McGraw's gonna git'cha!At 5’10”, Charles McGraw was not the tallest guy in the room, nor was he the handsomest… but he stood out.  He had a face that looked cold chiseled out of granite, eyes with that thousand yard stare career soldiers are said to possess and a voice on him, low and guttural, like a boot heel grinding teeth on concrete. " /> McGraw's gonna git'cha!At 5’10”, Charles McGraw was not the tallest guy in the room, nor was he the handsomest… but he stood out.  He had a face that looked cold chiseled out of granite, eyes with that thousand yard stare career soldiers are said to possess and a voice on him, low and guttural, like a boot heel grinding teeth on concrete. " /> McGraw's gonna git'cha!At 5’10”, Charles McGraw was not the tallest guy in the room, nor was he the handsomest… but he stood out.  He had a face that looked cold chiseled out of granite, eyes with that thousand yard stare career soldiers are said to possess and a voice on him, low and guttural, like a boot heel grinding teeth on concrete. " />

McGraw & Me

By the age of 13, I was hooked on John Willis’ Screen World, a hardcover compendium of movies released in the US during the previous year.  I saved my pennies so I could afford that book each time a new one came out.  In addition to credit lists and illustrations, each volume concluded with an obituary section through which I’d pore, slack-jawed at the celebrity passings.  Sometimes those deaths really hit the bone. 

The Narrow MarginScreen World 1981 brought news of the death of actor Charles McGraw from injuries sustained by falling through a glass shower door.  Born Charles Butters on May 10, 1914, the actor had paid his dues in theatre and on the radio before making his film debut in an uncredited bit in John Brahm’s monster-on-the-moors sleeper The Undying Monster (1942).  At 5’10”, Charles McGraw was not the tallest guy in the room, nor was he the handsomest… but he stood out.  He had a face that looked cold chiseled out of granite, eyes with that thousand yard stare career soldiers are said to possess and a voice on him, low and guttural, like a boot heel grinding teeth on concrete. 

Armored Car RobberyI had seen the actor in a few things:  Hitchcock’s The Birds (as a gruff diner patron), In Cold Blood (as spree killer Robert Blake’s gruff father Tex) and in the Dan Curtis telefilm The Night Stalker (as a gruff police captain).  None of these were vintage McGraw but he was great in all of them.  McGraw's death made me curious about his life, so I had a lot of backtracking ahead of me.  It took me years to see his seminal work:  as half of The Killers (1946), as vengeful con Red Kluger in The Threat (1949), as an Honest Joe turned bad by true love in Roadblock (1951) and as righteous cops in Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952).  McGraw’s drill instructor mien assured him a busy career playing military men of every stripe:  sergeants in War Paint (1953) and Joe Butterfly (1957), lieutenants in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), captains in The Story of Molly X (1949) and The Defiant Ones (1958) and sheriffs in Hang ‘em High (1968) and Tell Them Willy Boy Is Here (1969).  During the 1950s, McGraw was the star of the short-lived Casablanca TV series, playing alongside a number of the original film's supporting cast (Marcel Dalio, Ludwig Stössel and big Dan Seymour) promoted to characters of greater importance. 

Coming this FallComing this August from noir specialist Alan K. Rode is Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (McFarland), which promises many behind-the-scenes anecdotes about his ribald adventures… his long and fitful marriage to a beautiful Eurasian woman, the mystery of his truncated World War II military service; and the true story of his tragically horrific death… few actually knew the enigmatic, complex man beyond the tough guy demeanor, funny stories and barroom bluster. He led a life of exuberant excess that gradually descended to a tragic denouement.  The McFarland website hasn't yet added this book to their store, nor listed a cover price.  So haunt the site, tough guys… and start saving those pennies.

18 Responses McGraw & Me
Posted By Barney : February 24, 2007 1:06 pm

He is truly one of the unsung heroes of the film noir genre. It's hard to image what "The Narrow Margin" would have been like without his tough, cynical verbal sparring with Marie Windsor. And his presence adds immeasurably to  Anthony Mann's "T-Men" and "Border Incident." The guy was even a great straight man in comedies like "Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." What a terrible way to die, though! Being impaled on a piece of sharp glass after slipping in the shower and falling through the glass door!

Posted By Barney : February 24, 2007 1:06 pm

He is truly one of the unsung heroes of the film noir genre. It's hard to image what "The Narrow Margin" would have been like without his tough, cynical verbal sparring with Marie Windsor. And his presence adds immeasurably to  Anthony Mann's "T-Men" and "Border Incident." The guy was even a great straight man in comedies like "Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." What a terrible way to die, though! Being impaled on a piece of sharp glass after slipping in the shower and falling through the glass door!

Posted By Brian Olewnick : February 24, 2007 9:23 pm

Foreword by Jim Steranko?!?! There's a weird intersection. You're 13 and adulating Charles McGraw; when I was 13 I was doing the same for Steranko. Otherwise, I can't imagine what they had in common! 

Posted By Brian Olewnick : February 24, 2007 9:23 pm

Foreword by Jim Steranko?!?! There's a weird intersection. You're 13 and adulating Charles McGraw; when I was 13 I was doing the same for Steranko. Otherwise, I can't imagine what they had in common! 

Posted By RHS : February 24, 2007 9:37 pm

It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Posted By RHS : February 24, 2007 9:37 pm

It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Posted By moira finnie : February 26, 2007 9:05 am

*Mild Spoiler about Spartacus Below* It's great to hear that a biography of this memorable character actor is pending. Two of his most memorable roles for me is as the gladiator instructor in Spartacus, (who literally ends up in the soup).The other, unheralded role is as the figurehead logo of TCM. I swear that's got to be his blockhead under the fedora that looms up whenever films are introduced in the evening on the network, though others may have other candidates. Whatever the part, even the most underwritten and hackneyed ones, he brought an indelible verisimilitude to it.Btw, in Lee Server's bio of Robert Mitchum, "Baby, I Don't Care", he quotes Mr. McGraw at length regarding his rather un-p.c. friendship with the star, pursuing good times whenever and wherever possible.

Posted By moira finnie : February 26, 2007 9:05 am

*Mild Spoiler about Spartacus Below* It's great to hear that a biography of this memorable character actor is pending. Two of his most memorable roles for me is as the gladiator instructor in Spartacus, (who literally ends up in the soup).The other, unheralded role is as the figurehead logo of TCM. I swear that's got to be his blockhead under the fedora that looms up whenever films are introduced in the evening on the network, though others may have other candidates. Whatever the part, even the most underwritten and hackneyed ones, he brought an indelible verisimilitude to it.Btw, in Lee Server's bio of Robert Mitchum, "Baby, I Don't Care", he quotes Mr. McGraw at length regarding his rather un-p.c. friendship with the star, pursuing good times whenever and wherever possible.

Posted By MDR : March 1, 2007 5:56 pm

I never thought of that, Moira, and you could be right – Charles McGraw does bear a striking resemblance to "Fedora Man";-)

Posted By MDR : March 1, 2007 5:56 pm

I never thought of that, Moira, and you could be right – Charles McGraw does bear a striking resemblance to "Fedora Man";-)

Posted By Carbubble : March 11, 2007 6:07 am

This is from my favorite Film Noir "B" Movie – Narrow Margin made in 1952. This is Marie Windsor (Mrs. Frankie Neall) along with Charles McGraw (Det. Sgt. Walter Brown). She plays a tough talking broad and he's the cop transporting her to Los Angeles by train.Before he meets her in person, his partner, Gus Forbes, asks him about her.Forbes: "What about this dame?"Brown: "She's a dish."Forbes: "What kind of dish?"Brown: "A sixty cent special… Cheap, flashy and all poison under the gravy."You just don't get that kind of dialog any more…

Posted By Carbubble : March 11, 2007 6:07 am

This is from my favorite Film Noir "B" Movie – Narrow Margin made in 1952. This is Marie Windsor (Mrs. Frankie Neall) along with Charles McGraw (Det. Sgt. Walter Brown). She plays a tough talking broad and he's the cop transporting her to Los Angeles by train.Before he meets her in person, his partner, Gus Forbes, asks him about her.Forbes: "What about this dame?"Brown: "She's a dish."Forbes: "What kind of dish?"Brown: "A sixty cent special… Cheap, flashy and all poison under the gravy."You just don't get that kind of dialog any more…

Posted By Phil Southerland : November 14, 2007 2:12 pm

Charles McGraw was one of a kind. I still remember the impression he made on me in “The Killers,” which I saw when it was originally released and in which he appeared with my radio favorite William Conrad. (Both had marvelous voices, though McGraw’s wasn’t used there.) Sadly under-rated, I think, because not that often mentioned, was his performance as the Air Group Commander (CAG) in “The Bridges of Toko-Ri.” He really caught the essence of what it means to command and to lose one of your men in combat. The scene in which he stands up to the admiral (Frederic March) says it all.

Posted By Phil Southerland : November 14, 2007 2:12 pm

Charles McGraw was one of a kind. I still remember the impression he made on me in “The Killers,” which I saw when it was originally released and in which he appeared with my radio favorite William Conrad. (Both had marvelous voices, though McGraw’s wasn’t used there.) Sadly under-rated, I think, because not that often mentioned, was his performance as the Air Group Commander (CAG) in “The Bridges of Toko-Ri.” He really caught the essence of what it means to command and to lose one of your men in combat. The scene in which he stands up to the admiral (Frederic March) says it all.

Posted By Alan K. Rode : November 15, 2007 2:02 am

Hi Phil, I am glad you noted  McGraw's performance in The Bridges of Toko-Ri because it is one of his best performances on screen- arguably the high point of his movie and television career-that is frequently overlooked.  The final scene on the aircraft carrier bridge where Charlie faces down Frederic March was remarked on prominently in my book.  Best regards, Alan K. Rode

Posted By Alan K. Rode : November 15, 2007 2:02 am

Hi Phil, I am glad you noted  McGraw's performance in The Bridges of Toko-Ri because it is one of his best performances on screen- arguably the high point of his movie and television career-that is frequently overlooked.  The final scene on the aircraft carrier bridge where Charlie faces down Frederic March was remarked on prominently in my book.  Best regards, Alan K. Rode

Posted By Dennis Daily : January 3, 2008 3:35 am

I knew Charles through my father, Pete Daily of Pete Daily and his Chicagoans.  Charles could be as tough in real life after a few drinks as he was on screen. 

Posted By Dennis Daily : January 3, 2008 3:35 am

I knew Charles through my father, Pete Daily of Pete Daily and his Chicagoans.  Charles could be as tough in real life after a few drinks as he was on screen. 

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.