Tom Ewell

Tom Ewell

Ewell in 1958
Born Samuel Yewell Tompkins
(1909-04-29)April 29, 1909
Owensboro, Kentucky, U.S.
Died September 12, 1994(1994-09-12) (aged 85)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1928–1986
Spouse(s) Judith Abbott (m. 1946; div. 1947)
Marjorie Sanborn (m. 1948–94)
Children 1

Tom Ewell (April 29, 1909 – September 12, 1994) was an American actor.[1] His most successful and arguably most identifiable role is of Richard Sherman in The Seven Year Itch, a role that he originated in the Broadway stage production (1952–1954) and reprised in the 1955 Hollywood film adaptation. He received a Tony Award for the play and a Golden Globe Award for the film.

Ewell appeared in several other light comedies of the 1950s, most notably The Girl Can't Help It (1956), though he preferred the world of stage performance.

Early life and career

Ewell was born Samuel Yewell Tompkins in Owensboro, Kentucky, the son of Martine (Yewell) and Samuel William Tompkins.[2] His family expected him to follow in their footsteps as lawyers or whiskey and tobacco dealers, but Ewell decided to pursue acting, instead. Ewell began acting in summer stock in 1928 with Don Ameche before moving to New York City in 1931. He enrolled in the Actors Studio alongside classmates Montgomery Clift and Karl Malden. He made his Broadway debut in 1934 and his film debut in 1940, and for several years, he played comic supporting roles. His acting career was interrupted during World War II when he served in the United States Navy.[3][4]

After World War II, Ewell attracted attention with a strong performance in the film Adam's Rib (1949), and he began to receive Hollywood roles more frequently. Ewell continued acting in summer stock through the 1940s: He starred opposite June Lockhart in Lawrence Riley's biographical play Kin Hubbard in 1951, the story of one of America's greatest humorists and cartoonists. With this play, Ewell also made his debut as a producer. In 1947, he won a Clarence Derwent Award for his portrayal of Fred Taylor in the original Broadway cast of John Loves Mary.

With Paulette Girard in the Broadway play, The Seven Year Itch (1952)

His most successful and, arguably, most identifiable role came in 1952, when he joined the Broadway production of The Seven Year Itch as protagonist Richard Sherman. With Vanessa Brown as "The Girl", Ewell played the part more than 900 times over three years, as he indicated in a mystery guest appearance on What's My Line? to promote the 1955 film adaptation; the film had Brown replaced by Marilyn Monroe. The scene of Ewell slyly admiring Monroe as she stood over a subway grate with her skirt billowing has become one of the most iconic moments in film. He earned both the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for portraying Sherman.

He enjoyed other film successes, including The Lieutenant Wore Skirts with Sheree North and The Girl Can't Help It (both 1956) opposite Jayne Mansfield. In The Girl Can't Help It, sultry Julie London appears as a mirage to Tom Miller (Ewell) singing her signature song, "Cry Me A River". Ewell played Abel Frake in the 1962 version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair. He co-starred in the U.S. premiere of Waiting for Godot with Bert Lahr in 1956 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida. However, as his film and theater careers seemed to have reached their peaks, he turned his attention to television. Over several years, he played guest roles in numerous series, and received an Emmy Award nomination for his continuing role in the television series Baretta, with Ewell commenting that working on that series had given him greater pleasure than on any project he had ever worked. In 1982, he co-starred as the drunken town doctor in the short lived comedy Best of the West. His final acting performance was in a 1986 episode of Murder, She Wrote.


From September 1960 to May 1961, Ewell starred in his own television series, in the self-titled The Tom Ewell Show, which lasted for one season. In the mid-1970s, Ewell enjoyed popular success with a recurring role as retired veteran policeman Billy Truman in the 1970s Emmy-winning TV series Baretta. Ewell appeared in 36 episodes of the TV-cop series, which starred Robert Blake as Detective Tony Baretta, until its end in 1978. In 1979, he was a guest star on the TV series Taxi. Ewell also co-starred from 1981–1982 in the short-lived TV series Best of the West.

Personal life

In Adam's Rib (1949)

On March 18, 1946, he married Ann Abbott, daughter of Broadway director George Abbott; the short-lived marriage ended in divorce a year later. Ewell then married Marjorie Sanborn on May 5, 1948, producing a son, Taylor.


On September 12, 1994, Tom Ewell died of undisclosed causes, aged 85, at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. His widow said that Ewell had suffered a long series of illnesses. Ewell was also survived by his son, Taylor, and by his 105-year-old mother, Martine Tompkins (February 17, 1889 – March 6, 1998),[5] who lived in Curdsville, Kentucky, where she died in 1998 at age 109.


In 2003, Tom Ewell was inducted into the Owensboro High School Hall of Fame.


  1. "Tom Ewell". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  2. "Tom Ewell Biography (1909–)". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  3. Barnes, Brooks. "Movies – The New York Times". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  4. Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1557509379 OCLC 36824724.
  5. "RootsWeb: Database Index". Retrieved 2016-09-10.
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