Darren McGavin

Star of 'The Night Stalker'


Darren McGavin, actor: born Spokane, Washington 7 May 1922; married 1944 Melanie York (two sons, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1969), 1969 Kathie Browne (died 2003); died Los Angeles 25 February 2006.

One day, Darren McGavin was working as a painter at Columbia Pictures' Hollywood studios, on the set of A Song to Remember. The next, he was taking a bit part as a student in the 1945 biopic, which starred Cornel Wilde as Chopin. After the director, Charles Vidor, hired him, his paint foreman told him: "You're fired!" It was the beginning of McGavin's 60-year career as an actor.

He became known for taking tough-guy roles on screen and talking tough off it. Although he appeared in several dozen feature films, the actor was most successful on television.

His anti-authority views appeared to make him perfect for the title role in Mike Hammer (1958-59), a violence-filled series based on Mickey Spillane's books about a hard-boiled, womanising private eye, but he later said:

Hammer was a dummy. I made 72 of those shows and I thought it was a comedy. In fact, I played it camp. He was the kind of guy who would've waved the flag for George Wallace [the Alabama governor known for his racist views].

McGavin followed Mike Hammer with Riverboat (1959-61), playing Captain Holden in the 19th-century adventure series. Halfway through its run, he had a feud with Burt Reynolds, who quit his co-starring role, and McGavin later tried to fight back when the series was in danger of being axed. He rented a room in St Louis, did research on the Mississippi's history, interviewed riverboat captains and presented his thoughts for improvement to the television network. "NBC used none of my ideas, went fumbling ahead and Riverboat sank," he bemoaned.

But McGavin will be best remembered by many as a newspaper reporter, Carl Kolchak, first seen in the television film The Night Stalker (1972), covering the story of a vampire on the loose in Las Vegas. A sequel, The Night Strangler (1973), relocated him to Seattle on the trail of a serial killer.

The popularity of these one-offs led to the shortlived cult series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75), with the bluffing and conniving journalist investigating supernatural occurrences in Chicago (although the programmes were filmed in Los Angeles) but often seeing his stories fail to make it into print when his sceptical editor spiked them. McGavin also narrated the tales in a first-person, private eye-style voiceover. "The Night Stalker only lasted one year because I didn't want to do it any more," he said:

The pain in doing that show was excruciating. It was shot from four in the afternoon until five in the morning.

But the series's premiss of "the unknown amongst us" later inspired Chris Carter to create The X Files.

Born in Spokane, Washington, in 1922, McGavin trained in New York at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio. After breaking into films, he played a young American artist in Venice in the romantic drama Summertime (starring Katharine Hepburn and directed by David Lean, 1955), Frank Sinatra's drugs supplier in The Man with the Golden Arm (directed by Otto Preminger, 1955), Jerry Lewis's parole officer in The Delicate Delinquent (1957) and a gambler in The Natural (alongside Robert Redford, 1984).

Younger cinema-goers will remember him as the grouchy father in the comedy A Christmas Story (1983) and the FBI chief assigning Arnold Schwarzenegger to infiltrate and destroy a Mafia family in the action film Raw Deal (1986).

McGavin's first starring role on television came when he took over from Richard Carlyle in the title role of Crime Photographer (directed by Sidney Lumet, 1951-52). Later, he played General Patton in the mini-series Ike (1979) and Sam Parkhill, one of the crew members discovering a new planet, in The Martian Chronicles (1980), as well as Candice Bergen's opinionated father in several episodes of the sitcom Murphy Brown (1989-92) - winning him a 1990 Emmy Award - and Agent Arthur Dales in two X Files stories (1988, 1999).

Dan McGavin and his second wife, the late actress Kathie Browne, met on the set of The Outsider (1968-69), a television series in which he played another private eye, this time a former jailbird who had eventually been pardoned after being framed for murder.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own