Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Darren McGavin

The actor Darren McGavin died over the weekend. Most news services listed a quick biography for him but they left out some important accomplishments.

I became a fan of McGavin during his short-lived series The Outsider. McGavin played a seedy ex-con turned private detective. This was 1967 and the tv networks were trying to reflect reality better than before. In the opening sequence, McGavin's character was shown drinking milk from the carton before realizing it was sour. This "life can be sour" image typified the show, but it was a footnote in a long list of roles that McGavin played.

In 1970, McGavin played a Marine drill sergent against Jan Michael Vincent's hippy draftee in Tribes. This was a cult hit during the height of anti-war feelings. McGavin had the difficult part of making a tough marine still seem sympathetic.

Two years later he was in Nightstalker. Most of McGavin's biographies mention the series but none of them mention the original movie. This is a major oversight. The series is a cult-classic but the movie was something else - it was an event. It scored the highest ratings a made-for-tv movie had ever recorded, a record which stood until Roots.

McGavin played Carl Kolchack, a seedy reporter similar to the detective he had played in The Outsider. The plot involved a serial killer in Las Vegas and the authorities' attempts to cover it up. Along the way it turned out that the killer was a vampire and Kolchack was the only one to believe. Considering the subject matter, it is not surprising that the producer was Dan Curtis who's soap opera, Dark Shadows, had just ended.

McGavin made one more classic, A Christmas Story which is probably the only memorable Christmas movie made in the 1980s. In the two decades since it was made, Christmas Story has achieved classic status. A good bit of this status is due to McGavin's over-the-top portrayal as the "old man".

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