Nationality: American. Born: Lewis Frederick Ayres III in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 28 December 1908. Education: Attended Lake Harriet Grammar School and West High School, Minneapolis; high school in San Diego, California. Military Service: During World War II, assigned to conscientious objector camp at Cascade Locks, Oregon, then served in U.S. Army Medical Corps; participated in beachhead landings in South Pacific. Family: Married 1) the actress Lola Lane, 1931 (divorced 1933); 2) the actress Ginger Rogers, 1934 (divorced 1941); 3) Diana (Ayres), 1964, son: Justin Bret. Career: Mid-1920s—following high school, formed band with friends, briefly toured Mexico; joined Henry Halstead band; 1928—spotted in Hollywood nightclub by agent Ivan Kahn, signed with Pathe Studios, 1929; 1929—role in The Kiss opposite Garbo for MGM followed by role of Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front; early 1930s—under contract to Universal; 1935—moved to Paramount; 1936—directing debut with Hearts in Bondage; 1938—given title role in Young Doctor Kildare; Kildare series continues through 1941; 1942—following decision not to fight in World War II, his films banned in many theaters; 1945—after considering the ministry, returned to Hollywood; early 1950s—began producing religious documentaries; 1958—host of TV series Frontier Justice; 1973–76—produced documentary Altars of the World; 1985—in TV series Lime Street. Died: December 30, 1996 in Los Angeles, CA.
Films as Actor:
The Sophomore (McCarey); The Kiss (Feyder); Big News (La Cava) (as copyboy)
All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone) (as Paul Baumer); Common Clay (Fleming) (as Hugh Fullerton); Doorway to Hell (A Handful of Clouds) (Mayo) (as Louie); East Is West (Bell) (as Billy Benson)
Many a Slip (Moore) (as Jerry Brooks); The Iron Man (Browning) (as Kid Mason); Up for Murder (Fires of Youth) (Bell) (as Robert Marshall); The Spirit of Notre Dame (Vigour of Youth) (Mack) (as Bucky O'Brien); Heaven on Earth (Mack) (as States)
The Impatient Maiden (Whale) (as Dr. Myron Brown); Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood (Dillon); Night World (Henley) (as Michael Rand); Okay America (Penalty of Fame) (Garnett) (as Larry Wayne)
State Fair (Henry King) (as reporter Pat Gilbert); Don't Bet on Love (Roth) (as Bill McCaffrey); My Weakness (David Butler) (as Ronnie Gregory)
Cross Country Cruise (Buzzell) (as Norman); Let's Be Ritzy (Ludwig) (as Jimmie); She Learned about Sailors (George Marshall) (as Larry Wilson); Servants' Entrance (Lloyd) (as Eric Landstrom)
Lottery Lover (Thiele) (as Cadet Frank Harrington); Spring Tonic (Bruckman); Silk Hat Kid (Humberstone) (as Eddie Howard)
The Leathernecks Have Landed (Bretherton) (as Woody Davis); Panic on the Air (Lederman) (as Jerry); Shakedown (Selman) (as Bob Sanderson); Lady Be Careful (Reed) (as Dud "Dynamite"); Murder with Pictures (Burton) (as Kent Murdock)
The Crime Nobody Saw (Barton) (as Nicholas Carter); The Last Train from Madrid (Hogan) (as Bill Dexter); Hold 'em Navy! (Neumann) (as Tommy Gorham)
Scandal Street (Hogan) (as Joe McKnight); King of the Newsboys (Vorhaus) (as Jerry Flynn); Holiday (Free to Live; Unconventional Linda) (Cukor) (as Ned Seton); Rich Man, Poor Girl (Schunzel) (as Henry Thayer); Young Doctor Kildare (Bucquet) (title role); Spring Madness (Simon) (as Sam Thatcher)
The Ice Follies of 1939 (Schunzel) (as Eddie Burgess); Broadway Serenade (Leonard) (as James Geoffrey Seymour); Calling Dr. Kildare (Bucquet) (title role); These Glamour Girls (Simon) (as Philip S. Griswold); Remember? (McLeod) (as Sky Ames); Secret of Dr. Kildare (Bucquet) (title role)
Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (Bucquet) (title role); The Golden Fleecing (Fenton) (as Henry Twinkle); Dr. Kildare Goes Home (Bucquet) (title role); Dr. Kildare's Crisis (Bucquet) (title role)
Maisie Was a Lady (Marin) (as Bob Rawlston); The People vs. Dr. Kildare (My Life Is Yours) (Bucquet) (title role); Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (Mary Names the Day) (Bucquet) (title role); Dr. Kildare's Victory (The Doctor and the Debutante) (Van Dyke) (title role)
Fingers at the Window (Lederer) (as Oliver Duffy)
The Dark Mirror (Siodmak) (as Dr. Scott Elliott)
The Unfaithful (Sherman) (as Larry Hannaford)
Johnny Belinda (Negulesco) (as Dr. Robert Richardson)
The Capture (John Sturges) (as Vanner)
New Mexico (Reiss) (as Capt. Hunt)
No Escape (Bennett) (as John Tracy); Donovan's Brain (Feist) (as Dr. Patrick J. Cory)
Advise and Consent (Preminger) (as the vice president)
The Carpetbaggers (Dmytryk) (as McAllister)
Hawaii Five-O (Wendkos—for TV) (as Governor)
Marcus Welby, M.D. (David Lowell Rich—for TV)
Earth II (Gries—for TV); She Waits (Delbert Mann—for TV)
The Biscuit Eater (McEveety) (as Mr. Ames); The Man (Sargent) (as Harley)
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson) (as Mandemus); The Questor Tapes (Colla—for TV) (as Vaslovik); The Stranger (Katzin—for TV)
Heat Wave! (Jameson—for TV)
Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident (Delbert Mann—for TV)
Damien—Omen II (Taylor) (as Bill Atherton); End of the World (Grilo and Hayes); Battlestar Gallactica (Colla) (as President Adar); Suddenly, Love (Margolin—for TV)
Salem's Lot (Hooper—for TV); Letters from Frank (Parone—for TV)
Reunion (Mayberry—for TV)
Of Mice and Men (Badiyi—for TV)
Don Camillo (Hill)
Under Siege (Roger Young—for TV) (as John Pace)
Cast the First Stone (Cast the First Stone: The Diane Martin Story) (Korty—for TV) (as Mr. Martin)
Hart to Hart: Crimes of the Hart (Hunt—for TV) (as Professor Kamen)
Film as Director:
1936 Hearts in Bondage
Films as Producer:
Altars of the East (doc) (+ sc, ro as narrator)
Altars of the World (ed—doc) (+ d, ph)
On AYRES: articles—
Cutts, John, "Classics Revisited: All Quiet on the Western Front," in Films and Filming (London), April 1963.
Luft, H. G., "Lew Ayres," in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1978.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, rev. ed., London, 1979.
"Lew Ayres," in Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), December 1986.
(Obituary), EPD Film (Frankfurt), February, 1997.
* * *
"Many things come together to create a man's outlook on life," Lew Ayres once remarked. But nothing quite had the impact on both his life and career as did All Quiet on the Western Front. From a "bit" actor and supporting player (to Garbo) in The Kiss, Ayres became a star thanks to his performance as Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front. He is quick to credit his success to the dialogue director, George Cukor, who carefully coached the actors in the use of "neutral" accents and quiet underplaying. The film also instilled in Ayres a pacifist outlook on life, which eventually was to cause controversy for him as a member of the Hollywood community.
In the early 1930s Ayres starred in a string of minor features, the perfect leading man for every actress from Janet Gaynor to Jean Harlow. His career was failing rapidly, however, and he was turning up more and more frequently in B pictures (and even directing one film, Hearts in Bondage) when he accepted a co-starring role in Holiday, playing the alcoholic brother of Katharine Hepburn. Louis B. Mayer liked his performance and signed him for the title role in the Dr. Kildare series. He was now a success. Then came World War II.
Ayres declared himself a conscientious objector, and Hollywood was quick to denounce him. While the industry hailed the stars who, with maximum publicity, entered the armed forces yet never saw active service, Lew Ayres quietly went about his work as a medical orderly at the South Pacific battlefront. There is a haunting photograph of the actor taping up the wounds of a Japanese prisoner in the Philippines, which appeared in Life magazine (25 December 1944).
On his return from the war, Ayres had aged. He looked more assured, more dignified, less a pretty face and more a figure with character and personality. A new phase of his career began, as he immediately appeared in The Dark Mirror (as a doctor), The Unfaithful (as an attorney), and Johnny Belinda (in one of his all-time-best roles, as a compassionate small-town doctor). From the 1950s, his film work has been sporadic, with his most notable credits being Advise and Consent and The Carpetbaggers. And his commitment to a spiritualist philosophy remained a constant, as evidenced by his involvement in the documentaries Altars of the East and Altars of the World.
—Anthony Slide, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg