Born: November 5, 1930;

Died on March 8, 2016

RICHARD Davalos, who has died aged 85, was one of two unknown young actors chosen by director Elia Kazan to play the brothers Cal and Aron Trask in his 1955 film of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, a retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel in present-day California.

For Davalos the role of the dutiful son Aron marked the start of a film career that lasted more than 50 years and included appearances in Cool Hand Luke (1967), with Paul Newman, and Kelly’s Heroes (1970), with Clint Eastwood, although he never found another role to match it and gradually slipped into obscurity.

Meanwhile his co-star made only two more feature films and was dead in a car crash within a year of East of Eden coming out… But it was the death of an actor and the birth of a legend, for it was Davalos’s co-star James Dean who was destined to become the Hollywood icon.

The two young men were the talk of the town even before East of Eden opened. The word was out – this was a new kind of star, with the legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper reporting seeing them lounging around in a restaurant, playing with the cutlery and sticking their feet on the seats.

She reckoned they were like “a couple of Roman soldiers resting up from the wars,” and she lamented the death of glamour in Hollywood.

James Dean, as the son desperate for his father’s love, but seemingly unable to do anything right, was a new type of anguished, insecure anti-hero, for a new post-war world.

And his character and performance overshadowed Davalos’s characterisation - notwithstanding Aron’s final mental collapse after Cal spitefully reveals that their mother is a whore. Ultimately it was James Dean’s film and Davalos was destined to be the actor who played the “good” brother, perhaps even the boring brother, in James Dean’s debut film.

Davalos was born in New York City in 1930, into a family with Spanish and Finnish antecedents. He began his screen career in television in the early 1950s. But before East of Eden his experience of the film industry consisted of showing people to their seats while working as a cinema usher.

He and Dean did a screen test together for East of Eden. It survives and can be found on line, with two actors delivering beautifully nuanced performances in a scene that is both powerful and delicate. Paul Newman also did tests and was considered for both roles.

Kazan made arrangements for Davalos and Dean to share rooms in Burbank, near the studios, hoping that Davalos might provide some sort of role model for Dean off-screen too, as Dean's appetite for late nights on the town in search of drink, drugs and sex were causing some alarm.

Davalos liked Dean and he readily acknowledged the power of his acting. “Just being in a scene with him could be an unnerving experience,” he said. “He had an instinct to disturb.” After one scene in which Cal hits Aron, Davalos felt so traumatised that he cried for several hours.

However, Davalos found Dean impossible to live with, because of his mood swings, slovenly personal habits and, it was later suggested, Dean’s sexual attraction to him. When they returned from location shooting it was to separate apartments.

On Broadway, Davalos won a Theatre World award for his performance in the Arthur Miller double bill A View from the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays in 1956, he had a starring role in the Civil War television drama series The Americans in 1961, he was one of Paul Newman’s convict co-stars in Cool Hand Luke in 1967 and he played the barber Mr Crosetti in Something Wicked This Way Comes in 1983.

He also made guest appearances in numerous popular television series, though he never again found a part as significant as that of Aron in his first film. And he told one interviewer: “I’ve done films, TV, plays, directed and taught acting, but I’ve never liked being an actor.”

However he did reach a new and completely different audience when his picture was used on the cover of The Smiths album Strangeways, Here We Come (1987) and pictures of him were subsequently used on compilation albums.

Davalos said he was “flattered” and revealed he met Morrissey met at one of The Smiths’ gigs in California, but that he never really got to the bottom of why he used his pictures.

It is believed Davalos was married twice. He is survived by two daughters, Elyssa Davalos, an actress, and Dominique Davalos, an actress, singer and rock musician, who now works in real estate in Texas. The actress Alexa Davalos, star of The Man in the High Castle, is Elyssa’s daughter and his granddaughter.