James Harold Tilton Lynch (1927-2006), known as Hal Lynch, was a writer as well as a film, television, and stage actor. He is best known for his roles in the Western films The Way West and Stagecoach. He retired from acting in 1975 to Opp, Covington County, where he had spent his youth. There, he devoted himself to historic preservation and wrote a weekly history column in the Opp News.
Lynch was born in Birmingham, Jefferson County, on November 13, 1927, to Arnett Tilton Lynch, an optometrist and jeweler, and Katie Bell Jacobs, his second wife. Lynch lived part of his childhood in Opp, a small Alabama town near the city of Enterprise, Covington County, and attended Opp public schools. In 1943, during World War II, he left high school and joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the South Pacific theater. While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he graduated in absentia from high school in 1945. Lynch served in the Navy until the end of World War II and then entered the University of Colorado, graduating in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering and business administration. He then earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in anthropology, specializing in folk music, from the University of California, Los Angeles.
In the late 1950s, he began to pursue a career in stage acting. In 1962, he and several other actors founded the Los Angeles theatre company Theatre West. A democratic artistic cooperative, Theatre West provides training for actors to this day and has played roles in the careers of several well-known actors, including Richard Dreyfuss and Martin Landau. Lynch performed vital tasks, including organizing shows and building sets and light fixtures for the company’s playhouse. In September 1963, Lynch debuted on Broadway in New York City in the musical Spoon River Anthology, which ran until January 1964 and was well received. In 1964, Lynch returned to Los Angeles and began his film and television career, debuting in an episode of the Western Gunsmoke, the second-longest-running serial TV show. He played a minor role in “The Bounty Hunter,” an episode in the show’s eleventh season that aired on October 30, 1965. Lynch went on to appear in numerous other popular television shows, including Star Trek, Bonanza, Dragnet, and The Big Valley. He played a role in his first full-length film in Stagecoach, which premiered in June 1966 and featured Lynch as a grizzled bartender. His most well-known role came a year later, in May 1967, when he played a character named Big Henry in the Western The Way West. He also appeared in the movie Rosie! in November 1967 in another minor role. His last credit was an episode of the television crime drama Barnaby Jones, in an episode called “Honeymoon with Death” that aired October 17, 1975. Lynch also wrote scripts for various TV shows as well as two plays that achieved some success on stage: Three Miles to Poley and Heroes of Opp. The latter was inspired by his grandfather, a local military hero.
When he retired from show business in 1975, Lynch moved back to Opp and began writing a weekly history column for the Opp News. This column featured mostly local history with fun, interesting tidbits about the tiny Alabama town. Lynch also worked with the local schools, reading stories to young children and assisting with the local theater. On October 5, 2006, Lynch reportedly finished his column, drove to the Opp News offices, and delivered it. He then bought some groceries on his way home. There, he called 911 to report that someone had been shot at his home, collected his shotgun, and walked into his front yard and shot himself in the chest. He was buried in Opp at Peaceful Acres Memorial Gardens.