Ayres III, Lewis “Lew” Frederick, born 28-12-1908 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Irma Bevernick and Louis Ayres, who divorced when he was four. Louis, an amateur musician and court reporter, remarried soon afterwards. As a teen, he and his mother moved with his step-father, William Gilmore, and half brother and sister to San Diego, California.
Leaving high school before graduating, he started a small band which traveled to Mexico. He returned months later to pursue an acting career, but continued working full-time as a musician. He played banjo and guitar for big bands, including the Henry Halstead Orchestra. He recorded one of the earliest Vitaphone movie shorts called Carnival Night in Paris (Warner Brothers, 1927).
Ayres wrote, “I was a member of Henry Halstead’s orchestra in 1927 at the Mission Beach Ballroom in San Diego, California for the summer. My instruments were tenor banjo, long-neck banjo and guitar. After a hiatus, I rejoined Mr. Halstead with a new group, including Phil Harris, on New Year’s Eve the same year for the opening night of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a memorable occasion.” He left a national tour to pursue a career as an actor full-time.
Ayres was discovered at a night club by talent agent Ivan Kahn. He was cast to play opposite Greta Garbo in The Kiss (1929) , but it was his leading role in the original version of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) that made him a star, secured him a contract with Universal—and made him a conscientious objector to World War II. . This film was based on the canonic novel by Erich Maria Remarque . It is an influential anti-war picture which chronicles the disillusionment of a group of young patriotic recruits amidst the horrific reality of combat, told from the German soldiers’ point of view.
Ayres left Universal to sign with Fox Films. In 1934 he was listed as one of Fox’s second tier stars. He moved to poverty row studio Republic Pictures to pursue a second career as a director, including the film Hearts in Bondage (1936), starring James Dunn and Mae Clarke. He moved to Paramount Pictures before finally being signed to MGM in 1938. At this time, he was loaned from Paramount to play the role of Ned in Holiday (1938).
His final film as Dr. Kildare, Born to Be Bad, was re-edited after he was drafted and declared himself a conscientious objector in March 1942. This stance almost destroyed Ayres’ reputation until it was revealed that he had served honorably as a non-combatant medic from 1942 to 1946.
He returned to acting in the films The Dark Mirror (1946) with Olivia de Havilland and The Unfaithful (1947) with Ann Sheridan. For his role in Johnny Belinda (1948) he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, while co-star Jane Wyman won Best Actress.
For a guest role in Kung Fu (“The Vanishing Image”, 1974) he was nominated for an Emmy. Doris Day and Lew Ayres here in The Doris Day Show (1970) In March 1942, Ayres was identified as a 4E conscientious objector and sent to a CO camp. As expected, the announcement that a Hollywood actor objected to the war was a major source of public outcry and debate.
Within a month it was determined that he had initially requested to be A-O-1, so that he could serve as a non-combat medic. However, the military’s policy that servicemen cannot request, or be guaranteed, where they will serve, forced him to request a 4E status. The U.S. military confirmed that they would place him as a medic and in April 1942, his status was changed. He enlisted in the United States Army on 18-05-1942.
He served as a First Aid instructor in the United States Army before requesting a drop in rank in order to serve as a medic and chaplain’s assistant in the Pacific. He was one of 16 medics who arrived under fire during the invasion of Leyte to set up evacuation hospitals, and there he provided care to soldiers and civilians in the Philippines and New Guinea. He donated all the money he had earned as a serviceman to the American Red Cross. Serving for three and a half years in the Medical Corps, he was awarded three battle stars. After the war, he resumed his career and made scores of movies, but never reached the peak of his early Hollywood stardom.
Death and burial ground of Ayres III, Lewis “Lew” Frederik.
In 1960, Lew Ayres was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with two stars. His motion pictures star is located at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard while his radio star is located at 1724 Vine Street.
Ayres died 30-12-1996, just two days after his 88th birthday. Ayres was married three times. He was married to actress Lola Lane, one of the four Lane sisters,
from 1931–33, and to actress Ginger Rogers from 1934–40, whom he met while starring in the film Don’t Bet on Love(1933). He was separated from both women considerably earlier than their legal divorces. His third marriage, to Diana Hall, lasted from 1964 until his death in 1996. They had one son, Justin, born in 1968
He was survived by his wife of 32 years, actress Diana Hall, and their son, Justin Ayres. Ayres was a Lutheran. His body was buried under a simple headstone at Westwood Memorial Park in Westwood, Los Angeles, California