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John Smith, Star of ‘Laramie,’ ‘Cimarron City,’ Dies at 63

February 6, 1995 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ John Smith, who changed his name from Robert Earl Van Orden as a joke, then gained starring roles in the TV westerns ``Laramie″ and ``Cimarron City,″ has died at age 63.

Smith, whose acting career peaked in the late 1950s, died at his home here on Jan. 25 of what was probably a combination of cirrhosis and heart problems, according to his former wife, actress Luana Patten Smith.

Talent agent Henry Willson _ who had ``discovered″ and named Rock Hudson, and Tab Hunter _ accompanied the actor to court to change his name.

``You mean you’ve got a good name like Robert Earl Van Orden, and you want to take a common name like John Smith?″ the judge asked.

``Yes, just plain John Smith,″ the actor said. ``I’m the only one in the business.″

He played a deputy sheriff in ``Cimarron City″ from 1958 to 1959, then shared top billing in ``Laramie,″ playing a rancher in the Wyoming Territory. The show ran from 1959 to 1963.

Smith first performed under his given name as part of the Bob Mitchell Boys’ Choir in the Bing Crosby films ``Going My Way″ in 1944 and ``The Bells of St. Mary’s″ in 1946.

He played James Stewart’s younger brother in ``Carbine Williams,″ then dropped out of acting until Willson made him a star.

From 1954, after the name change, Smith’s movies included ``The High and the Mighty,″ ``We’re No Angels,″ ``Friendly Persuasion,″ ``The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm,″ ``The Crooked Circle″ and ``Island of Lost Women.″

Funeral arrangments were not announced.