Life and career
Born in Austin, Texas, he was a distant cousin of George Washington, and his grandfather had been a very successful cattle rancher.
Scott intended to be a doctor like his father, Zachary Scott Sr. (1880–1964), but after attending the University of Texas for a while, he decided to switch to acting. He signed on as a cabin boy on a freighter which took him to England, where he acted in repertory theatre for a while, before he returned to Austin, and began acting in local theater.
Alfred Lunt discovered Scott in Texas and convinced him to move to New York City, where he appeared on Broadway. Scott made his debut on Broadway in a revival of Ah, Wilderness! in 1941 with a small role as a bartender. Three years later, Jack Warner saw him in a performance ofThose Endearing Young Charms and signed him to appear in The Mask of Dimitrios.
He appeared the next year in Mildred Pierce to much acclaim. In the film, Scott was Joan Crawford's somewhat sleazy love interest, whose mysterious murder formed the basis of the plot. (The character was equally sleazy but was not killed in the novel on which the movie was based.) In 1946 exhibitors voted him the third most promising "star of tomorrow".
During this period, Scott and his first wife Elaine socialized regularly with Angela Lansbury and her first husband, Richard Cromwell. Elaine Scott had met Zachary Scott back in Austin and she made a name for herself behind the scenes on Broadway as stage manager for the original production of Oklahoma!. The Scotts had one child together, Waverly Scott.
Zachary Scott enjoyed playing scoundrels and the public enjoyed those portrayals, too. Scott went on to star in such movies as The Southerner, The Unfaithful, Cass Timberlane, Flamingo Road,Flaxy Martin, Guilty Bystander, Wings of Danger, and Shadow on the Wall, opposite Nancy Davis Reagan and Ann Sothern. He later starred in Luis Buñuel's The Young One (La Joven, 1960), Buñuel's second English language movie (the first being Adventures of Robinson Crusoe).
In 1950, Scott was involved in a rafting accident. Also during that year, he divorced his first wife, Elaine, who subsequently married writer John Steinbeck. Possibly as a result of these developments or due to a box-office slump, Scott succumbed to a depression which in turn limited his acting. Since Warner Bros. did not continue to promote his films, he turned back to the stage, and also appeared on television. During this period Scott remarried and he and his second wife, actress Ruth Ford, had a child together as well (he adopted her daughter from a previous marriage). He moved back to Austin, where he died from a brain tumor at the age of 51.
In 1968 the Austin Civic Theatre was renamed the Zachary Scott Theatre Center to honor their native son. His family has endowed two chairs at the University of Texas's theatre department in his name. A street at the old airport Mueller Redevelopment in Austin is named in his honor.
Scott has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.