John McGiver: Another Great Character Actor

The Talented and Unforgettable John McGiverA solid handful of interesting actors were born today, November 5th:  cowboy icon Roy Rogers in 1911, the beautiful, talented and troubled Vivien Leigh in 1913, the seductive Elke Sommer in 1940, the singer who put the Herman in Herman’s Hermits–Peter Noone–in 1947, and the ubiquitous John McGiver, born this day in 1913.  He’s a face that you’ve seen a hundred times, and though he wasn’t one of those character actors that blended into the woodwork — you never forgot John McGiver in anything! — he carved out a prodigious body of work in a career that actually lasted only about twenty years.

McGiver, who first had dreams of becoming an actor while in university , instead turned to a career in education after graduation.  He became a high school English teacher in New York, and also served in the military during World War II.  McGiver resumed his teaching teacher after the war, and in the early 1950s he ran into an old college friend who had become a theatrical producer.  Knowing John’s interest in acting, the friend, who needed a replacement for a leading actor who’d unexpectedly left his latest production,McGiver with Maurice Chevalier in Love in the Afternoon asked if McGiver would step in.  The teacher-turned-accidental thespian said yes, and he never stopped performing for the rest of his life.

Appearances in plays off and on Broadway in New York prepared him for entry into the heyday of live TV, where he was acted on some of the important anthology series of the day, including Studio One.  In 1957 he had the honor of appearing in one of the longest-running movies anywhere, the short film called Williamsburg: The Story of  Patriot which still plays to this day, every day, at Colonial Williamsburg village in Virginia.  John McGiver’s first major motion picture was a role in the 1957 Gary Cooper/Audrey Hepburn starrer Love in the Afternoon, McGiver with Agnes Moorehead in Who's Minding the Store?and it was followed by a steady stream of both movie and TV roles over the next two decades.

Probably best known for his light comedy roles, McGiver was an audience favorite in films like The Gazebo (Trailer), Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bachelor in Paradise, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, Take Her, She’s Mine, Man’s Favorite Sport? (Trailer), Who’s Minding the Store?, A Global Affair, The Glass Bottom Boat (Trailer), Fitzwilly (Trailer) and many more, including McGiver with Penny Singleton in The Twilight Zonethe never-completed but recently-restored last-Marilyn Monroe project Something’s Got to Give from 1962.  On television he appeared in everything, including Alfred Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone, his own series Many Happy Returns which had a short run in 1964, The Fugitive, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Honey West, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., McGiver with a Buxom Friend in ArnoldGidget, The Farmer’s Daughter, I Dream of Jeannie, the superhero spoof Mr. Terrific from 1967, The Wild Wild West, Alias Smith and Jones and a slew of others, both comedic and dramatic.  (Sentimental kids may remember him as an Angel in the Johnny Whittaker–Jody on Family Affair–Christmas special The Littlest Angel.)   

And lest audiences think his movie appearances were limited to comedies, he had important dramatic roles in titles like jazzy gangster film Johnny Cool, ColdMcGiver Bites the Dust in The Manchurian Candidate War classic The Manchurian Candidate (Trailer), and his vividly memorable role as a religious fanatic in 1967’s controversial Oscar-winner Midnight Cowboy.  John McGiver’s last screen role was in the Don Knotts/Tim Conway comedy western McGiver Opposite Jon Voight in Midnight CowboyThe Apple Dumpling Gang, and his last TV role a guest appearance in the 1975 mystery series Ellery Queen

The versatile and talented John McGiverJohn McGiver as O'Daniel in Midnight Cowboy died of a heart attack on September 9, 1975, at the age of only 61, leaving behind his wife Ruth and ten children.  He was always immensely entertaining and completely unforgettable, and we salute him today, on the anniversary of his birth.  Though he's been gone for over thirty years, for classic movie and TV fans the great John McGiver is never far from sight.

8 Responses John McGiver: Another Great Character Actor
Posted By Mike Burleson : November 6, 2007 5:06 am

I knew the face right off, but never knew the name until now! Great actor.

Posted By Mike Burleson : November 6, 2007 5:06 am

I knew the face right off, but never knew the name until now! Great actor.

Posted By RHS : November 6, 2007 3:03 pm

Ten children!? Man, my estimation of McGiver has gone way up! What a love machine!

Posted By RHS : November 6, 2007 3:03 pm

Ten children!? Man, my estimation of McGiver has gone way up! What a love machine!

Posted By Rick J : November 7, 2007 9:37 pm

You are right, unforgetable is the perfect word.  Although he played varied types of characters, his comic roles were some of the best.  His befuddlment always crack me up.

Posted By Rick J : November 7, 2007 9:37 pm

You are right, unforgetable is the perfect word.  Although he played varied types of characters, his comic roles were some of the best.  His befuddlment always crack me up.

Posted By HSB : November 13, 2007 10:35 pm

Please don't forget his hilarious performance in William Castle's phenomenally underrated THE SPIRIT IS WILLING.  That's the McGiver role I go back to most often.

Posted By HSB : November 13, 2007 10:35 pm

Please don't forget his hilarious performance in William Castle's phenomenally underrated THE SPIRIT IS WILLING.  That's the McGiver role I go back to most often.

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