William Lyle Richardson
May 7, 1922
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
|Died||February 25, 2006 (aged 83)|
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Alma mater||University of the Pacific|
(m. 1942; div. 1943)
(m. 1944; div. 1969)
(m. 1969; died 2003)
Darren McGavin (born William Lyle Richardson; May 7, 1922 – February 25, 2006) was an American actor.
McGavin began his career working as a set painter for Columbia Pictures. In 1954, he originated roles in Broadway productions of My Three Angels and The Rainmaker, followed by roles in David Lean's Summertime and Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm (both 1955).
On television, McGavin portrayed the title character in Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (1958–1959), as well as starred in Riverboat (1959–1961) and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975). For his recurring role on the sitcom Murphy Brown, he received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
His film credits include Airport '77 (1977), Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978), A Christmas Story (1983), Happy Hell Night (1992), and Billy Madison (1995). Despite playing a significant role in the baseball film The Natural (1984), due to a contract dispute, McGavin was uncredited for his portrayal as shady bookie, Gus Sands.
William Lyle Richardson was born in Spokane, Washington, the only child of Grace (née Bogart) Watson and Reed D. Richardson. His parents divorced when he was 11 years old, and custody was given to his father, who was employed as a traveling salesman for a chemical company. When William was an adolescent, his father boarded him with a family at their farm on Puget Sound near Tacoma while he traveled for work. McGavin eventually ran away from the farm, and lived with a Native American family along the Nisqually River. His father was soon notified that he had fled, and McGavin temporarily dodged police and welfare workers before his father enrolled him in a Catholic boarding school.
Around age 16, McGavin left the boarding school and temporarily lived as a runaway under the wharf in San Francisco, before moving in with his mother and stepfather at their ranch in Southern California. While attending high school in California, McGavin developed aspirations to be an architect, and after graduating enrolled at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, to study architecture. He later studied theatre at the HB Studio in New York City. McGavin was rejected for military service during World War II because of bad knees.
Broadway, film, and television
While attending the University of the Pacific, McGavin took a side job building scenery for a local theater group. He subsequently dropped out of college, and found work 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. In 1949, he joined the cast of a touring production of Death of a Salesman, playing Happy Lohman. He began appearing on Broadway in 1954, in productions of My Three Angels and The Rainmaker (where he created the title role) opposite Geraldine Page. While in New York, McGavin also appeared on several live theater programs that aired on television, such as Kraft Television Theatre and The U.S. Steel Hour.
McGavin returned to Hollywood in the early 1950s and appeared in the short film A Word to the Wives with Marsha Hunt, and had his first starring roles in the feature films Summertime, opposite Katharine Hepburn, and The Man with the Golden Arm (both 1955). Also in 1955, McGavin appeared twice in the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, first in an episode titled "Triggers in Leash" and later in an episode titled "The Cheney Vase", as a scheming caretaker and aspiring art thief, opposite Carolyn Jones, Patricia Collinge, and Ruta Lee. He also later appeared in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour titled "A Matter of Murder" in 1964.
Throughout 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, in which he portrayed the title character from 1957 until 1959. He was subsequently cast as Captain Grey Holden opposite Burt Reynolds in the Western series Riverboat, which aired from 1959 until 1961; Reynolds was replaced by Noah Beery Jr. midway through the series due to disputes between Reynolds and McGavin. After his departure, Reynolds told TV Guide: "Darren McGavin is going to be a very disappointed man on the first Easter after his death." Though considered by critics to be among the best actors working in television at the time, in 1960, McGavin told the Vancouver Sun that he disliked most television, likening it to purgatory for a working actor.
When Martin and Lewis broke up, McGavin played the role originally earmarked for Dean Martin in The Delicate Delinquent, Jerry Lewis's first solo film. 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. McGavin returned to theater in 1964, starring in a regional production of A Thousand Clowns, in which his teenage son, York, also appeared. In 1964 McGavin appeared as Mark Troxel on The Virginian in the episode "The Intruders." In 1968, he starred as David Ross on the short-lived detective series The Outsider.
Kolchak films and series
McGavin was cast as the lead in the supernatural-themed television film 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; when the sequel The Night Strangler (1973) was also 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 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 co-production 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.
In 1973, prior to the production of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, McGavin made his directorial debut with the film Happy Mother's Day, Love George, a mystery film starring Cloris Leachman, Ron Howard, and Bobby Darin.
Later career and final work
In 1973, McGavin played Oliver Spencer in the original pilot film The Six Million Dollar Man. McGavin starred in the comedy Zero to Sixty (1978), produced by his wife, Kathie Browne, in which he portrayed a divorced man attempting to sort out his life. In 1983, he starred as "Old Man Parker", the narrator's father, in Bob Clark's comedy A Christmas Story. He portrayed a middle class father in 1940s fictional 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. The film was a moderate box-office success and went on to become a classic holiday film in the years since its release.
McGavin appeared 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). In 1986 he took a part in John Irvin's Raw Deal, alongside then rising star Arnold Schwarzenegger; McGavin plays a long time FBI officer who enlists a former colleague to help him unmask a mole within the Bureau working for a Chicago mob family. He won a CableACE Award (for the 1991 TV movie Clara) and received a 1990 Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Star in a Comedy Series on Murphy Brown, in which he played Murphy's father, Bill. From 1993 to 1994, he appeared in an off-Broadway production of Tom Dudzick's holiday comedy Greetings!, performed in numerous popular productions in regional and community theaters nationwide.
McGavin co-starred with Adam Sandler in Billy Madison (1995), playing the titular character's hotel magnate father. In 1998, McGavin was asked to play the role of Arthur Dales in The X-Files, and appeared in two episodes between then and 1999. McGavin also narrated a number of audiobooks, notably the Robert Ludlum Jason Bourne Trilogy and John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series.
McGavin was married three times. He first married Anita Marie Williams in 1942. He later married Melanie York in March 1944; their marriage ended in divorce in 1969, and produced four children. His third marriage was to actress Kathie Browne in December 1969, ending with her death in 2003.
McGavin died on February 25, 2006, of cardiovascular disease in a Los Angeles hospital, aged 83. He is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Wife Kathie Browne-McGavin is buried at another local cemetery just 6 miles away at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles County, California.
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