Ford Rainey, Steady Presence on Stage, Film and TV, Is Dead at 96

Obituaries   Ford Rainey, Steady Presence on Stage, Film and TV, Is Dead at 96 Ford Rainey, the actor whose craggy, commanding looks led him to play judges, outdoorsmen and presidents over a six-decade-plus career, died July 25 at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica from complications brought on by a series of strokes, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was 96.

Born Aug. 8, 1908, in Mountain Home, Idaho, he grew up in the Pacific Northeast. As a young man, he took the sort of jobs associated with that then-rustic area, including stints as a logger, fisherman, carpenter, clam digger and oil tanker roustabout.

Moving east to pursue his acting career, he joined the Michael Chekhov Theatre Studio in Connecticut and, in 1939, made his Broadway debut with a small role in the Chekhov production of The Possessed. His next visit to Broadway with the Chekhov troupe brought him a far larger part: Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night.

His biggest Broadway assignments came in the late 50's. He understudied Frederic March as James Tyrone in the original 1956 Broadway production of O'Neill's masterwork Long Day's Journey Into Night. Two years later, he acted in the premiere of Archibald MacLeish's J.B., later succeeding Pat Hingle in the title role.

Mr. Rainey's exhaustive and unbroken television career began in 1952 with an appearance on something called "Cowboy G-Men" and concluded with a series of guest appearances on the sitcom "The King of Queens." In between, he acted on such famous programs as "U.S. Steel Hour," "Kraft Television Theater," "Bonanza," "Rawhide," "The Waltons," "Mannix," "Perry Mason," "Daniel Boone," "The Outer Limits," "The Fugitive," "Get Smart," "Gunsmoke," "The Rockford Files," "M*A*S*H" and "Wiseguy." He often portrayed Abraham Lincoln and played fictional Commanders-in-Chief as well, including "The President" in the pilot episode for "Lost in Space," and “President McNeil” on "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

He was a regular on "The Richard Boone Show" and "Window on Main Street." His film credits included "White Heat," "The Parallax View" and "The Sand Pebbles."

Despite his success on the small and large screens, Ford Rainey never lost touch with the theatre. Following service in World War II, he helped found The Ojai Valley Players in California. The odd collective cultivated an active farm during the day, and presented plays at night. He acted in The Crucible at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1972 and Buried Child at Trinity Repertory Theatre in 1979. At the age of 90, he returned to The Crucible at Theatricum Botanicum, the Topanga, California theatre founded by his friend, Will Geer.

In what spare time that was left to him after his numerous acting jobs, Ford Rainey took up innumerable hobbies and interests. According to the L.A. Times, he dabbled in guitar, piano, building solar heaters, tending beehives, horseriding, fencing and breeding budgerigars, a species of bird similar to the parakeet. He won a series of trophies and ribbons entering the birds in contests throughout southern California.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Sheila Hayden Rainey.

A public memorial is being planned.

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