Escape and Academy Award Theater, and became well known for playing the lead in Michael Shayne and bashful biology teacher Phillip Boynton on Our Miss Brooks. Chandler was the first actor to portray Chad Remington in Frontier Town. In 1945 he was involved in a serious car accident on the way to a screen test which resulted in a large scar on his forehead.
Chandler had acted on radio in Rogue's Gallery with Dick Powell, who was impressed enough to give the actor his first film role, a one-line part as a gangster in Johnny O'Clock(1947).
His performance as Boynton in Our Miss Brooks brought him to the attention of executives at Universal, who were looking for someone to play an Israeli leader in Sword in the Desert (1948). Chandler was cast and impressed the studio so much he ended up being signed to Universal for a seven-year contract.
Jeff Chandler at
during a visit toIsrael
Chandler's first movie for Universal under his new contract was Abandoned (1949), then he was borrowed by 20th Century Fox to play Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950). This film was a considerable hit, earning Chandler an Oscar nomination and establishing him as a star. He later reprised the role as the legendary Apache chief in The Battle at Apache Pass (1952) and in a cameo in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954). He was the first actor nominated for an Academy Award for portraying an American Indian.
Chandler's success in Broken Arrow led to him being cast as a variety of nationalities from different historical periods, such as an Arab chief in Flame of Araby (1951) and a Polynesian in Bird of Paradise (1951). He also played an embittered Union cavalryman inTwo Flags West (1950). In 1952 exhibitors voted him the 22nd most popular star in the US and he signed a fresh contract with Universal.
20th Century-Fox was keen to use Chandler again and put forward roles in such films as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Lydia Bailey, Les Miserables and The Secret of Convict Lake. However, Universal had an exclusive contract and they kept him working at the studio.
During the latter part of the decade and into the early 1960s, Chandler became a top leading man. His sex appeal, prematurely gray hair, and ruggedly handsome tanned features put him into drama and costume movies. Among the movies of this period are Female on the Beach (1955), Foxfire (1955), Away All Boats (1956), Toy Tiger (1956), Drango (1957),The Tattered Dress (1957), Man in the Shadow (1957), A Stranger in My Arms (1959), The Jayhawkers! (1959), Thunder in the Sun (1959), and Return to Peyton Place (1961).His leading ladies included June Allyson, Joan Crawford, Rhonda Fleming, Maureen O'Hara, Kim Novak, Jane Russell, Esther Williams, and his Brooklyn friend Susan Hayward. His agent was Doovid Barskin of The Barskin Agency in the late 50s.
In 1957 Chandler left Universal and signed a contract with United Artists. Having long desired to be an executive he formed his own company, Earlmar Productions, with agent Meyer Mishkin. Together they produced the film Drango (1957), which Chandler also directed for a few weeks.
Chandler was due to star in Operation Petticoat (1959) but fell ill and had to pull out. He later formed another production company, August, for which he made The Plunderers, atAllied Artists.
Chandler had a concurrent career as a singer and recording artist, releasing several albums and playing nightclubs. In 1955 he became only the second star to play at the Riviera, after Liberace was the featured headliner. In her autobiography Hold the Roses (2002), Rose Marie wrote that “Jeff Chandler was a great guy, but he was no singer. He put together an act and we opened at the Riviera. He came with a conductor, piano player, light man, press agent, and manager. None of it helped”. And “Everybody raved about Jeff’s singing, but let’s face it: He really didn’t sing very well. He definitely had guts to open in Vegas”. He left to work on a movie after three and a half weeks.
Chandler married actress Marjorie Hoshelle (1918–1989) in 1946. The couple had two daughters, Jamie Tucker (1947–2003) and Dana Grossel (1949–2002), before separating in 1954. They reconciled but his wife applied for divorce again in 1957.
Both of Chandler's daughters died of cancer, as did his mother, maternal aunt, uncle and grandfather.
When his friend Sammy Davis, Jr. lost an eye in an accident and was in danger of losing the other, Chandler offered to give Davis one of his own eyes. Chandler himself had nearly lost an eye and had been visibly scarred in an auto accident years earlier.
He was romantically linked with Esther Williams, who claimed in her 1999 autobiography Chandler was a cross dresser and she broke off the relationship. According to the Los Angeles Times, many friends and colleagues of Chandler's refuted Williams' claims. Jane Russell commented, "I've never heard of such a thing. Cross-dressing is the last thing I would expect of Jeff. He was a sweet guy, definitely all man."
His public support for Israel prompted the United Arab Republic to ban his films in Arab countries in 1960.
Shortly after completing his role in Merrill's Marauders in 1961, Chandler injured his back while playing baseball with U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who served as extras in the movie. He entered a Culver City hospital and had surgery for a spinal disc herniation, on May 13, 1961. There were severe complications; an artery was damaged and Chandlerhemorrhaged. In a seven-and-a-half-hour emergency operation over-and-above the original surgery, he was given 55 pints of blood. Another operation followed, date unknown, where he received an additional 20 pints of blood. He died on June 17, 1961. His death was deemed malpractice and resulted in a large lawsuit and settlement for his children.
At the time he was romantically involved with British actress Barbara Shelley. Tony Curtis and Gerald Mohr were among the pallbearers at Chandler's funeral. He was interred in theHillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Chandler has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1770 Vine Street.