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Subject: Archive: Tom Ewell, Sept. 12, 1994


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Date Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 12:33:03pm

Tom Ewell, the wry-faced actor best known for co-starring with Marilyn Monroe in the hit 1955 film "The Seven Year Itch," died today at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 85.

He had suffered a long series of illnesses, said his wife, Marjorie.

Mr. Ewell was an established character comedian in the theater when he was selected in 1952 for "The Seven Year Itch," George Axelrod's play about an urban husband who fantasizes about an affair with a beautiful young woman upstairs while his wife is on vacation.

With his homely face and cracked voice, Mr. Ewell admitted he was not easy to cast in leading roles. He was surprised when he was chosen over Gary Cooper, William Holden and other candidates for the prize role opposite Miss Monroe, then the country's most popular sex symbol.

"I never expected to get the part," said Mr. Ewell, who had played the role 730 times on Broadway and won a Tony Award for it. "In fact, I had already taken a house on Martha's Vineyard for a vacation. Needless to say, I'm happy they did choose me."

28 Flops in 14 Years

Mr. Ewell, originally named Yewell Tompkins, was born in Owensboro, Ky., into a family of lawyers and whisky and tobacco dealers. He was expected to study law and attended the University of Wisconsin. But after four years he joined a stock company in Madison, Wis., along with another young actor, Don Ameche.


Mr. Ewell moved to New York at the depth of the Depression and washed dishes while hunting for stage parts. He found them, appearing in 28 flops in 14 years. He made his film debut with a small role in "They Knew What They Wanted" (1940). He entered the Navy as a seaman in 1942 and served four years, emerging as a lieutenant, senior grade.

His luck in the theater improved after the war. He appeared in the hit "Apple of His Eye" in 1946 and then was cast in the lead of Norman Krasna's comedy "John Loves Mary," produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein 2d. The play lasted more than 400 performances and won awards for Mr. Ewell.

In 1949 Katharine Hepburn and the director George Cukor chose him for the role of Judy Holliday's husband in the film "Adam's Rib." The hit comedy cast Miss Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as husband-and-wife lawyers opposing each other in a trial for attempted murder.

Mr. Ewell followed with a Lana Turner melodrama, "A Life of Her Own," and a war movie, "An American Guerrilla in the Philippines," as well as "Mr. Music," "Up Front," "Finder's Keepers" and "Lost in Alaska." Then came "The Seven Year Itch."

His other films included "The Girl Can't Help It" with Jayne Mansfield, "Tender Is the Night," "State Fair," "Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?," "The Great Gatsby," "The Last Tycoon" and "Easy Money." A New

Career in Television

In 1960 and 1961 he starred in "The Tom Ewell Show," a CBS sitcom in which he played a real estate agent whose life was dominated by his wife, mother-in-law and three daughters. In later years, he made occasional appearances in films and television series.

In the 1970's ABC police drama "Baretta" he played Billy Truman, a pal of the detective played by Robert Blake. In the early 80's he was the drunken Doc Kullens in the ABC sitcom "Best of the West."

In 1946, Mr. Ewell married Ann Abbott, daughter of the veteran Broadway director George Abbott; the marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Marjorie, and a son, Taylor.

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Scene from "The Seven Year Itch"Guess which oneWednesday, September 12, 12:35:27pm


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