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Forrest Tucker, the actor known to the Baby Boom generation as Sergeant O'Rourke on the classic TV sitcom "F Troop" (1965), was was born on February 12, 1919 in Plainfield, Indiana. He began his performing career at age 14 at the 1933 Chicago "Century of Progress" World's Fair, pushing big wicker tourist's chairs by day and singing at night. His family moved to Arlington, Virginia, where he attended Washington-Lee High School in 1938. Big for his age, as a youth Tucker was hired by the Old Gayety Burlesque Theater in Washington, D.C. to serve as a Master of Ceremonies for the Burly-cue after consecutively winning the Saturday night amateur contests. He was fired when it was found out that he was underage. He was rehired when he turned 18.
After graduating from high school in 1938, the 6' 5", 200 lb. Tucker played semi-pro football in the Washington, D.C. area. He also enlisted with the National Guard and was assigned to a cavalry unit in Ft. Myers, Virginia. He started at the top when he entered the movies, in a supporting role in William Wyler's The Westerner (1940) in support of Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan, who won his third Oscar for portraying Judge Roy Bean in the picture. He got the role during his 1939 vacation from the Old Gayety, which shut down due to the District of Columbia's horrible summers in the days before air conditioning was common.
Traveling to California, he auditioned for movies, and was signed to the part in the Wyler picture, which required a big fellow with enough presence for a fight scene with the 6' 3" superstar Cooper. After The Westerner, it was off to Poverty Row, where he appeared in William Beaudine's Emergency Landing (1941) at PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.). He was soon signed by Columbia and assigned to the B-pictures unit, though he was lent to M.G.M. for the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie Keeper of the Flame (1942), his last film before going off to World War II.
Tucker served as an enlisted man in the Army during World War II, being discharged as a second lieutenant in 1945. He returned to Columbia and resumed his acting career with an appearance in the classic film The Yearling (1946). He signed with Republic Pictures in 1948, which brought him one of his greatest roles, that of the Marine corporal bearing a grudge against gung-ho N.C.O. John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). At Republic, Tucker was top-billed in B-movies in the action genre the studio was known for, such films as Rock Island Trail (1950), California Passage (1950), and The Abominable Snowman (1957). In 1958, he broke out his action/Western/horror mode and played Beauregard Burnside to Rosalind Russell's Auntie Mame (1958), the highest grossing US film of the year. The film showed Tucker was capable of performing in light comedy.
Morton Da Costa, his director on Auntie Mame, cast Forrest Tucker as "Professor" Harold Hill in the national touring production of The Music Man, and he was a more than credible substitute for the great Broadway star Robert Preston, who originated the role. Tucker made 2008 appearances in The Music Man over the next five years, then starred in Fair Game on Broadway in 1964.
But it was television which provided Tucker with his most famous role, the scheming U.S. Cavalry Sergeant. Morgan O'Rourke in F Troop, which ran from 1965 to 1967 on ABC. Ably supported by Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Frank Dekova and James Hampton, Tucker's flare for comedy was well-showcased, The series was canceled after only two seasons,but Tucker became an icon to the Baby Boom generation and its children as F Troop has remained in syndication ever since.
Following the cancellation of F Troop, Tucker returned to films in supporting parts (and occasional character leads (1975's The Wild McCullochs). On television, Tucker was a regular on three series: Dusty's Trail (1973) with Bob Denver; "The Ghost Busters" (1975-76) which reunited him with Larry Storch; and The Filthy Rich (1982-83). Tucker was also a frequent guest star on TV, appearing multiple times on Gunsmoke and in the recurring role of Jarvis Castleberry, Flo's estranged father on the 1976-1985 TV series, Alice and its spin-off, Flo. He continued to be active on stage as well, starring in the national productions of Plaza Suite, Show Boat, and That Championship Season. He also toured with Roy Radin's Comedy Revue, a neo-vaudeville show, in which as a headliner, he told Irish stories and jokes and sang Irish songs.
Tucker returned to the big screen after an absence of several years in 1986, playing the hero, trucker Charlie Morrison, in the action film Thunder Run (1986). His feature film comeback to features was short-lived, as he died on October 25, 1986 in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, California, of complications of from lung cancer and emphysema. He was 67 years old. Forrest Tucker's remains were buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.