Dano was born in New York City to Mary Josephine (née O’Connor), an Irish immigrant, and Caleb Edward Dano, a printer for newspapers. He reportedly left home at the age of twelve and at various intervals, lived in Florida, Texas, and California. After reaching an agreement with his father, he agreed to continue his education, on the condition that he be allowed to travel. He was a freemason and a member of Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles. Dano is remembered for his supporting roles in a number of 1950s western and mystery films. The chance for the breakout role of a lifetime, escaped him in the theatrical release of The Red Badge of Courage. Dano, cast as The Tattered Man, delivered such a disturbing performance in his death scene, according to director John Huston, the initial test audience left the theater in droves, e.g. “I’ve never seen so many people, get up and leave the theater…they liked no part of it”. The death scene, troubling enough in Stephen Crane’s book, was lent a human touch by Dano, and in 1951, war-weary Americans, rejected it (Huston: “…[the audience rejection] was a pretty sickening event.”). Red Badge was immediately recut, and the death scene removed. It is long believed, and as early as Huston commenting in an interview in 1972, the scene has been lost to us (“I doubt very much, whether the scene still exists.”). Despite losing the silver screen opportunity, Dano instead stood out early in “Mr. Lincoln”, a five-part TV episode appearing in 1952-53 on Omnibus; ironically, in keeping with a Civil War theme, Royal Dano portrayed Lincoln himself.
He often worked with Anthony Mann and James Stewart. He played Elijah in John Huston’s film version of Moby Dick, memorably intoning to Richard Basehart as Ishmael, “At sea one day, you’ll smell land where there’ll be no land, and on that day, Ahab will go to his grave, but he’ll rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon! Then all – all save one – shall follow!” In The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), he portrayed Carey. In the black comedy The Trouble With Harry, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, he had a small but pivotal role as the officious Deputy Sheriff. Over the years, Dano made many television appearances, often in bizarre, macabre roles such as Richard Boone’s Have Gun Will Travel and the NBC legal drama Justice starring Dane Clark and Gary Merrill. On December 2, 1957, Dano appeared as Wilbur English, a fearful man who kills a fellow gang member to collect the reward in the episode “Cheyenne Express” of John Payne’s NBC western series, The Restless Gun. Ultimately, his cowardice causes Wilbur’s own accidental death. In the MGM Technicolor widescreen religious epic King of Kings, Dano in 1961 played the role of Simon Peter. During this time, he also played the part of “Sageman” in an episode of “Father Knows Best” In 1960, Dano guest starred on David McLean’s NBC summer western series, Tate. That same year, he portrayed Lucas Frome in the episode “Black Harvest” on Don Durant’s CBS western, Johnny Ringo. In 1962, he guest starred on the CBS anthology series, The Lloyd Bridges Show. Dano also appeared on NBC’s “The Virginian” in five separate appearances from 1962–1966 in a variety of character roles, one of the most memorable being “Faraway MacPhail”. In the 1965–1966 season, he guest starred on ABC’s western series The Legend of Jesse James. Dano also played an ex-con who became Northfork’s pastor, and “Honest Abe” in 1961 episodes of The Rifleman, an ABC Western series. He appeared on the series five times. Dano was also a frequent guest star on Gunsmoke, with a total of thirteen appearances. In 1962, he played the part of Monty Fox, a prospector, in the episode “Incident at Quivira” on CBS’s Rawhide.
Dano was the voice of Abraham Lincoln for Walt Disney’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” program, first presented at the 1964 World’s Fair. Disney personally selected Dano, because he felt the actor came closest to the historical descriptions of Lincoln’s voice. The “Great Moments” program was moved to Disneyland in 1965, and Dano’s vocals continued to be a part of the program until 2001. In 1971, Dano’s voice was also used for a revised Lincoln speech in the new “Hall Of Presidents” program at Walt Disney World in Florida, which ran to 1993. In 2009, Dano’s vocals were returned to “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” at Disneyland in a revised version of the show. He had a memorable (if short) role as the coroner in Electra Glide in Blue (1973), who gets into a loud shouting match with Robert Blake’s character. With no spoken dialogue (but sings the airman’s version of the Navy Hymn), Dano was memorable as the saddened, unnamed preacher in The Right Stuff (1983). Dano is remembered for his comedic performance as the undead gold prospector, Gramps, in the horror/suspense/comedy/Aztec adventure House II: The Second Story, and as Uncle Ned, a carnival attraction magician, in 1988’s Ghoulies II. His final roles include Wrenchmuller in 1993’s Spaced Invaders and Judge Clinton Sternwood in the TV series Twin Peaks. At age 71 in 1994, Dano died of a heart attack following a car accident. He was buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, and their son, Rick Dano. Another son, Royal Edward Dano, Jr., also died in 1994. Royal Dano is the grandfather of Hutch Dano.
- November, 16, 1922
- New York, New York
- May, 15, 1994
- Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death
- heart attack
- Los Angeles National Cemetery
- Los Angeles, California