Mature was born in Louisville, Kentucky. His father, Marcello Gelindo Maturi, later Marcellus George Mature, was an Italian-speaking immigrant. His mother, Clara P. (Ackley), was Kentucky-born and of Swiss heritage. An older brother, Marcellus Paul Mature, died at 11 in 1918. Victor Mature was educated at parochial schools, the Kentucky Military Institute and the Spencerian Business School. He briefly sold candy and operated a restaurant before moving to California.
Mature went to study and act at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. For three years he lived in a tent and was spotted by an agent for Hal Roach while acting in To Quito and Back. This led to a contract with Roach, who cast him in a small role in The Housekeeper’s Daughter then gave Mature his first leading role as a fur-clad caveman in One Million B.C. (1940). This was followed up with Captain Caution.
In 1941 Mature’s contract was bought out by 20th Century Fox, who used him to star opposite actresses such as Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. He also supported Gertrude Lawrence on Broadway in Lady in the Dark.
World War II
In July 1942 Mature attempted to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was rejected for color blindness. He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after taking a different eye test the same day. He was assigned to the USCGC Storis, which was doing Greenland Patrol work. After 14 months aboard the Storis, Mature was promoted to the rate of Chief Boatswain’s Mate.
In 1944 he did a series of War Bond tours and acted in morale shows. He assisted Coast Guard recruiting efforts by being a featured player in the musical revue. “Tars and Spars”, which opened in April 1944, and toured the United States for the next year. In May 1945, Mature was reassigned to the Coast Guard manned troop transport USS Admiral H. T. Mayo that was involved in transferring troops to the Pacific Theater. Mature was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard in November 1945, and he resumed his acting career.
Resumption of Career
After the war, Mature was cast by John Ford in My Darling Clementine, playing Doc Holliday opposite Henry Ford’s Wyatt Earp. Darryl F. Zanuck was delighted that Ford wanted to use Mature, telling the director, “Personally, I think the guy has been one of the most under-rated performers in Hollywood. The public is crazy about him and strangely enough every picture that he has been in has been a big box-office hit. Yet the Romanoff round table has refused to take him seriously as an actor. A part like Doc Holiday will be sensational for him and I agree with you that the peculiar traits of his personality are ideal for a characterization such as this.”
For the next decade, Mature settled into playing hard-boiled characters in a range of genres such as film noir, Westerns, and Biblical motion pictures like The Robe (with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons) and its sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (with Susan Hayward). Mature also starred with Hedy Lamarr in Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic, Samson and Delilah (1949) and as Horemheb in The Egyptian (1954) with Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney. He reportedly stated he was successful in Biblical epics because he could, “make with the holy look”.
He also continued to appear in a number of musicals, co-starred with Esther Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and, according to her autobiography, had a romantic relationship with her.
Mature’s old agreement with Roach contained multiple loan-out clauses to RKO which still applied when it was transferred to 20th Century-Fox and he made a number of films for RKO. However Fox suspended him in 1949 for refusing to make Mike Fury. Fox later suspended him for refusing to appear with Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward in Untamed (1955).
In the 1950s Mature’s contract with 20th Century Fox ended and he freelanced. He concentrated mostly on action adventure movies, making a number in particular for Warwick Films. In 1954 he signed a two-picture deal with Columbia Pictures giving him script and co-star approval.
After five years of retirement, he was lured back into acting by the opportunity to parody himself in After the Fox (1966), co-written by Neil Simon. Mature played “Tony Powell.” an ageing American actor who is living off of his reputation from his earlier body of work. In a similar vein in 1968 he played a giant, The Big Victor, in Head, a movie starring The Monkees. The character poked fun at both his screen image and, reportedly, RCA Victor who distributed Colgems Records, the Monkees’s label. Mature enjoyed the script while admitting it made no sense to him, saying,”All I know is it makes me laugh.”
Mature was famously self-deprecatory about his acting skills. Once, after being rejected for membership in a country club because he was an actor, he cracked, “I’m not an actor — and I’ve got sixty-four films to prove it!” He was quoted in 1968 on his acting career: “Actually, I am a golfer. That is my real occupation. I never was an actor. Ask anybody, particularly the critic
He came out of retirement again in 1971 to star in Every Little Crook and Nanny and again in 1976 along with many other former Hollywood stars in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood. His last appearance was a cameo as a millionaire in the 1979 film Firepower.
“I was never that crazy about acting,” Mature once stated. “I had a compulsion to earn money, not to act. So I worked as an actor until I could afford to retire. I wanted to quit while I could still enjoy life… I like to loaf. Everyone told me I would go crazy or die if I quit working. Yeah? Well what a lovely way to die.”
Mature was married five times. His first two wives were Frances Charles and Martha Stephenson Kemp. His third wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1948, divorced him in 1955 alleging mental cruelty. He married Adriene Urwick in 1959 but they divorced. He had also been engaged to Rita Hayworth (before she married Orson Welles), and Anne Shirley.
Mature died of leukemia in 1999 at his Rancho Santa Fe, California home, at the age of 86. He was buried in the family plot, marked by a replica of the Angel of Grief, at St. Michael’s Cemetery in his hometown of Louisville.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Mature has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6780 Hollywood Boulevard.