Albert Salmi was born on March 11, 1927, in Brooklyn, New York, to Finnish parents. After serving in the Army during WWII, he used the GI Bill to study at the Dramatic Workshop of the American Theater Wing and the prestigious Actors Studio. He became a stage actor, very soon landing on Broadway, where his role as Bo Decker in "Bus Stop" was his biggest stage success. A compromise between the stage and screen was live TV drama, in which he was cast regularly. His portrayal of Bruce Pearson in the The United States Steel Hour (1953)'s live 1956 broadcast of "Bang the Drum Slowly" was heart-tuggingly poignant. Salmi's very first film appearance was a choice role in The Brothers Karamazov (1958), for which he turned down an Oscar nomination. The National Board of Review succeeded in presenting him with its award for the same picture, however. Salmi came to enjoy film work and actively sought out parts in westerns. He became a very familiar presence, especially on the TV screen, where he guest starred in many of the westerns and other series of the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1967 he was presented with the Western Heritage (Wrangler) Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame for his role in the Gunsmoke (1955) episode entitled "Death Watch". This bronze cowboy on horseback became his most cherished award. Salmi demonstrated his versatility, however, as years went on. Tall, brawny and sometimes quite intimidating, he was often cast as the bad guy or the authority figure. He was equally convincing, though, as a wronged or misunderstood good guy or a good-natured sidekick. A method actor, Salmi had the ability to make you love or hate his character.
He was, in real life, quite different from most of the characters he played. A quiet-natured family man, he was an oddity by glitzy Hollywood standards. Many of his friends and co-stars have commented on his sense of humor and his lack of pretense. In semi-retirement, he shared his knowledge of theatre by teaching drama classes in Spokane, Washington, where he and his wife settled.