Posted by Richard Harland Smith on February 23, 2007
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.
Screen 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.
I 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 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.
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D Academy Awards Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Art Direction Art in Movies Asians in Hollywood Australian CInema Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Black Film Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Children Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Fantasy Movies Film Composers Film Criticism Film Festival 2015 film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films About Gambling Films of the 1930s Films of the 1960s Films of the 1970s Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Film Hosts Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Memorabilia Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes movie flops Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Magazines Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movie titles Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals New Releases Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Russian Film Industry Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Sequels Serials Set design/production design Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Spaghetti Westerns Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Steven Spielberg Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival TCM Underground Telephones Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies U.S.S. Indianapolis Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies