January 28th, 1906 — December 3rd, 1964
A noteworthy supporting player in many feature films and in several movie serials, George Lynn possessed a stern face, a sharply commanding voice, and a pair of deep-set eyes that made him very convincing as a screen heavy–although he could handle sympathetic roles with equal conviction. His seven chapterplay turns include some non-villainous characterizations, but the serial role he played most often was that of the henchman: he served as an action heavy in three of Universal’s later serials, and gave these secondary villains a coldly intelligent and aggressively ruthless demeanor that made each of them effective and memorable menaces.
George Minor Lynn was born in Cumberland, Maryland, to a prominent Southern family whose roots reached back to the Colonial era. After graduating from college, he pursued a career as an aviator; at the time of the 1930 federal census, he was living in Cumberland and working as a US mail pilot. In either 1935 or 1936, he left Maryland and the mail service for Hollywood; there, he worked as a stunt pilot at various studios, while also playing bit parts. In 1937, he took his first credited part in MGM’s Oscar-winning “Crime Does Not Pay” short, Torture Money, and subsequently began devoting more time to acting; during the remaining years of the 1930s, he played supporting roles (both credited and uncredited) in numerous B-films for Republic, Fox, Universal, and Monogram, and in a few MGM A-films–variously using the screen names “Peter Lynn,” “George Lynn,” “George Peter Lynn,” and “Peter George Lynn.”
The early 1940s found Lynn firmly embarked on a career as an actor; as during the late 1930s, he principally appeared in B-pictures for Monogram, Columbia, Universal, and Republic (playing both shady and upright types), but occasionally took good-sized roles in the A-pictures released by bigger outfits like MGM (Northwest Passage) and United Artists (To Be or Not to Be). In 1941 he made his first serial, Republic’s Adventures of Captain Marvel; he was cast as Professor Dwight Fisher, one of a group of archeologists who unearthed a powerful and valuable ancient weapon, and were subsequently targeted by a mysterious masked criminal known as the Scorpion–who was actually one of the archeologists. Fisher was a prime Scorpion suspect in the serial’s first half, but was cleared when the villain robbed his safe and gunned him down in Chapter Six. Lynn served as an energetically sinister “red herring” in Marvel, smiling evilly or scowling angrily during the archeologists’ board meetings, and growlingly rejecting every suggestion made by young hero Billy Batson (Frank Coghlan Jr.); he was allowed to scowl and growl to more heroic effect in his final scene, stubbornly opposing the Scorpion despite deadly threats.
Lynn’s second serial, The Secret Code (Columbia, 1942), gave him a much more unequivocal good-guy role than Captain Marvel had–but he still got killed off, this time failing to survive the first chapter. As a Federal agent named Stover, he worked with police detective Dan Barton (Paul Kelly) to smash a Nazi spy ring, arranging for Barton to be dishonorably discharged from the police force and accused of treason in order to help him infiltrate the Nazi organization; unfortunately, though Barton’s infiltration was successful, the Nazis’ attempt to murder Stover was equally successful, leaving Barton to work alone for several chapters until he could prove his honesty to other lawmen. Lynn was very good in this short-lived part, giving his G-man a solid combination of toughness, shrewdness, and even (in his interchanges with Kelly’s Barton) affability.
The Secret Code would be one of the few World War 2 films in which Lynn appeared on the Allies’ side; as Hollywood began pumping out war-themed pictures, his grim face and tersely authoritative voice caused him to be frequently cast as Nazis, in movies ranging from RKO’s Tarzan Triumphs to the MGM propaganda short Plan for Destruction. His next serial, G-Men vs. the Black Dragon (Republic, 1943), also found him working for the Axis–though for the Japanese, not the Germans; he appeared in one chapter as a villainous pilot who helped Japanese spy Lugo (George J. Lewis) escape from G-man hero Rex Bennett (Rod Cameron), but then took a fatal fall from a plane during a fight with Bennett.
Lynn kept freelancing at both big and small studios as the 1940s continued. His most frequent employer through 1944 and 1945 was Universal; in 1945, he made the first of three serials for that studio, The Master Key. A World War Two espionage saga set in the pre-war era, Key was one of Universal’s best later chapterplays, and gave Lynn his first really prominent serial role. He was cast as yet another of the Nazi types he’d played so often during the past few years–specifically, one Herman, the executive officer of a German spy ring headed by Gerhard Doenitz (Addison Richards) and the mysterious title figure. Lynn handled most of the active villainy in Key, and did so with aplomb–stalking swiftly and assuredly from crime to crime, snarling with intimidating vigor at the good guys who interfered with him, snapping curtly at cohorts who failed to obey his orders quickly enough, and even making a few quips in dryly sardonic style.
Secret Agent X-9 (Universal, 1945) was, like Master Key, well above-average for a late Universal serial–and, again like Master Key, featured Lynn as a Nazi henchman. This time out, he played Bach, supposedly the mate of a German civilian freighter but really a Nazi agent; together with Japanese agent Takahari (Clarence Lung), he spearheaded master spy Nabura’s (Victoria Horne) efforts to prevent American operative Phil Corrigan (Lloyd Bridges) from uncovering a scheme to steal a priceless synthetic-fuel formula. Since his character consistently halved action-heavy duties with Lung’s, Lynn wasn’t spotlighted quite as frequently in X-9 as he had been in Master Key; however, he still took a leading part in the serial’s evildoing, giving his character a frighteningly angry glare and an implacably steely and determined demeanor.
Above: George Lynn turns up an industrial-strength freezer in an attempt to force information from the off-camera Lloyd Bridges in Secret Agent X-9 (Universal, 1945); Gil Perkins is at left, Tom Steele at right.
Lynn’s last Universal serial was 1946’s Lost City of the Jungle, a post-war chapterplay that pitted “United Peace Foundation” agent Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden) against professional “warmonger” Sir Eric Hazarias (Lionel Atwill) in a struggle over a rare anti-atomic element known as “Meteorium.” Considerably weaker than Lynn’s two preceding Universal serials, Jungle was decidedly overcrowded with characters, but nevertheless gave Lynn–as Marlow, one of Sir Eric’s two principal thugs–some good opportunities to verbally threaten, physically strong-arm, and otherwise menace its protagonists; his shrewd but harsh manner provided a good contrast to both the brutish bearing of his co-henchman Dick Curtis and the suavity of higher-ranking villains Atwill and John Mylong. He also received a memorably offbeat death scene, getting suddenly vaporized when he rashly opened a chest full of Meteorium.
During the late 1940s, Lynn played several more credited parts in B-films for Republic, PRC, and Columbia, as well as uncredited roles in A-features. His unbilled performance as a police detective in the 1948 New-York-filmed police-procedural film The Naked City, which featured a cast mostly composed of NYC-based actors, suggests that he might also have done some East Coast stage work during these years; certainly, his screen roles diminished significantly as the decade drew to a close. He became somewhat more active on screen during the early 1950s; with the B-film now in its death throes, most of his feature-film appearances were uncredited A-picture bits–but he took plenty of major roles on 1950s TV shows like The Lone Ranger and Ramar of the Jungle. In 1953, he played one more serial part, appearing in the final chapter of Columbia’s The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd as an unnamed London official. Lynn made the most of his brief screen time in this serial, cynically but sympathetically warning the heroes (Richard Crane and David Bruce) that their hopes of saving Captain Kidd (John Crawford) from an unjust hanging were in vain, and quietly registering his own cold disgust with the duplicity of the politicians responsible for Kidd’s railroading.
Lynn continued to make regular TV appearances and sporadic feature-film appearances (mostly in Westerns or science-fiction films) throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s; his last credited screen work was a character turn as a worried hangman in a 1961 episode of the Henry Fonda TV Western The Deputy. He probably continued to work as a movie extra and bit player for a few years afterwards, however; he was still living in Los Angeles when he passed away in 1964.
George Lynn didn’t appear in nearly as many serials as Kenne Duncan, Anthony Warde, and other leading 1940s action heavies did, and as a result hasn’t received nearly as much attention from chapterplay buffs. Still, his grimly fierce screen personality was just as interesting as those of his more prolific contemporaries, and his henchman performances (along with his red-herring and authority-figure turns) were more than strong enough to earn him a seat in the pantheon of serial notables.
Acknowledgements: A couple of e-mail and message-board exchanges with serial expert Ed Hulse provided me with the information about Lynn’s stunt-pilot work. This excellent site, devoted to Lynn’s distinguished great-great-great-grandfather Judge David Lynn (one of the twelve Colonial judges to repudiate the Stamp Act) and to his descendants, was very helpful too, furnishing photographs that allowed me to definitively identify the George M. Lynn of the 1930 federal census with the George Lynn/Peter George Lynn of Hollywood. Said photos can be found on this page (dedicated to George M. Lynn’s father) and this one (dedicated to George himself). I narrowed down, as best I could, the date of Lynn’s departure for Hollywood by setting his 1940 federal census entry (which lists him as still living in Maryland in 1935) against his first movie appearance (made in 1936).