Darren McGavin

Darren McGavin
Darren McGavin
Born William Lyle Richardson
May 7, 1922(1922-05-07)
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
Died February 25, 2006(2006-02-25) (aged 83)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1940–2006
Spouse Melanie York (March 20, 1944–1969; divorced)
Kathie Browne (December 31, 1969 – April 8, 2003; her death)

Darren McGavin (May 7, 1922 – February 25, 2006) was an American actor best known for playing the title role in the television horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker and his portrayal in the film A Christmas Story of the grumpy father given to bursts of profanity that he never realizes his son overhears. He appeared as the tough-talking, funny detective 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 and Emmy Award.


Early life

McGavin was born William Lyle Richardson in Spokane, Washington, a son of Reid Delano Richardson and his wife Grace Bogart.[1] However, some sources list his birthplace as San Joaquin County, California. He graduated from Puyallup High School.[2]

In magazine interviews in the 1960s, he said his parents divorced when he was very young. His father, not knowing what else to do, put him in an orphanage at the age of 11. McGavin began to run away, sleeping on the docks and in warehouses. He lived in three orphanages. The last was the Dyslin Boys Ranch in Pierce County, Washington, a boys' home, which turned out to be a safe haven. Farm chores were assigned, and he lived with several other boys who had also been abandoned. McGavin commented that the owners of the home helped him develop a sense of pride and responsibility that turned his life around. McGavin did not serve in the military during World War II because he had bad knees, though he did make a training film for the military on venereal disease.


Still untrained as an actor, McGavin worked as a painter in the paint crew at the Columbia Pictures movie studios in 1945. When an opening became available for a bit part in A Song to Remember, on the movie set where he was working, McGavin applied for the role. He was hired for it, and that was his first foray into movie acting. (He had spent a year at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California). Shortly afterwards, he moved to New York City and spent a decade there learning the acting profession in TV and the plays. McGavin studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio under the famous teacher Sanford Meisner and began working in live TV drama and on Broadway. A few of the plays in which he starred included The Rainmaker (where he created the title role on Broadway), The King and I and Death of a Salesman.

Darren McGavin-Mike Hammer Diamond Studio City Walk of Fame

McGavin returned to Hollywood and became a busy actor in a wide variety of TV and movie roles; in 1955 he broke through with roles in the 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", in which he demonstrated his talent for playing complex roles, as a scheming caretaker and aspiring art thief, opposite Carolyn Jones 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 the series are notable for him doing many of his own stunts and for the "enthusiasm" he put into some of the fight scenes, sometimes forgetting to pull his punches and "ad-libbing" moves, much as Robert Conrad did years later in The Wild, Wild West.

When the comedy team Martin and Lewis broke up as a result of Dean Martin's refusal to play a cop in a movie, McGavin played the role originally earmarked for 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 the sixth season, but NBC stated they would rather cancel the series than have any other similarites 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" 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.[3]

Kolchak is acknowledged[who?] as being a main inspiration forThe X-Files,[citation needed]. 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". Unfortunately, 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 1940s Hammond, 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.

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 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[4] as an Outstanding Guest Star in a Comedy Series on Murphy Brown, in which he played Murphy's father.

There was a brief and unsuccessful remake of the "Night Stalker" TV series in 2005 starring 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 colour. The central character and main voice of the novels was Travis McGee.

Personal life

McGavin was married twice. The first was to Melanie York on March 20, 1944. It ended in divorce in 1969, but produced four children: Bogart, York, Megan, and Bridget McGavin. The second was to Kathie Browne on December 31, 1969, ending with her death in 2003.

McGavin died on February 25, 2006 at the age of 83 in a Los Angeles hospital.[5] He is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


Television work

  • Crime Photographer (1951 – 1952)
  • Tales of Tomorrow (1952), episode "The Duplicates"
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955), episode 13: "Triggers in Leash"
  • Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (1956 – 1959)
  • Riverboat (1959 – 1961)
  • The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (November 5, 1959, McGavin is Tennessee Ernie Ford's guest star in a comedy skit about a Riverboat captain.)
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964), season 2: "A Matter of Murder"
  • Gunsmoke (1966), three episodes as Joe Bascome
  • Cimarron Strip episode: "The Legend of Jud Starr" (1967)
  • Custer, ABC series with Wayne Maunder (1967)
  • Mission: Impossible (1967)
  • The Outsider (1967) (pilot episode)
  • The Outsider (1968 – 1969)
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1968), two-part episode "Boomerang, Dog of Many Talents" with Patricia Crowley, Darby Hinton, and Russ Conway
  • The Forty-Eight Hour Mile (1970)
  • The Challenge (1970)
  • The Challengers (1970)
  • Berlin Affair (1970)
  • Tribes (1970)
  • Banyon (1971) (pilot episode)
  • The Death of Me Yet (1971)
  • The Night Stalker (1972)
  • Something Evil (1972)
  • The Rookies (1972) (pilot episode)
  • Here Comes the Judge (1972)
  • Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole (1972)
  • The Night Strangler (1973)
  • The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) (pilot episode)
  • Police Story (1974)
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 – 1975)
  • Crackle of Death (1976)
  • Brinks: The Great Robbery (1976)
  • Ike: The War Years (1978)
  • The Users (1978)
  • A Bond of Iron (1979)
  • Donovan's Kid (1979)
  • Ike (1979) (miniseries)
  • Not Until Today (1979)
  • Love for Rent (1979)
  • Waikiki (1980)
  • The Martian Chronicles (1980) (miniseries)
  • Magnum, P.I. (1981)
  • Nero Wolfe (1981)
  • Freedom to Speak (1982) (miniseries)
  • Small & Frye (1983) (canceled after six episodes)
  • The Baron and the Kid (1984)
  • The Return of Marcus Welby, M.D. (1984)
  • My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Legend of Errol Flynn (1985)
  • The O'Briens (1985) (sitcom pilot)
  • Tales from the Hollywood Hills: Natica Jackson (1987)
  • Tales from the Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's (1987)
  • Inherit the Wind (1988)
  • The Diamond Trap (1988)
  • Murphy Brown (1989)
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1989) (miniseries)
  • Kojak: It's Always Something (1990)
  • Child in the Night (1990)
  • By Dawn's Early Light (1990)
  • Clara (1991)
  • Perfect Harmony (1991)
  • Miracles and Other Wonders (1992–199?)
  • Mastergate (1992)
  • The American Clock (1993)
  • A Perfect Stranger (1994)
  • Fudge-A-Mania (1995)
  • Derby (1995)
  • Touched by an Angel (1997), guest appearance
  • X-Files (1999), two episodes


  1. ^ Darren Mcgavin Biography (1922-)
  2. ^ Columbia Basin Herald, Moses Lake, Washington
  3. ^ Night Stalker
  4. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. pp. 1440. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  5. ^ "Actor Darren McGavin dies at 83". http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11570390. 

Further reading

  • 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

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