Dane Clark was born Bernard Zanville in Brooklyn on Feb. 18, 1915, the son of a sporting goods store owner. He attended New Utrecht High School before attending Cornell University, where he received a B.A. degree. Then he went on to earn a law degree from St. John’s.
While growing up, his major interest was baseball, and he was good enough at the game to make the minor league. Due to the Depression, work was difficult to find and when a job with a law office failed to materialize, he became disgusted and decided to take any type of job that was offered to him. He worked on a road gang, he boxed, and he even did some modeling before turning to the theater.
A job writing for radio led to some anonymous radio acting, which in turn led him to Orson Welles’ flowering Mercury Theatre, where he made his Broadway debut in the company’s production of Panic in 1935. That same year he followed this up with a small role in Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End, and understudied and played bit parts in touring companies of Dead End, Of Mice and Men, Waiting for Lefty, Stage Door, Sailor Beware and Golden Boy. Lefty and Golden Boy were produced by the renowned Group Theatre of which John Garfield was also a member. The Golden Boy tour in 1938 starred Phillips Holmes, Jean Muir and Richard Conte.
Clark drifted to Hollywood in the early 1940s to do some short films for the Army. While there he was able to get some bit parts in 1942 in such films as Pride of the Yankees, Wake Island, and Tennessee Johnson. Warners then cast him as Johnnie Pulaski, a member of the Merchant Marine, in Action in the North Atlantic (‘43) starring his idol, Humphrey Bogart.
Said Clark: “The original idea was to sign me for just the one picture and then drop me. But as the rushes started coming through, Bogart got interested and began throwing more and more plums at me. As a result, before the picture was released, the presumption was that I would remain at Warners.”
Before Action in the North Atlantic he was using his real name so the studio decided a new name tag was in order. “The idea of changing my name was shocking,” Clark admitted, “but it was the code of Hollywood at the time.” He anxiously hoped nobody would come up with a name like Gig Young for him, even though it seemed the entire studio made a game of it. Bogart came up with the selection “Zane Clark” but the nickname of Zany did not appeal to serious-minded Bernard Zanville. Eventually the moniker was modified to Dane Clark.
With his new name Clark went on to appear in Destination Tokyo (‘43), The Very Thought of You (‘44) God Is My Co-Pilot (‘45) and many others. His most memorable screen performance came early in his career, as John Garfield’s war buddy in Pride of the Marines (‘45). Next most memorable was on a loan-out to Republic for a backwoods drama, Moonrise (‘48).
He returned to the stage in 1951. He was jolted by a terrific shock while on stage in the Los Angeles production of The Shrike (‘55) when his leading lady, Isabel Bonner (also the playwright’s wife), had a heart attack onstage and died in his arms.
He replaced Jason Robards on Broadway in A Thousand Clowns (‘65), delivering a more honest performance than his predecessor.
Clark was a natural for television and found steady employment in that medium. He was Lt. Tragg in “The New Perry Mason” and the “Police Story” series.
His only adverse publicity was when his name was found in prostitute Pat Ward’s little black book during the scandalous Mickey Jelke vice trial in the 1950s. In later years he devoted time to directing and producing.
Dane Clark died on Sept. 11, 1998 in California.
This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)