Joe Sawyer was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada on 29 August 1906. He was a film actor who acted in more than 200 films over his 75 year lifetime and in dozens of television roles. Sawyer was born with the birth name Joseph Sauers. Born to parents, Joseph and Lavina Sauers, Joe used his birth name as his billing name for a while but later changed it to Joseph Sawyer. With a forty year long career, Joe was a well-known face on the silver screen throughout 1930’s to 1960’s. He died on April 21, 1982. Although Joe had an Irish look with his fair hair and sturdy, bulky looks, he had a German ancestry. His father, Joseph Sauer was a butcher who died at the age of 24 when Sawyer was just a kid. Joe had a rough childhood.
Although he was doing his schooling in Guelph, Ontario, but he was sent to toil at his uncle’s farm, every summer, in Saskatchewan, Canada. However, fate had something more in store for him than just working at a farm. As a young man, Joe moved to California, wanting to pursue his dreams of acting. He graduated high school from the Los Angeles-based Hollywood High School. Following that, he joined the University of Southern California where he began performing in a variety of plays and dramas. His first stroke of luck was here when Gilmore Brown of the Pasadena Playhouse saw his acting stint. He asked Joe to read a part for him and thus, Joe got acquainted with the historic performing arts society of Pasadena, California. Joe played a range of small roles in various uncredited and credited plays and movies. The initial years of his career went in performing minor roles as sidekicks while sharing his green rooms with other actors like him. In one such green room, he met and befriended the then anonymous John Wayne. Gilmore Brown, the director of Pasadena Playhouse, who initially recognized Joe’s talent, recommended him to move to
New York and try his hand at acting in Theatres.
Following the advice, Joe saved up some money and left. However, he could only get modest pay for the few plays he performed in and was back in Hollywood within three years. Nevertheless, he met Jeane Wood here in Manhattan and got married to her on 22nd December, 1930. She was the daughter of Sam Wood, the famous Hollywood director. However the marriage ended very soon,and they got divorced in 1933. By this time, Joe returned to California and signed a contract with Metro Golden Mayer. Joe Sawyer appeared in a range of films and roles including movies like “College Humor”, “Black Legion”, “The Informer”, and “The Petrified Forest”. His two most popular roles were in the latter two movies. In “The Informer” he played the role of an IRA gunman. The role was widely celebrated by critics and audience alike. In “The Petrified Forest”, Joe played the part of being the henchman to the lead of the movie. Joe always got roles which required a burly Irish-looking guy. He would act well as a cop or contrastingly as a mob man, as a coach or as a footballer, as a bouncer or as a sidekick holding his buddy’s gun. Due to his mostly Irish portrayal of characters and his Irish looks, he was often mistaken to be of Irish descent. However, he was a German. Joe also starred in a variety of television roles including parts in shows like “Maverick” and “Frontier Doctor”. However, his most remembered and celebrated role was his portrayal of Sergeant Biff O’Hara on the show “The Adventures of Rin Tin” aired on ABC from 1954 to 1959.
The show was an all-time favorite and stayed on ABC’s second most-watched show, only after the Disney Show. Joe married his second wife, June Golden in 1937. She was the love of his life, and they remained married until her death due to Leukemia in 1960. The couple had five children. But, one of them died in infancy only. Joe, along with his acting career, took up various jobs including housing construction. They built a fulfilled and nourished life for their children with ample facilities and luxury. After the death of his wife June, Joe had a hard time coping with things and eventually left the movie business. He officially retired in 1960. Nevertheless, Joe was coaxed into acting in one last film by his friend John Wayne, “How the West was won.” This movie marked the end of his acting career. Individually, Joe was a man of multiple interests and hobbies. He was an avid reader and loved to eat. He had a great love for traveling and was able to pursue this passion in his later years of giving up work. He was passionate about cars as well as sailing; for cigars as well as shooting. Also, he was a workaholic who sometimes worked from 4 in the morning to 8 at night. Although professionally he was only able to appear in supporting characters throughout his career, personally Joe built a great life with wife, June and his children.
According to his children, he was a great father who provided for all their needs and desires. After the death of his wife, he let their house in Glendale and shifted to a smaller place in Beverly Hills. He wholly left the acting business and took up property development as a full-time job. He played an imperative role in various development projects in southern California including the building of a hospital. He spent his summers in Ashland, Oregon in a travelling home at the top of a mount, overseeing the city while his winters were in Palm Springs, California. Joe also spent his later years fulfilling his love for traveling. However, his health started deteriorating and eventually he permanently moved to Oregon to stay close to his son, Riley Sawyer. Joe finally succumbed to liver cancer in 1982 at the age of 75.