Prolific actor David Hedison passed away on July 18th at the age of 92. I always enjoyed seeing him appear on numerous television shows and movies throughout the years. He acted in several memorable productions.
Albert David Hedison Jr. was born on May 20, 1927 in Providence, RI. Hedison first became involved in acting when he appeared in a school play in Junior High School. He attended Brown University in Providence, where he majored in English. Hedison subsequently studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio in New York City.
Under the name “Al Hedison” he appeared in various stage productions throughout the 1950s, including the 1956 Broadway production of A Month in the Country directed by Michael Redgrave. This brought him to the attention of 20th Century Fox, who signed him to a contract. His first job for the studio was a supporting role in the 1957 movie The War Below starring Robert Mitchum.
Hedison’s next role was in The Fly (1958). Directed by Kurt Neumann, The Fly was adapted from the short story by George Langelaan. Several actors passed on the role of scientist André Delambre, since the character would spend much of the movie with his face hidden beneath a mask. Hendison, however, was very taken with the screenplay by James Clavell and enthusiastically signed up. The Fly was an incredibly well produced movie, one of the classic sci-fi / horror films, and it featured a very moving & tragic performance by Hedison. It would become one of the most memorable entries in his lengthy career.
In 1960 Hedison was cast in the Cold War adventure series Five Fingers on NBC. Probably the most noteworthy aspect of this short-lived show was that NBC insisted Hedison change his name, as they apparently felt “Al” was not distinctive enough. Hedison decided to go with his middle name, and for the rest of his career he was billed as “David Hedison.”
From 1964 to 1968 Hedison starred as Captain Lee Crane in the sci-fi / adventure TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Despite repeated entreaties by series creator Irwin Allen, Hedison was initially uninterested, but he was finally won over when he learned Richard Basehart would be his co-star, portraying Admiral Harriman Nelson. As Hedison recounted in a 2013 interview with Classic Film & TV Café:
“I had never met him, but I admired Richard’s work very much. I got his number from the studio. I called him up, and we agreed to meet at his house. He liked my enthusiasm, we hit it off and we worked really well together. We made the show work. Richard and I had real chemistry. He taught me so much about being camera ready when I needed to be. Television filming is so very fast, we always had to keep moving on. Voyage shot in six days–we filmed at a very fast pace.”
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was very much a product of its time, and of Allen’s production style. It was totally story-driven, with stand-alone episodes and no real character development. The first season, shot in black & white, was fairly serious, with a lot of gritty Cold War-type plotlines and a fair amount of location work. Once the show transitioned to color with season two, it started to become over-the-top and silly, with most of the episodes featuring a monster of the week, and pretty much everything being shot in the studio. The show also started reusing a lot of props from Lost in Space and other Allen productions.
Despite these drawbacks, Voyage is a fondly remembered series. Hedison and Basehart’s performances definitely played a large part in that, and they often helped to carry some of the more far-out episodes.
Among Hedison’s other memorable roles were his two appearances in the James Bond movie franchise. He played CIA agent Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die (1973) with Roger Moore as Bond. Hedison becoming the first actor to play Leiter twice when he reprised the role 16 years later in License to Kill (1989), this time with Timothy Dalton as Bond.
I’ve always felt that having Hedison return as Leiter in License to Kill was a smart move. In the original Ian Fleming novels Leiter was a close ally of Bond, but this never really carried across to the movies, because each time Leiter showed up he was played by a different actor. The plot of License to Kill involves Bond going rogue and seeking vengeance against the South American drug lord who nearly kills Leiter. This becomes much more believable if you have Leiter played by someone who has previously appeared in the role, someone who the audience has an existing connection to. Even though Bond was now played by Dalton, having Hedison return as Leiter really helped sell the idea that these two men were longtime friends, and that Bond would go to hell & back to avenge him.
Hedison also found work in television soap operas. Throughout the 1990s he was a regular on Another World, and in 2004 had a recurring role on the soap opera The Young and the Restless.
Although Hedison seldom received starring roles later in his career, he nevertheless worked regularly through the decades. According to the New York Times, Hedison appeared in more than 100 movie and television roles during his lengthy career.
Among Hedison’s noteworthy television guest roles, he appeared in a January 1964 episode of The Saint. Also guest starring the lovely Suzanne Lloyd, “Luella” has Hedison playing a newly-married friend of Simon Templar’s whose wandering eye & overactive libido gets him ensnared in a blackmail scheme. This was definitely one of the most humorous episodes of The Saint, and Hedison really threw himself into it with an energetic performance. This was Hedison’s first time working with Roger Moore, and the two became good friends.
Another memorable turn for Hedison was “The Queen and the Thief,” an October 1977 episode of the Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter. Hedison portrayed suave international jewel thief Evan Robley. The episode guest starred Juliet Mills and John Colicos. It’s certainly one of the more low-key episodes of Wonder Woman, but Hedison definitely sells it with his portrayal of the smooth, charismatic master criminal.
Interviewed in 1992, Hedison stated:
“I think I do comedy best. I think I’m very good at comedy. I’ve done a few comedy things in stock and whatever, and I’m very good at that. You wouldn’t know that from Another World because I’m so grim and serious, as I was as well in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but I do like comedy. I would love to do a comedy, and I’m sure I will someday.”
Given his fondness for comedy, I’m sure Hedison appreciated his guest roles on The Saint and Wonder Woman, as they enabled him show a much more humorous side than usual.
Hedison also possessed a great love for theater. He appeared in numerous stage productions throughout his career. In the 1990s and early 2000s he was a regular presence in regional theater throughout the New England area.
Hedison was married Bridget Mori. They met in Positano, Italy in 1967, and were married in London a year later. They had two daughters, Alexandra and Serena Hedison. David and Bridget were together until her death from breast cancer in 2016. I’ve always thought that was very romantic & sweet, that they were married for nearly five decades.
I was fortunate enough to meet David Hedison once, at a comic book convention in New York City in September 2009. I got an autographed photo of him as Felix Leiter from License to Kill. He appeared to me to be a very warm, friendly individual. At the time I also thought he looked much younger than 82 years old.
Due to his appearances in so many popular movies & series, Hedison was a frequent interview subject. In October 2007 he penned a humorous foreword to the informative non-fiction book The Fly at Fifty: The Creation and Legacy of a Classic Science Fiction Film by Diane Kachmar & David Goudsward. Hedison always came across as lively and enthusiastic, possessing a wry sense of humor. Even when he was in his 80s he still brought a lot of energy to his interviews & appearances.
David Hedison will certainly be missed by his many fans. He had a good, long life, working in a career he loved. We should all be so fortunate.