Denver Dell Pyle (May 11, 1920 – December 25, 1997) was an American film and television actor. He was known for portraying Briscoe Darling, Jr. in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and playing Jesse Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard from 1979 to 1985.
Pyle was born in Bethune in Kit Carson County, Colorado, on May 11, 1920 to farmer Ben H. Pyle (1895–1988) and his wife Maude (1899–1985); Pyle's brother, Willis Pyle (1914-2016), was an animator known for his work with Walt Disney Animation Studios and UPA. After graduating from high school, Pyle briefly attended Colorado State University, but dropped out to enter show business.
Pyle was a drummer and band member until the United States entered World War II, when he joined in the United States Navy.)
After the war, Pyle embarked on his film career. He starred in several movies and on television during the 1950s and 1960s.
Pyle guest-starred between 1951 and 1953 fourteen times on the syndicated television series The Range Rider with Jock Mahoney and Dick Jones, appeared as an outlaw in a 1951 episode of the television series The Lone Ranger titled "Backtrail", episode 71, "The Outcast", episode 166, "Woman in the White Mask and episode 187, "Cross of Santo Domingo". In 1953, Pyle appeared as Emil Hatch in episode # 46 of The Adventures of Superman entitled "Beware the Wrecker."He had a part in the 1955 Audie Murphy film To Hell and Back, appeared twice on NBC's 1955–1956 western anthology series Frontier (in "Mother of the Brave" and in "The Voyage of Captain Castle"). Pyle appeared twice as an unidentified bank robber in Duncan Renaldo's syndicated western series The Cisco Kid. In 1954, he was cast as a henchman of the outlaw Sam Bass in Jim Davis's syndicated series Stories of the Century.
Pyle was twice cast on CBS's The Public Defender in the role of George Hansen, and three times on the religious anthology series, Crossroads on ABC. He acted the part of a police detective in the 1956 film noir Please Murder Me, starring Raymond Burr, who played a defense attorney before his starring role in CBS's Perry Mason.
Pyle was cast as Carter in the 1955 episode "Joey's Father" of the NBC children's western series Fury, starring Peter Graves and Bobby Diamond. Three years later, he played an arsonist in the episode "The Fire Watchers" of the same series.
In 1956 Pyle appeared as "Vance Kiley" in the episode called "Quicksand" in the TV western series Lone Ranger, starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.
In 1958, Pyle starred with Judith Evelyn in the episode "Man in the Moon" of the NBC docudrama about the Cold War Behind Closed Doors, hosted by and occasionally starring Bruce Gordon.
He appeared as a Professor in the syndicated Men Into Space series' 1959 episode Moonquake. In an episode of Ripcord he played a suicidal parachutist. Pyle appeared twice each on the CBS western series My Friend Flicka and NBC's The Restless Gun with John Payne. He guest starred with Grant Withers in the 1959 episode "Tumbleweed Ranger" of Tris Coffin's syndicated western series 26 Men, billed as true stories of the Arizona Rangers. He appeared seven times on Richard Boone's CBS western Have Gun – Will Travel, his final appearance on the show in 1960 as the character Croft in "The Puppeteer". Pyle guest starred in 1960 in several other westerns, including the episode "Special Delivery" of the syndicated Pony Express, in The Rifleman season 2 episode 36, "The Hangman" as Harold Tanner, in "The Man Who Wanted Everything" of ABC's The Man from Blackhawk, and in "Crime Epidemic" of the Pat Conway series Tombstone Territory. Pyle guest-starred in the episode "Trail of the Dead", the story of five missing western prospectors, of Rod Cameron's modern western syndicated series State Trooper. He appeared with Sammy Jackson in the episode "Resurrection" of the syndicated American Civil War drama, The Gray Ghost.
Pyle was cast as Big Red in the 1959 episode "Woman in the River" of the ABC/Warner Bros. detective series Bourbon Street Beat, starring Andrew Duggan and Richard Long.
Pyle made several appearances as Briscoe Darling, Jr., the gruff patriarch of the Darling clan of musical hillbillies, on the CBS series, The Andy Griffith Show.
Pyle was cast in a number of western movies by John Ford, including The Horse Soldiers with William Holden and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He played a Tennessee soldier (called "Thimblerig") in John Wayne's The Alamo (1960). He portrayed Sam Houston in several episodes of CBS's The Adventures of Jim Bowie. He guest-starred as a law enforcement officer in Jim Davis' other syndicated series, Rescue 8, and appeared as well in an episode of the ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys, starring Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna.
Pyle was cast in the 1960 episode "Three Wise Men" of ABC's Stagecoach West as an outlaw who promises to turn himself into the authorities if he can spend Christmas with his family. About this time, Pyle appeared in the segment "Lawyer in Petticoats" of William Bendix's 1960 NBC western series Overland Trail, and thereafter in 1961 in "Hand of Vengeance" of the syndicated western series Two Faces West. Pyle was cast as Jed Corrigan in the 1961 episode "The Tramp" of the NBC family drama series National Velvet.
Pyle guest-starred twice on the CBS series "Route 66" with Martin Milner and George Maharis, first in 1961 in the episode "The Newborn" and again in 1962 in "A Long Piece Of Mischief".
Pyle guest-starred in 1962 Bonanza TV episode "Hot Day for a Hanging"
One of Pyle's early roles was as a villain in an Adventures of Superman episode called "Beware the Wrecker". He also played the father in the episode "Black Leather Jackets" of the CBS series, The Twilight Zone.
He appeared in the 1963–1964 season of ABC's drama about college life Channing. He portrayed the character Brill in the 1964 episode, "Johnny Ride the Pony: One, Two, Three", of the NBC education drama series, Mr. Novak, starring James Franciscus. Pyle appeared 14 times on Gunsmoke, seven times on Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, and twice on Frontier Justice, all on CBS. He appeared in seven episodes as Ben Thompson (and twice as other characters) on the ABC western series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian. He also appeared in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show as a feisty uncle of Rob Petrie.
Pyle played the frontier character Deadwood Dick in the 1966 episode "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" on the syndicated anthology series Death Valley Days.
He appeared twice in Cheyenne starring Clint Walker. He played Sergeant Tripp in the episode "The Enemy" of the James Arness ABC series How the West Was Won.
He also is known for portraying both the suspect and the murder victim on the last original Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Final Fadeout" in 1966. He was the only actor to play a victim, a suspect and the actual murderer (in previous episodes) on the series in six appearances. Among his other appearances he played defendant Robert Crane in "The Case of the Deadly Double" in 1958, murderer Tilden Stuart in "The Case of the Jealous Journalist" and murderer Emery Fillmore in "The Case of the Renegade Refugee" (both in 1961), and murderer Frank Honer in "The Case of the Shifty Shoebox" in 1963.
Pyle portrayed Grandpa Tarleton in all twenty-six episodes of Tammy in the 1965–1966 season. Pyle portrayed the vengeful Texas Ranger Frank Hamer in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde. He also appeared in an episode of The High Chaparral as a general who had lost his son.
In 1968 he appeared as Titus Purcell, patriarch of a family of homesteaders, in the episode "The Price of Tomatoes" in the sitcom Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Working for the first time with Jim Nabors playing Gomer Pyle, spun-off from the Andy Griffith Show, he utilized a screen persona similar to Briscoe Darling, Jr.
Pyle had a guest-starring role in 1973 on The Streets of San Francisco. In 1975, Walt Disney Productions released a film based on the novel Escape to Witch Mountain. In this film, Tony and Tia were played by Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards, Lucas Deranian by Donald Pleasence, and the children's Uncle Bené by Pyle. He appeared as a judge residing in the town of Purgatory in the first-season episode of Kung Fu, titled "Ancient Warrior".
Pyle played the role of Mad Jack in 36 episodes of the NBC series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1977–1978). He played Buck Webb (Doris Day's television series father) during the first two seasons of CBS's The Doris Day Show (1968–1970). He said in 1968 that he based his acting in that role on his father's personality.
He did some writing and directing for the short-lived half-hour western Dirty Sally starring Jeanette Nolan, which ran on CBS in the first half of 1974. He also played a small role on The Waltons as a relative to the Baldwin sisters.
Pyle's best-known and longest-running television role was that of Uncle Jesse Duke in the CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979–1985) (146 episodes).
In his later life, Pyle played mostly cameo television roles and retired from full-time acting. His last cinematic movie role was alongside Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner in the 1994 film Maverick, in which he portrayed a cheating cardplayer who jumps off a riverboat to keep his dignity. His last known acting role was a reprisal of Jesse Duke in the 1997 CBS made-for-TV movie The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion!
Pyle sponsored Uncle Jesse's Fishing Tournament in Lamar County, Texas. In 10 years of operation, the tournament raised more than $160,000 to support children's programs there.
Pyle has a star in the Motion Pictures section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Boulevard. It was dedicated December 12, 1997.
In 1991, the Texas Senate passed a resolution honoring Pyle and his wife for their work with Special Olympics and the Denver Pyle's Children's Charities.
In 1955, Pyle married Marilee Carpenter (1924–2010), a production assistant at 20th Century Fox. They had sons, David and Tony in 1956 and 1957, respectively. According to her obituary, "Marilee advised and assisted Denver throughout his fifty-year career in motion pictures and television—uninterrupted even by their divorce in 1970—until his death in 1997."
In 1983, Pyle married Tippie Johnston. That union lasted until his death.
Pyle died of lung cancer on Christmas Day in 1997. Memorial services were held January 6, 1998, at First Baptist Church in Waxahachie, Texas. He is buried in an unmarked grave at the Forreston Cemetery in Forreston in Ellis County south of Waxahachie, Texas. His remains are interred beside those of his second wife's parents, J. T. Johnston (1914–1993) and Erin Birch Johnston (1913–1989).
- The Man from Colorado (1948) (uncredited)
- To Hell and Back (1955)
- The Left Handed Gun (1958)
- The Horse Soldiers (1959)
- Cast a Long Shadow (1959)
- The Alamo (1960)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
- Geronimo (1962)
- The Rounders (1965)
- Shenandoah (1965)
- The Great Race (1965)
- Welcome to Hard Times (1967)
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967)...as Frank Hamer
- Bandolero! (1968)
- 5 Card Stud (1968)
- Something Big (1971)
- Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973)
- Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
- Hawmps! (1976)
- Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976)
- Welcome to L.A. (1976)
- Return from Witch Mountain (1978)
- Return to Mayberry (1986, TV movie)...as Briscoe Darling
- Maverick (1994)
- The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! (1997)