Darren McGavin’s Theatrical Work

Handbill advertising the play “Night Must Fall,” directed by Darren McGavin in the early 1950’s.  Darren designed and hand-drafted this artwork.

Darren McGavin’s
Theatrical Work

Darren’s first appearance on stage was a 1941 college production of “Lady Windermere’s Fan.”  It was the beginning of a long career on the boards, spanning Broadway, the Los Angeles stage, national touring companies and summer stock across the United States and Europe.

1941    “Lady Windermere’s Fan”        College Production

1944    “No Rhyme, No Reason” 
       Off-Broadway play at the
Bliss Hayden Little Theatre.  Darren met his first wife, Melanie York,
during this production.

1945    “Volpone”   
Actor’s Lab, Hollywood, California.  Played the judge advocate.

1945    “Liliom”  

Los Angeles stage production.  Played the judge advocate.

1946     “The Late Christopher Bean”        U.S.O.
Tour.  Played a juvenile role.

1948     “The Old Lady Says No!”          Mansfield Theatre, New York, Feb. 17, 1948.  Dublin Gate Production.  This was Darren’s first Broadway part.

1949 “Cock-A-Doodle-Do” 
Presented by the Invitational Series branch of the Experimental Theatre, under
the auspices of the American National Theatre and Academy.  Lenox Playhouse, Feb. 26, 1949.  4 performances; played “Joe.” Darren had 4th billing; John Fiedler had 6th billing and Charleston Heston had 8th billing.

1949     “Death of a Salesman” 
Toured as “Happy” in the national road company for 18-months (1949-51); later succeeded Cameron Mitchell in this role at the Morosco, NYC.

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1951     “The Thracian Horses”
Played Hercules; Branders University Festival of the Creative Arts; Story based
on the Alcestis legend; written by Maurice Valency.  With Thomas Barbour as
Crito and Neva Patterson as Alcestis.

1952    “Dark Legend”   
Darren produced this play with David Heilweil and Robert N. Winter-Berger.  President Theatre, March 24-29, 1952.  Off-Booadway, 8 shows.  Written by Helene Freankel; based on the novel by Frederic Wertman; directed by Morton DaCosta.  Starring Dino Terranova, Arny Freeman, James Lipton, Olive Deering, Leslie Vega, Helen Auerbach, James Daly, Penny Santon.

1953    “My Three Angels” 
Morosco Theatre, March 11, 1953; as Alfred

“My 3 Angels,” (adopted from the French of Albert Husson by Sam & Bella Spewack) makes a perfectly enjoyable evening of an always piquant theme. It tells how three badmen – convicts, in fact – become the good angels of a sadly harassed household. The scene is French Guiana, 1910, a region where, on Christmas Day, the temperature graciously drops to 104 degrees, and where convicts can not only hire out but apparently never have to report back. The Messrs. Fixit of My 3 Angels are employed as roofers by a family in dire danger of having no roof over their heads; on the way to France is a snarling cousin to oust papa from the business he has botched. Along with the cousin is his cold-blooded nephew, who is jilting papa’s daughter for an heiress.

The three angels – two of them murderers, the third a swindler – take the
visitors on. All three badmen have sunny natures, warm hearts, clever hands,
sleepless brains; all three are professional believers in the robinhood of man.
Possessing every criminal art and penal grace, they set matters right in a
Gallic Christmas Carol where it is simplier to bump Scrooge off than to
convert him.

With: Will Kuluva, Carmen Matthews, Joan Chandler, NanMcFarland, Walter
Slezak, Jerone Cowan,Henry Daniell, Robert Carroll, Eric Fleming

1954    “The Rainmaker” 
Cort Theatre, October 28, 1954; as Bill Starbuck

Who’s Who In The Cast? Mr. McGavin arrived at the first rehearsal of “The Rainmaker” directly from Venice, Italy, where he spent the summer appearing with Katherine Hepburn in the film version of Arthur Laurent’s play, “The Time of the Cuckoo,” which is to bear the screen title, “Summertime.” Last season and much of the season before, Mr. McGavin was Alfred, the youngest of the light-footed convicts with Walter Slezak in, “My Three Angels”; at the same Morosco Theatre where he spent many previous months, and also toured as Happy, the aptly-named young brother in “Death of a Salesman.”



Reviews: “… But Starbuck is not emotionally a crook. He wants desperately to bring rain. He always fails. In a scene written with a fine sense of pathos and humor, Starbuck describes to the girl his life of frustration, his
need to make miracles. Then, in the closing moments of the play, thunder is heard and the rain falls. I am not ashamed to tell you that I cried with happiness when the rains came.

“All the members of the company are beyond reproach, especially Cameron
Prud’homme as the father, Albert Salmi as an indignant younger brother and Darren McGavin as (the Rainmaker). 1954

“The Rainmaker” urgently invites more than one inspection: a first
visit to taste the flavor of this Western sagebrush and cactus, a second to try
to fathom the exotic means by which the playwright has finally achieved it.

“The performance, directed by Mr. Joseph Anthony from a point-by-point
freshness, is one of the season’s most rewarding. Every role has shapeliness
and definition; an expert balance is struck between the latitude allowed for
individual eccentricity in minor roles and our natural insistence that the major
personalities be not displaced. Miss Geraldine Page and Mr. Darren McGavin show exhilarating attack in their playing. Her vulnerable shyness, her disconnected nervous energy take a comic emphasis with visible success; her somewhat bleak and monochrome pathos shows to extreme advantage in this graceless Western locale – style is well married to subject. Mr. McGavin’s confidence man is theatrically sumptuous, a rich and expressive performance, vocally and physically: this actor has positive dash and bravado. How brilliantly he incarnates Mr. Nash’s most originally observed character: the man in whom
charm is all, who captivates neither to connive nor corrupt but because he must
live in a glow of esteem, and what to do in that case but radiate it
oneself?” November, 1954

1954    “The Trachian Horses”
late 1954, early 1955.  In Boston, Mass.

1955    “The King and I” 
St. Louis Municipal Opera Summer Theatre; played the King.

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1955 “Picnic”      
Drury Lane Theatre, July 10-22; Playhouse-in-the-Dark, Philadelphia, PA, August 29.  Played Hal Carter.

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1955    “Anna Christie”  
Played Matt Burke in a staged reading of this work at the Phoenix, NYC, Noc. 22

1956    “The Innkeepers” 
John Golden Theatre, Feb. 2nd, 1956, playing David McGregor.  Closed Feb.
4th after 4 performances.

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1956 review: … Darren McGavin did yeomanly service as David, and Geraldine Page contributed a good deal as Amy by underplaying the role. Also in the cast: Miriam Colon, Ernesto Gonzalez, Boris Tumarin, Jean Barker, Truman Smith, Carmen Zapata, Anita deSoto, Joe Maross. Directed by Jose Quintero.

1956    “The Lovers” 
Martin Beck Theatre, May 10-12 (4 performances only).  Playing Chrysagon de
la Crux

Playing Chrysagon de la Crux.

1956 Review: “To the credit of all principally concerned – director Michael Gordon and players Darren McGavin, Mario Alcalde, Joanne Woodward, Hurd Hatfield, Vivian Nathan, Mossir Carnovasky – the performance had an inherent dignity, and even an occasional loftiness, that Hollywood would do well to match when it undertakes this sort of thing, as it so often does.” Also in the cast: Pernell Roberts and Robert Lansing.

May, 1956 Review: Director Michael Gordon and a fine cast, including Darren
McGavin, Vivian Nathan, Hurd Hatfield and Pernell Roberts fashion lusty
performances that make the play consistently compelling. Joanne Woodward
succeeds in playing a nude bathing scene without embarrassment, but seems palely defined in some of the other scenes were more emotional reaction would be welcome.”

Review: “In a production that is thoughtfully coordinated in every detail, Hurd Hatfield achieves a distinguished portrayal of the perplexed priest, and Darren McGavin is impressively masculine as the amorous nobleman. Joanne Woodward gives a placid performance as the seduced wife.”

1956    “Love Story” 
August 1, 1956, Northern Theatre, Chicago; as Oliver Barrett IV.  With
Leslie Stevens.

1957    “Tunnel of Love” 
Royale Theatre, Feb. 13, 1957 – Feb. 22, 1958; 124 performances.  Playing
Dick Pepper, “the rake.”

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1957    “With Respect for Joey”
Directed for the Theatre Guild – summer production

1958    “The Happiest Man Alive”  
New York Summer theatre; also directed this play.   

1959    “Wonderful Town
Played “the Wreck” at the U.S. Pavilion, Brussels Worlds Fair; Belgium; summer

1960     “The Golden Fleecing”
New England Strawhat circuit (summer stock)

1961    “Under the Yum-Yum Tree” 

Summer run

1961    “Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole” 
  84 performances from Oct. 5th – Dec. 16, th61, at the Morosco Theatre.  Played First Lieutenant Stanley Poole.

Review: “A promising comedy about the peacetime Army. Serious
students of military history will not care much for “Blood, Sweat and
Stanley Poole,” but I am not a serious student of military history and I
found this modest and cheerful comedy about the peacetime Army highly


Review: “Lieut. Stanley Poole (Darren McGavin), a hard-bitten campaigner, has been frightened out of his dimmish wits by a directive. To holdhi s rank, he must pass a college test; to pass the test, he is bribing the post education officer with every last field jacket and wall locker in his supply
room. Peter Fonda, an egghead private who goes psycho at the sight of an unsheathed bayonet, offers to tutor McGavin, and soon he is running a class for every Neanderthal man on the post.


1962    “The Music Man”  
New York Summer circuit; Played Professor Harold Hill

1962    “The Happiest Man Alive” 

Westport Country Playhouse, Conn. Summer Circuit; played Joe Kelly.  Also
directed this play.


1962    “Damn Yankees” 
Dec. 24-Jan. 13, 1962; Winter season.  The Swan Theatre, Milwaukee

Interview: During the last couple of years, McGavin has deserted
the skull cracking roles for musicals and comedies.

Musical comedies are enjoying their heyday now, the 40-year old actor said.
Worried by Cold War tension and economic ups and downs, people flock to light,
whimsical productions to make them forget their other troubles, he said.

“We’re going through a period now where people don’t necessarily
want to think,” he said.

It is McGavin’s contention that musicals and comedies will someday push all
serious drama to off-Broadway theaters.

Though McGavin has been acting for almost 20 years, most people know him
mainly for his television portrayals of Mike Hammer and Grey Holden, a free
wheeling captain from the now defunct “Riverboat” series. However,
except for the trench coat he wore here and his determined square jaw, he does
not claim to resemble those characters in real life.

“Man, nobody could live like that,” he said. “I’m married
and have four children, a dog and a cat.”

Interview: Television has taught Darren McGavin one thing which he
considers of primary importance to any actor.

“One must have opportunity to be productive. You have to stay in touch with your audience.

“Television has taught me never to say ‘never,’ he said. “I’ve used the word a number of times. In fact, I’ve turned down a series of television shows. Then comes the time when you feel being negative about TV is just silly. Right now, I’m not too amenable to a new TV series, but I will not say that I would never accept one.”

At one point in his television career, McGavin was playing leading roles in both “Riverboat” and “Mike Hammer.” Even now, he admits it was too much of a good thing.

“You never get to see your kids when you get into that kind of deal. I worked 90 hours a week and come Saturday, I was too exhausted to even play with them.”

Review: “McGavin is a delightful devil, both in the musical comedy and as a performer. His debonair manner captured the audience immediately, and
he is probably one of the most personable stars to hit town in some time. …

“There was a full house for the first two New Year eve performances. The
show marked the opening of the second season for the Swan, and the capacity
crowd must have been an encouraging sign for Boyle at a time when little theater
groups have a tendency to fold here.

“But with more productions like “Damn Yankees,” the Swan theater’s continued success seems assured.”

Review: Darren McGavin, in fire and brimstone vest and scarlet gloves,
makes a rakish kind of devil, snapping out his cheerfully sinister lines with
aplomb and mourning the good old days of bloodthirsty chaos.”

1963    “A Thousand Clowns” 
Summer Stock production – York McGavin, Darren’s son acted with him in this

1964    The King and I”
Lincoln Center, July 6th – August 8th.  Playing the King of Siam with Metropolitan Opera prima dona Rise Stevens as Anna.

1965    “The King and I” 
Melodyland Theatre, California, October 5-24; with Celeste Holm as Anna.
Darren replaced Jack Palance as the King when Palance bowed out for a prior film

1965    “The King and I”  
Circle Star Theatre, San Carlos, California October 26 – Nov. 14th.  With Celeste Holm as Anna.

1966    “Dinner at Eight” 
Alvin Theatre, Sept. 27 – Jan. 14, 1967.  Played Larry Renault.

Review: “What is most curious about the evening is that Mr. Guthrie
(director Tyrone Guthrie) has elected to stress, rather than to hide, what is
most transparent in the manufacture. Too many of his actors have been urged to
become papier-mache than the text strictly requires, so that Darren McGavin
comes on with a Barrymore profile that Barrymore himself would surely have taken to a plastic surgeon for quick trimming down.

Mr. McGavin alas, not only wears his coat draped over his shoulders – white
shirt open to the third button – but also behaves from first to last as though
in training to teach the infamous Dr. Hyde a trick or two.” (Walter Kerr).

1967    “Wait Until Dark” 
Miami, Florida – March, 1967

1967 “Camelot” 
Opened May 5th at the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera Association.  Played
King Arthur.

1968    “Captain Brassbound’s
  Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles.  With Greer Garson, Jim Backus.  Rehearsals began August 13, 1968.

Reviews: “Green Garson and Darren McGavin cavort in bravura roles, played with joyous elan.” (Hollywood Reporter)

“The most uncommonly fine acting any Los Angeles stage has held in some time!” (LA Times)

“Darren McGavin turns in a performance that is marvelously executed and subtly conceived!” (Cecil Smith, LA Times)

“Elliot Martin was gloating, “Look at this cast.” … But Martin hastened to insist that the glitter of the names in the “Brassbound” cast is not the only cause for his excitement. It is, rather, he suggested, the beginning of the realization of the concept behind the Center Theatre Group.

“Up to now, Martin admitted, he has “failed miserably” in getting   
Hollywood talent to cooperate. “I called them and they would say, Well, I don’t know, maybe I’d better hold that time open. A film might come up!’ In that respect, the first season at the Music Center was a personal disappointment for Martin.

“The capture of Miss Garson, an Academy Award winner and film and television veteran Darren McGavin represent a dramatic reversal for Martin.
McGavin’s television series, “The Outsider” premieres the week before the opening of “Brassbound.”

“It’s a dull, plodding vehicle but Darren McGavin and other members of the cast come to the rescue. They give the clunker a luster that doesn’t conceal its drag but permits you to enjoy scraping your heels.

“Darren McGavin doesn’t project ability or voice as well as he should, but there’s little doubt the vehicle is far below him, instead of way over his head.” (Barney Glazer, “In Hollywood.”)

The Night the Town Turned Out: The movie colony, as if proud of its own, turned out, almost en masse in tribute to Greer Garson, Darren McGavin, John Williams, Jim Backus and a half dozen other motion picture regulars who braved the ‘legit’ stage to put on a sparkling presentation of the dated G.B. Shaw drama.

“And it was a well-deserved tribute to an excellent group of thespians who proved themselves as able and effective and professional on the stage as on the big screen.

“The principals in the cast were toasted high, wide and handsome at a delightful wing-ding in the Founders Room at the Music Center. Hosted by the Kirk Douglasses with the Jimmy Stewarts, Charlton Hestons, Mervyn Leroys, Gower
Champions, Maureen Arthur and Richard Gully, Kathie Browne, Walter O’Malley,
Robert Wise and the Lew Wassermans among a lesion of celebrities.

The town could use more glamour nights of this kind!” (Sept 26, 1968, Valley Times)

1979    “Have A Nice Day”
Summer Stock; Flint, Michigan, June 26-July 3; at the Connecticut Theatre, July
9 – 14th; at the Falmouth Playhouse, Cape Cod, July 16-21, 1979.  The
production was billed as a “new, pre-Broadway comedy.  Produced by
Kathie Browne.

1989    “The Night Hank Williams Died”    Orpheum Theatre    Broadway

1993 “Greetings”  
Off-Broadway production at the John Housemann Theatre.