Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Old Man - Darren McGavin


Darren McGavin was born William Lyle Richardson in Spokane, Washington, on May 7, 1922.  When he was eleven, his parents got divorced, and his father sent him to live with friends on Puget Sound.

McGavin wasn't cut out for farm life however, and he soon ran away.  Police and welfare workers found him living with a Native American family along the Nisqually River.  He was returned to his father who placed him in boarding school, but McGavin would flee that as well.  He ultimately moved in with his mother in southern California.

After high school, he enrolled in the University of the Pacific in Stockton, intent on becoming an architect.  To help pay for college, he took a job as carpenter building scenery for a local theatre group.  This would be his introduction to the world of acting.

He dropped out of college and went to work as a painter at Columbia Pictures, where he'd soon land his first role in the 1945 biographical film A Song to Remember. Buoyed by this early success, he left Hollywood for New York and studied at the famed Actors Studio.  Within a few years, he'd be appearing on the Broadway stage, most notably as Happy Lohman in Death of a Salesman as well as live TV, on such shows as the Kraft Television Theatre.

He returned to Hollywood in the early 1950s, landing his first starring role in the 1955 feature film Summertime, opposite Katharine Hepburn.  He was also finding steady work on television as well, appearing on such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents before landing the starring role on Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer in 1957.  When it folded two years later, McGavin was cast opposite Burt Reynolds on the western series Riverboat (see Trivia below).

In 1972, McGavin was cast in the made-for-TV movie The Night Stalker, playing a reporter who discovered a modern-day vampire living in Las Vegas.  The film was such a ratings success for ABC that it spawned a sequel, The Night Strangler in 1973, before ultimately going to series.  Kolchak: The Night Stalker (left), premiered on rival network NBC in 1974 and ran for just one season.

McGavin never stopped working though, frequently making guest appearances on such popular shows as The Six Million Dollar ManThe Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  Ironically, his greatest claim to fame was yet to come.

In 1983, McGavin was cast in what would become his signature role, that of Mr. Parker, aka "The Old Man," in the holiday classic A Christmas Story.  He was paid $2 million for the role.  Keep in mind that this was 1983.  That was some serious cheddar. 

He'd continue acting throughout the 1980s and 90s, but that was his final starring role.  His last credited work was for two episodes of the popular FOX series The X-Files in 1998.

By 2006, McGavin's health was in decline as the actor was suffering from cardiovascular disease.  He was admitted to a Los Angeles area hospital, where he ultimately died on February 25th.  He was 83 years old.

Darren McGavin was laid to rest at famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Location: Section #7 (Griffith Lawn), Lot #203, Grave #14
Inscription #1: Father, Husband, and Actor
Inscription #2: Enjoyed a Wondrous Journey

Fra-gee-lay, Old Man.


  • Although a holiday classic today, A Christmas Story was considered a flop at the box office, taking in a mere $20 million over its six-week run. 

  • Like many of his generation, McGavin attempted to join the military as America entered World War 2.  He was rejected from service however, due to bad knees.  Really.

  • Burt Reynolds left the series Riverboat as he and McGavin were unable to work together on set.  He later told TV Guide that "Darren McGavin is going to be a very disappointed man on the first Easter after his death."

  • McGavin appeared in the Robert Redford baseball classic The Natural in 1984 yet received no billing for his role.  Before the film's production, producers could not agree with McGavin's agent over his placement in the credits.  Rather than hold up production, the actor decided to go uncredited.

  • In 1970, McGavin was to take over the role of Tony Nelson on the popular sit-com I Dream of Jeannie following Larry Hagman's departure from the series.  Before production on season 6 could begin however, NBC canceled the series.

  • McGavin's death was overshadowed by that of TV icon Don Knotts, who died one day earlier.

  • This blogger is the only person he knows who actually saw A Christmas Story in the theatre.

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