Frank Overton was a New York theater actor who enjoyed a limited but productive career in feature films and a much busier one on the small screen. Although he often played thoughtful, compassionate, introspective characters, he could also exude an earthy side, or portray rule-bound authority figures, though one of his most memorable portrayals -- as General Bogan, the head of the Strategic Air Command, in Fail-Safe -- combined two of those sides. Born Frank Emmons Overton in Babylon, NY, in 1918, he gravitated to theater in the 1930s and participated in some experimental stage work -- including designing the sets for A Democratic Body, a production of Geoff and Mary Lamb at The New School in New York City -- at the outset of the 1940s. Overton's earliest screen work came not on camera, but as one of the voice actors (alongside Harry Bellaver and future producer Ilya Lopert) in the dubbing of the 1943 Soviet-made propaganda film Ona Zashchishchayet Rodinu (aka, No Greater Love). His on-camera screen career started in 1947 with an uncredited bit part in Elia Kazan's fact-based drama Boomerang! He appeared in two more feature films, John Sturges' Mystery Street and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's No Way Out (both 1950), but as an East Coast-based actor, he ended up a lot busier on television over the next few years, in between appearing in theater pieces such as the original stage version of The Desperate Hours, replacing James Gregory in the role of the deputy. Overton also worked with Lillian Gish in the original television presentation of Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful in 1953, and in the Broadway production that followed that same year. He also did a great deal of work in anthology drama series, such as The Elgin Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Alcoa Hour, and The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. In the latter, he portrayed Sheriff Pat Garrett to Paul Newman's Billy The Kid in The Death of Billy The Kid, scripted by Gore Vidal and directed by Arthur Penn, which was later remade in Hollywood as The Left-Handed Gun (with John Dehner replacing Overton in the role of Garrett).
By the end of the 1950s, however, more television was being done on film from the West Coast and Overton made the move to California. Most baby-boom viewers will remember him best for his performance in one of the finest installments of The Twilight Zone ever produced, "Walking Distance," as the father of the character portrayed by Gig Young. He returned to feature films around this same time in Desire Under the Elms (1958), The Last Mile (1959), and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960), in between appearances on episodes of Peter Gunn, Riverboat, The Rebel, The Asphalt Jungle, Lawman, Checkmate, Perry Mason, Route 66, The Fugitive, Wagon Train, The Defenders, and others. He also periodically returned to New York to work on series such as Naked City. His biggest movie roles came in the early '60s, in Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) as Sheriff Tate, and Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe (1964) as General Bogan.
In 1964, he also took his first and only regular series costarring role, on the Quinn Martin-produced 12 O'Clock High, portraying Major Harvey Stovall, the adjutant for the 918th Heavy Bombardment Group commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Robert Lansing). It was not an enviable assignment, as Dean Jagger had won the Oscar in the same role in the original 1949 feature film, which was still relatively fresh in people's minds as one of the best World War II aerial dramas; but Overton, with his rich, quietly expressive voice, succeeded in putting his own stamp on the part and got several episodes written around his character. He was also with the series for its entire three seasons, amid several major casting changes and was one of the key points of continuity on the show. When 12 O'Clock High went out of production in late 1966, Overton showed up in episodes of Bonanza and The Virginian in 1967. But his most widely rerun appearance, other than his Twilight Zone episode, was one of his last, as colonist leader Elias Sandoval in the first-season Star Trek episode "This Side of Paradise," which is regarded by many as one of the best shows in the run of the series. Overton died of a heart attack in April 1967, a month after the show first aired. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi