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William Gargan (Jul 17. 1905 - Feb 16. 1979)
Height: 6' (1.83 m)
Eyes: blue
Hair: auburn

Wife: Mary Elizabeth Patricia Kenny
(19 Jan 1928 - his death)
Children:
William Dennis Jr. "Barrie" (25 Feb 1929 - 12 Dec 1982)
Leslie Howard (28 Jun 1933)
Brother:
Edward Francis Gargan (Jul 17. 1902 - Feb 19. 1964), actor
Above right: William's mother in the background looks at her two sons, his brother Edward and himself. The two girls are cousins.
 

Born as William Dennis Gargan Jr. in Brooklyn, New York, USA and son of a gambler/ bill collector/bookmaker/saloon owner with connections to the mob and Irene G. Flynn, a teacher. He was born a twin, one of seven children, all but he and his older brother Edward died very young.
 
 

Reportedly Gargan's film debut - albeit uncredited - came at the age of six or seven when he played a young baseball player in a John Bunny comedy short filmed at Brooklyn's Vitagraph Studios.

Gargan is know to have had a series of jobs ranging from soda jerking to street car conducting but after leaving high school  (1922 St. James School, Brooklyn) he had a number of white collar jobs.

 

He first worked as a credit investigator and collection agent for a clothing firm. Once Gargan was shot at when he attempted to get a deadbeat customer to pay his overdue account. Next, he worked for about a year as a private detective with a New York agency for "$10.00 a day and expenses." Gargan did many of the usual detective jobs: guarding payrolls, tailing possible suspects, conducting stakeouts, and protecting clients with valuables. He was fired when he lost track of a diamond salesman he was supposed to be protecting. In 1924 he became bored with the routine of a regular job he turned to acting ... within a year he made it to Broadway.

Upon encouragement from playwright Le Roy Clemens Bill auditioned for, and won a part in Aloma of the South Seas (1925) on the Broadway stage. Bill married Mary Kenny, a former dancer (in the George White's Scandals) in 1928. He had met her several years before at an ice rink in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. At 14 Bill had wangled a job brushing the ice in exchange for a free ticket to the rink. One afternoon a lithe young thing when flashing by in a seal coat and bright red skirt. He managed to brush her with his broom and knock her flat on purpose. Mary climbed right back up, her eyes spitting fire and her mouth not doing badly either. From that moment Bill knew he was in love. (7)

 
William and Mary Kenny walking down the street.Gargan and his wife, Mary, at Palm Springs’ own Our Lady of Solitude Church where they likely have just renewed their vows. The couple was first married in 1928.
William Gargan and Mary Kenny at the Hollywood club The Coconut Groove (May 12. 1933)Mr & Mrs William Gargan with their children, Barrie (the elder) and Leslie Howard Gargan
Top left: William and Mary Kenny walking down the street.
Top right: Gargan and his wife, Mary, at Palm Springs’ own Our Lady of Solitude Church where they likely have just renewed their vows. The couple was first married in 1928.
Above left: William Gargan and Mary Kenny at the Hollywood club The Coconut Groove (May 12. 1933)
Above right: Mr & Mrs William Gargan with their children, Barrie (the elder) and Leslie Howard Gargan.
 
Early in his career, between acting jobs, Gargan got a job selling gin & bootleg whiskey to New York City speakeasies. In total he played in 7 Broadway shows. In 1932 he won great acclaim ("Drama Critics Award for Outstanding Performance of the Year") for his work in Philip Barry's  Broadway play The Animal Kingdom. In it he played opposite Leslie Howard with whom he developed a lifetime friendship. Gargan even named one of his children after the actor.
The critical success leading to an invitation from Hollywood where he made his film debut in 1932 in Rain.
 
 
Mary Kenny (third girl from the left in "Russell Markert's Markettes", believed to be one of the predecessors of the famous Rockettes (Missouri Rockets, American Rockets, Rosettes, Roxyettes). Early in their marriage, she became one of the first Rockettes when Radio City Music Hall opened.
Above: Mary Kenny (third girl from the left in "Russell Markert's Markettes", believed to be one of the predecessors of the famous Rockettes (Missouri Rockets, American Rockets, Rosettes, Roxyettes). Early in their marriage, she became one of the first Rockettes when Radio City Music Hall opened (1932).
 
In most of his screen appearances, Gargan basically played himself: a robust, handsome, high-spirited Irishman. Gargan was a member of what is affectionately known in Hollywood as "the Irish Mafia". His "serious" film work included noteworthy performances in Rain (1932), The Story of Temple Drake (1933), Four Frightened People (1934), and You Only Live Once (1937).
 
 A W. Somerset Maugham tale provided the story for "Rain" (1932) Miss Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford), a prostitute, quickly catches the eye of Sergeant Tim O'Hara (William Gargan) "Headline Shooters" (1933): Reporter Bill Allen (William Gargan) gets the story regardless of the consequences but when Allen meets no-nonsense Jane Mallory (Frances Dee) he falls in love. Co-stars included Ralph Bellamy and Jack La Rue.
Above left: A W. Somerset Maugham tale provided the story for Rain (1932) Miss Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford), a prostitute, quickly catches the eye of Sergeant Tim O'Hara (William Gargan)
Above right: Headline Shooters (1933) Reporter Bill Allen (William Gargan) gets the story regardless of the consequences but when Allen meets no-nonsense Jane Mallory (Frances Dee) he falls in love. Co-stars included Ralph Bellamy and Jack La Rue.
 Stewart Corder (William Gargan) with schoolteacher Judy Jones (Claudette Colbert) in "Four Frightened People" (1934). "Black Fury" (1935) brought us William Gargan as Slim Johnson opposite Paul Muni.
Above left: Stewart Corder (William Gargan) with schoolteacher Judy Jones (Claudette Colbert) in Four Frightened People (1934).
Above right: Black Fury (1935) brought us William Gargan as Slim Johnson opposite Paul Muni.
 
At RKO in 1933, actors were forced to accept a big cut in salary, because of the depression. Bill was among them. He held a meeting with fellow actors to determine if they would accept the terms dictated by RKO's bigwigs - a 50 percent cut in pay. They signed but he refused one clause in the new contract. It said they relinquish all rights for further compensation in the event their movies would be sold to television. Everyone else signed. Thinking television wouldn't happen in their lifetime. It did. Bill didn't have a crystal ball he just hated giving anything away to the Hollywood moguls. (7)

He was breezier, and more entertaining, in B-films such as Headline Shooters
(1933), Man Hunt (1936), Wings Over Honolulu (1937), and Bombay Clipper (1942).
 
  William Gargan and the wonderful Helen Mack in "The Milky Way" (1936) a Harold Lloyd talkie. "Sky Parade" (1936) In this airborne adventure, three pals from WW I team up to run a commercial airline. Katherine DeMille and William Gargan.
Above left: William Gargan and the wonderful Helen Mack in The Milky Way (1936) a Harold Lloyd talkie.
Above right:
Sky Parade (1936) In this airborne adventure, three pals from WW I team up to run a commercial airline. Katherine DeMille and William Gargan.
 "The House of Fear" (1939) An actor, John Woodford, dies on stage during a performance of a play.  His body is taken to his dressing room, where it disappears. The theatre is closed for over a year, and rumors that Woodford's ghost haunts it spread all over Broadway. A detective (William Gargan), posing as a producer, rents the theatre and attempts to present the same play,  but all sorts of "ghostly occurrences" happen to try to thwart his plans. With Irene Hervey, Harvey Stevens. For his work in "They Knew What They Wanted" (1940), he received a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar nomination.  Here he is pictured with co-star Carole Lombard.
Above left: The House of Fear (1939) An actor, John Woodford , dies on stage during a performance of a play. His body is taken to his dressing room, where it disappears. The theatre is closed for over a year, and rumors that Woodford's ghost haunts it spread all over Broadway. A detective (William Gargan), posing as a producer , rents the theatre and attempts to present the same play, but all sorts of "ghostly occurrences" happen to try to thwart his plans. With Irene Hervey, Harvey Stevens.
Above right: For his work in
They Knew What They Wanted (1940), he received a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar nomination. Here he is pictured with co-star Carole Lombard.
 
For his work in They Knew What They Wanted (1940), he received a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar nomination. Whilst during the '30s he played high-energy, gregarious leads in many "B"-movies and second leads in major films; later he moved into character roles e.g.  I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Who Done It? (1942), The Canterville Ghost (1944), and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).

He played master detective Ellery Queen in three 1942 Columbia programmers. The series could have outlasted the war but the fact that he had no contractual obligation to a studio prevented him to continue the role. The series was so quickly shelved Gargan and Lindsay had to go on in an unrelated movie No Place for a Lady
(1943).
"Bellamy's Ellery Queen movies grossed far more than did mine. "He's not Ellery Queen," audiences said of me."
 
Irene Hervey with William Gargan in the Universal's mystery "Bombay Clipper" (1942). William Gargan with Margaret Lindsay in "A Desperate Chance for Ellery Queen" (1942).
Above left: Irene Hervey with Gargan in the Universal's mystery Bombay Clipper (1942)
Above right: William Gargan with Margaret Lindsay in A Desperate Chance for Ellery Queen (1942)
 
In the first week of June of 1943 he made a personal appearance at the M-G-M owned Capital Theatre on Broadway. The lights were blacked out and then a white spotlight swooped down on him. When the band played "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" Bill opened by saying, "The last time I was on Broadway was with Leslie Howard in The Animal Kingdom", just to remind them he began right there, and was really one of the boys. He went on but didn't get much response for the first few minutes. He wondered what was wrong with the opening lines. Then he stepped outside and there was the headline. "Leslie Howard killed. Plan shot down over Bay of Biscay."
He did the remaining five shows with a stone in his chest.
At Christmas time 1943, Gargan went on a USO tour together with fellow film performers Claudette Colbert and Keenan Wynn. He spent several months visiting bases in China. Gargan mainly participated in sketches. He was also appreciated for his informal talks with the GI's and Gargan found the experience (which lasted past the first quarter of 1944) to be one of the most rewarding of his entire career. During that time, he wore the uniform of an Army major, because, as he was informed, the enemy never shot majors.

Since Californians felt they had more reason for concern about a Japanese invasion than other Americans did, many changed their place of residence during the war years. The Gargans gave up their ranch and rented a house in the San Fernando Valley.

If William Gargan brought an air of authenticity to his roles as a private detective it's because of his youth (father) Gargan learned a lot about the gambling world and met a lot of interesting characters from across the spectrum of society. The main reason why Gargan was so convincing as a detective was that he was probably the only actor of his time who had actually been a private detective. Before heading into TV he had several roles on radio.
He took over from Edmond MacDonald as "Inspector Burke" the star of Murder Will Out (1945 - 1946). The radio show followed the Ellery Queen formula to a point- each show contained a fully dramatized mystery, followed by guesses from the audience as to the killer's identity. Unlike Queen this contained no trick clues, stories unfolded in chronological order, with the clues considered in the order found. Four contestants (two of each sex) were drawn from the audience. Awards of $5 (in war stamps) were given for each correct answer; winners who guessed the killer and the correct clue won a $50 war bond and a Gold Detective certificate framed for display.

He portrayed detective Ross Dolan, a veteran detective who returned to his sleuthing job after being a sailor in WW II. Or as Dolan puts it, "a hitch in Uncle Sugar's Navy" on ABC Radio's I Deal in Crime (1946-1947).

As the TV-age became into being it largely took over the existing radio formats of storytelling, quiet an industry at the time. Hence the fact that many stars from radio made the crossover. Indeed he was guest in panels on several radio shows, it wasn't long before he took up the detective parts.

 
"Follow That Woman" (1945) was basically another "Thin Man" derivation, in a wartime setting. The story isn't always up to standard, but William Gargan and Nancy Kelly work quite well together. "Two women's lives depend on what this man says!" scene from "Night Editor" (1946) starring William Gargan, Janis Carter, Jeff Donnell.
Above left: Follow That Woman (1945) was basically another "Thin Man" derivation, in a wartime setting. The story isn't always up to standard, but William Gargan and Nancy Kelly work quite well together.
Above right:
"Two women's lives depend on what this man says!" scene from Night Editor (1946) starring William Gargan, Janis Carter, Jeff Donnell
In "Waterfront At Midnight" (1949) Gargan (left) portraits a policeman who tries to capture a criminal but ends up charged with murdering his own brother. "Dynamite" (1949) contractor William Gargan has his eyes on pretty Virginia Welles, Johnny Brown (Richard Crane) comes along to defy Gargan both at work and in love. In the end disaster comes to the rescue...
Above left: In
Waterfront At Midnight (1949) Gargan (left) portraits a policeman who tries to capture a criminal but ends up charged with murdering his own brother.
Above right:
 Dynamite (1949) contractor William Gargan has his eyes on pretty Virginia Welles, Johnny Brown (Richard Crane) comes along to defy Gargan both at work and in love. In the end disaster comes to the rescue ...

He made few films after 1948, but from 1949 to 1951 he starred in the title role of the TV series Martin Kane, Private Eye , a series originally conceived for television but which also had a run over Mutual Radio from 1949-52. On Sep 1,1949 it debuted on NBC network and had the 1st Integration of commercials into shows. Kane enters his favorite tobacco shop & discusses pipe tobaccos and cigarettes before going to a case, sponsored by United States Tobacco Company.

Live shows are ten times more frantic than moviemaking. Martine Kane was live. For a spell he enjoyed Martine Kane, and when he stopped enjoying it, it was not because he had become jaded or exhausted by the pell-mell routine. Slowly storylines deteriorated. He felt embarrassed by the sleaziness, girls paraded on, showed their cleavage, muffed their lines, and tittered off. So he said to the producer "Clean up the mess. Get decent scripts. Cut out the flesh parades. Or get another boy." They did. A moment of pure relief. (7)

      Gargan played Martin Kane in a tongue-in-cheek style, a spoof of the hard boiled private. It became one of the most popular shows on the air. After he left they tried replacing him with several other actors. It didn't work. Gargan was Martine Kane. Nobody else. 
Above: Gargan played Martin Kane in a tongue-in-cheek style, a spoof of the hard boiled private. It became one of the most popular shows on the air. After he left they tried replacing him with several other actors. It didn't work. Gargan was Martine Kane. Nobody else.
 
After Gargan called it quits on the TV series in 1951 he soon found another role awaiting him on Barry Craig, which debuted over NBC Radio October 3, 1951. "Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator" (1951-1955). The role of Craig may have been just a little too tailor-made for Gargan. His character's name was spelled originally as "Barry Crane," later on as "Barrie Craig" and then finally as "Barry Craig."   This was due to the protest by the producers of Martin Kane, charging that “Kane” and “Crane” sounded a little too similar. So the character’s surname was changed to “Craig.”
At the end of the episode "Ghosts Don’t Die in Bed," (9/7/54) the listener can hear Gargan’s pre-recorded remarks talking about next week’s show ("The Corpse Who Couldn’t Swim"), but he is quickly cut off by announcer John Lang, who reads the program credits and then drops this little bombshell: "We regret that with the program you have just heard, we conclude the present Barry Craig series…we hope you have enjoyed them, and we look forward to bringing them to you again sometime in the not too distant future…" Less than a month later, “the not too distant future” has arrived—the program has been given a reprieve and resumes on October 3, 1954 . It then ran one more season before finally bowing out June 30, 1955.

In 1957 Gargan reprised the role of Martin Kane in a syndicated series entitled
The New Adventures of Martin Kane. The series was shot on film in Europe in 1956. After the first season Gargan's income took off like a bird. It seemed silly to work much more that year. He and Mary bought a house in Bermuda Dunes, three bedrooms, a swimming pool, Spanish style.
     Gargan playing 'Father' in "The Ford Television Theatre's "Favorite Son" with Anita Louise (episode # 3.37) 16 June 1955   Add for "The New Adventures of Martin Kane" starring Academy Award Winner William Gargan matching his wits with the sinister forces of the European underworld. Sundays 5:30 pm on WNAC-tv 7
Above left: Gargan playing "Father" in The Ford Television Theatre's "Favorite Son" with Anita Louise (episode # 3.37) 16 June 1955.
Above right: Add for The New Adventures of Martin Kane starring Academy Award Winner William Gargan matching his wits with the sinister forces of the European underworld. Sundays 5:30 pm on WNAC-tv 7.
Gargan was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1958 and two years later he had his larynx removed ending his acting career. He became an active spokesman for the American Cancer Society and formed a production company.

Bill was coaxed out of retirement in 1960 to play an ex-President who knew he was dying in The Best Man. The play was still in out-of-town tryouts when he learned he had cancer. He had smoked two and a half packs a day. Stricken by cancer of the larynx, in 1960 his voice box was removed in surgery, ending his career. He learned esophageal speech then taught this method for the American Cancer Society.
As Martin Kane Gargan would hang out at Happy McMann's Tobacco shop, touting his sponsor's products now he became an indefatigable campaigner against smoking.

On November 12. 1967 Gargan received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
 
Picture of Gargan & Mary shot on February 4, 1962.In 1963 he had the honor of meeting with President John F. Kennedy while in Washington helping to kick off the annual Cancer Crusade.
 In 1967, Charlton Heston presented Gargan the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
William Gargan, February 7. 1974 on a meeting of the American Cancer Society volunteers of New Orleans in Baton Rouge. Despite surgery of the larynx in 1960, Gargan was the featured speaker at the meeting.
Top left: Picture of Gargan & Mary shot on February 4, 1962.
Top right: In 1963 he had the honor of meeting with President John F. Kennedy while in Washington helping to kick off the annual Cancer Crusade.

Above left
: In 1967, Charlton Heston presented Gargan the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
Above right: William Gargan, February 7. 1974 on a meeting of the American Cancer Society volunteers of New Orleans in Baton Rouge. Despite surgery of the larynx in 1960, Gargan was the featured speaker at the meeting.
Below right: He authored an autobiography, Why Me? (1969), recounting his struggle with cancer.
 

Two years after losing his speech, he gave his final performance, portraying a mute clown on TV in King of Diamonds. He authored an autobiography, Why Me? (1969), recounting his struggle with cancer.

William Gargan died in flight between NY and San Diego of a heart attack on February 16. 1979. (Not 17!)

He authored an autobiography, Why Me? (1969), recounting his struggle with cancer.

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References
(1) IMDb
(2) Wikipedia

(3)
IBDB
(4) OTRRpedia
(5)
Radiogoldindex

(6) Gunmen and Gangsters - Michael Schlossheimer
(7) Why Me? An autobiography by William Gargan, Doubleday & Co.
     N.Y. 1969
(8) Inafferrabile Leslie Howard fan site for the actor

Additional video & audio sources
(1) Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator "A Very Odd Job"
     (OTR, Jan 30, 1952)
(2) Headline Shooter clip from the 1933 movie

 

This actor profile is a part of Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Ellery Queen in an Ellery Queen film series. Click Uncle Sam if you think you can help out...!
Many of the profiles on this site have been compiled after very careful research of various sources. Please quote and cite ethically!


Page first published on May 22. 2016
Last updated August 5. 2022

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