James Gilmore "Jim" Backus (February 25, 1913 – July 3, 1989) was a radio, television, film, and voice actor. Among his most famous roles are the voice of Mr. Magoo, the rich Hubert Updike, III on the Alan Young radio show, Joan Davis's character's husband (a domestic court judge) on TV's I Married Joan, James Dean's character's father in Rebel Without a Cause and Thurston Howell, III on the 1960s hit sitcom Gilligan's Island. He also starred in his own show of one season, The Jim Backus Show, also known as Hot off the Wire.
An avid golfer, Backus actually made the 36-hole cut at the 1964 Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournament.
James Gilmore Backus was born February 25, 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Bratenahl, Ohio, a wealthy village surrounded by greater Cleveland. He was the son of Russell Gould Backus, a mechanical engineer, and Daisy Gilmore (née Taylor) Backus. He is of Lebanese background. Backus was expelled from the Kentucky Military Institute for riding a horse through the mess hall.
Backus had an extensive career and worked steadily in Hollywood over five decades, often portraying characters with an "upper-crust", New English air, such as Mr. Howell in Gilligan's Island. He appeared in Deadline - U.S.A. (1951), with Humphrey Bogart, Pat and Mike (1952), with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
He was the voice of the near-sighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo. In 1952, he had a brief scene in Don't Bother To Knock with Marilyn Monroe. Years later, when Backus was a frequent talk show guest, he would recount the time Monroe urgently beckoned him into her dressing room. Once there, she exclaimed in her breathy voice, "Do Mr. Magoo!"
He frequently could be heard on prime-time radio programs in the postwar era, including The Jack Benny Program, and portrayed an exceedingly vain character named Hartley Benson on The Mel Blanc Show on the CBS Radio Network (1947–1948).
In stark contrast to his usual affluent characters, he appeared on The Brady Bunch as an old gold prospector, a role he also played on a Gilligan's Island episode. He also appeared in the final season episode "The Hustler" in which he plays Mike's boss, Mr. Matthews.
Writing and recording
Backus and his wife, Henny Backus, co-wrote several humorous books, including Only When I Laugh. He also co-wrote the 1971 family film Mooch Goes to Hollywood, about a dog who tries to become a movie star. In 1984, he wrote his autobiography, Backus Strikes Back.
In the late 1950s, he made two novelty 45 rpm records, "Delicious" and "Cave Man." In 1974, a collection of Backus' old radio material was compiled into a full-length comedy LP album released on the DORE label under the title The Dirty Old Man. Backus also played the voice of God in the recording of Truth of Truths, a 1971 rock opera based on the Bible.
Backus acted in several television commercials. As Mr. Magoo, he also helped advertise the GE line of products over the years. He was also spokesperson for La-Z-Boy furniture during the 1970s. In the late 1980s, he was reunited with former co-star Natalie Schafer in an advertisement for Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn. They reprised their roles from Gilligan's Island, but instead of still being shipwrecked, the setting was a luxurious study or den. Both performers were rather frail and this would be the last television appearance for both.
On July 3, 1989, Jim Backus died in Los Angeles, California from complications of pneumonia, after suffering from Parkinson's disease for many years. Backus was buried at the southwest corner of Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles.
- A-Lad-In His Lamp (1948) (uncredited voice)
- Father was a Fullback (1949)
- Easy Living (1949)
- The Great Lover (1949)
- A Dangerous Profession (1949)
- Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950)
- M (1951)
- Bright Victory (1951)
- His Kind of Woman (1951)
- The Man with a Cloak (1951)
- I'll See You in My Dreams (1951)
- I Want You (1951)
- Here Come the Nelsons (1952)
- Deadline – U.S.A. (1952)
- Pat and Mike (1952)
- Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
- Angel Face (1952)
- Androcles and the Lion (1952)
- Above and Beyond (1952)
- I Love Melvin (1953)
- Francis in the Navy (1955)
- Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
- Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
- The Opposite Sex (1956)
- The Girl He Left Behind (1956)
- You Can't Run Away from It (1956)
- The Great Man (1956)
- Top Secret Affair (1957)
- Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
- Macabre (1958)
- Ask Any Girl (1959)
- The Wild and the Innocent (1959)
- Ice Palace (1960)
- The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962)
- Boys' Night Out (1962)
- Zotz! (1962)
- The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
- Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962) (TV) (voice)
- Operation Bikini (1963)
- My Six Loves (1963)
- Critic's Choice (1963)
- Johnny Cool (1963)
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
- Sunday in New York (1963)
- The Wheeler Dealers (1963)
- Advance to the Rear (1964)
- John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965)
- Hurry Sundown (1967)
- Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968)
- Hello Down There (1969)
- Wake Me When the War Is Over (1969) (TV)
- Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970)
- Myra Breckinridge (1970)
- Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972)
- The Girl Most Likely to... (1973) (TV)
- Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1974) (TV) (voice)
- Crazy Mama (1975)
- Friday Foster (1975)
- The Magic Pony (1975) (voice)
- Pete's Dragon (1977)
- Rescue from Gilligan's Island (1978) (TV)
- Angels' Brigade (1979)
- The Castaways on Gilligan's Island (1979) (TV)
- C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979)
- The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (1981) (TV)
- Slapstick of Another Kind (1982)
- General Electric advertisement featuring Mr. Magoo. Life Magazine December 14, 1959
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