|Los Angeles, CA||April 4, 2023|
The star of MGM’s nine-film Dr. Kildare series that ran from 1938 to 1942, Lew Ayres, is just one of a seemingly-innumerable amount of entertainment figures interred in the 2.5-acre Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Buried close by to him in the western portion of Westwood’s lawn are actors Jim Backus and Richard Dawson. It was long believed that musician and societal critic Frank Zappa was laid to rest immediately to the right of Ayres. That notion was dispelled when a grave marker was placed there for Patricia Pernetti Isaacs, who died in September 2019. Isaacs’s husbands included actor Johnny Lydon and the publicist for Howard Hughes, Johnny Meyer.
In 1938, Ayres acted in Holiday, which was directed by George Cukor and co-starred Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Ayres was the lead in the 1953 science fiction horror flick Donovan’s Brain, in which he acted opposite Nancy Davis, future wife of Ronald Reagan and future first lady of the United States. Ayres’s extensive filmography also includes The Doorway to Hell (1930), State Fair (1933), Fingers at the Window, (1942), The Dark Mirror, (1946), Advise & Consent (1962), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), Battlestar Galactica (1978), and the television miniseries Salem’s Lot (1979). Additionally, he narrated the animated documentary The Way of Peace (1947). In 2014, Librarian of Congress James Billington selected the pacifism project for preservation in the National Film Registry. You can view the 19-minute film here, courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Ayres acted as lead character Paul Bäumer in the 1930 adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, which received the Academy Award for Best Picture. Just as Bäumer grows to resent the horrors of armed conflict, his portrayer abhorred war. Owing to values instilled by his religion and “profound thinking,” Ayres was a conscientious objector during World War II. Explained the 33-year-old actor in early 1942, “It was in early childhood that I was first introduced to the Christian creed of nonresistance to evil. It is a vague and nebulous doctrine to the United States and it has taken years of gradual realization and patience for me to understand the full significance of its world-healing possibilities.” Ayres had willingly applied to serve in the Army Medical Corps, because he felt that his first aid training “could have been of some useful assistance.” After his request was rejected, he applied for admission to a conscientious objectors labor camp near Wyeth, Oregon. Ayres’s acting career suffered for a time; his film Dr. Kildare’s Victory was pulled from a theater in Hackensack, New Jersey, because “public demand was so great” that showhouse manager Richard Carnegie professed he had “no alternative.” Ayres never played Kildare on the big screen again. Following two months in the labor camp, Ayres was finally accepted into the Army Medical Corps. He served for three and a half years and earned three battle stars. His career rebounded somewhat after the war, with an Oscar nomination for 1948’s Johnny Belinda and an Emmy Award nomination for a 1974 appearance on the television show, Kung Fu. His 1976 documentary about religions around the globe, titled Altars of the World, won a Golden Globe Award. His widow, Diana Hall, said receiving the accolade was the proudest moment of Ayres’s life.
Born: December 28, 1908 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Spouses: Lola Lane (m. 1931-1933); Ginger Rogers (m. 1934-1940); Diana Hall (m. 1964-1996)
Military Branch: U.S. Army
Died: December 30, 1996 in Los Angeles, California
Interment: Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California
"I decided I would quit pictures after I went into the army. I thought I might enter the ministry or medicine, some field where I could accomplish something important. Making movies seemed to me very trivial. But when I went overseas, I changed my mind. I realized how important movies are to the lives of so many people. Why, I even became a fan myself. We would sit in a pouring rain in the jungle just to watch the flickers on a screen. I realized if pictures meant so much to people, there must be good in them. Even the pure entertainment films. I would like to appear in pictures that are entertaining but that also provided some kind of uplift to people in their problems. That to me is the real achievement in life."
- Lew Ayres
1946, in conversation with Hollywood reporter Bob Thomas of the Associated Press
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Associated Press. “LEW AYRES, `DR. KILDARE,’ DIES AT 88 PRINCIPLED ACTOR SUFFERED FOR BELIEFS.” Roanoke Times. January 1, 1997. https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/ROA-Times/issues/1997/rt9701/970101/01020039.htm.
Coffin, Leslie L. Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.
Gussow, Mel. “Lew Ayres, Actor, Dies at 88; Conscience Bound His Career.” New York Times. January 1, 1997. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/01/arts/lew-ayres-actor-dies-at-88-conscience-bound-his-career.html.
Hollywood Graveyard. “FAMOUS GRAVE TOUR – Westwood #5 (Kirk Douglas, Tim Conway, etc.).” YouTube video, 21:34. March 7, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kB97nIizH0.
IMDb. “Lew Ayres (1908-1996).” Accessed September 18, 2023. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000817/.
New York Times. “HAPPY TO BE C. O., AYRES EXPLAINS.” April 1, 1942. Page 23. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1942/04/01/85527353.html?pageNumber=23.
Thomas, Bob (Associated Press). “Movie Column.” Daily Times-Gazette. November 5, 1947. Page 8. https://images.ourontario.ca/oshawa/3812733/page/9.
Washington Post. “LEW AYRES DIES.” January 1, 1997. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1997/01/01/lew-ayres-dies/41fbd427-2364-4432-81ca-2909e27f43c5/.