When one is constantly publicized as "The Hunk" and is the beefcake idol of office girls everywhere, it is difficult to be taken seriously as a performer. It certainly did not help Victor Mature's case that he refused-at least publicly-to take his acting in earnest.

Yet on other occasions, as in Twentieth Century-Fox's My Darling Clementine (1946) or their The Robe (1953), he displayed a vital sincerity that was remarkable. If only his home studio, Fox, had allowed him to expand his acting talent rather than flexing his muscles on film. The outcome of his many years in pictures would have been far more productive for the star.

Victor John Mature was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday, January 29, 1916. He was the only of the three Mature children (two boys, one girl) to survive infancy. His father, Marcellius G. Mature, an Italian born in Innsbruck, Austria, immigrated to the United States in 1890 when he was thirteen and had eventually settled in Louisville. He took up the trade of a scissors grinder and knife sharpener, and married a French-Swiss girl, Clara, the daughter of a doctor.

Victor was a large-boned, healthy child with curly black hair. As he grew up, he fostered an inner rebellion against his father's strict old-country manner and life. Years later, he was to say, to the press, "I always understood my mom, but my dad.... We weren't close!" Victor attended the George H. Tingley Public School in Louisville for a time, but he was soon expelled for his errant ways. He was also asked to leave St. Paul's and St. Xavier's parochial schools because of his undisciplined manner. St. Joseph's Academy in Bardstown, Kentucky, tolerated Victor's presence for only a short while, as did the Kentucky Military Institute at Linden, where it was hoped the youth might learn to settle down.

At the age of fourteen, Victor staged such a fuss against further formal education that the authorities relented and allowed him to quit school. He worked with his father at door-to-door grinding and sharpening, but when Marcellius bettered himself by investing in and becoming an executive of a commercial refrigeration plant, Victor turned to the wholesale jobbing of candy. His customers described him as a "born salesman," and he often earned as much as $150 a week, which was a healthy salary in the early 1930s.

Although he was only fifteen years old, his rugged appearance and muscular frame made him look older. He was especially popular with his feminine customers. A year later he went into the wholesale candy business for himself, which proved to be a rather successful venture. Nine months after that he bought a part ownership in a restaurant.

According to most sources, Victor's decision to leave Louisville came on the heels of a social rebuff by one of the city's belles at the 1935 debutante ball. When he asked the girl to dance, she reportedly called him a "dirty son of a common knife grinder," then slapped his face. "I told myself I'd never return," he informed Robert Coughlan of Life Magazine in 1941, "until the name Mature was so big that those society people would eat dirt."

A short time later, he lost six hundred dollars when he sold out his interest in the restaurant, but packed his Chevrolet coupe with candy and canned goods, and, with forty-one dollars in his pocket, proclaimed that he was driving to Hollywood, "where a guy with brains can make more than the President of the United States." Marcellius Mature, although unhappy with his son's plans to become an actor, had learned long ago the futility of arguing with him. His advice to the California-bound youth was, "As long as people think you're dumber than you are, you'll make money."

According to the established Mature legend, he arrived in Hollywood with a bankroll of eleven cents. After selling the supply of candy he had lugged across country, he rented a partially burned-out garage and registered with all the casting agencies. One registrar suggested that he gain a little acting experience and advised Victor to contact the Pasadena Playhouse. There, at a Sunday night open audition he was offered a small part by Gilmor Brown, the playhouse's director. On November 16, 1936, twenty-year-old Victor's acting career began on the well-worn stage of the Pasadena Playhouse in Paths of Glory.