Born in Austin, Texas, Zachary Scott was a distant cousin of George Washington, and his grandfather had been a very successful cattle rancher. Scott intended to be a doctor like his father, Zachary Scott Sr., but after attending the University of Texas at Austin for a while, he decided to switch to acting. He signed on as a cabin boy on a freighter which took him to England, where he acted in repertory theatre for a while, before he returned to Austin, and began acting in local theater.
Alfred Lunt discovered Scott in Texas and convinced him to move to New York City, where he appeared on Broadway. Scott made his debut on Broadway in a revival of Ah, Wilderness! in 1941 with a small role as a bartender. Three years later, Jack L. Warner saw him in a performance of Those Endearing Young Charms and signed him to appear in The Mask of Dimitrios.
He appeared the next year in Mildred Pierce to much acclaim. In the film, Scott was Joan Crawford’s somewhat sleazy love interest, whose mysterious murder formed the basis of the plot. In 1946 exhibitors voted him the third most promising “star of tomorrow.”
Zachary Scott enjoyed playing scoundrels and the public enjoyed those portrayals, too. Scott went on to star in such movies as The Southerner, The Unfaithful, Cass Timberlane, Flamingo Road, Flaxy Martin, Guilty Bystander, Wings of Danger, and Shadow on the Wall, opposite Nancy Davis Reagan and Ann Sothern. He later starred in Luis Buñuel’s The Young One, Buñuel’s second English language movie.
In 1961, he portrayed the part of White Eyes, a Native American Chief, in the episode Incident Before Black Pass on Rawhide.
In 1968 the Austin Civic Theater was renamed the Zachary Scott Theatre Center to honor their native son. His family has endowed two chairs at the University of Texas’s theatre department in his name. Two streets in the Austin area are named in his honor: One street at the old airport Mueller Redevelopment; and the other in unincorporated southeast Travis County.
Scott has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.