Raoul Walsh, 93, the famed motion picture director whose career included acting in D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" in 1915 and the making of modern-day action epics, died Wednesday at Simi Valley Hospital following an apparent heart attack.
Mr. Walsh directed robust, virile dramas such as "White Heat" and "Battle Cry," as well as his classic World War War I film, "What price Glory?" His other films included "High Sierra," "They Died With Their Boots On," "Gentleman Jim," "San Antonio," "Capt. Horatio Hornblower," and "The Naked and the Dead." His last picture, "A Distant Trumpet," a Western cavalry epic, appeared in 1964. Most of his films were box office successes.
Mr. Walsh's acting career included the role of Gloria Swanson's lover in the 1928 film "Miss Sadie Thompson," which he directed. He also was an author, having published an autobiography and a novel published in France, "The Wrath of the Just."
Although he was blind in recent years, Mr. Walsh had enjoyed good health throughout his life and was alert and lively virtually up to his death. He lived an action-packed life and he viewed life as action -- a quality that was a theme in his movies.
Said Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin: "Walsh's forte was the action film in which the forces of good were on one side, and the forces of evil on the other, and there was rarely and trouble telling them apart, or knowing what was going on inside the men and women involved."
Mr. Walsh was born in New York City on March 11, 1887, the son of the chief designer and tailor for the famous Brooks Brothers men's clothing store in that city.
The Walsh family lived in a brownstone in mid-Manhattan near Fifth Avenue and had a circle of distinguished friends. As a boy, Raoul Walsh met Edwin Booth, the actor whose brother shot Abraham Lincoln. A few years later, Mr. Walsh played the role of assassin-actor John Wilkes Booth in "Birth of a Nation."
As a youth, Mr. Walsh also met prize fighter John L. Sullivan and author Mark Twain. In later years, as he emerged as a Hollywood great, his own circle of friends and acquaintances included newspaper czar William Randolph Hearst and former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.
As a teen-ager, Mr. Walsh sailed to Cuba on a schooner owned by his uncle. He left the ship in Mexico and he thereupon became a cowboy. It was as a cowboy that he entered show business. He was resting on a hotel porch in San Antonio, Tex., where he had been doing some cattle punching, when he was approached by the stage manager of a traveling drama who needed a man to ride a horse on a treadmill in the show. Mr. Walsh took the job and also earned $5-a-week extra by doing rope tricks in front of the theater to draw crowds.
He came to Hollywood in 1910, joining Biograph and D. W. Griffith, not only used Mr. Walsh as an actor but also launched him as a director.
In 1913, Griffith assigned Mr. Walsh to find bandit-hero Pancho Villa in Mexico and persuade him to star in "The Life of Villa." Mr. Walsh wrote the script for the proposed Villa drama as he journeyed south to Mexico. He found Villa and directed the film.
In 1924, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. hired Mr. Walsh to direct "The Thief of Baghdad," in which Fairbanks starred.
Mr. Walsh's "White Heat," (1949) starring James Cagney, has become a cult film and is widely regarded as one of the last and the best of the traditional gangster films.
Mr. Walsh lost an eye in 1929 in an accident while driving to the location for "In old Arizona," the first talking Western shot away from the studios. His car hit a jackrabbit, which shattered the windshield and blinded his eye.
In recent years, he lost the sight of his remaining eye.
"The light in the other orb has faded," he told a caller afterward. "But I can still sit on my porch and enjoy the bird calls and the aroma of the flowers and detect the footsteps of the approaching IRS agents."
Survivors include his wife of 35 years, Mary, of their ranch near Simi Valley.