John Howard (American actor)

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John Howard
John Richard Cox Jr.

(1913-04-14)April 14, 1913
DiedFebruary 19, 1995(1995-02-19) (aged 81)
EducationCase Western Reserve University
Years active1934–1978
SpouseEva Ralf

John Howard (born John Richard Cox Jr.; April 14, 1913 – February 19, 1995) was an American actor.[1] He is best remembered for his roles in the films Lost Horizon (1937) and The Philadelphia Story (1940).

Howard played Bulldog Drummond in seven films which were produced by Paramount. He also appeared in many television series and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Born in Cleveland, Ohio,[2] Howard was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of what now is Case Western Reserve University. At college he discovered a love for the theater, and took part in student productions.[1]

One night, a talent scout from Paramount was in Cleveland to see the local stock company. The show was not on that night, so the scout decided to go and see a production at the local university. He was impressed by Howard in a production of John Brown's Body and arranged for a screen test.[3]



Howard became a contract player for Paramount under the name of "Jon Cox". He appeared uncredited in One Hour Late (1934). Small roles followed in Car 99 (1935) and Four Hours to Kill! (1935).

He changed his name to John Howard and had a bigger part in Annapolis Farewell (1935).

Leading man[edit]

Paramount promoted him to a leading man in just his fourth film, Millions in the Air (1935), though it was a "B" movie.

He was second billed in Soak the Rich (1936), made for Paramount by the team of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

Paramount put him in an "A" feature, 13 Hours by Air (1936), and he was fourth billed in the credits. He starred in Border Flight (1936) alongside Frances Farmer and had a good part in Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936), with Gladys George.[4]

Howard also starred in the comedy Easy to Take (1936) with Marsha Hunt.

According to David Shipman, "Howard..., was tried out in various capacities – supporting roles in As, leads in Bs, and on loan-outs. These last could be significant: the smaller studios had restricted contract lists and were prepared to pay well to borrow good-looking guys whose acting consisted mainly of not bumping into the furniture".[1]

Lost Horizon[edit]

Howard's first memorable role came on loan out to Columbia: as Ronald Colman's younger brother in Lost Horizon (1937), directed by Frank Capra. Capra had seen him in Annapolis Farewell and arranged for a screen test.[2] The film was a huge success and really established Howard, who later said "without Lost Horizon I doubt very much whether I would have survived in Hollywood".[5]

Howard was borrowed by Universal for the lead in Let Them Live (1937). Back at Paramount, he supported Bob Burns and Martha Raye in Mountain Music (1937).

At RKO, Howard did Hitting a New High (1937) with Lily Pons and Jack Oakie. Columbia used him in Penitentiary (1938) with Walter Connolly.[6]

He and Lew Ayres were in a buddy comedy, Hold 'Em Navy (1937), then Howard supported Lloyd Nolan and Shirley Ross in Prison Farm (1938) and starred in Touchdown, Army (1938) and Grand Jury Secrets (1939).

Bulldog Drummond[edit]

Since 1937, Paramount had made a series of "B" movies about daring adventurer Bulldog Drummond. The first of the actors to play the role, Ray Milland, was in Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937). Milland was being groomed for more important pictures, so the studio offered the role of the British hero, Captain Hugh Drummond, to John Howard. Howard was himself not British, so he chose not to attempt a British accent, relying instead on diction to get the idea across. In his first performance as Drummond, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), Howard took second billing to John Barrymore, who played Inspector Nielson of Scotland Yard. According to Shipman, Howard "proved himself a resourceful, debonair, and witty player, his double-breasted suits and trilbies an admirable choice."[1] Howard continued opposite Barrymore in Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937),[7] and Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938). H. B. Warner replaced Barrymore in Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938), Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1939), Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police (1939), and Bulldog Drummond's Bride (1939), the last in the series. As Shipman said, about the Drummond films, "[The] titles, splendidly, had nothing to do with the plots (since Drummond was never captured, there was nowhere to escape from) and the inconsequence was pleasing... All the while the spider's-web plots (of death threats, disguises, ambushes, sobbing women and booby-trapped motor-cars) hurtled to the screen – under various directors – with superior production values. They are more enjoyable than competitors featuring the Falcon, Charlie Chan, the Lone Wolf, Sexton Blake et al. due in part to Howard's insouciant playing".[1]

The Philadelphia Story[edit]

With Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story

Howard made What a Life (1939) with Betty Grable and Disputed Passage (1940) with Dorothy Lamour. The latter was a flop at the box office, and Paramount began to cool on Howard.[3]

Universal borrowed him to play a key role in Green Hell (1940). MGM used him in The Man from Dakota (1940), supporting Wallace Beery, and The Philadelphia Story (1940), where he played the fiancé of Katharine Hepburn, competing for her amorous attentions with characters played by Cary Grant and James Stewart. It remains one of his best-known films.

Back at Paramount, Howard was top-billed in Texas Rangers Ride Again (1940). Universal borrowed him to play the leading man in The Invisible Woman (1941) with Barrymore and Virginia Bruce.

At Paramount, he supported Basil Rathbone in The Mad Doctor (1941), then Universal gave him the lead in Tight Shoes (1941). At RKO, he supported Adolphe Menjou and Gloria Swanson in Father Takes a Wife (1941), then at Columbia he was Joan Blondell's leading man in the farce comedy Three Girls About Town (1941).

Howard was top billed in Republic Pictures' A Tragedy at Midnight (1942). At Columbia, he had the starring role in The Man Who Returned to Life (1942), and Submarine Raider (1942), then he did Isle of Missing Men (1942) for Monogram Pictures.

Howard wanted to join the navy, but there was a delay after he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, who put him in The Undying Monster (1942), in which he was third billed.[8]

Military service[edit]

Howard served in the United States Navy as a lieutenant during World War II, later becoming an executive officer aboard the minesweeper USS YMS-24, aboard which he participated in landing operations at the Allied invasion of Sicily, Allied invasion of Italy, and Anzio, and deception operations against the island of Sardinia and in "Operation Dragoon" on the South coast of Vichy France.[9] During 'Operation Dragoon' off the French coast on August 16, 1944 USS YMS-24 struck a sea mine, the blast killing its captain and severely damaging the ship. Howard took command and fought to save the ship, jumping into the sea several times to save crew members who had fallen overboard. For his actions he was awarded both the United States' Navy Cross[10] and the French Croix de Guerre.

Return to acting[edit]

Upon his return to Hollywood, Howard struggled to re-establish himself. He was told that Fox had no projects for him, so he ended his contract with them to do a play -- which closed out of town. "It was a long, long period of absolute dearth," he later said.[8]

He had support parts in Love from a Stranger (1947) for Bryan Foy at Eagle-Lion Films and I, Jane Doe (1948) for Republic.

He starred in Public Prosecutor, the first dramatic TV drama series shot on film. It was filmed in 1947 but not shown until several years later.[11][12][13] Public Prosecutor was ultimately broadcast as part of Crawford Mystery Theatre in 1951.

He was in "Entrapment" on NBC Presents in 1949.

Howard supported John Wayne in The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) for Republic and had the lead in Radar Secret Service (1950) for the low-budget Lippert Pictures.

Howard guest-starred on shows like Lights Out, The Bigelow Theatre and Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and had leads in low-budget films like Experiment Alcatraz (1950).[14]

Howard was in Models Inc. (1952) and Make Haste to Live (1954) and guest starred on Schlitz Playhouse, Suspense, Four Star Playhouse, and The Loretta Young Show. His first high-profile film in a long while came when he played Laraine Day's husband in The High and the Mighty (1954).[1]

Howard made his Broadway debut in 1953 in Hazel Flagg where he met his future wife, the ballerina and actress Eva Ralf.

Television star[edit]

Howard continued to work in TV appearing in General Electric Theater, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Millionaire, The Whistler, The Ford Television Theatre, The Star and the Story, Science Fiction Theatre, Studio 57, Fireside Theatre, TV Reader's Digest, Front Row Center, and Lux Video Theatre.

He had the lead in a series, Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal (1955–57).[15][16] The series raised Howard's profile, and he was offered the lead in The Unknown Terror (1957). In 1958 he starred in another TV series, Adventures of the Sea Hawk, which ran for 26 episodes.[14]


Howard's 1960s acting work included guest spots on Lawman, Wagon Train, Men into Space, Cheyenne, The Magical World of Disney, The Americans, Outlaws, Gunslinger, Lock Up, Bronco, Surfside 6, 77 Sunset Strip, Rawhide, Hawaiian Eye, Perry Mason, Branded, Profiles in Courage, Days of Our Lives, and The Lucy Show, and The Legend of Jesse James.[14]

He formed a friendship with Fred MacMurray, star of the TV series My Three Sons who, like Howard, had worked in Paramount features of the 1930s. Howard was a regular guest star on the show, playing MacMurray's boss. Series producer Don Fedderson used Howard in his other series, Family Affair and To Rome with Love. Howard also had roles in the feature films Destination Inner Space (1966) and The Destructors (1967).


Howard could be seen in Eye for an Eye (1971), The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Mission: Impossible, Buck and the Preacher (1972), The Brady Bunch, Mod Squad, The ABC Afternoon Playbreak, The New Perry Mason, So Evil, My Sister, Capone (1975), Little House on the Prairie, Bronk, Wonder Woman, Police Woman and The Rockford Files.[14]


Lobby card for Hitting a New High (1937)
Title Year Role Notes
One Hour Late 1934 Elevator Operator Uncredited
Car 99 1935 Recruit Carney
Four Hours to Kill! 1935 Assistant Repairman
Annapolis Farewell 1935 Duncan Haley
Millions in the Air 1935 Eddie Warren
Soak the Rich 1936 Kenneth "Buzz" Jones
Thirteen Hours by Air 1936 Freddie Scott
Border Flight 1936 Lt. Dan Conlon
Valiant Is the Word for Carrie 1936 Paul Darnley
Easy to Take 1936 Rodney Garfield
Lost Horizon 1937 George Conway
Let Them Live 1937 Dr. Paul Martin
Mountain Music 1937 Ardinger Burnside
Bulldog Drummond Comes Back 1937 Captain Hugh C. 'Bulldog' Drummond Lead
That Navy Spirit 1937 Chuck Baldwin
Bulldog Drummond's Revenge 1937 Captain Hugh C. 'Bulldog' Drummond
Hitting a New High 1937 Jimmy James
Penitentiary 1938 William Jordan
Bulldog Drummond's Peril 1938 Captain Hugh C. 'Bulldog' Drummond
Prison Farm 1938 Dr. Roi Conrad
Bulldog Drummond in Africa 1938 Captain Hugh C. 'Bulldog' Drummond
Touchdown, Army 1938 Cadet Brandon Culpepper
Arrest Bulldog Drummond 1938 Captain Hugh C. 'Bulldog' Drummond
Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police 1939 Lead
Grand Jury Secrets 1939 John Keefe
Bulldog Drummond's Bride 1939 Captain Hugh C. 'Bulldog' Drummond Lead
What a Life 1939 Mr. Nelson
Disputed Passage 1939 John Wesley Beaven
Green Hell 1940 Hal Scott
The Man from Dakota 1940 Lt. Oliver Clark
The Philadelphia Story 1940 George Kittredge
Texas Rangers Ride Again 1940 James Kingston aka Pecos Kid Lead
The Invisible Woman 1940 Richard Russell
The Mad Doctor 1941 Gil Sawyer
Tight Shoes 1941 Jimmy Rupert Lead
Father Takes a Wife 1941 Frederic Osborne Junior
Three Girls About Town 1941 Tommy Hopkins
A Tragedy at Midnight 1942 Greg Sherman Lead
The Man Who Returned to Life 1942 David Hampton Jameson / George Bishop Lead
Submarine Raider 1942 Commander Chris Warren Lead
Isle of Missing Men 1942 Merrill Hammond Lead
The Undying Monster 1942 Oliver Hammond
Love from a Stranger 1947 Nigel Lawrence
I, Jane Doe 1948 William Hilton
The Fighting Kentuckian 1949 Blake Randolph
Radar Secret Service 1950 Bill Travis
Experiment Alcatraz 1950 Dr. Ross Williams
Models Inc. 1952 John Stafford
Make Haste to Live 1954 Josh Blake
The High and the Mighty 1954 Howard Rice
The Unknown Terror 1957 Dan Matthews
Destination Inner Space 1967 Dr. James
The Destructors 1968 Ernest Bushnell
El sabor de la venganza 1971
Buck and the Preacher 1972 George
So Evil, My Sister 1974 Dr. Thomas
Capone 1975 Warden J. Johnston last film


TV series Year Role Episode
Science Fiction Theatre 1955 John Emerson episode: The Brain of John Emerson
Lawman 1960 Lance Creedy episode: The Showdown
Wagon Train 1960 Colonel James Harris episode: The Colonel Harris Story
Cheyenne 1960 John Thompson episode: Home Is the Brave
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color 1962 Mayor Wood episodes: Moochie of Pop Warner Football: Pee Wees Versus City Hall & Moochie of Pop Warner Football: From Ticonderoga to Disneyland
Rawhide 1962 James Carr episode: The Captain's Wife
Perry Mason 1964 Harley Leonard episode: The Case of the Ruinous Road
My Three Sons 1964 Buddy Albert episode: Adventures in New York
My Three Sons 1965 Mr. Hargraves episode: Be My Guest
My Three Sons 1965–1967 Dave Welch episodes: Office Mother & Douglas a Go-Go & Charley, the Pigeon & From Maggie with Love & Whatever Happened to Baby Chip? & Stag at Bay & Good Guys Finish Last & Happy Birthday World & A Falling Star & My Pal Dad & TV or Not TV & Weekend in Paradise
The Legend of Jesse James 1966 Dr. Samuel episode: 1863
Family Affair 1967 Myron Fox episode: Star Dust
Mannix 1969 Dr. Daniels episode: A Question of Midnight
The Brady Bunch 1971–1972 Dr. Howard & Doctor episodes: Coming Out Party & Today, I Am a Freshman
Mission: Impossible 1972 Foreman episode: Committed
Mod Squad 1973 Dr. Brandson episode: Put Out the Welcome Mat for Death
The New Perry Mason 1973–1974 Judge Channing & Judge episodes: The Case of the Ominous Oath & The Case of the Tortured Titan
Police Woman 1974 Leland Perrier episode: The End Game
Bronk 1976 Judge Sheehan episode: Long Time Dying
Little House on the Prairie 1976 Hiram Potter episode: The Pride of Walnut Grove
Wonder Woman 1977 Dr. Diderich episode: Last of the $2 Bills
Police Woman 1977 David Earl episode: Bondage
The Rockford Files 1978 Mort episodes: Black Mirror: Parts 1 & 2, (final appearance)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Shipman, David (February 27, 1995). "OBITUARY: John Howard". The Independent.
  2. ^ a b Rowan, Terry. Whodoneit! A Film Guide. pp. 31–32. ISBN 9781312308060. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b Weaver p 191
  4. ^ "THE LIFE STORY OF JOHN HOWARD: Quiet, But Likes Action on the Screen". Picture Show. Vol. 39, no. 1, 011. London. Sep 10, 1938. p. 18.
  5. ^ Weaver, Tom John Howard Interview Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers of the 1940s Through 1960s McFarland, 2006 p 186
  6. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Sep 3, 1937). "JOHN HOWARD CHOSEN AS LEADING MAN FOR DIVA: Second Pairing of Taylor, Wendy Barrie Planned". Los Angeles Times. p. A18.
  7. ^ Shaffer, George. (July 3, 1937). "Barrymore Gag Spoils a Take of Crime Movie: John Plays an Inspector in "Bulldog Drummond"". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 10.
  8. ^ a b Weaver p 196
  9. ^ St. Petersburg Times – Feb 15, 1957
  10. ^ "Full Text Citations For Award of The Navy Cross To U.S. Navy Personnel World War II". Home of Heroes. Archived from the original on 12 April 2017. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  11. ^ "Half Hour Video Films Shot in 2 Days, Cost $10,000", The Washington Post, May 1, 1949, p. T1.
  12. ^ Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 1948, v. 51, no. 6, p. 592.
  13. ^ "NBC Mulls Video Pix Distrib", Billboard, Nov. 6, 1948, p. 11.
  14. ^ a b c d "John Howard; Movie Hero Earned Honors During World War II". Los Angeles Times (Home ed.). Feb 27, 1995. p. 16.
  15. ^ Hopper, Hedda (Dec 14, 1954). "Rita Moreno Gets Role in 'The Vagabond King'". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. b10.
  16. ^ Smith, Cecil (Sep 11, 1955). "'Hudson's Journal' by Lloyd Douglas to Be TV Series". Los Angeles Times. p. d11.


  • Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1557509379 OCLC 36824724

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