William Dennis Weaver was an American actor, best known for his work in television, including roles on Gunsmoke, as Marshal Sam McCloud on the NBC police drama McCloud, and the 1971 TV movie Duel.
Weaver was born in Joplin, Missouri, the son of Lena Prather and Walter Weaver, of Irish, Scottish, English, Cherokee and Osage ancestry. He wanted to be an actor from boyhood. He started college at Joplin Junior College, now Missouri Southern State University and later attended the University of Oklahoma at Norman, where he studied drama and also was a track star, setting records in several events. He served as a pilot in the United States Navy during the Second World War. In 1945, he married Gerry Stowell, with whom he had three children. In 1948, he tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in the decathlon. After he finished sixth in the Olympic Trials, his college friend Lonny Chapman convinced him to come to New York City to try acting. Weaver later said "I did so poorly, I decided . stay in New York and try acting."
Weaver's first role on Broadway came as an understudy to Chapman as Turk Fisher in Come Back, Little Sheba. He eventually took over the role from Chapman in the national touring company. Solidifying his choice to become an actor, Weaver enrolled in The Actors Studio, where he met Shelley Winters. In the beginning of his acting career, he supported his family by doing a number of odd jobs, including selling vacuum cleaners, tricycles and women's hosiery.
In 1952, Winters aided him in getting a contract from Universal Studios. He made his film debut that same year in the movie The Redhead from Wyoming. Over the next three years, he played roles in a series of movies, but still had to work odd jobs to support his family. It was while delivering flowers that he heard he had landed his biggest break