LOS ANGELES – Darren McGavin, the husky, tough-talking actor who starred in several TV series, played a grouchy dad in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” and had other strong roles in such films as “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “The Natural,” died Saturday. He was 83.
McGavin, a Spokane native, died of natural causes at a Los Angeles-area hospital with his family at his side, said his son Bogart McGavin.
McGavin made his film debut in 1945, switching from painter of movie sets to bit actor in “A Song to Remember.” After a decade of learning his craft in New York, he returned to Hollywood and became one of the busiest actors in television and films.
He starred in five series, including “Mike Hammer” and cult favorite “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” and became a prolific actor in TV movies. Among his memorable portrayals was Gen. George Patton in the 1979 TV biography “Ike.”
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 may be best recognized for his role as a hot-tempered father in the 1983 comedy “A Christmas Story.” The film has become a holiday-season staple on TV.
McGavin lacked the prominence in films he enjoyed in television, but he registered strongly in 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); and Jerry Lewis’ parole officer in “The Delicate Delinquent.”
McGavin’s other films include “The Court-martial of Billy Mitchell,” “Airport ‘77,” and “Billy Madison.” He starred alongside Don Knotts, who died Friday night, in the 1976 family comedy “No Deposit, No Return.”
McGavin gained a reputation as a curmudgeon willing to bad-mouth his series and combat studio bosses.
McGavin starred in the private eye series “Mike Hammer” in the 1950s. In 1968 he told a reporter: “Hammer was a dummy. I made 72 of those shows, and I thought it was a comedy. In fact, I played it camp. He was the kind of guy who would’ve waved the flag for George Wallace.”
Born in Spokane, McGavin was sketchy in interviews about his childhood. He told TV Guide in 1973 that he was a constant runaway at 10 and 11, and as a teen lived in warehouses in Tacoma and dodged the police and welfare workers. His parents disappeared, he said.
He is survived by his four children, York, Megan, Bridget and Bogart, from a previous marriage to Melanie York McGavin, Bogart McGavin said. McGavin was separated from his second wife, Kathy Brown, he said.