Saturday, 14 May 2016

A Tribute to Paul Birch

Paul Birch

(January 13, 1912 – May 24, 1969)

Paul Birch, American stage, film, and television actor, was a veteran of 39 films, 50 stage dramas, and numerous television series.

Early years

Born Paul Lowery Smith in Atmore, Alabama, Paul Birch attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

He entered motion pictures via small roles in several westerns in the late 1940s and early 50s.

Acting Career

Paul Birch appeared in various television series including;

  • Science Fiction Theatre (1955 – 1956) episodes: “Conversation with an Ape” (1955), “Survival in Box Canyon” (1956), “The Strange People at Pecos” (1955).

  • The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, (1956) as President Grant, to whom he bore a striking resemblance. 

  • Cannonball (1958), a half-hour drama/adventure show about truckers. 

  • The Court of Last Resort, NBC (1957-1958).
  • Riverboat, (1959) as Sergeant Major Carmody commanding the vessel, the Enterprise, delivering military cargo to an Army outpost on the Missouri River, in the episode "The Face of Courage." 
  • The Fugitive as Captain Carpenter. 

On the stage, Birch appeared in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954-1955). He also portrayed (yet again!) both Union Army General, Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General, Robert E. Lee in several historical plays.

Paul Birch’s film career included;
  • Rebel Without a Cause (1955) as the megaphone wielding police captain. 

  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). 

  • Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1967).
In terms of science fiction films of the 1950’s, Paul Birch appeared and starred in some memorable cult classics such as; 

  • Day the World Ended (1955) as Jim Maddison who together with his daughter and a small group try to survive a nuclear holocaust in a tiny isolated region immune from the effects of radiation.

  • Not of This Earth (1957) as Paul Johnson, part of an alien plan to avoid extinction by harvesting humans for their blood. At this point in his career, Paul Birch is reported to have broken off his association with Roger Corman apparently following a physical confrontation with Corman during the filming of this movie which had to be completed with the use of a double.
  • Queen of Outer Space (1958), as Prof. Konrad

Paul Birch started out as the first of the original members of the Pasadena Playhouse. He then passed on his knowledge and skills while acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, in his capacity as full-time instructor and director working with students in the Playhouse College of Theatre Arts.

In the mid-1950s, Birch appeared in magazine and TV ads as the first widely publicized "Cowboy" Marlboro Man.

Personal life

Paul Birch was married twice and was survived by his second wife, Betsy Ross Smith and their three children, Don, Jennifer, and Michael. From his first marriage to Margaret Farish, he had a daughter, Cindy.


Paul Birch died of cancer May 24, 1969, at St. George's, Grenada and he is buried in a cemetery outside St. George's.


Paul birch was a solid-looking and stocky individual with distinguishable features. He was a solid character actor who played bit parts and was often found to be lurking somewhere in the background. When he did have more prominent and starring roles, he approached them with seriousness and thought no matter how little those roles or the scripts had to offer. The characters he portrayed came across as being dependable, deserving of our sympathy and who could readily make the ridiculous sound quite plausible.

Paul Birch at work in Not of this Earth 1957

©Chris christopoulos 2016

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