James Coburn

James Coburn
James Coburn

Coburn in Charade (1963)
Born James Harrison Coburn III
August 31, 1928(1928-08-31)
Laurel, Nebraska
Died November 18, 2002(2002-11-18) (aged 74)
Beverly Hills, California
Cause of death heart attack
Resting place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Residence Beverly Hills, California
Nationality American
Education Compton Junior College
Alma mater Los Angeles City College
Occupation Actor
Years active 1958–2002
Home town Compton, California
Spouse Beverly Kelly (1959–1979)
Paula Murad (1993–2002)
Children James Coburn IV
Parents James Harrison Coburn, Jr.
Mylet S. Coburn

James Harrison Coburn III[1] (August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002)[2] was an American film and television actor. Coburn appeared in nearly 70 films and made over 100 television appearances during his 45-year career,[3][4] and played a wide range of roles and won an Academy Award for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction.[5]


Early life

Coburn was born in Laurel, Nebraska, the son of Mylet S. (née Johnson) and James Harrison Coburn, Jr., who had a garage business that was wiped out by the Great Depression.[6] Coburn was of Scots-Irish and Swedish descent.[1] He was raised in Compton, California, attended Compton Junior College, and enlisted in the United States Army in 1950, serving as an Army truck driver and also was an occasional disc jockey on an Army radio station in Texas. Coburn also narrated Army training films in Mainz, Germany.[7] He attended Los Angeles City College, where he studied acting alongside Jeff Corey and Stella Adler, then made his stage debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in Billy Budd.[8] Coburn was selected for a Remington Products razor commercial when he was able to shave off eleven days of beard growth in less than 60 seconds,[9] while joking that he had more teeth to show on camera than the other 12 candidates for the part.[10]


Coburn's film debut came in 1959 as the sidekick to bad guy Pernell Roberts in the Randolph Scott western Ride Lonesome.[11] Coburn also appeared in dozens of television roles including, with Roberts, several episodes of Bonanza. He appeared at least twice on John Payne's NBC western The Restless Gun in episodes entitled "The Pawn" and "The Way Back", the latter with Bonanza's Dan Blocker.[12] Coburn and Ralph Taeger co-starred with Joi Lansing in Klondike on NBC in the 1960–1961 season. When Klondike, set in the Alaskan gold rush town of Skagway, was cancelled, Taeger and Coburn were regrouped as detectives in Mexico in NBC's equally short-lived Acapulco.

Coburn became well known in the 1960s and the 1970s for his roles in several action and western films, first primarily with Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in two John Sturges films: The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. A villainous Texan in the hugely successful Charade (1963), a glib naval officer in The Americanization of Emily (1964) and a character role as a one-armed Indian tracker in Major Dundee (1965) gained him much notice. In 1966, Coburn became a bona fide star with the release of Our Man Flint, a James Bond spoof released by 20th Century Fox. In 1971, he starred in the western film Duck, You Sucker!, directed by Sergio Leone, as an Irish explosives expert and revolutionary who has fled to Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th Century. He teamed with director Sam Peckinpah for the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (they had worked together in 1965 on Major Dundee). An MGM producer tried to sabotage the production, causing the film to be drastically edited when it opened. Peckinpah and Coburn were greatly disappointed and turned next to Cross of Iron, a critically acclaimed war epic which performed poorly in the U.S. but was a huge hit in Europe. They remained close friends until Peckinpah's death on December 28, 1984. In 1973, Coburn was one of the featured celebrities, dressed in prison gear on the cover of the album Band On The Run made by Paul McCartney and his band Wings.

Coburn returned to television in 1978 to star in a three-part mini-series version of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel, The Dain Curse, tailoring his character to bear a physical resemblance to the author. Due to severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films in the 1980s. Although his hands were visibly gnarled in film appearances within the final two decades of his career, Coburn continued working. He spent much of his time writing songs with British singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul[citation needed] and doing television such as his work on Darkroom. He claimed to have healed himself with pills containing a sulfur-based compound.[citation needed] Coburn returned to film in the 1990s, and appeared in supporting roles in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, and Payback. Coburn's performance in Affliction earned him an Academy Award, and also nominated for the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Awards.


Coburn’s interest in fast cars began with his father’s garage business and continued throughout his personal life, as he exported rare cars to Japan. [13] He's credited with turning Steve McQueen on to Ferraris, and in the early 1960s, owned them two at a time. One was a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, the other the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB. His was the thirteenth of just fifty-six built. Coburn imported the pre owned car in 1964, shortly after completing his film The Great Escape. [14] The car was restored and sold for $10,894,400.00 to English broadcaster Chris Evans, setting a new world record for the highest price ever paid for an automobile at auction.[15]

Cal Spyder #2377 was repainted several times during Coburn's ownership; it has been black, silver, and possibly burgundy. He kept the car at his Beverly Hills area home, and was often serviced by Max Balchowsky, who also did the suspension and frame modifications on those Mustang GT’s used in the filming of McQueen’s "Bullitt." Coburn sold the Spyder in 1987 after 24 years of ownership. Over time, he also owned the above-noted Lusso, a Ferrari Daytona, at least one Ferrari 308, and a 1967 Ferrari 412P sports racer. [16]


Coburn died of a heart attack on November 18, 2002 while listening to music in his Beverly Hills, California home. He was survived by his widow Paula (née Murad), son James IV, and a stepdaughter. His ashes were interred in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, and was marked by a stone bench inscribed with his name. By the time of his death, Coburn was the voice of the "Like a Rock" Chevrolet television ad campaign. James Garner succeeded Coburn for the remainder of the campaign.




  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents — "The Jokester" (1958)
  • State Trooper — as Dobie in "Hard Money, Soft Touch" (1959)
  • The DuPont Show with June Allyson — as Floyd in "The Girl" (1959)
  • Perry Mason — "The Case of the Envious Editor" (1960)
  • The Rifleman — "Young Englishman" (1958); "The High Country" (1961)
  • Tales of Wells Fargo — "Butch Cassidy" (1958); "The Wayfarers" (1962)
  • Trackdown — "Hard Lines" (1959)
  • Tombstone Territory — "The Gunfighter" (1959)
  • Bat Masterson — "The Black Pearls" (1959); "Six Feet of Gold" (1961)
  • Wanted: Dead or Alive — "Reunion For Revenge", "The Kovack Affair" (1959); "The Trial" (1960)
  • Bronco — "Payroll of the Dead" (1959); "Shadow of Jesse James" (1960)
  • Have Gun Will Travel — "One Came Back" (1959); "The Gladiators" (1960)
  • Klondike (1960–1961)
  • Peter Gunn — "The Murder Clause" (1960)
  • Lawman — "The Catcher", "The Showdown" (1960)
  • The Deputy — "The Truly Yours" (1960)
  • Acapulco (1961) (canceled after 8 episodes)
  • The Brothers Brannagan as Dell in "Death is Not Deductible" (1961)
  • The Outlaws — "Culley" (1961)
  • Laramie — "The Mark of the Maneaters" (1961)
  • Cheyenne — "Trouble Street" (1961)
  • Bonanza — "The Truckee Strip" (1959); "The Dark Gate" (1961)
  • The Untouchables (1959 TV series) — "The Jamaica Ginger Story - S2E44" (1961)
  • Rawhide — "The Hostage Child" (1962)
  • Combat! — "Masquerade" (1963)
  • The Twilight Zone — "The Old Man in the Cave" (1963)
  • The Greatest Show On Earth (1963) — "Uncaged"
  • The Eleventh Hour (1963) — as Steve Kowlowski in "Oh, You Shouldn't Have Done It"
  • Stoney Burke — "The Test" (1963)
  • Route 66 — "Kiss the Monster, Make Him Sleep" (1964)
  • The Defenders — "The Man Who Saved His Country" (1964)
  • Bracken's World — "Fallen, Fallen Is Babylon" (1970)
  • The Dain Curse (1978) (miniseries)
  • The Muppet Show (1980)
  • Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (1981)
  • Darkroom (1981–1982)
  • Explorer, 13 one-Hour co-hosted with producer, director by Douchan Gersi (1981)
  • Malibu (1983)
  • Draw! (1984)
  • Faerie Tale Theatre — "Pinocchio" (1984) - The Gypsy
  • Sins of the Father (1985)
  • The Edge and Beyond (1988–1990) (narrator)
  • The Infinite Voyage (host from 1990–1991)
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers (voice-over cast member from 1990–1993)
  • Silverfox (1991) (pilot)
  • Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232 (1990)
  • Hollywood Stuntmakers [1991] host
  • Murder, She Wrote — "Day of the Dead" (1992)
  • National Lampoon's True Facts (1992)
  • The Fifth Corner (1992) (canceled after 2)
  • Christmas Reunion (1993)
  • The Hit List (1993)
  • Mike & Spike (1994-) as Horsecup
  • Greyhounds (1994) (pilot)
  • The Avenging Angel (1995)
  • Picket Fences — "Upbringings" (1995)
  • Ray Alexander: A Menu for Murder (1995)
  • The Cherokee Kid (1996)
  • The Second Civil War (1997)
  • Profiler — "Shadow of Angels" (1997)
  • Mr. Murder (1998)
  • Noah's Ark (1999)
  • Vengeance Unlimited — "Judgment" (1999)
  • Shake, Rattle & Roll: An American Love Story (1999)
  • Missing Pieces (2000)
  • Walter and Henry (2001)
  • Arli$$ (2002) — "The Immortal"
  • Shark Chronicles (1991) (Narrator; re-broadcast in 1995 for Discovery Channel's "Shark Week")


  1. ^ a b New England Historic Genealogical Society[dead link]
  2. ^ Biography for James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Allmovie Biography
  4. ^ James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Awards for James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/participant.jsp?spid=36024
  7. ^ Published: 12:03AM GMT 20 Nov 2002 (2002-11-20). "Obituary in ''The Telegraph''". London: Telegraph.co.uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1413677/James-Coburn.html. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  8. ^ "James Coburn Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Movies.yahoo.com. http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/contributor/1800017369/bio. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  9. ^ "The Hollywood Interview blogsite". Thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com. 2008-02-28. http://thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com/2008/02/james-coburn-hollywood-interview.html. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  10. ^ "Allbusiness.com". Allbusiness.com. http://www.allbusiness.com/services/motion-pictures/4857490-1.html. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  11. ^ Miller, Ron (1995-01-22). "Coburn's Comfort Zone at Home in Western with Heston and Berenger Supporting". San Jose Mercury News: p. 6. "JAMES COBURN began his movie career in a saddle 36 years ago, playing the gangly and not-too-bright sidekick to bad guy Pernell Roberts in the 1959 Randolph Scott western "Ride Lonesome."" 
  12. ^ The Restless Gun, DVD, Timeless Media Group
  13. ^ Horwell, Veronica (2002-11-20). "James Coburn". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2002/nov/20/guardianobituaries.filmnews. 
  14. ^ Valdes-Dapena, Peter (2008-05-19). "$11 million: Ferrari nets record price". CNN. http://money.cnn.com/2008/05/19/autos/record_ferrari_sale/index.htm?section=money_latest. 
  15. ^ http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/classic/112_0901_1961_ferrari_250_gt_spyder_california/test_drive.html
  16. ^ January, 2009, Motor Trend [1]

External links

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