Here’s What Happened to ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ Star Darren McGavin Before and After the Show

On August 6, 1956, Jerry Lewis was probably still reeling from the demise of Martin & Lewis, his 10-year partnership with Dean Martin which had effectively come to an end about a week earlier on the stage of New York’s Copacabana Club. To deal with it, he threw himself back into work on his first headlining film, The Delicate Delinquent, and was looking for someone to essentially take Dean’s place. In a conversation with the biggest gossip columnist of the time, Hedda Hopper, he announced that he’d found his man: Darren McGavin.

“I’m terribly excited about him,” he told Hopper. “Saw his face on a player’s directory, phoned him, liked him. Then I learned he’d played in The Rainmaker on TV, also on Broadway. He was the dope pusher in The Man with the Golden Arm with Frank Sinatra. Mark my words, he’s going to be one of our finest stars.”

Hopefully those words were indeed marked, because it wouldn’t be long before McGavin proved him right. Whether he was continuing his acclaimed roles on Broadway, hunting vampires as reporter Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker (which inspired Chris Carter to create The X-Files) or playing the “Old Man,” oh-so-excited about winning “a major award” in A Christmas Story, he was always memorable.

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Journalist Mark Dawidziak, author of The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute and The Columbo Phile, among many others, opines, “McGavin was an actor of great energy, imagination and versatility. He was capable of touching our hearts in so many profound ways. If you want proof, check out the 1970 TV movie Tribes in which he plays a tough-as-nails Marine drill instructor confronted with a maverick recruit. It’s yet another stunning performance in a long and remarkable career. You want versatility? Watch Tribes, then The Night Stalker, then A Christmas Story, then The Natural, which features McGavin as shady gambler Gus Sands. And that’s just four of his best roles.”

Not bad for someone who didn’t envision a career for himself as a performer. “Ever since I was a kid,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1958, “I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I was 20 when I got my start in the entertainment profession. Not as an actor, but as a scenic artist. I was stand-by painter and was permitted on the set while they were working. I was fascinated. Someone asked, ‘Why don’t you try acting?’ I thought about it, went to an agent and three days later I was back on the same set acting instead of painting.”

To read much more about Darren McGavin, please scroll down.