Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Late, Great Kevin McCarthy

Actor Kevin McCarthy passed yesterday at the age of 96. Although best known for his role in the film version of Death of a Saleman (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), his career spanned over seventy years.

Kevin McCarthy was born on February 15, 1914 in Seattle, Washington. His mother and father died during the flu epidemic of 1918 and Mr. McCarthy, his brothers, and his sister Mary (who became famous in her own right as a novelist) were sent to be raised by relatives. He began acting while at the University of Minnesota, his first role being a bit part in Henry IV, Part 1.

Following graduation Mr. McCarthy moved to New York to pursue a career in acting.His first role on Broadway would be a bit part in Abe Lincoln in Illinois in1938. Over the years he would appear in many Broadway productions, including Winged Victory (1943-1944), Joan of Lorraine (1946-1947), the revival of Anna Christie (1952), Love's Labour Lost (1953), Advise and Consent (1960-1961), a revival of The Three Sisters (1964), Cactus Flower (1967), Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970-1971), and Alone Together (1984-1985). He appeared off Broadway in The Children (1972-1973).

Kevin McCarthy made his movie debut in 1944 in the film version of Winged Victory, recreating the role he played on Broadway. Much of his career in the late Forties and the Fifties would be spent on the small screen rather than the big screen. He made his television debut on a 1949 episode of The Ford Theatre Hour. From the late Forties into the Fifties he appeared on such series as Actor's Studio, The Prudential Family Playhouse, Lights Out, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Danger, Inner Sanctum, The 20th Century Fox Hour, Kraft Theatre, G. E. True Theatre, Climax, Schlitz Playhouse, and The Twilight Zone.

Of course, Mr. McCarthy did make movies in the Fifties. He played Biff Loman in the 1951 adaptation of Death of a Salesman. He also appeared in the films Drive a Crooked Road (1954), The Gambler from Nachez (1954), Stranger on Horseback (1955), and An Annapolis Story (1955). His most famous role would come in 1956 in the film adaptation of Jack Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Kevin McCarthy played Dr. Miles Bennell, the physician who soon realises all is not right in the small town in which he lives and works. He finished out the decade appearing in the film Nightmare (1956).

The Sixties saw Kevin McCarthy appear more frequently in films. He opened the decade playing Raymond Taber in The Misfits. Throughout the decade he appeared in such films as 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), A Gathering of Eagles (1963), The Prize (1963), The Best Man (1964), Mirage (1965), A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966), The Three Sisters (1966), Hotel (1967), and The Hell with Heroes (1968). He continued to appear on television frequently, guest starring on such shows as Way Out, The United States Steel Hour, The Rifleman, The Defenders, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Honey West, The Fugitive, Burke's Law, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Invaders, Felony Squad, The Wild Wild West, The High Chapparal, The F.B.I., and Julia.

The Seventies saw Mr. McCarthy's career shift more towards television. He guest starred on Bearcats, Mission: Impossible, Columbo, Cannon, The Manhunter, and Hawaii Five-O. He appeared in such films as Richard (1972), Kansas City Bomber (1972), Alien Thunder (1974), Order to Assassinate (1975), Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976), Piranha (1978), and Hero at Large  (1980). He recreated the role of Dr. Miles Bennell in the 1978 remake (or possibly sequel) of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

During the Eighties Mr. McCarthy also spent much of his career on television. In fact, it was during the decade that the would play his only regular roles on television series. He appeared as Claude Weldon on the nighttime soap opera Flamingo Road, as Zack on the short lived sitcom Amanda's, as George Hayward in the short lived Bay City Blues, and as Lucas Carter on The Colbys. He also guest starred on such series as Dynasty, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, The A-Team, The Golden Girls, Fame, Head of the Class, In the Heat of the Night, and Matlock. He also appeared in such films as The Holwing (1981), My Tutor (1983), Innerspace (1987), Hostage (1987), UHF (1989). Love or Money (1990), and The Sleeping Car (1990).

Kevin McCarthy's career did not slow down in the Nineties. He continued to appear on television in such series as The Father Dowling Mysteries, Murder She Wrote, Human Target, Batman: The Animated Series, Tales From the Crypt, Boston Common, and The District. He appeared in such films as Final Approach (1991), The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), Matinee (1993), Judicial Consent (1994), Greedy (1994), Just Cause (1995), Sreal Big Steal Little (1995), and Mommy (1995).

Mr. McCarthy continued to act into the Naughts. He guest starred on the show Eyes. He appeared in the films Legend of the Razorback (2002), Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003--playing a character curiously named Dr. Bennell....), Loving Annabelle (2006), Slipstream (2007--playing himself), Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007), and  I Do (2009. His last appearance on film was in the movie Drawback, just released this year.

There can be no doubt that Kevin McCarthy had a long and remarkable career. Indeed, there are not many actors who still perform nearly up until their death. There can be no doubt that Mr McCarthy was so prolific and had a career so long because he was such a versatile actor. He could play nearly any role. While best known as the heroic Dr. Bennell from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he also played roles that were much less than heroic. In A Big Hand for the Little Lady he played Otto Habershaw, a lawyer who dressed finely but possessed somewhat questionable morals. In The Howling he played television station manager Fred Francis, who is willing to do anything to get ratings. In The Sleeping Car he once more played a good guy--eccentric children's book writer and exorcist Vincent Tuttle. Throughout his long career Kevin McCarthy played everything from military officers to doctors to attorneys to lawyers to mad men. He was a versatile actor and a thorough professional. It is no wonder that he had a long career.


Toby O'B said...

A fitting tribute to the man, Merc; good job. I'd just like to add two more roles of his from TV that I enjoyed - my favorite was as Bokonon in "Between Time And Timbuktu", adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's stories. And he was a world-famous adventurer writing his memoirs who had an affair with Martin's dad (Paul Dooley) in an episode of 'Dream On'.

I often compared him to Leslie Nielsen - he was known for the really serious stuff during the middle of his career, but he could also cut loose and take chances and just be damned funny - "Innerspace" is a great example of that!

Mr. McCarthy will definitely be missed.....

Terence Towles Canote said...

I'm missed the episode of Dream On he was in, but I remember Between Time and Timbuktu. He was great in that, although he was great in nearly everything he did!

I'm glad you mentioned his comedy roles, Toby. Kevin McCarthy was a lot like Leslie Nirlsen in that he was great dramatic actor, but he could be extremely funny too. Very versatile!