Harve Presnell

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Harve Presnell
Harve Presnell.jpg
Born(1933-09-14)September 14, 1933
DiedJune 30, 2009(2009-06-30) (aged 75)
Occupation(s)Film and television actor; musical theatre and opera singer
Years active1956–2009
Sheryl Mae Green
(m. 1957; div. 1966)

Veeva Suzanne Hamblen
(m. 1966)

George Harvey Presnell (September 14, 1933 – June 30, 2009) was an American actor and singer. He began his career in the mid-1950s as a classical baritone, singing with orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States.

His career reoriented away from classical music to musical theatre in 1960 after Meredith Willson cast him in the lead role of his new Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. His portrayal of "Leadville Johnny" was a resounding success and he reprised the role in the 1964 film version of the musical, winning a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal.

Presnell went on to star in a few more films during the 1960s, but by the early 1970s that aspect of his career came to a standstill. From 1970 to 1995 he mostly worked as a musical theatre performer on Broadway, the West End, and in touring productions out of New York. In his early 60s, Presnell saw a resurgence in his movie career which lasted until his death. He played character roles in films like Fargo (1996), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Flags of Our Fathers (2006). He also appeared on television as Mr. Parker in The Pretender and Lew Staziak in Andy Barker, P.I.. He had recurring roles on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Dawson's Creek.[2]

Early life and classical singing career[edit]

Presnell was born in 1933, in Modesto, California.[3] He made his professional stage debut performing in an opera at the young age of sixteen. He attended the University of Southern California, earning a bachelor's degree in vocal performance.[citation needed]

He then pursued further vocal studies in Europe and at the Music Academy of the West.[4] He appeared with a number of opera companies and orchestras during the 1950s. In 1957 he made his debut with the San Francisco Opera as the Officer in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos.[citation needed]

He went on to sing several more comprimario roles with the company that year, including the Jailer in the United States premiere of Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites. During the late 1950s he made several appearances and recordings with both the Roger Wagner Chorale and the Philadelphia Orchestra, the latter under the baton of Eugene Ormandy.[5]

Stage and film career[edit]

In 1956, Presnell co-starred with Herva Nelli in the American premiere of Darius Milhaud's opera David at the Hollywood Bowl. In 1960, he was a featured soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in another concert at the Bowl. In attendance at the concert was musical theater composer Meredith Willson who was at that time in the midst of creating his musical on the life of Molly Brown, Titanic survivor. Willson contacted him after the concert and asked him to audition for him. Presnell complied and Willson ended up offering him the role of "Leadville Johnny." At this point the musical was not completed and Wilson went on to compose much of the music for Leadville Johnny with Presnell's voice in mind.[1] On November 3, 1960, The Unsinkable Molly Brown opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre to a resounding success. Presnell stayed with the show for its entire 532 performance run, which ended on February 10, 1962. He reprised the role in the 1964 film The Unsinkable Molly Brown for which he won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year.

He starred in two films in 1965: portraying Sol Rogers, a cavalry scout, in The Glory Guys[6] and Danny Churchill, the romantic lead, in the musical film When the Boys Meet the Girls.[7] He had one more sizable film role in the 1960s, the role of "Rotten Luck Willie" in Paramount's 1969 musical Western film Paint Your Wagon, singing "They Call the Wind Maria". The New York Times critic opined that Presnell's role "delivered the golden opportunity to sing the unforgettable ballad."[1] Theater reviewer Thomas Hischak wrote "in one of the film's few pleasing moments, Harve Presnell gave full voice to They Call the Wind Mariah and it was lovely to hear".[8] Referring to Eastwood and Marvin, film reviewer Brian W. Fairbanks wrote that "Harve Presnell steals both stars' thunder with a knockout version of the best song"[9]

Presnell did some other film and television work in the 1960s and early 1970s, but for the next couple of decades concentrated primarily on stage work, playing Rhett Butler in the West End production of Scarlett and touring the United States as Daddy Warbucks in Annie and its sequel, Annie Warbucks, among other productions.[citation needed] In 1966, Presnell played the role of Sir Lancelot in Camelot in the Regional Equity production at The Houston Music Theatre.[citation needed]

In 1984, Presnell appeared as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha in Darien, Connecticut, an appearance well received by The New York Times critic Alvin Klein, who wrote that Presnell was "a winning leading man", and wrote:

As an actor, Mr. Presnell promises much, and as a singer, he delivers. Here is one of the shiniest vocal accounts of the role yet. The actor is on the verge of suggesting that in his implausible way, the Don can bring a measure of grace to the world and fulfill that old impossible dream.[10]

His film career was revived when he played William H. Macy's testy father-in-law in Fargo (1996). Subsequent films included The Whole Wide World (1996), Larger than Life (1996), The Chamber (1996), Face/Off (1997), Julian Po (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998, as General George Marshall), Patch Adams (1998), Walking Across Egypt (1999), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), The Family Man (2000), Escanaba in da Moonlight (2001), Mr. Deeds (2002), Super Sucker (2003), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), and Evan Almighty (2007).[2]

On television, he appeared, in among other roles, as Mr. Parker on The Pretender, Dr. Sam Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and as A.I. Brooks on Dawson's Creek.[2]


Presnell sang the baritone role in Eugene Ormandy's 1960 recording of Carmina Burana, released by Columbia/Sony on LP and CD. His earliest recordings were as a soloist with the Roger Wagner Chorale (Capitol) in the 1950s with the Chorale in the background particularly in the LP Joy to the World where he sang in "O Holy Night" and the LPs Folk Songs of the New World [Capitol P8324 (1955)] and Folk Songs of the Frontier [Capitol P8332 (1956)], where he sang, among other songs, "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" and "Streets of Laredo".[1]


Presnell died on June 30, 2009, aged 75, from pancreatic cancer at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.[2]



Year Title Role Notes
1964 The Unsinkable Molly Brown Johnny Brown
1965 The Glory Guys Scout Sol Rogers
When the Boys Meet the Girls Danny Churchill
1969 Paint Your Wagon Rotten Luck Willie
1996 The Whole Wide World Dr. Howard
Fargo Wade Gustafson
Larger than Life Trowbridge Bowers
The Chamber Attorney General Roxburgh
1997 Face/Off Victor Lazarro
Julian Po Mayor Henry Leech
1998 Saving Private Ryan General George Marshall
Patch Adams Dean Anderson
1999 Walking Across Egypt Finner
2000 The Legend of Bagger Vance John Invergordon
The Family Man Ed Reynolds
2001 Escanaba in da Moonlight Albert Soady
2002 Super Sucker Winslow Schnaebelt
Mr. Deeds Preston Blake
2003 Old School Mr. Springbrook
2006 Flags of Our Fathers Older Dave Severance
2007 Evan Almighty Congressman Burrows
2010 Love Ranch Dr. Smathers Posthumous release (final role)


Year Title Role Notes
1955–1956 General Electric Theater Dismas 2 episodes
1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Mitch 1 episode
1965 The Red Skelton Show Lawyer Harkness 1 episode
1972 The Great Man's Whiskers Ballad Singer Television film
1984 Ryan's Hope Matthew Crane 5 episodes
1995 The Client Buddy Hutchinson 1 episode
1995–1997 Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Dr. Sam Lane Recurring role, 5 episodes
1996 Nash Bridges Corick McMillan 1 episode
1996 EZ Streets Jack DeLanae 1 episode
1996 Star Trek: Voyager Colonel Q 1 episode
1996 The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest Doug / NRC Man #2 (voice) 1 episode
1997 Grace Under Fire Jack 1 episode
1997 Tidal Wave: No Escape Stanley Schiff Television film
1997 Duckman Sir Declan McManus (voice) 1 episode
1997 Players Roy Erickson 1 episode
1997–2000 The Pretender Mr. Parker Recurring role, 31 episodes
1998 A Bright Shining Lie MACV General Television film
1998 Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place Edgar J. Hagerty 1 episode
1998 The Outer Limits Greg Matheson 1 episode
1998 The Lionhearts Leo Lionheart Sr. (voice) Main cast, 7 episodes
1999 Payne Colonel Forest Brinkman 1 episode
2000–2001 Dawson's Creek Arthur Brooks Recurring role, 5 episodes
2001 The Pretender 2001 Mr. Parker Television film
2001 Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Television film
2001 The Pretender: Island of the Haunted Mr. Parker Television film
2003 Strong Medicine Andy Marsh 1 episode
2003 Frasier Mike Shaw 1 episode
2003 Hope & Faith Jack 1 episode
2003 The Practice Judge Dickem 1 episode
2003 The Lyon's Den Elliott Beacon 1 episode
2004 Charmed Captain Black Jack Cutting 1 episode
2005 Monk Zach Ellinghouse 1 episode
2006 ER Mr. Venema 1 episode
2007 Andy Barker, P.I. Lew Staziak Main cast, 6 episodes
2007; 2009 American Dad! Judge 2 episodes
2009 Cold Case Harry Kemp '09 1 episode


  1. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (July 2, 2009). "Harve Presnell, Singing Actor, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Harve Presnell at IMDb
  3. ^ According to the State of California. California Birth Index, 1905–1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. At Ancestry.com
  4. ^ "Alumni Roster". musicacademy.org. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  5. ^ Bergan, Ronald (July 7, 2009). "Harve Presnell". The Guardian. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  6. ^ The Glory Guys tcm.com, retrieved December 22, 2017
  7. ^ When the Boys Meet the Girls tcm.com, retrieved December 22, 2017
  8. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (2008). The Oxford companion to the American musical: theatre, film, and television. Oxford University Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-19-533533-0.
  9. ^ Fairbanks, Brian W. (2005). I Saw That Movie, Too: Selected Film Reviews. Lulu. ISBN 978-1-4116-3535-7.
  10. ^ "Theatre Review". The New York Times.

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