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William “Biff” McGuire, whose Broadway career spanned seven decades and included a role in the original South Pacific and Tony-nominated turns in The Young Man From Atlanta and Morning’s at Seven, has died. He was 94.
McGuire’s death was announced by the Seattle Rep, for whom he performed in more than 30 productions, including Life With Father (directed by George Abbott), Saint Joan, Noises Off and A Flaw in the Ointment, starting in the 1970s.
“Reserved, even shy in real life, Biff gained a nearly scary confidence once he stepped on a stage,” former Seattle Rep associate artistic director Doug Hughes said. “He was one of the most relaxed actors in performance that I have ever worked with. He had a special gift for repose, for a commanding stillness in the midst of a play’s action that magnetized an audience.”
No details of his death were immediately available.
Survivors include his wife and frequent acting partner, Jeannie Carson. He met the British actress when they were in a 1960 revival of Finian’s Rainbow on Broadway, and after they married in November of that year, they starred in the original national tour of Camelot, he as King Arthur, she as Guenevere.
On the big screen, McGuire played the father of Sondra Locke’s character in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968) and appeared in other films including The Phenix City Story (1955), Station Six Sahara (1963), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Paradise Lost (1971), Serpico (1973) and Midway (1976).
McGuire, who got his nickname from playing football, appeared in 21 Broadway productions, starting with Bright Boy in 1944. He received his Tony noms in 1997 and 2002 for his work in his two final Broadway gigs — as Pete Davenport in Horton Foote’s The Young Man From Atlanta and as Theodore Swanson in Paul Osborn’s Morning’s at Seven.
William Joseph McGuire Jr. was born on Oct. 25, 1926, in New Haven, Connecticut.
“My mother was what you would call an elocutionist when she was quite young. She always had me memorizing poems,” he said in a 2004 interview. “We had all of these big gatherings of the whole family on Saturday nights, and everybody had to do something, so that was my theater. I shared it with a very large family.”
McGuire said he became interested in acting while stationed in England during World War II, and after the service, he remained overseas and appeared on stage in William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life.
In 1949, he portrayed a radio operator in the original Broadway production of South Pacific, directed by Josh Logan and starring Mary Martin, and he even convinced Oscar Hammerstein to change a line in a song he performed, “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.”
Six years later, he was in the original production of Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays, directed by Martin Ritt.
He also played Gen. George Patton on stage in the one-man show Damn It Ike! and reunited with his Morning’s at Seven co-star Estelle Parsons for an off-Broadway staging of Foote’s The Day Emily Married in 2004.
McGuire first appeared on television on The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre in 1950 and during his long career went on to appear on other shows including The Defenders, Gunsmoke, Starsky and Hutch, Barnaby Jones, ER and Frasier.
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