Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objectorby Lesley L. Coffin
Lew Ayres (1908–1996) became known to the public when he portrayed the leading character in the epic war film All Quiet on the Western Front. The role made him a household name, introduced him to his closest friends, brought him to the attention of his first two wives, and would overshadow the rest of his career. To be a movie star was his first and/i>
Lew Ayres (1908–1996) became known to the public when he portrayed the leading character in the epic war film All Quiet on the Western Front. The role made him a household name, introduced him to his closest friends, brought him to the attention of his first two wives, and would overshadow the rest of his career. To be a movie star was his first and only ambition as a child, but once he found success, he was never fully satisfied in his choice of profession. Although lacking a formal education, Ayres spent the rest of his life pursuing dozens of intellectual studies, interests, and hobbies. He even considered ended his acting career after just a few years to pursue a more “respectable and fulfilling” path as a director.
Ayres was given not one but two comeback opportunities in his acting career, in 1938 and 1945. He was cast in the film series Dr. Kildare where he showed his abilities in comedy and his unique strength at bringing a level of sincerity to even the most outlandish or idealist character. But he was willing to give up his star status in order to follow his moral compass, first as a conscientious objector and ultimately as a noncombat medic during World War II. To everyone’s surprise, he was welcomed back to Hollywood with open arms and new opportunities despite his objector status.
Biographer Lesley L. Coffin presents the story of a man of quiet dignity, constantly searching for the right way to live his life and torn between the public world of Hollywood and secluded life of spiritual introspection.
Meet the Author
Lesley L. Coffin is an independent scholar and M.A. candidate in biographical studies at New York University.
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This well-researched book should generate a reappraisal of Lew Ayres (1908-1996), one of American films’ most enduring and interesting figures on screen and off. With unprecedented access to private papers, oral histories, and interviews with those who knew the actor, the author, Lesley Coffin creates a balanced portrait of a complex man, whose yearning to be at the center of the spotlight in movies in the studio era seems to contradict his inner search for peace throughout his life. From his surprising beginnings as a member of a traveling band to his experiences as an actor with varying successes and failures, and his memorable, principled decision to be a non-combatant in WWII, the arc of this deeply curious man's life is conveyed in this book. Beginning work at the end of the silent era into the dawn of the internet age, Ayres' played a vast range of characters. From Paul, the doomed German youth destroyed by war in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT to the highly influential DR. KILDARE movies to his Oscar-nominated role in JOHNNY BELINDA and his years of work on television, the author captures the kaleidoscopic journey of Lew Ayres as an unusually sensitive actor, writer, director, producer, lifelong student and human being.