WORKING WITH DARREN MCGAVIN by Tony Piazza

 

DARREN McGAVIN. Veteran of television shows dating back to 1949. He appeared in programs such as; “Alfred Hitchcock presents”, “Mike Hammer”, “Riverboat”, “Rawhide”, “Route 66”, “Mission Impossible”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and “Mannix.” His most notable roles were as Karl Kolchak in the television show and two movies, “Night Stalker”…a forerunner to the “X-Files” series, and as the old man- father of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.” Here he is posing with me back in 1976 on the set of a Quinn Martin television movie about the 1950s Brink’s truck robbery- hence the dated clothes. I was standing in for STEPHEN COLLINS on that show and also acting as a bit player/ extra.

A bit of trivia; my good friend MICHEL HUGO was the director of photography on the first “Night Stalker” movie filmed in Las Vegas.

McGavin as Karl Kolchak.

In person Darren McGavin is much the character you’ve seen up on the screen. He rarely smiled, was extremely serious, and only spoke about work and delivered his lines. He was a loner. If you were to use a word to describe McGavin I would select “gruff.” Strangely enough because that was usually the characters he played, his real life persona didn’t disappoint me. It was as if I almost expected it of him.

McGavin as Mike Hammer.

One incident which involved him during the shooting comes to mind. It occurred in a run down hotel in the Tenderloin District of downtown San Francisco. Two young attractive blondes had appeared among the on-lookers in the lobby. McGavin was standing by the hotel desk, smoking a cigarette, and waiting for the camera crew to set up a shot, when suddenly and without warning these girls jump on either side of him and pose while a third person in their party snapped a shot. It happened in a fraction of a second, and McGavin let out a shout. An assistant director was instantly on top of it, catching the man and his camera, and deftly removing the film despite the man’s protestations. McGavin didn’t mind people taking pictures of, or with him, but the manner this was done put in question the picture taker’s intentions. Was this going to turn into some scandal sheet exclusive? You can imagine what they could have come up with for a headline. Lesson learned; personalities always have to be on guard.

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Tony Piazza is author of the 1930’s Hollywood murder mystery novel; “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” is due out early 2012. He was an actor/extra during the 1970’s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.