Composer Meredith Willson created the part of Johnny "Leadville" Brown in Molly Brown for opera-trained Mr. Presnell after hearing him sing. He starred opposite Tammy Grimes in the show, which opened in 1960, and made a solid impression singing such songs as "Colorado, My Home," "If I Knew" and "I'll Never Say No." He repeated the role in the film version, released in 1964, this time opposite Debbie Reynolds as Molly. He won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer for his performance. In 1969, he got to sing "They Call the Wind Maria" in the film of Paint Your Wagon. But his film and stage careers stalled soon after.
The show most associated with Mr. Presnell, however, is arguably Annie, the perennially popular musical about the red-haired orphan and her millionaire adopted father, Daddy Warbucks. Having played the role in touring productions, he replaced John Schuck in the role (which was originated by Reid Shelton) on Broadway and went on to play the part countless times (including in the '90s Off-Broadway-originated sequel Annie Warbucks, also on the cast album). He was nominated for a 1992 Joseph Jefferson Award for Annie Warbucks at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago.
|photo by Martha Swope|
Mr. Presnell's film career was all but dead when the Coen brothers gave it a jolt by casting him as Wade Gustafson, William H. Macy's withholding, hard-as-nails, Scandinavian-American father-in-law in the hit film "Fargo" in 1996. Following that, he appeared in such high-profile films as "Saving Private Ryan," "The Legend of Bagger Vance," "Flags of Our Fathers," "Face/Off," "Patch Adams" and "Old School." His commanding countenance (he was 6-feet-4-inches tall, and, by then, bald) often led him to play military leaders. Born George Harvey Presnell on Sept. 14, 1933, in Modesto, CA, his first marriage ended in divorce in 1966. He is survived by his second wife, Veeva; and six children, Stephanie, Taylor, Etoile, Tulley, Shannon and Raine.