Melvyn Douglas

studio publicity photo of Melvyn Douglas c. 1939, Los Angeles Times

Birth Name: Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg

Date of Birth: April 5, 1901

Place of Birth: Macon, Georgia, U.S.

Date of Death: August 4, 1981

Place of Death: New York City, New York, U.S.

*Ashkenazi Jewish (father)
*English, Scottish (mother)

Melvyn Douglas was an American actor. He twice won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for Hud (1963) and Being There (1979).

Melvyn was the son of Lena Priscilla (Shackelford) and Edouard Gregory Hesselberg, who was a concert pianist and composer. His father was a Latvian Jewish emigrant, from Riga. His mother was born in LaGrange Furnace, Stewart, Tennessee, and had English and Scottish ancestry. His brother was actor George Douglas. Melvyn was married to actress and politician Helen Gahagan Douglas, until her death. He had a son with his former wife, artist Rosalind Hightower, and two children with Helen. His granddaughter is actress Illeana Douglas.

Melvyn’s paternal grandfather was named Heinrich/Henry Hesselberg (the son of Shemaryohu Elias Hesselberg and Rebecca).

Melvyn’s paternal grandmother was named Sarah/Sora Davidov/Davidoff.

Melvyn’s maternal grandfather was Col. George Taliaferro Shackelford (the son of James Madison Shackelford and Priscilla L. Culbertson). George was born in Springfield, Sangamon, Illinois, and was a Union Army officer. James was the son of George Lyne Shackelford and Martha Hockaday. Priscilla was the daughter of John Culbertson and Mary Marbury.

Melvyn’s maternal grandmother was Emma Jane Douglas (the daughter of Erskine Douglas and Sophia Garrett). Emma was born in Richmond, Ray, Missouri. Erskine was born in New London, New London Co., Connecticut, the son of Richard Douglas and Lucy Way Palmes/Palme/Palms. Sophia was the daughter of Thomas Johnson Garrett and Nancy Ann Thompson.

Sources: Genealogy of Melvyn Douglas –

Death record of Melvyn’s father –

Genealogies of Melvyn Douglas (focusing on his mother’s side) –

Melvyn’s mother on the 1880 U.S. Census –


Curious about ethnicity

2 Responses

  1. andrew says:

    For some reason I confuse him with Louis Calhern

  2. andrew says:

    Douglas, in his autobiography, See You at the Movies (1987), wrote that he was unaware of his Jewish background until later in his youth: “I did not learn about the non-Christian part of my heritage until my early teens,” as his parents preferred to hide his Jewish heritage. It was his aunts, on his father’s side, who told him “the truth” when he was 14. He writes that he “admired them unstintingly”; and they in turn treated him like a son

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