Wally Cassell, the actor who played a member of James Cagney’s gang in the classic 1949 crime thriller White Heat, has died April 2 at his home in Palm Desert, CA the Hollywood Reporter announced over the weekend. He was 103.
Ordered by Cagney’s ruthless gangster Cody Jarrett to kill another member of their gang injured in a train robbery who could lead the police to them, Cassell’s Cotton Valletti has a memorable moment of conscience that leaves him unable to complete the job, leading to the gang’s downfall. It was just one of a number of memorable roles Cassell would have in thrillers and noir films throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s including director Cornell Woolrich’s The Guilty (1947), Quicksand (1950), with Mickey Rooney and Peter Lorre, Highway 301 (1950), Breakdown (1952), with Ann Richards and Sheldon Leonard, City That Never Sleeps (1953) with Gig Young.
Born Oswaldo Silvestri Trippilini Rolando Vicenza Castellano in Sicily on March 3, 1912, Cassell started his career as a contract player at MGM, debuting in the 1942 film Fingers at the Window (1942) which starred Basil Rathbone. In 1944, he appeared opposite Mickey Rooney as a rival jockey in National Velvet. Rooney suggested his screen name and the two became good friends, with Rooney serving as best man at Cassell’s 1947 wedding. Cassell returned the favor and was Rooney’s best man at his 1949 marriage to Martha Vickers. Cassell and Rooney would also appear together in the films Thousands Cheer (1943) and Killer McCoy (1947).
Other films on Cassell’s resume include Presenting Lily Mars (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Anchors Aweigh (1945), Story Of G.I. Joe (1945), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Homecoming (1948), John Wayne’s Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Island In The Sky (1953), Law And Order (1953), Princess Of The Nile (1954) and Until They Sail (1957). His later career was spent more in television, guest starring on such shows as The Loretta Young Show (1955), Gunsmoke (1956), the 1959 premier episode of The Untouchables, Rawhide (1960) and The Beverly Hillbillies (1963).
Cassell retired from acting in 1964 for a career in business.