Family & Companions
Former telephone lineman who made his film debut in John Cromwell's sentimental wartime tribute to the American home front, "Since You Went Away" (1944), while still in uniform with the Navy. Nicely built and slightly tough-looking but nonetheless boyishly handsome, the wavy-haired Madison briefly became an idol of bobbysoxers much as Van Johnson and Frank Sinatra were. RKO Studios clearly tried to build him up as a star in 1946 and 1947, first by casting him in a leading role alongside Dorothy McGuire and Robert Mitchum in a modest but appealingly low-key reprise of "The Best Years of Our Lives" entitled "Till the End of Time" (1946). Although the story of several returning servicemen proved popular and Madison displayed warmth and sincerity, his somewhat limited acting ability and experience showed in comparison to his more able co-stars. "Honeymoon" (1947), meanwhile, a tepid romance top-billing the teenaged Shirley Temple, bombed at the box office.
Madison made several other films, but his fortunes really turned around when he played the title role in the syndicated TV Western, "Wild Bill Hickok" (1951-56). His rugged build, subdued acting style and stalwart, All-American good looks served him well, and Madison also found his career in features revived. Although most of his films were modestly budgeted, routine oaters and action films, some of these programmers were pretty good. Among Madison's better or more ambitious films during this period were the 3-D Western "The Charge at Feather River" (1953), the Anthony Mann saga "The Last Frontier" (1955) and Phil Karlson's strikingly noir-ish crime drama "Five Against the House" (1955). Attempts to step outside actioners, like the dull soap opera "Hilda Crane" (1956), weren't successful, but Madison kept busy in this vein until 1960.
With the market for programmers and small Westerns fading as TV made more and more Western series, Madison worked almost exclusively in Europe for the next decade. He was primarily seen in Italian productions or international co-productions, most of them minor "spaghetti" Westerns or costume adventures including "Rosmunda e Alboino/Sword of the Conqueror" (1961), "I Cinque della Vendetta/Five Giants from Texas" (1966) and "This Man Can't Die" (1970). Some years after this string of pictures petered out, Madison played a couple of prominent supporting roles in the minor American films "Where's Willie?" (1978) and "Stickfighter" (1989), he also acted in the TV-movie remake, "Red River" (1988). He succumbed to complications from emphysema in February 1996.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Enlisted in the Navy; served during WWII
Made feature film debut while still in uniform in a supporting role in "Since You Went Away"
First leading role in a feature, "Till the End of Time", opposite Dorothy McGuire and Robert Mitchum
First feature Western, "Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven"; was also first film in which he received top billing
Starred in the title role of the syndicated Western TV series, "Wild Bill Hickok"
Began making films, mostly Westerns and other action fare, exclusively in Europe, primarily Italy, for over a decade
Last US feature for a number of years, "Jet Over the Atlantic"
One of latest Italian credits, "This Man Can't Die"
Played a large supporting role in the US feature film, "Where's Willie?"
Appeared in the ABC variety compilation special, "When the West Was Fun: A Western Reunion", a salute to Western series during the early years of television
Played a supporting role in the CBS TV-movie, "Red River", a remake of the classic 1948 Howard Hawks Western feature
Played a supporting role in the action feature, "Stickfighter"