Darren McGavin

Star of 'The Night Stalker'
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The Independent Online

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.