Donald John DeForest was born August 25, 1913 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
After graduating from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, he attended Iowa University.
Don showed great promise in sports, but also showed an interest in drama.
Soon, he joined the Cedar Rapids Community Players.
Since acting was not a major study at Iowa University, Don left Iowa and enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he won a scholarship and stayed for three years.
During this time Don and four fellow students wrote a play called “Where Do We Go From Here”.
It was presented in a little theater in Hollywood with Don joining the cast.
Oscar Hammerstein II offered to take their play to Broadway and Don and five of the original cast members went along.
The show ran for four weeks and Don was soon recognized as a member of legitimate theater.
He toured the country for several years with stock theatre companies before making his Broadway debut in 1938.
By 1940, Don had landed a role on the hit Broadway play “The Male Animal” as Wally Myers.
This key role ran for almost a year on Broadway and eight months on the road.
In 1941, he landed his first billing in the film “We Go Fast.”
For some unknown reason, he then changed his legal given name of DeForest to DeFore.
In 1942, Don married Marion Holmes (born Marion Holm).
Marion was a singer with the Henry Busse Orchestra from 1935 to 1939, and later with Art Kassel and his “Castles in the Air” from 1939 until their marriage. The couple met when Don was in Chicago making a film and attended one of her performances.
They fell in love, and Marion decided to retire from singing and move to California with Don.
Judy Garland was the maid of honor at the DeFore wedding on February 14, 1942.
The couple went on to raise five children.
Then also in 1942, Don’s breakthrough role came when Warner Brothers decided to make the film “The Male Animal” based on the hit Broadway play with Henry Fonda in the lead role.
As a member of the original cast, Don was awarded the repeat role as Wally Myers in the movie version.
Don continued with multiple film appearances during the 1940’s usually playing the good natured friend of the lead character, such as when he played opposite Van Johnson in the 1944 World War II film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”
In 1946, Don was voted the fourth-most promising “star of tomorrow”.
By 1949, Don landed a role in the romantic comedy “My Friend Irma,” the film debut of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
While in New York filming “My Friend Irma,” Photoplay Magazine sent Don, actor Lon McCallister and a then-unknown Marilyn Monroe on a train trip to Warrensburg, New York to present Photoplay’s “Dream Home” contest winner with the key to her new home.
Surviving photos dated June 1, 1949 show Don DeFore playing cards with Marilyn Monroe on the train trip, and also in front of the home during the event. When Photoplay recruited the group for this, Marilyn Monroe had been in New York to promote her new film Love Happy.
In the 1950’s, he achieved his greatest fame when he began acting on television.
From 1952 to 1961, Don played Thorny Thornberry, the Nelson’s good natured neighbor in “The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet.”
On May 6, 1953, Don DeFore was honored on the television series, This Is Your Life, a show that surprised the honoree on nationwide live television with accolades from coworkers, friends, and family. He was led by Ozzie Nelson to believe that preparations were underway for a live promotional spot for The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on Hollywood Boulevard when suddenly he was surprised to hear Ralph Edwards exclaim: “Don DeFore – This is your life!” Don admirably managed to retain his composure while moving to the El Capitan Theatre, from which came the remainder of the broadcast, which included friends and family members from his native Cedar Rapids.
Don then went on to guest star on many shows TV shows including, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, My Three Sons, Mannix, The Mod Squad, Vega$, Murder She Wrote and St. Elsewhere.
Today, Don is less known for his roles on radio. He appeared on such radio programs as Old Gold Comedy Theater and Lux Radio Theater.
From 1954-55, Don also served as President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
He was instrumental in arranging for the Emmy Awards to be broadcast on national television for the first time on March 7, 1955.
Also in 1955, Don DeFore received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series for his work on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
In 1956, Don DeFore was cast as the Reverend C. E. “Stoney” Jackson in the episode entitled “The Comeback” of the religion anthology series, Crossroads. In the story line, the Reverend Jackson provides spiritual insight to assist Lou Brissie, a former professional baseball player wounded during World War II, to regain his strength so that he can return to the game. Brissie is played by Chuck Connors, himself a former professional baseball player, later cast as Lucas McCain on ABC’s The Rifleman.
From 1957 to 1962, Don along with his younger brother Verne, operated Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo Barbecue in Frontierland of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. The DeFores were the only sole proprietors ever permitted by Walt Disney and Disneyland to operate an independent business and restaurant inside the theme park.
Apparently, Don had once generously helped the beloved Walt Disney out of a jam.
During the annual Disneyland Christmas parade, Disney’s grandchildren were supposed to ride with him in a horse drawn carriage.
Parade time was approaching and the grandchildren had not yet shown up, so he called Don DeFore in a panic and asked if he could borrow two of his children, because he couldn’t ride in the parade without kids in his carriage.
So Don generously offered up two of his children, Dawn DeFore and Ronnie DeFore to ride in the carriage with Walt Disney in the parade and they dutifully waved to the crowd.
This became one of Dawn and Ronnie’s fondest childhood memories, and they treasure the pictures of the occasion.
Don made his last film appearance in the 1960 film “The Facts of Life.”
However, Don DeFore became best known on television as George Baxter (Mr. B), the employer of the spirited, domineering housekeeper Hazel Burke played by Shirley Booth in the 1961 sitcom “Hazel.”
The series ran on NBC’s prime time lineup until 1965.
In June of 1976, Don went to Des Moines, Iowa to campaign for his longtime friend Ronald Reagan at the Republican State Convention in his bid for President of the United States. Don had appeared in at least two films with Ronald Reagan, Brother Rat (1938) and She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952), a remake of “The Male Animal” .
Don DeFore died on December 22, 1993 at the age of eighty.
He is interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Don DeFore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6804 Hollywood Blvd.
Now WE know em