Rory Calhoun was an American television and film actor, screenwriter, and producer best known for his roles in Westerns.
Born Francis Timothy McCown in Los Angeles, California, Calhoun was raised in Santa Cruz, California, the son of a professional gambler. He was of Irish and Spanish descent. When he was nine months old, his father died. After his mother remarried, he occasionally used the last name of his stepfather, Durgin. At the age of thirteen, his theft of a revolver landed him in the California Youth Authority’s Preston School of Industry reformatory at Ione, California. He escaped while in the adjustment center, and never told how he managed it. After robbing several jewelry stores, he stole a car and drove it across state lines. This offense sent him to the federal penitentiary in Springfield, Missouri, for three years. When he finished his sentence, he was incarcerated in San Quentin on other charges and remained there until he was paroled just before his twenty-first birthday.
After his release from San Quentin, Calhoun worked several odd jobs. In 1943, while horseback riding in the Hollywood Hills, he met actor Alan Ladd, whose wife was an agent. Sue Carol Ladd landed him a one-line role in the Laurel and Hardy comedy The Bullfighters under the name Frank McCown. Shortly after, the Ladds hosted a party to which Sue invited David O. Selznick employee Henry Willson, an agent known for his stable of young, attractive, marginally talented actors with unusual names. Willson signed him to a contract and initially christened him Troy Donahue, then changed his name to Rory Calhoun. As he did with all his protégés, Willson carefully groomed him and taught him basic social manners.
Calhoun’s first public appearance in the film capital was as Lana Turner’s escort to the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, a Selznick production. The glamorous blonde and her swarthy date drew the attention of the paparazzi, and photos of the couple appeared in several newspapers and fan magazines. Selznick loaned his now in-demand contract player to other studios, where Calhoun appeared in Adventure Island with Rhonda Fleming, The Red House with Edward G. Robinson, and That Hagen Girl with Shirley Temple.