Obituary: Macdonald Carey
Friday 25 March 1994
THE STAR or featured player in over 50 films, including Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt and Losey's The Damned, Macdonald Carey was also a prolific radio, theatre and television performer who, despite a nearly lifelong addiction to alcohol, rarely stopped working.
Born in Iowa in 1913 and educated at the Sioux City and Wisconsin Universities, Carey gained a Masters degree in Drama and made his stage debut in 1936 at the Globe Theatre in Dallas. His rich, virile voice led to extensive radio work and starring roles in popular soap operas of the period, including the deliciously titled John's Other Wife. By the time he made his Broadway debut as one of Gertrude Lawrence's leading men in the musical Lady in the Dark he was already drinking heavily. '1941 was probably the greatest year of my life,' he said later. 'I got my first big hit with Lady in the Dark, I got married and I signed with Paramount Pictures. I only wish I could remember it all better.'
His first film, Dr Broadway (1942), also the first for its director Anthony Mann, was a taut little thriller in which Carey was a Times Square doctor involved with murder. After a featured role in Mitchell Leisen's comedy Take a Letter, Darling (1942), Carey had two of his best opportunities. In John Farrow's Wake Island (also 1942), depicting the heroic stand of the 385 marines who vainly refused to surrender to the Japanese, Carey was a pilot who undertakes a suicide mission to avenge his wife's death at Pearl Harbor, and he followed this with a role as the detective who masquerades as a pollster while tracking a serial killer in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). His performance won praise, though on one occasion during shooting he was shaking so much from the effects of a hangover that Hitchcock had to order that a bottle of bourbon be brought on to the set.
His career lost its momentum when he enlisted in the Marines. He had a champion at Paramount in the director Mitchell Leisen, but the post-war films in which he was cast were among the director's weakest. Carey was impressive as the mean-spirited villain in the western Streets of Laredo (1949) and as the narrator Nick Carraway in Elliott Nugent's earnest version of The Great Gatsby (1949), but too often his films were mild and his performances bland.
Joseph Losey's The Lawless (1950), a melodramatic account of bigotry against Mexican fruit-pickers in southern California, gave Carey, as a crusading journalist, his favourite role, and the same year he made his television debut. Though he made several more films only one, Losey's off-beat science-fiction thriller The Damned, filmed in England in 1961, was notable.
In 1965 he created the television role of the kindly patriarch Dr Tom Horton in the daytime soap opera The Days of Our Lives and was to play the role for nearly 30 years, opening each show with his voice- over intoning, 'Like sands through the hour-glass, so are the days of our lives.' The role brought him two Emmy Awards (1974 and 1975) as Best Actor in a Daytime Drama.
Carey wrote three books of poetry and in 1991 an autobiography, The Days of My Life, which revealed that his lifelong drinking problem was finally vanquished when he joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1982.
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