Ray Danton (1931-1992) was a tall, handsome actor who possessed a unique and sinister style that served him well as the title character in the 1960 gangster bio The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, a role he later reprised in Portrait of a Mobster (1961), opposite Vic Morrow’s interpretation of New York beer baron Dutch Schultz. His other memorable lead role was as another figure associated with the crime and gaudy glamor of the Roaring 20s: George Raft, whom he played in the aptly titled biopic The George Raft Story. Ray Danton seemed particularly suited to the era, both in appearance and attitude.
These two movies proved the height of Danton’s career, though he continued to act in many more movies and also possessed an impressive television resume. His dark, menacing presence and deep baritone voice seemed to assure that Ray Danton would be cast mainly in smooth villainous roles, often with that additional air of arrogance at which he excelled. One of his most despicable roles saw Danton not as a gangster or criminal but as Diana Barrymore’s cruel and opportunistic tennis player husband in Too Much, Too Soon (1958). A memorable scene still guaranteed to elicit a gasp is when his character sadistically hits a tennis ball into his wife’s face.
With most of Danton’s movie work now showcasing him as a supporting player, he expatriated to Europe where he starred in a series of secret agent films inspired by James Bond. By the early 1970s he turned his focus to writing and producing, along with directing low-budget drive-in fare such as Deathmaster (1972) and Psychic Killer (1975) before concentrating solely on television, helming episodes of such successful series as Quincy, M.E., Magnum, P.I. and Cagney & Lacey.
While Ray Danton never achieved his full screen potential, it is hard not to be impressed by his on-screen confidence and in-your-face attitude that were leading characteristics of many of his screen portrayals.
Ray Danton: The Epitome of Cool by Joseph Fusco provides an in-depth examination into an actor whose impressive resume was created in the shadows of fame and recognition. The book analyzes an original acting style that remains contemporary and fits in comfortably with our aggressive times. It’s a welcome re-visit to the years of the Late Show.