Pittsburgh-born and -raised character actor Regis Toomey, of Irish descent, took an early interest in the performing arts and initially studied drama at the university of his home town. One of four children of Francis X. and Mary Ellen Toomey, John Regis Toomey initially pondered a law career, but acting won out and he gradually established himself as a musical stage performer. Dropping his first name for acting purposes, he was touring in a production of "Little Nellie Kelly" in England when he developed an acute case of laryngitis. The severity of the problem forced a serious rethinking of his career goals.
With the birth of sound pictures, Toomey made an auspicious debut with Alibi (1929) starring Chester Morris where a climactic death scene sparked controversy--and a movie career that would include almost 200 pictures and a number of other notorious death scenes. His lead/second lead status opposite such stars as Clara Bow, Constance Bennett, Barbara Stanwyck and Evelyn Brent fell