- NAME: Jim Backus
- OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Television Actor, Radio Personality, Writer
- BIRTH DATE: February 25, 1913
- DEATH DATE: July 03, 1989
- EDUCATION: Kentucky Military Institute, American Academy of Dramatic Arts
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Cleveland, Ohio
- PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
- Full Name: James Gilmore Backus
Best Known For
Jim Backus was a film and TV actor known for his roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Gilligan’s Island, as well as being the voice of Mr. Magoo.
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Jim Backus was born on February 25, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio. He starred in the radio program The Alan Young Show before making his late 1940s film debut. Backus also starred in the ‘50s sitcom I Married Joan, was the voice of cartoon character Mr. Magoo and then was a hit as upper-crust castaway Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island. He later penned memoirs with his wife Henny Backus.
Actor and author James Gilmore Backus was born on February 25, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio. For five decades, Jim Backus entertained audiences in a variety of media, starting out in radio and moving on to film and television. Two of his trademark roles were the wealthy and snooty Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island and Mr. Magoo, an optically challenged and bumbling cartoon character. The son of an engineer, he was more interested in golf and acting than in school. Backus worked for a stock theater company during his teens. In one of the company’s productions, he had a small role while future film star Clark Gable had the lead.
Wanting his son to focus on academics, Backus’s father sent him to the Kentucky Military Institute for a time where he met and befriended Victor Mature, another future professional actor. But Backus struggled his way through high school and was able to convince his father to let him skip a traditional college education. Instead he went to New York City to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Graduating in 1933, Backus spent two years working in a variety of stage productions and in summer stock before trying his hand at radio. Adept at molding his booming voice into different characters, he was a freelance performer and appeared on numerous radio programs, including soap operas and The Kate Smith Hour. Backus also made his Broadway debut around this time in Hitch Your Wagon, a comedy, in 1937. Later that year, he appeared in the drama Too Many Heroes.
In the 1940s, Backus scored his biggest radio success on The Alan Young Show. He created a stuffy, upper crust character named Hubert Updyke III, who was known for making such quips as “Careful, or I’ll have your mouth washed out with domestic champagne.” By the end of the decade, Backus was beginning his film career. One of his earliest roles was in the football drama Easy Living (1949) with Lucille Ball and old friend Victor Mature.
Also in 1949, Backus was selected to voice one of the characters for a cartoon entitled Ragtime Bear. Little did he know that the character, Quincy Magoo, a nearsighted fellow with a very selective take on reality, would become so hugely popular. Backus spent about three decades as Magoo in his various incarnations from cartoon shorts to television series to a full-length film.
On the small screen, Backus spent three years on the sitcom I Married Joan, which debuted in the fall of 1952. He played Judge Bradley Stevens, husband to Joan Stevens (Joan Davis). Each episode featured a case in front of Bradley, a domestic judge, and its parallels to his domestic life.
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