William Lyle Richardson, who adopted the name Darren McGavin, was an actor best known for playing the title role in the television horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and also his portrayal in the movie A Christmas Story of the "Old Man" (Ralphie's father). He also appeared as the tough-talking, funny detective in the TV series Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
McGavin was born in Spokane, Washington, to Reid Delano Richardson and Grace McGavin. In magazine interviews during the 1960s, he stated that his parents divorced when he was very young and that his father, not knowing what else to do, put him in an orphanage at the age of eleven. McGavin began to run away, often sleeping on the docks and in warehouses. He ended up in three orphanages. The last one was a boy's home, which turned out to be a safe haven for McGavin. He lived there for a few years where there were farm chores assigned, along with several other boys who were abandoned like himself. McGavin said that the owners of the home helped him to establish a sense of pride and responsibility, and that this helped to turn his life around.
He spent a year at College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., taking part in dramatics, then landed in Los Angeles. He washed dishes and was hired to paint sets at Columbia studio. He was working on "A Song to Remember" when an agent told him of an opening for a small role.
"I climbed off a painter's ladder and washed up at a nearby gas station," McGavin said. "I returned through Columbia's front gate with the agent." The director, Charles Vidor, hired him. No one recognized him but the paint foreman, who said, "You're fired."
Getting to New York, McGavin studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio and began working in live TV drama and on Broadway appearing with Charlton Heston in a TV Macbeth and acting the role of son Happy in Death of a Salesman in New York and on the road.
The husky, tough-talking performer went on to become one of the busiest actors in television and film, starring
in five TV series, including Mike Hammer (in the 1950s), Riverboat and cult favorite Kolchak: The Night
Stalkerand endearing holiday audiences with his role as the grouchy dad in the 1983 comedy classic "A
Despite his busy career in television, McGavin was awarded only one Emmy: in 1990 for an appearance as Candice Bergen's opinionated father in an episode of "Murphy Brown."
He lacked the prominence in films he enjoyed in television, but he registered strongly in featured roles such as the young artist in Venice in Summertime David Lean's 1955 film with Katharine Hepburn and Rosanno Brazzi; Frank Sinatra's crafty drug supplier in "The Man with the Golden Arm" (1955); Jerry Lewis's parole officer in The Delicate Delinquent (1957); and the gambler in 1984's The Natural. He also starred alongside Don Knotts in the 1976 family comedy No Deposit, No Return.
The Versatile movie and TV actor died Saturday, February 25, 2006 of natural causes at a Los Angeles-area hospital. His family at his side. He was 83.
McGavin is survived by his four children York, Megan, Bridget and Bogart from a previous marriage to Melanie York McGavin. His second wife of over thirty years, actress Kathie Browne, died in 2003.
Darren & Kathie McGavin
Darren McGavin was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, Section 7, Lot 203, Grave 14.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker was a television series that aired on ABC in 1974. It featured a newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin who investigates crimes with mysterious and unlikely causes that the proper authorities won't accept or pursue. The series was preceded by two television movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973).
Carl Kolchak was a reporter for Chicago's Independent News Service, and like a killer moth to the flames of hell, he seemed to be a magnet for the worse in the supernatural world that leered right around the corner! Kolchak turned his investigative skills to vampires, werewolves, zombies and all manner of legendary creatures, (can we ever forget Peremalfait, the swamp monster!) but in the end Kolchak always failed to convince his skeptical editor, Tony Vincenzo, that the stories weren't products of Kolchak's own imagination which seemed to permanently be stuck in over-drive! Before X-Files, and all its clones, this 1970's classic original from ABC and Universal Studios definitely stands alone and is one of a kind, thanks mostly to its amazing star, the late, great Darren McGavin!
The series has been described as a predecessor to The X-Files (1993-2002). The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, has acknowledged that the show influenced him greatly in his own work. He paid tribute to Kolchak in a number of ways. A character named "Richard Matheson", named for the screenwriter of the pilot films, appeared in several episodes. Carter also wanted McGavin to appear as Kolchak in one or more episodes of The X-Files, but McGavin was unwilling to reprise the character for the show. He did eventually appear in several episodes as Arthur Dales, a retired FBI agent described as the "father of the X-Files".
The original novel:
The Kolchak character originated in an unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by Jeffrey Grant Rice. In the novel, Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak tracks down and defeats a serial killer who is really a vampire named Janos Skorzeny.
The novel was finally published by Pocket Books as a mass-market paperback original under the title The Night Stalker with a Darren McGavin photo cover to tie in with the movie.
The TV movies:
Rice was approached by ABC who optioned the property, which was then adapted by Richard Matheson into a TV movie produced by Dark Shadows creator, Dan Curtis. Darren McGavin played the role of Carl Kolchak. Also included in the cast were Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Stanley Adams, Elisha Cook Jr., Larry Linville, Jordan Rhodes, and Barry Atwater as the vampire Janos Skorzeny.
The Night Stalker aired on the ABC network on 11 January 1972 and garnered the highest ratings of any TV movie at that time (33.2 rating - 54 share). Matheson received a 1973 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Feature or Miniseries Teleplay.
Impressed by its success, ABC commissioned Richard Matheson to write a second movie, The Night Strangler (1973), which featured another serial killer in Seattle who strangled his victims and used their blood to keep himself alive for over a century through the use of alchemy. The Seattle Underground City was used as a setting for much of the action, and provided the killer with his hiding place. Dan Curtis both produced and directed the second movie, which also did well in the ratings.
Simon Oakland reprised his role as the newspaper editor, and the cast also included Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Anderson (as the alchemist), Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Nina Wayne and Al Lewis.
Several scenes were filmed with George Tobias playing a reporter who recalled a series of murders that he had investigated during the 1930s. These scenes were cut from the version first played to air because of time constraints; however, Tobias' character and his scenes were restored prior to the film's DVD release.
The first television series:
In late 1973, a script for an intended third television movie entitled The Night Killers was written. Kolchak, along with Simon Oakland as "Tony Vincenzo", would investigate a series of murders in Hawaii in which prominent citizens were replaced with androids. McGavin, who had frequently clashed with Dan Curtis, said that he did not like the script and refused to proceed.
After some negotiation, McGavin agreed to return, both as Kolchak and as the series de-facto producer (for which he was never officially given on-screen credit), in an ABC-commissioned weekly series; however, ABC failed to obtain the permission of Jeff Rice, and a lawsuit resulted. It was resolved shortly before the series aired in the fall 1974. The series was now named The Night Stalker (originally called Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but its title shortened to avoid confusion with a similarly titled series, Kojak; both shows were produced by Universal Studios).
The series version was set in Chicago and featured Kolchak as a reporter for the Independent News Service (INS). The series also featured Simon Oakland, again appearing as Kolchak's editor; Jack Grinnage as a supercilious rival at INS; and Ruth McDevitt as an elderly advice columnist (and the only character who is sympathetic toward Kolchak). Each week Kolchak investigated murders involving supernatural and science fictional creatures. The series was light-hearted black comedy and placed Kolchak in an office setting with quirky co-workers.
The series was canceled after one year due to mediocre ratings and at the behest of McGavin himself, as he had been unhappy with the "monster of the week" direction the program took, as well as with the exhausting filming schedule. McGavin has been quoted numerous times stating that he did, however, like and encourage the series' emphasis on comedy and its quirky family of office characters. Ultimately, however, McGavin asked for a release from his contract with two episodes left to be filmed, a request that the network granted in light of the show's dwindling ratings. The series is now available on DVD.
The Characterization of Carl Kolchak:
In The Night Stalker, Carl Kolchak is described by his editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), as "a has-been big-city reporter". In the same film, his girlfriend Gail Foster (Carol Lynley) recounts the number of times Carl has been fired:
Foster: "Let's see, how many times has it been... uh, twice in Washington, three times in New York, twice in Chicago, and once or was it twice in Boston?"
Kolchak: (holds up three fingers)
At the conclusion of The Night Stalker, Kolchak finds himself out of a job once again, and blackmailed by the Las Vegas police never to return to Las Vegas. Kolchak is told that his girlfriend Gail has also been "asked to leave town". Carl exhausts his savings placing personal advertisements across the country in an attempt to find her: he is unsuccessful, and Gail does not make an appearance in The Night Strangler or any of the television episodes which followed.
At the beginning of The Night Strangler, Kolchak encounters his former editor Vincenzo at a bar in Seattle, where Kolchak is trying in vain to use his old news clippings to convince someone that vampires exist. Although Vincenzo does not appear happy to see Carl, he hires Kolchak as a reporter for The Daily Chronicle, where Vincenzo now works as an editor.
History repeats itself:
Vincenzo: "I came to Seattle for some peace and quiet, and what do I get? You again, and another crazy story!"
Kolchak recruits exotic dancer/pre-med student Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug) to assist him in tracking down the eponymous strangler, but he confesses to his tape recorder (Sony TC-55) that his interest in her is not limited to the story.
Despite this confession, there is no evidence that the relationship between Kolchak and Harper is anything other than platonic. At the conclusion of The Night Strangler, Kolchak is once again out of a job, but this time he is accompanied by Vincenzo, who has been fired for attempting to print Kolchak's story. The pair are last seen driving to New York, with Harper in the back seat; all three are arguing.
The 2005 television series:
ABC began airing a new Night Stalker series on September 29, 2005, with the character Carl Kolchak portrayed by Stuart Townsend. This 2005 lacked the humour of the 1974 series. On November 14, 2005, the network and creator Frank Spotnitz announced the cancellation of the new series, due to low viewership. The lack of interest may have due to the more dramatic tone of the new series, or the more youthful/pop oriented style and setting meant to appeal to a different demographic than fans of the original program.
In the pilot episode, there is a brief (about three seconds) shot of Darren McGavin in the newsroom (taken from the original TV movie) as the new Kolchak (Townsend) is walking through it. Inserted digitally, McGavin is dressed in the same frumpy clothes he wore as Kolchak in the original series and smiling a knowing smile while fondling his hat. In another shot, when fellow reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) is searching through Kolchak's room, the hat that Darren McGavin wore in the original series is hanging on a coat rack. The 2005 series is also now available on DVD.
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