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Kevin McCarthy, 96

Kevin McCarthy dies at 96; actor starred in 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'

HOLLYWOOD - AUGUST 5: Actor Kevin McCarthy participates in a symposium honoring the late actress Marilyn Monroe at the Hollywood Museum on August 5, 2005 in Hollywood, California. A group of Monroe's friends gathered at the museum on the 43rd anniversary of her death in an effort to clear the screen idol's name of a suicide verdict. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - AUGUST 5: Actor Kevin McCarthy participates in a symposium honoring the late actress Marilyn Monroe at the Hollywood Museum on August 5, 2005 in Hollywood, California. A group of Monroe's friends gathered at the museum on the 43rd anniversary of her death in an effort to clear the screen idol's name of a suicide verdict. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images) (Amanda Edwards - Getty Images)
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By Sarah Halzack
Monday, September 13, 2010

Kevin McCarthy, 96, a versatile actor who won acclaim as the disillusioned son Biff in stage and screen versions of "Death of a Salesman," played Marilyn Monroe's husband in "The Misfits" and forever earned a place in horror film history as the small-town doctor who uncovers a chilling secret in the enduring 1950s thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," died Sept. 11 of pneumonia at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass.

Mr. McCarthy, the brother of novelist and literary critic Mary McCarthy, never ascended to A-list stardom but enjoyed a reputation as an extraordinarily busy and dependable performer over eight decades.

In addition to his work in plays by Eugene O'Neill and Anton Chekhov on Broadway, Mr. McCarthy appeared in the 1949 London stage production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." Mr. McCarthy reprised the role of Biff Loman, a drifter who struggles to meet his father's expectations, in the 1951 film version of the play and earned an Academy Award nomination for his supporting performance.

As Dr. Miles Bennell in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956), Mr. McCarthy played the lone human holdout as pod-dwelling aliens take over his neighbors' bodies while they sleep.

The low-budget movie, directed by Don Siegel of the later "Dirty Harry" series, was not initially a hit but has since become one of the science-fiction genre's most beloved and critically acclaimed films. Movie fans and critics applauded its talented cast and deft use of the power of suggestion in generating horror. The terror came not from violence but from the transformation of townspeople into conformist drones.

Over the years, the film was seen as a metaphor for anti-communist paranoia and some accounts have gone so far as to suggest that Mr. McCarthy was cast because his surname suggested the red-baiting U.S. senator, Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.

Mr. McCarthy always maintained the filmmakers merely set out to make a good scare film. "There was no assignment of political points of view when were making the film," he told the Bangor Daily News in 1997.

He made a memorable appearance at the start of the 1978 "Invasion" remake starring Jeff Goldblum. In 1999, he co-edited the book " 'They're Here' . . . 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers': A Tribute."

After "Invasion," Mr. McCarthy had supporting roles in dozens of films, often portraying smooth-talking men with a corrupt or slightly sinister edge to them. He was a scheming campaign manager in "The Best Man" (1964), based on the Gore Vidal play about a presidential primary, a roller derby promoter in "Kansas City Bomber" (1972) starring Raquel Welch, and a lobbyist in "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1992) starring Eddie Murphy.

Mr. McCarthy's other film credits included "Mirage" (1965), as the boss of an amnesiac played by Gregory Peck; "Buffalo Bill and the Indians" (1976), as a publicist for a Wild West show; and "Twilight Zone: The Movie" (1983), as the eccentric uncle of a boy with supernatural powers.

On television, Mr. McCarthy was the patriarch of a Florida family on "Flamingo Road," a dramatic series that aired on NBC in the early 1980s. He also portrayed Lana Turner's philandering husband on "The Survivors," which aired on ABC in 1969 and 1970.

In addition to his film and TV career, Mr. McCarthy remained a stalwart performer onstage. He appeared in plays by O'Neill and Chekhov on Broadway and, since 1978, toured in a one-man show about President Harry S. Truman called "Give 'Em Hell, Harry!"

A one-character play, Mr. McCarthy said, "is kind of a stunt. When you're trying to talk to Gen. MacArthur, and he's not talking back to you, you really have to concentrate."

Kevin McCarthy, whose father was a lawyer, was born in Seattle on Feb. 15, 1914. After his parents died during the 1918 influenza epidemic, he bounced among boarding schools and relatives, some of whom were physically abusive.

He was separated from his three siblings, including his older sister Mary, whose works included the 1963 bestseller "The Group." She died in 1989.

Mr. McCarthy briefly attended Georgetown University before dropping out and taking odd jobs in Minnesota, where he had spent some of his childhood. While taking classes at the University of Minnesota, he auditioned for a school production of Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part I" on a dare from a friend.

He said he was intimidated by the language, until a friend advised him, "You don't have to make sense of it. Just talk loud."

He won the part and said he became hooked on performing. After college, Mr. McCarthy moved to New York and made his Broadway debut in Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (1938) starring Raymond Massey.

In 1941, Mr. McCarthy married actress Augusta Dabney. They later divorced. In 1979, he married Kate Crane.

In addition to his wife, of Los Angeles and Cape Cod, survivors include three children from his first marriage, James Kevin McCarthy of San Diego, Lillah McCarthy of Los Angeles and Mary Dabney McCarthy of Eastham, Mass.; two children from his second marriage, Tess McCarthy of New York and Patrick McCarthy of Portland, Ore.; a stepdaughter, Kara Lichtman of Boston; a brother; and three grandchildren.

Mr. McCarthy appeared in several other Broadway productions, including Moss Hart's play "Winged Victory" (1944) while in the Army during World War II. He appeared in the film version of "Winged Victory" and later started his film career in earnest with "Death of a Salesman," followed by dramas including "Drive a Crooked Road" (1954), "Stranger on Horseback" (1955) and "An Annapolis Story" (1955).

Mr. McCarthy was an early member of the Actors Studio, an organization co-founded in 1947 by director Elia Kazan. There, he deepened his professional association with actor Montgomery Clift. Partly as a favor to his friend, Mr. McCarthy made a brief cameo in "The Misfits," a 1961 drama starring Clift, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.

"They wanted me to come out for it, but I was too vain. I said the part was too small," he told the Columbus Dispatch in 2003. "I finally said I would do it if they paid me a hundred dollars a word. They said they would. Turns out it was 29 words. I should have asked for more."


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