Emmett Evan “Van” Heflin, Jr. was an American film and theatre actor. He played mostly character parts over the course of his film career, but during the 1940s had a string of roles as a leading man. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Johnny Eager. Heflin was born in Walters, Oklahoma, the son of Fannie B. and Dr. Emmett E. Heflin, a dentist. He was of Irish and French ancestry. Heflin’s sister was Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Frances Heflin. Heflin attended the University of Oklahoma, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
Heflin began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1930s before being signed to a contract by RKO Radio Pictures. He made his film debut in A Woman Rebels, opposite Katharine Hepburn. He was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was initially cast in supporting roles in films such as Santa Fe Trail, and Johnny Eager, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the latter performance.
MGM began to groom him as a leading man in B movies, and provided him with supporting roles in more prestigious productions. Heflin continued to hone his acting skills throughout the early 1940s. He provided a compelling characterization of the embattled President Andrew Johnson in Tennessee Johnson, playing opposite Lionel Barrymore who, in the role of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, failed to have Johnson convicted in an impeachment trial by the slimmest of margins. According to the IMDB, Heflin served during World War II as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe and with the First Motion Picture Unit.