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John Davis Chandler was a character actor in movies and television, usually portraying villains.

Chandler was born in Hinton in Summers County on January 28, 1935. His father, Arthur C. Chandler, was a family physician. His family eventually moved to Charleston, where Chandler attended school, graduating from Charleston High School in 1952.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Chandler studied pre-med at Princeton University, but realized that the heavy-on-science curriculum wasn’t for him. He dropped out to join the Army, serving in Germany. It was during his stint in the Army that Chandler decided to pursue acting as a career.

He trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. During a summer stock role in Mister Roberts, he caught the eye of Joyce Selznick of Columbia Pictures. She set up an audition for a movie about juvenile delinquents, The Young Savages.

He got the part of a young punk in a cast headed by Burt Lancaster, Shelly Winters and Dina Merrill.

Chandler went on to make his major film debut in 1961, landing the title role in the biopic of a 1930s gangster, Mad Dog Coll.

He was well-suited to play bad guys, as Chandler’s face could project menace with ease. With drooping eyelids that covered piercing blue eyes, Chandler’s pale, thin countenance could morph into expressions of evil, giving life to on-screen portrayals of various villains and miscreants.

As one movie critic described Chandler: “His sneering face did sterling service as rednecks, psychos, bushwhackers, yellow-bellies and other bad eggs.”

Among his more memorable film roles was the menacing cowboy named Jimmy Hammond in director Sam Peckinpah’s classic Western Ride the High Country, and as the sneering gang leader, Bleak, in the 1980s action-comedy film, Adventures in Babysitting.

He appeared in many other notable movies, including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Major Dundee, Only the Lonely, and Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, to name just a few.

His numerous guest spots on television included Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Fugitive, and Murder, She Wrote.

His final onscreen appearance was in 1998 as the character Flith in the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It ended a career that spanned nearly 40 years and included more than 100 movie and television roles.

Although Chandler was a big-screen bad guy, friends from his youth remembered him as friendly, upbeat and vice president of the student council.

“He was always mean in the movies, but I never could connect (him) with that image,” said Charleston High classmate Phyllis Murdock Cowley. “He was jolly, always happy. And you were happy to be around him.”

In a 1957 interview, Chandler told Charleston Gazette entertainment writer Bayard Ennis that he loved the opportunity to be someone else for short periods of time.

“I hope that doesn’t sound clinically psychological,” he said, “but it’s the only way I have ever been able to analyze the overpowering interest the stage has for me.”

Chandler died of cancer at age 75 on February 16, 2010, at Toluca Lake, California.

This Article was written by Ben Calwell

Last Revised on January 21, 2022


Cite This Article

Calwell, Ben "John Davis Chandler." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 21 January 2022. Web. 02 October 2022.

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