Kevin McCarthy, Tireless Actor of Stage and Film, Dies at 96

Obituaries   Kevin McCarthy, Tireless Actor of Stage and Film, Dies at 96
 
Kevin McCarthy, who worked steadily on stage and in film for nearly seven decades, while never attaining the status of a star, died on Sept. 11 at the Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, of natural causes. He was 96.

Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy

Mr. McCarthy's roles were countless. He played Biff Loman in the 1951 film of the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman, repeating a part he performed in the London premiere of the drama, and getting nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. He was roughhewn sailor Mat Burke opposite Celeste Holm's Anna Christopherson in a 1952 Broadway revival of Anna Christie. And, he was part of the cast of Moss Hart's famous WWII-era morale booster Winged Victory in 1943.

But the actor is probably best known for two film roles. He played the lead of Miles Bennell, the family doctor in Don Siegel's low-budget 1956 sci-fi thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," which became an unexpected cult classic of the genre. Two decades later, he took a cameo role in the 1978 remake of the film, in which humans are replaced by identical clones known as "pod people." And, he had a small role in the Miller-penned 1961 film "The Misfits," playing the man from which the Marilyn Monroe character has just become divorced—a man to whom Monroe says, "You're not going to make me feel sorry for you anymore."

Kevin McCarthy—the son of a wealthy Irish-Catholic father and a mother born of a Protestant father and a Jewish mother—was orphaned at the age of four when both his parents died in the flu epidemic of 1918. He was the brother of Mary McCarthy, who would grow up to become a famous novelist and critic. He was raised by their father's parents in Minneapolis, and later by an uncle and aunt, and then a variety of relatives. As a child, he was not told what had happened to his parents.

In an interview with the Irish Echo newspaper, McCarthy said he remembered himself as "this little kid, who was standing in a pile of snow at 11 o’clock in the morning and wondering what happened to his parents, who had disappeared suddenly."

Following high school, he attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, in 1933, intending to enter into the diplomatic field. He also attended the University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN, in 1936 and went to the Actors Studio in New York. He made his Broadway debut in Abe Lincoln in Illinois in 1938. Many roles followed, including Flight to the West, Truckline Cafe, Joan of Lorraine, The Survivors, Bravo! and Winged Victory. The latter led to a small role in the film version. Soon after, he was appearing frequently in live television, including "Pulitzer Prize Playhouse," "The Gulf Playhouse" and "The Ford Theatre Hour." In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, he found work in nearly every television drama going, everything from "The Rifleman" and "Columbo" to "Murder, She Wrote" and "Dynasty." He also had roles in two short-lived TV series: "The Survivors" with Lana Turner; and "Flamingo Road" with Morgan Fairchild.

His film roles were not showcases, by and large, but he carved a niche out in some of the horror films of the late '70s and early '80s, including "Piranha," "The Howling" and "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

Later stage roles included Cactus Flower, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, Poor Murderer and Alone Together. He performed the one-man show Give Em Hell, Harry, as Harry S. Truman, for more than 20 years. He also won an Obie Award for playing President Truman in another play, Harry Outside, in 1975. "Kevin McCarthy is superb as my father," Margaret Truman once said.

He is survived by five children from two marriages, the first to actress Augusta Dabney (the soap "Loving"), the second to Kate Crane.

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