Lew Ayres, born Lewis Frederick Ayres III was an American actor, probably best known for his role as Dr. Kildare in several movies, which was apt since originally he had studied medicine at the University of Arizona.
Ayres was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and reared in San Diego, California, Ayres began acting in bit player roles in films in 1927. He was discovered in 1927 playing banjo in the Henry Halstead Orchestra as Halstead was recording one of the earliest Vitaphone movie shorts called Carnival Night in Paris. Ayres wrote, “I was a member of Henry Halstead’s orchestra in 1927 at the Mission Beach Ballroom in San Diego, California for the summer. My instruments were tenor banjo, long-neck banjo and guitar. After a hiatus, I rejoined Mr. Halstead with a new group, including Phil Harris, on New Year’s Eve the same year for the opening night of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a memorable occasion.”
Ayres played opposite Greta Garbo in 1929’s The Kiss, but it was his starring role in 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front which made him a star. Ayres was Janet Gaynor’s leading man in Servants’ Entrance, which featured a combination of live action and Walt Disney animation in a musical dream sequence. He played the title role in Young Dr. Kildare in 1938 and became a matinee idol, starring in several Kildare films. During this time, Ayres also co-starred with Joan Crawford and James Stewart in The Ice Follies of 1939.
Mirroring his anti-war and medical roles in his film work, Ayres was a pacifist who sought to become a member of the Medical Corps during World War II. The United States armed forces, however, would not guarantee him that position, so he declared himself a conscientious objector, and reported to a CPS camp. But having such a well-known public figure take this stance was poor publicity for the United States armed forces. It led to revisions of the rules, at which point Ayres was then able to join the Medical Corps. He so served with distinction in the Pacific theater and in New Guinea.