Darren McGavin

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Darren McGavin
DarrenMcGavin Crop.jpg
McGavin in Riverboat, 1960
Born William Lyle Richardson
(1922-05-07)May 7, 1922
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
Died February 25, 2006(2006-02-25) (aged 83)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cardiovascular disease
Resting place Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Nationality American
Occupation Actor
Years active 1940–2006
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Anita Williams (m. 1942–43)
Melanie York (m. 1944–69)
Kathie Browne (m. 1969–2003)

Darren McGavin (born William Lyle Richardson, May 7, 1922 – February 25, 2006)[1] was an American film, stage, and television actor best known for his portrayal of the grumpy but loving father in the film A Christmas Story, and for the title role in the television horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

McGavin began his career in walk-on roles and later onstage, appearing in Broadway productions in 1953, and later played the title character in the 1950s television series Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. From 1959–1961, McGavin starred in the NBC Western series Riverboat, first with Burt Reynolds and then with Noah Beery, Jr., and in later years, he had a recurring role in the sitcom Murphy Brown, as the title character's father, for which he received an Emmy Award.

Early life[edit]

McGavin was born in Spokane, Washington,[2] the son of Reed D. Richardson and his wife Grace (Bogart) Watson.[3][4] According to McGavin, his childhood was turbulent. He ran away from home at age eleven, and lived in abandoned warehouses in Tacoma, Washington during his teenage years.[5]


McGavin spent a year at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.[5] Untrained as an actor, he worked as a painter at Columbia Pictures movie studios in 1945. When an opening became available for a bit part in A Song to Remember, McGavin applied and won his first movie role. Shortly afterwards, he moved to New York City and studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio under teacher Sanford Meisner.[5] He began working in live TV and on Broadway, including The Rainmaker (where he created the title role), The King and I, and Death of a Salesman.[6]

McGavin returned to Hollywood and became busy in a wide variety of TV and movie roles. In 1955, he appeared in the short film A Word to the Wives with Marsha Hunt, and with roles in the feature films Summertime and The Man with the Golden Arm. During this period, McGavin also appeared on the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents in an episode titled "The Cheney Vase" as a scheming caretaker and aspiring art thief, opposite Carolyn Jones, Patricia Collinge, and Ruta Lee.

Over the course of his career, McGavin starred in seven different TV series and guest-starred in many more; these television roles increased in the late 1950s and early 1960s with leading parts in series such as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer and Riverboat. McGavin held a black belt in traditional Japanese karate and was noted for doing many of his own stunts and for the "enthusiasm" he put into some fight scenes, sometimes forgetting to pull his punches and "ad-libbing" moves. McGavin narrated and appeared in The Big Picture TV series in 1967, "The Inner Ring" episode, produced for the Office of the Chief of Information by the Army Pictorial Center.

When the comedy team Martin and Lewis broke up, McGavin played the role originally earmarked for Dean Martin in The Delicate Delinquent, Jerry Lewis's first solo film.

In 1970, he was in negotiations to replace Larry Hagman as the male lead in the television series I Dream of Jeannie for an intended sixth season, but NBC stated that they would rather cancel the series than have any additional similarities to Bewitched, in which the male lead was replaced by another actor.

McGavin was also known for his role as Sam Parkhill in the miniseries adaptation of The Martian Chronicles. He appeared as a fill-in regular in The Name of the Game in an episode entitled "Goodbye Harry" and was featured as a reporter in one of the Gene Barry segments.

The first of his two best-known roles came in 1972, in the supernatural-themed TV movie The Night Stalker (1972). With McGavin playing a reporter who discovers the activities of a modern-day vampire on the loose in Las Vegas, the film became the highest-rated made-for-TV movie in history at that time; and when the sequel The Night Strangler (1973) also was a strong success, a subsequent television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) was made. In the series, McGavin played Carl Kolchak, an investigative reporter for the INS, a Chicago-based news service, who regularly stumbles upon the supernatural or occult basis for a seemingly mundane crime; although his involvement routinely assisted in the dispelment of the otherworldly adversary, his evidence in the case was always destroyed or seized, usually by a public official or major social figure who sought to cover up the incident. He would write his ensuing stories in a sensational, tabloid style which advised readers that the true story was being withheld from them. McGavin and the cast were enthusiastic about the series. McGavin reportedly entered into a verbal agreement with Sid Sheinberg (President of MCA and Universal TV) to produce The Night Stalker as a TV series as a coproduction between Universal and McGavin's Taurean Productions. Early promises were never fulfilled, and McGavin expressed concern over script quality and lack of network commitment toward promoting the show. His concerns appeared justified, as the series drifted into camp humor and the production values declined in later episodes.[7]

McGavin was asked to play the role of Arthur Dales, founder of the X-Files, in three episodes: season 5's "Travelers" and two episodes from season 6, "Agua Mala" and "The Unnatural". Failing health forced him to withdraw from the latter, and the script (written and directed by series star David Duchovny) was rewritten to feature M. Emmet Walsh as Dales's brother, also called Arthur.

In 1983, he starred as "Old Man Parker", the narrator's father, in the movie A Christmas Story. He portrayed a middle-class father in 1940's Hohman, Indiana, who was endearing in spite of his being comically oblivious to his own use of profanity and completely unable to recognize his unfortunate taste for kitsch. Blissfully unaware of his family's embarrassment by his behavior, he took pride in his self-assessed ability to fix anything in record time, and carried on a tireless campaign against his neighbor's rampaging bloodhounds. McGavin allegedly received a fee of $2 million to play the role, making him one of the highest-paid actors of the time.

The diamond for Darren McGavin as Mike Hammer on the Studio City Walk of Fame

McGavin made an uncredited appearance in 1984's The Natural as a shady gambler, and appeared on a Christmas episode ("Midnight of the Century") of Millennium, playing the long-estranged father of Frank Black (Lance Henriksen); he also appeared as Adam Sandler's character's hotel-magnate father in the 1995 movie Billy Madison.

During the filming of The Natural, Robert Redford was so pleased with McGavin's portrayal of his character that they began to expand the role. However, after a certain point, union rules dictated that the actor's contract needed to be renegotiated for salary and billing. After haggling on salary, and holding up production of the movie because of it, the billing had to be decided. McGavin became somewhat fed up with the proceedings and instructed his agent to waive his billing in the credits entirely so they could get back to filming.

He won a CableACE Award (for the 1991 TV movie Clara) and received a 1990 Emmy Award[8] as an Outstanding Guest Star in a Comedy Series on Murphy Brown, in which he played Murphy's father.

A brief and unsuccessful remake of the Night Stalker TV series in 2005 starred Stuart Townsend. In the initial episode aired on September 29, 2005, McGavin appeared momentarily in the background, using digitally inserted footage from his role in the original series.

Darren McGavin narrated the majority of the audio book versions of the adventure novels by John D. MacDonald in which each title included a color. The central character and main voice of the novels was Travis McGee.

Personal life[edit]

McGavin was married three times. He first married Anita Marie Williams in 1942.[9] He later married Melanie York on March 20, 1944; their marriage ended in divorce in 1969, but produced four children: Bogart, York, Megan, and Graemm Bridget McGavin. The third was to Kathie Browne on December 31, 1969, ending with her death in 2003.

McGavin was a lifelong active Democrat.[10]

McGavin died on February 25, 2006, at the age of 83 of cardiovascular disease in a Los Angeles hospital.[11] He is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[12]



Year Title Role Notes
1945 A Song to Remember Student Uncredited
1945 Counter-Attack Para-tropper Uncredited
1945 Kiss and Tell Tech Sergeant Uncredited
1946 She Wouldn't Say Yes The Kid Uncredited
1946 Fear Blonde Student Uncredited
1951 Queen for a Day Dan
1951 Distant Drums Navy Lieutenant Uncredited
1955 Summertime Eddie Yaeger
1955 The Man with the Golden Arm Louie
1955 The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell Russ Peters
1955 A Word to the Wives... George Peters
1957 The Delicate Delinquent Mike Damon
1957 Beau James Charley Hand
1958 The Case Against Brooklyn Pete Harris
1961 Witchcraft Fred Television film
1964 Bullet for a Badman Sam Ward
1965 The Great Sioux Massacre Captain Benton
1966 African Gold Mike Gregory
1968 Mission Mars Col. Mike Blaiswick
1969 Anatomy of a Crime David Ross Television film
1970 The Challenge Jacob Gallery Television film
1970 Tribes Drake Television film
1970 The Forty-Eight Hour Mile David Ross Television film
1971 Mrs. Pollifax-Spy Farrell
1971 The Death of Me Yet Joe Chalk Television film
1972 The Night Stalker Carl Kolchak Television film
1972 Something Evil Paul Worden Television film
1972 Here Comes the Judge Judge Television film
1972 Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole Lou Grazzo Television film
1973 43: The Richard Petty Story Lee Petty
1973 The Night Strangler Carl Kolchak Television film
1973 Happy Mother's Day, Love George George Perry Uncredited
1973 The Six Million Dollar Man Oliver Spencer Television film
1974 Hay que matar a B. Pal Kovak
1976 No Deposit, No Return Duke
1976 Brink's: The Great Robbery James McNally Television film
1977 Airport '77 Stan Buchek
1978 Hot Lead and Cold Feet Mayor Ragsdale
1978 Zero to Sixty Michael Nolan
1978 The Users Henry Waller Television film
1979 Donovan's Kid Timothy Donovan Television film
1979 Love for Rent Coach John Martin Television film
1979 A Bond of Iron William Weaver Television film
1980 Ike: The War Years General George S. Patton Television film
1980 Waikiki Captain Television film
1980 Hangar 18 Harry Forbes
1980 The Martian Chronicles Sam Parkill Miniseries
1981 Firebird 2015 AD Red
1983 A Christmas Story Old Man Parker
1984 The Natural Gus Sands Uncredited
1984 The Return of Marcus Welby, M.D. Dr. David Jennings Television film
1985 Turk 182 Detective Kowalski
1985 The O'Briens The Father Television film
1986 Raw Deal Harry Shannon
1987 From the Hip Craig Duncan
1987 Tales from the Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's A.D. Nathan Television film
1988 Inherit the Wind E.K. Hornbeck Television film
1988 Dead Heat Dr. Ernest McNab
1988 The Diamond Trap Walter Vadney Television film
1989 In the Name of Blood Fergus Redding
1990 By Dawn's Early Light Condor Television film
1990 Child in the Night Os Windfield Television film
1990 Kojak: It's Always Something Wainright Television film
1990 Captain America General Fleming
1991 Blood and Concrete Hank Dick
1991 Perfect Harmony Mr. Hobbs Television film
1992 Happy Hell Night Henry Collins
1992 Mastergate Folsom Bunting Television film
1993 The American Clock Old Arthur Huntington Television film
1994 A Perfect Stranger John Henry Phillips Television film
1995 Billy Madison Brian Madison
1995 Derby Lester Corbett Television film
1996 Small Time Sam
1999 Pros and Cons Mr. Stanford
2008 Still Waters Burn Paddy Filmed in 1996


Stage credits[edit]


  1. ^ Risling, Greg (February 26, 2006). "Actor Darren McGavin Dies at 83". The Washington Post. The Associated Press. Retrieved December 28, 2016. 
  2. ^ According to the 1930 U.S. census
  3. ^ "Darren Mcgavin Biography (1922-)". filmreference.com. 
  4. ^ "Message Boards". myfamily.com. 
  5. ^ a b c Benjamin, Scott (February 26, 2006). "Actor 'Night Stalker' McGavin Dies". CBS News. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Darren McGavin". Playbill. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Night Stalker". darrenmcgavin.net. 
  8. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  9. ^ "California, County Marriages, 1850-1952," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8VT-926 : 28 November 2014), William Lyle Richardson and Anita Marie Williams, 15 Aug 1942; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 2,114,960.
  10. ^ "1968 Presidential RaceDemocrats". pophistorydig.com. 
  11. ^ "Actor Darren McGavin dies at 83". 
  12. ^ Darren McGavin at Find a Grave
  13. ^ The Evil Touch Wikipedia

Further reading[edit]

  • Riverboat: The Evolution of a Television Series, by S. L. Kotar and J. E. Gessler. Albany, BearManor Media, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59393-505-4.

External links[edit]