Classic Video Showplace

Darren McGavin

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.


Watching A Christmas Story — multiple times — has become a holiday tradition for many television viewers this time of year.  Its popularity has launched several sequels–some with completely different timelines!

One of the original film’s most memorable characters, that of the “Old Man,” was portrayed by one of the most versatile, and sometimes, rather underrated actors in Hollywood history–Darren McGavin.

Born William Lyle Richardson on May 7, 1922 in Spokane, Washington, McGavin left school at age 16 and ran away from home for a brief time before finding work in the theater as a set painter.

When a small acting opportunity became available, McGavin auditioned and won the role, despite having no formal actor training at that time. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New York City and started studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio.

He began appearing in bigger and bigger roles in larger and larger theaters in New York before being cast on Broadway in The Rainmaker (the title role in which he created).  He also appeared in several live theatrical productions on television, including The United States Steel Hour, which had the benefit of great exposure in the later 1950s by coming on immediately after the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz’s I Love Lucy hour-long specials.

McGavin worked radically different roles in movies and television over the next decade, from comedic roles to drama to a rather bizarre appearance in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock PresentsWhile critics regarded McGavin’s performances as some of the best  in Hollywood, Darren said he would never work in TV again and referred to television as “actor’s purgatory,” according to a Paul King article in a 1960-edition of the “Vancouver Sun.

McGavin would change his tune in 1972 by being cast as the titular character on the supernatural-horror TV movie, Kolchak: The Night StalkerThe success of his movie led to a regular anthology series featuring some of the strangest sequences since the classic Twilight Zone show and has continued to be a cult classic to this day.

Among its biggest fans include X-Files creator/writer/producer Chris Carter, who has repeatedly said McGavin’s performance as Kolchak inspired him to get involved in the entertainment industry and spawn several of his projects.  Carter even cast McGavin in two X-Files episodes later in the latter’s career.

Among Darren’s later roles include playing Adam Sandler’s father in Billy Madison and as crooked gambler Gus Sands in the baseball classic film, The NaturalDespite being one of the main characters in the latter film, McGaven was upset that he did not receive top billing.  He refused to do any publicity for the picture and demanded that his name be removed from all of the film’s post-production records.

Darren did return to television a few more times in his career, including garnishing a 1990 Primetime Emmy Award for his recurring role playing the father of the title character in politically-charged comedy series, Murphy Brown.

McGavin died of cardiovascular disease in 2006.  He was 83.

Before you see any of the various A Christmas Story films out there this holiday season, check out McGavin in a much different role, in the biopic movie 43: The Richard Petty Story along with his guest starring roles on classic television shows on ATVN.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on the Astound TV Network, check out the weekly listings here.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.