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Charles McGraw


ElCid
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Just watched another of his movies, The Threat,  on Summer of Darkness.  Not a great movie nor a great actor, but he was very effective in the roles he undertook.  Interestingly, he could play both sides of the law convincingly.  Narrow Margin vs. The Killers or His Kind of Woman.  Of course, he couldn't hold a candle to Marie Windsor in Narrow Margin.

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Not a great movie nor a great actor

 

IMHO he was one of the great character actors. Best as a heavy -- one of my favorite McGraw roles is in a Bonanza episode where he plays a sheriff who helps frame the Cartwrights and is planning to hang them. Despite what he is doing he communicates vulnerability and you never quite hate him -- you even feel a little sympathy for him

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One of Charles McGraw's best assets is that voice. You don't even have to be watching the screen, just hear a few words and you know who it is.  And then there is that stocky build and chiseled face, he was ideal for tough guy rolls, either as a cop type or heavy. He has quite a lengthy film and tv resume, almost always a supporting character but always bringing something of value to the show. He deserves to be remembered for his work.

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McGraw was injured (broken jaw) when Kirk Douglas slammed his head into that soup cauldron a little too vigorously in Spartacus.

 

Alcoholism (not too surprising with that gravelly voice of his) was his downfall. He died in a bizarre accident when he slipped in his shower, bleeding to death from a torn artery in his arm on some broken glass.

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When I was a young boy my father and my older brother did a lot of remodeling in our old house, They redid the bathroom, putting  in a new bathtub with a shower. The shower doors were glass on rollers that ran in a track. The glass doors were quite heavy, I think if one of them had fallen on you , you could have been hurt badly. The glass was supposed to be "safety glass"  but I wouldn't have relied on it. After a few years we decided to replace the doors and track with a simple curtain.

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Reading this thread has inspired me to finally order the Alan Rode biography of Charles McGraw from Amazon.  A bit expensive but it is supposed to be a very good read.

 

I like all of McGraw's appearances in the noir films that he did.  His persona seemed well suited for that genre.

 

But my favourite McGraw performance was his Marcellus in Spartacus (1960).  It was a role that could be easily have been way over the top but McGraw handled it well.  I also thought he was terrific as Robert Blake's father, Tex Smith in, In Cold Blood (1967).

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I had checked into buying a copy of the Charles McGraw bio, but the price seemed outrageous. I guess it didn't have a large printing run and so its  a rare item today. Give us a little  heads up as to how good it is and whether it is worth pursuing. One question about his life that I would have;  Charles McGraw was typical of many good character actors who worked steady, but almost always in supporting roles. What kind of financial compensation would a guy like him get?. I doubt that he ever got a big pay and had to work steady to make a decent living. Not exactly a secure way to go through life, working job to job not knowing what the future will bring. Only a small number of actors made the big money, if they were smart and didn't squander it.  McGraw would be representative of the average actor financially speaking.

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Here's a McGraw quote from that Rode biography:

 

“I'm all for new faces. And I'm not sore at the producers. They give a kid good direction and custom- written parts and sometimes the kids click. But I get my dander up at the way some of these kindergarten actors put on the dog. They let their hair grow long if they're a man or cut it off if they're a woman. They start giving out with their theories on picture-making and the theatre in general, when most of them haven't been closer to the stage than the one in the high school auditorium. They get interviewed and they say unusual things—and they make me sick . . . Trouble with kids today [is that] they don't want to be actors half as much as they want to be stars. The craftsmanship, the joy of doing something well hasn't half the exciting appeal as the dollars or the phony glamour.”

 

Based on that 1955 quote, he sounds like a working man actor who took pride in the work itself. He might not have been a fan of James Dean, amomg others.

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One question about his life that I would have;  Charles McGraw was typical of many good character actors who worked steady, but almost always in supporting roles. What kind of financial compensation would a guy like him get?. I doubt that he ever got a big pay and had to work steady to make a decent living. 

 

I happen to know this info for one actor -- Gerald Mohr. Busy character actor and occasional lead in lower budgeted projects. At one point the star of the TV series Foreign Intrigue, and frequent guest on everything from Perry Mason to Maverick (James Garner said Mohr was one of his favorite actors to work with). For me his greatest moment was on radio, as the star of the Philip Marlowe series -- still my favorite adaptation of Chandler, in any medium.

 

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In 1958 Mohr made $18K -- this info came out in his divorce. 

 

I'd guesstimate that $18K in 1958 would be at least equivalent to $100K today, so he made a comfortable living -- especially when you factor in that LA real estate was not quite so crazy in those days, and you could live in a nice house in a good neighborhood, fairly close to the studios, for a reasonable price.

 

And bear in mind that while Mohr made $18K a year in 1958, a few years earlier Sid Caesar was making $25K a week. Of course a huge chunk of that was going to taxes, but that's another discussion...

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Based on that 1955 quote, he sounds like a working man actor who took pride in the work itself. He might not have been a fan of James Dean, amomg others.

Never have liked James Dean.  Always seemed too phony to me and over acting every role.

As for Gerald Mohr, another one of those I know the face, but the name means nothing to me.  He performed very well and made the roles real.

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After the recent TCM screening of BORDER INCIDENT and in a thread someone started about that film, I stated there might never have a been an actor who played "the heavy" better than McGraw...and I'm stickin' with that assessment. ;)

 

(...and btw, speaking of great "A-film supporting/B-film leading actors", AND someone who years ago I used to occasionally confuse with Charles McGraw...I'll now bring up the name of "Gene Evans" here)

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Charles McGraw will always have a special place in the hearts of film noir buffs for at least two reasons:

 

1. He was one of the two hoods (along with William Conrad) in one of the most electrifying openings that any noir ever had, in The Killers

 

2. He was the star (along with the incredibly sexy in a hard sort of way Marie Windsor) of The Narrow Margin, one of the great Bs of all time

 

 

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(...and btw, speaking of great "A-film supporting/B-film leading actors", AND someone who years ago I used to occasionally confuse with Charles McGraw...I'll now bring up the name of "Gene Evans" here)

Another one of those I know the face, but the name means nothing to me.  Recently watched him in a Route 66 episode.  Evans performed well, but he did mean very well.

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speaking of great "A-film supporting/B-film leading actors", AND someone who years ago I used to occasionally confuse with Charles McGraw...I'll now bring up the name of "Gene Evans" here)

 

Curious, I never confused those two at all. They both have gravelly voices, but don't really look alike, and give off different vibes. They both played all sorts of roles, but McGraw seemed more comfortable in the dark city streets of noir, while Evans was born to make westerns. He seems almost laughably out of place as the slimmed down male lead of Park Row (though his actual performance was fine).

 

Evans' finest moments were as the Korean War soldiers in The Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets. Which brings me to an interesting story. In the early '80s Evans did a MASH episode as a self-glorifying war correspondent. Did the producers or whoever did the casting give him the role in homage to his earlier Korean War films? If so it was a nice touch, one of my favorites, along with The Virginian TV series casting Sonny Tufts (Steve in the '46 film) as Trampas' father (Trampas in the TV series = Steve everywhere else, but that's a lnog complicated story we won't go into here).

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Charles McGraw will always have a special place in the hearts of film noir buffs for at least two reasons:

 

1. He was one of the two hoods (along with William Conrad) in one of the most electrifying openings that any noir ever had, in The Killers

 

2. He was the star (along with the incredibly sexy in a hard sort of way Marie Windsor) of The Narrow Margin, one of the great Bs of all time

 

To that I'd only add McGraw's gangster role in The Threat, and his role as a police lieutenant in Armored Car Robbery, with William Talmon playing the part of the psychopathic criminal.  Not that these movies as a whole were as good as those other two, but McGraw was every bit as convincing on either side of the law.  He was sort of like a B-movie version of Sterling Hayden in that respect, and he's one of the many reasons that some of us would rather watch many of those B-noirs over many feature movies.

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I had checked into buying a copy of the Charles McGraw bio, but the price seemed outrageous. I guess it didn't have a large printing run and so its  a rare item today.

 

The reason for the high price is that its publisher (McFarland) is noted for two practices:  Virtually never issuing hardback editions; and tightly controlling the print runs.  They don't issue so-called "limited editions", but in practice it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. They also almost never dump any titles into the remainder clearing houses, and give only short discounts to retailers, which also helps to maintain the price.  They specialize in books on baseball and movies, and even years after publication you'll almost never see any of their books going for much less than 80% of the original cover price. 

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Dude you really need to start studying up on your character actors

That's why I watch TCM.  Of course, the newer "old movie" channels are adding to what's out there.  So many people, so many roles, so little memory space.

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Charles McGraw was typical of many good character actors who worked steady, but almost always in supporting roles. What kind of financial compensation would a guy like him get?. I doubt that he ever got a big pay and had to work steady to make a decent living. Not exactly a secure way to go through life, working job to job not knowing what the future will bring. Only a small number of actors made the big money, if they were smart and didn't squander it.  McGraw would be representative of the average actor financially speaking.

 

Do you want to bring in TV?

 

James Garner never made more than $500 a week as Maverick. The other Maverick, Jack Kelly, made more -- $600. (After Garner and Kelly went on strike, Garner left Warners but Kelly re-signed for $3K). At this same time, Steve McQueen ended up making $100K a year on Wanted Dead Or Alive -- five times what Garner was making. This tells us why Warners was so unpopular with actors -- and I guess we can presume Dick Powell was very popular among them.

 

The biggest payday for these TV leading men surely belonged to James Arness, who within 5 or 6 years of Gunsmoke's debut was actually a co-owner of the show.

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Today we have a big advantage in being able to easily research all of these actors and communicate with other people about them ,  comparing our notes. Back in the day I'd bet that most of the public couldn't easily identify many of these  character actors, that is match their names and faces.  I'd see a guy like Charles McGraw on the street, maybe even hear his voice, and think, "I know that guy from the movies/tv.  But what is his name?" Or if someone would mention "Charles McGraw the actor" I might think of a half dozen different guys not being sure which one  he actually was.  And of course we fans are now looking back on the guy's entire career and can judge him and others of his time.  We can judge each actor as an individual.

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Today we have a big advantage in being able to easily research all of these actors and communicate with other people about them ,  comparing our notes. Back in the day I'd bet that most of the public couldn't easily identify many of these  character actors, that is match their names and faces.  I'd see a guy like Charles McGraw on the street, maybe even hear his voice, and think, "I know that guy from the movies/tv.  But what is his name?" Or if someone would mention "Charles McGraw the actor" I might think of a half dozen different guys not being sure which one  he actually was.  And of course we fans are now looking back on the guy's entire career and can judge him and others of his time.  We can judge each actor as an individual.

 

A big pre-Internet help were the credits sequences of shows like Bonanza and the various Quinn Martin epics, which put a face to the name of guest stars.

 

Which reminds me... One of Gerald Mohr's last roles was in a Bonzanza that was also one of the last roles for Fred Clark (I believe FC died before it aired -- not sure if Mohr did). Clark appears only in the pre-credits teaser, where he is promptly shot down. Then we see the opening credits, and the guest stars: Jack Albertson (then about to win an Oscar for The Subject Was Roses), the ingenue, and Mohr. Clark does not make the opening credits. 

 

Clark, who had been one of Hollywood's busiest comedy actors not long before, had certainly fallen far down the industry ladder -- I think his last film was I Sailed To Tahiti With An All Girl Crew. That's always puzzled me

 

As for Mohr, he died not long after shooting a Big Valley that was actually one of his best performances, as a sickly, intellectual Mexican revolutionary using Heath to sneak him out of the country.

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To that I'd only add McGraw's gangster role in The Threat, and his role as a police lieutenant in Armored Car Robbery, with William Talmon playing the part of the psychopathic criminal.  Not that these movies as a whole were as good as those other two, but McGraw was every bit as convincing on either side of the law.  He was sort of like a B-movie version of Sterling Hayden in that respect, and he's one of the many reasons that some of us would rather watch many of those B-noirs over many feature movies.

He's also great in Roadblock, Loophole, and T Men

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I was thinking . . . by the 1970's Charles McGraw's voice had become really deep.  Just listen to him in "The Night Stalker" (1971-Tvm) as the police chief.  I don't know if he was a heavy smoker or drinker, but his voice already sounded deep in "Berlin Express" (1948), which TCM aired a week or so ago.  I recognized McGraw by his voice; I don't believe he received a screen credit for his role (I didn't see one, anyway). 

 

     I think his last few movies were "A Boy and His Dog" (1975), "The Killer Inside Me" (1976) and "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977).  He died weird; slipped and fell through a glass shower door and bled out in July 1980 at age 66. 

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     Re:  Post #3:  I dig morbid trivia, Richard Kimble.  Fred Clark and Gerald Mohr both appeared in the 1948 comedy "Two Guys from Texas".  I remember seeing it on TCM a while back.  Can't recall for sure if they had any scenes together, but I don't think they did.

 

      Here are 6 character actors/writers who died in 1968 at age 53 or 54:

 

BICE, Robert, 53 (March 4, 1914 - January 8, 1968)  Appeared in movies and then on Tv from 1943-68.

TALMAN, William, 53 (February 4, 1915 - August 30, 1968)  Heavy smoking lead to lung cancer.  He looked old!

YOUNG, Nedrick (Ned), 54 (March 23, 1914 - September 16, 1968)  Actor/writer.  Blacklisted a number of years.

COREY, Wendell, 54 (March 20, 1914 - November 8, 1968)  Died of liver problems due to years of alcoholism.   

MOHR, Gerald, 54 (June 11, 1914 - November 9, 1968)  Died of a sudden heart attack in Stockholm, Sweden.

CLARK, Fred, 54 (March 19, 1914 - December 5, 1968)  Died of a liver ailment. 

 

     Ned Young appeared on TCM recently during Sterling Hayden's SOTM tribute; he's the decked-out-in-black twisted bad guy who gets speared by Sterling in the showdown at the end of "Terror In A Texas Town" (1958). 

 

     ► More morbid trivia of sorts for 1970:  

 

WILLIAM HOPPER, Wm. Talman's co-star in "Perry Mason" died at 55 on March 6, 1970.  He'd had a stroke in February of '70.  (1/26/15 - 3/6/70)

 

FRANK SILVERA died at 55 of accidental electrocution in his home on June 11, 1970.  (7/24/14 - 6/11/70).  I saw him in a movie TCM aired recently that starred George Hamilton:  "Crime and Punishment U.S.A." from 1959.  Silvera was a Jamaican actor and he played all kinds of roles.

 

JULES MUNSHIN died at 54 of a heart attack on Feb. 19, 1970.  3 days later he would have celebrated his 55th birthday.  (2/22/15 - 2/19/70)

 

DEL MOORE, actor/announcer, died at 54 on Aug. 30, 1970.  I reckon most movie viewers would remember him for his role in Jerry Lewis' 1963 movie "The Nutty Professor".  (5/14/16 - 8/30/70)

 

     Frank Silvera and Jules Munshin both had movies that premiered YEARS after they died.  Silvera filmed a Tv movie called "Perilous Voyage" in 1968, but it wasn't aired until 1976.  So says my 1990 LM Video Guide; I checked the IMDb and it has the same info so I figure that's probably correct.  I wouldn't mind watching "Perilous Voyage", but I've never seen a video release.  Maltin's review gave it a 'Below Average', btw. 

 

     Jules Munshin filmed "Mastermind" in 1969 and it may have been released somewhere in 1976 before being presented for home video viewers in the 1980s.  The IMDb says it wasn't released on video until 1999, but I believe it came out on 'UNICORN VIDEO, INC.' in the mid-1980s. 

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