Jim Backus

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Jim Backus
Jim Backus The Jim Backus Show 1962.JPG
Publicity still of Backus for The Jim Backus Show , 1962
James Gilmore Backus

(1913-02-25)February 25, 1913
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJuly 3, 1989(1989-07-03) (aged 76)
Years active1948–1984
Known for Gilligan's Island
Rebel Without a Cause
Mr. Magoo
Rescue from Gilligan's Island
The Castaways on Gilligan's Island
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island

James Gilmore Backus (February 25, 1913 – July 3, 1989) was an American actor. Among his most famous roles were Thurston Howell III on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island, the father of James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause, [1] the voice of the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo , [2] [3] the rich Hubert Updike III on the radio version of The Alan Young Show , and Joan Davis' character's husband (a domestic court judge) on TV's I Married Joan . 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 made the 36-hole cut at the 1964 Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournament. He was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. [4]

Early life

Backus was born February 25, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Bratenahl, Ohio, an East Side suburb of Cleveland located on the Lake Erie shore, surrounded by the city on three sides. He was the son of Russell Gould Backus and Daisy Taylor (née Gilmore) Backus. He attended Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio.



Virginia Brissac, Backus, Ann Doran, Edward Platt, and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Virginia Brissac, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Edward Platt and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause trailer.jpg
Virginia Brissac, Backus, Ann Doran, Edward Platt, and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Backus was acting on radio as early as 1940, playing the role of millionaire aviator Dexter Hayes on Society Girl on CBS. [5] He had an extensive career and worked steadily in Hollywood over five decades, often portraying characters with an "upper-crust", New England-like air, much like his best-known role, Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island . He appeared in (and narrated) A Dangerous Profession (1949); Deadline – U.S.A. (1951) with Humphrey Bogart; Pat and Mike (1952) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn; Rebel Without a Cause (1955); The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957); and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). He also made television appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962).

Backus was the voice of the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo. Years later, when Backus was a frequent talk show guest, he would recount the time Marilyn Monroe urgently beckoned him into her dressing room. Henny Backus, Jim's wife, recalled the story: "Jim was in the 1952 film Don't Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe. He came home one night during the filming and told me that Miss Monroe in her most seductive breathy voice asked him to meet her in her dressing room. His curiosity got the better of him and he went. Once there, she exclaimed like an excited child, 'Do Mr. Magoo!' And Jim did." [6]

Backus in a guest appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies, with Nancy Kulp (1963) Jim Backus Nancy Kulp Beverly Hillbillies 1963.JPG
Backus in a guest appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies , with Nancy Kulp (1963)

He frequently could be heard on primetime radio programs in the postwar era, including The Jack Benny Program , and he portrayed an exceedingly vain character named Hartley Benson on The Judy Canova Show on the CBS Radio Network, as well as a similar character named Hubert Updike on The Alan Young Show on the NBC Radio Network. He also starred on the short-lived variety program The Jim Backus Show on the ABC Radio Network in 1957 and 1958, when that network changed its name to the American Broadcasting Network (ABN) and tried out a "Live and Lively" format of "Big Time Radio" with orchestras and audiences. Backus costarred in the comedy show I Married Joan from 1952 to 1955, portraying the husband of Joan Davis.

In stark contrast to his usual affluent characters, he guest-starred on The Brady Bunch as an old gold prospector, a role he also played on a Gilligan's Island episode. He also had a role in the final season episode "The Hustler" in which he plays Mike's boss, Mr. Matthews.

Backus appeared on Gilligan's Island for all three seasons of its run, 1964 to 1967, and later in reunion TV films made between 1978 and 1981. By the third and final film, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island , Backus was suffering from Parkinson's disease and his participation was limited to a cameo appearance. Backus also returned as the voice of Mr. Magoo in various revivals between 1964 and 1977, which included The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo and What's New, Mr. Magoo? .

Backus played Reverend Sims in the 1975 "Brides and Grooms" episode of Gunsmoke . He also appeared in "Never Con a Killer" (1977), the pilot for the ABC crime drama The Feather and Father Gang . In 1981, he and his wife Henny appeared in an episode of The Love Boat . In it, he had one line in his four scenes.

Writing and recording

Backus and his wife, Henny, 1969 Jim and Henny Backus 1969.JPG
Backus and his wife, Henny, 1969

Backus and his wife, Henny Backus, co-wrote several humorous books, including: ...Only When I Laugh, his autobiography, Backus Strikes Back, a memoir, Forgive Us Our Digressions: An Autobiography, and What Are You Doing After the Orgy? — the title taken from a line Backus spoke in the 1965 film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! He also co-wrote the 1971 family film Mooch Goes to Hollywood , about a dog that tries to become a movie star.[ citation needed ]

In the late 1950s, he made two novelty 45 rpm records, "Delicious" and "Cave Man". In 1974, a full-length comedy LP album was released on the Doré label under the title The Dirty Old Man, with sketches written by Bob Hudson and Ron Landry, who also appear on the album, along with voice-actress Jane Webb. [7] Backus also played the voice of God in the recording of Truth of Truths , a 1971 rock opera based on the Bible.

Television commercials

Backus acted in several television commercials. As Mr. Magoo, he also helped advertise the General Electric line of products over the years. [8] In Bowl 'Em Over with GE Bulbs (1963), a Cinécraft Productions sales training film made for the GE Large Lamp Division, Backus introduces the Mr. Magoo Soft White light bulb TV advertising campaign for Fall 1963. For the first time, General Electric commercials would be shown in color on prime-time TV shows, including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. [9] He was also spokesman for La-Z-Boy furniture during the 1970s.[ citation needed ]

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. This would be the final TV appearance for both actors, who were in frail health. They also both appeared on Fox's short lived talk show The Late Show with Ross Shafer, along with the rest of the cast of Gilligan's Island, in 1988.


On July 3, 1989, Backus died in Los Angeles from complications of pneumonia after suffering from Parkinson's disease for many years. [10]




1948 A-Lad-In His Lamp GenieShort, Voice, Uncredited
Where Will You Hide?NarratorShort, Voice
1949 One Last Fling Howard Pritchard
Easy Living Dr. Franklin
Ragtime BearMr. MagooShort, Voice, Uncredited
Father Was a Fullback Professor Sullivan
The Great Lover Higgins
A Dangerous Profession Police Lt. Nick Ferrone / Narrator
1950Spellbound HoundMr. MagooShort, Voice, Uncredited
Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town Joseph 'Little Joe' Rogers
Customs Agent Shanghai Chief Agent Thomas Jacoby
The Miner's DaughterJohn HarvardShort, Voice, Uncredited
Trouble IndemnityMr. MagooShort, Voice
The Killer That Stalked New York Willie DennisUncredited
Emergency Wedding Ed Hamley
Bungled BungalowMr. MagooShort, Voice
1951 M The Mayor
Barefaced FlatfootMr. MagooShort, Voice, Uncredited
Bright Victory Bill Grayson
Half Angel Michael Hogan
PlutopiaMiltonShort, Voice, Uncredited
Hollywood Story Mitch Davis
His Kind of Woman Myron Winton
Iron Man Max Watkins
Fuddy Duddy BuddyMr. MagooShort, Voice, Uncredited
The Man with a Cloak Flaherty
I'll See You in My Dreams Sam Harris
Grizzly GolferMr. MagooShort, Voice
I Want You Harvey Landrum
1952 Here Come the Nelsons Joe Randolph
Sloppy JalopyMr. MagooShort, Voice
Deadline – U.S.A. Jim Cleary
The Dog SnatcherMr. MagooShort, Voice
Pat and Mike Charles Barry
Don't Bother to Knock Peter Jones
Pink and Blue BluesMr. MagooShort, Voice
The Rose Bowl Story Michael 'Iron Mike' Burke
Pete HotheadFloorwalkerShort, Voice, Uncredited
Hotsy FootsyMr. MagooShort, Voice
Captains OutrageousShort, Voice
Above and Beyond Gen. Curtis E. LeMay
Androcles and the Lion Centurion
1953 Angel Face District Attorney Judson
I Love Melvin Mergo
Safety MagooMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo's MasterpieceShort, Voice
Magoo Slept HereShort, Voice
Geraldine Jason Ambrose
1954Magoo Goes SkiingMr. MagooShort, Voice
Kangaroo CourtingShort, Voice
Four Wheels, No BrakesTelevision Quizmaster / New Cat SalesmanShort, Voice, Uncredited
Deep in My Heart Ben Judson
Destination MagooMr. MagooShort, Voice
Look Who's DrivingCharlieShort, Voice, Uncredited
1955 When Magoo Flew Mr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo's Check UpMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo ExpressShort, Voice
Madcap MagooShort, Voice
Francis in the Navy Cmdr. E.T. Hutch
Stage Door MagooMr. MagooShort, Voice
Rebel Without a Cause Frank Stark
Magoo Makes NewsMr. MagooShort, Voice
The Square Jungle Pat Quaid
1956 Meet Me in Las Vegas Tom Culdane
Magoo's Canine MutinyMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo Goes WestShort, Voice
Calling Dr. MagooShort, Voice
The Naked Hills Willis Haver
Magoo Beats the HeatMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo's Puddle Jumper Short, Voice
Trailblazer MagooShort, Voice
Magoo's Problem ChildShort, Voice
The Opposite Sex Psychiatrist
The Girl He Left Behind Sgt. Hanna
You Can't Run Away from It Danker
Meet Mother MagooMr. MagooShort, Voice
The Great Man Nick Cellantano
1957 Top Secret Affair Col. Homer W. Gooch
Magoo Goes OverboardMr. MagooShort, Voice
Matador MagooShort, Voice
Magoo Breaks ParShort, Voice
Magoo's Glorious FourthShort, Voice
Man of a Thousand Faces Clarence Locan
Magoo's MasqueradeMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo Saves the BankShort, Voice
Rock Hound MagooShort, Voice
Eighteen and Anxious Harvey Graham
Magoo's Moose HuntMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo's Private WarShort, Voice
1958Magoo's Young ManhoodShort, Voice
Scoutmaster MagooShort, Voice
The Explosive Mr. MagooShort, Voice
The High Cost of Loving Paul Mason
Magoo's Three-Point LandingMr. Magoo / Air Traffic ControllerShort, Voice
Magoo's CruiseMr. MagooShort, Voice
Love Comes to MagooShort, Voice
Gumshoe MagooShort, Voice
Macabre Police Chief Jim Tyloe
1959Bwana MagooMr. MagooShort, Voice
The Untouchables Norbit, the accountant
Magoo's HomecomingMr. MagooShort, Voice
Merry Minstrel MagooShort, Voice
Magoo's Lodge BrotherShort, Voice
Ask Any Girl Maxwell
The Wild and the Innocent Mr. Forbes
Terror Faces MagooMr. MagooShort, Voice
A Private's Affair Jim Gordon
The Big Operator Cliff Heldon
1001 Arabian Nights Uncle Abdul Azziz MagooVoice
1960 Ice Palace Dave Husack
Magoo Meets FrankensteinMr. MagooShort, Voice
Magoo Meets McBoing BoingShort, Voice
I Was a Teenage MagooShort, Voice
Inside MagooMr. Magoo / HimselfShort, Voice, Cancer awareness short produced by the American Cancer Society
1961 The Errand Boy Mr. ArbuttVoice, Uncredited
1962 The Horizontal Lieutenant Cmdr. Jeremiah Hammerslag
Boys' Night Out Peter Bowers
Zotz! Horatio Kellgore
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm The King('The Dancing Princess')
1963 A Child Is Waiting Hot Dog vendorUncredited
Operation Bikini Bosun's Mate Ed Fennelly
My Six Loves Sheriff
Critic's Choice Dr. William Von Hagedorn
Johnny Cool Louis Murphy
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Tyler Fitzgerald
Sunday in New York Chief Pilot Drysdale
The Wheeler Dealers Bullard Bear
1964 Advance to the Rear Gen. Willoughby
1965Mr. Magoo in Sherwood ForestMr. MagooVoice
Mr. Magoo's Noah's ArkMr. Magoo, Mr.Magoo as NoahVoice
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! Miles Whitepaper
Fluffy Sergeant
Billie Howard G. Carol
1967 Hurry Sundown Carter Sillens
Don't Make Waves HimselfUncredited
1968 Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? Tru-Blue Lou
1969 Hello Down There T.R. Hollister
1970 The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County Staunch
Myra Breckinridge Doctor
1972 Now You See Him, Now You Don't Timothy Forsythe
1974Goodnight JackieMr. Landry
1975Konyok-gorbunokThe TsarVoice
Crazy Mama Mr. Albertson
Friday Foster Enos Griffith
1977 The Magic Pony The TsarVoice, English version
Pete's Dragon Mayor of Passamaquoddy
1978 Good Guys Wear Black Doorman
1979 Angels' Brigade Cmdr. Lindsey March
The Electric Horseman Mr. MagooVoice, Uncredited
C.H.O.M.P.S. Mr. Gibbs
1980 There Goes the Bride Mr. Perkins
1986 Enchanted Journey GamunVoice, English version
1982 Slapstick of Another Kind President of the U.S.
1984 Prince Jack Dealy


1952–1955 I Married Joan Judge Bradley Stevens
1957 The Pied Piper of Hamelin King's EmissaryTV movie
1960–1961 The Jim Backus Show Mike O'Tool
The Untouchables William NorbertEpisode: "Star Witness"
Mister Magoo Mr. MagooVoice
1962 Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge / Mr. MagooTV movie, Voice
1963 The Beverly Hillbillies Marty Van RansohoffEpisode: "The Clampetts Entertain"
1964–1965 The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo Mr. MagooVoice
1964–1967 Gilligan's Island Thurston Howell III
1964Mr. Magoo in Sherwood ForestMr. MagooTV movie, Voice
1966 Password HimselfGame Show Contestant / Celebrity Guest Star
1967 Damn Yankees! Coach Benny Van Buren
1968 The Wild Wild West Fabian SwansonEpisode: "The Night of the Sabatini Death"
1968–1969 Blondie Mr. Dithers
1969 The Good Guys Henry Arsdale3 episodes
Wake Me When the War Is Over ColonelTV movie
1970 I Dream of Jeannie General FitzhughEpisode: "Help, Help, a Shark"
Uncle Sam Magoo Mr. MagooTV movie, Voice
1971–1974 The Brady Bunch Zaccariah T. Brown / Harry Mathews3 episodes
1973 The Girl Most Likely To... TilsonTV movie
1973 Miracle on 34th Street ShellhammerTV movie
1974–1975 The New Adventures of Gilligan Thurston Howell IIIVoice
1974Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa ClausNarrator / Santa ClausTV special, Voice
1975 Gunsmoke Reverend SimsEpisode: "Brides and Grooms"
Kolchak: The Night Stalker Herb BressonEpisode: "Chopper"
1977 What's New, Mr. Magoo? Mr. MagooVoice
1977 CHiPs WeitzmanEpisode: "Undertow"
1978 Fantasy Island Cap TrumanEpisode: “Anniversary/Reunion”
1978 Rescue from Gilligan's Island Thurston Howell IIITV movie
1979 The Castaways on Gilligan's Island TV movie
The Rebels John HancockTV Miniseries
1981 The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island Thurston Howell IIITV movie
1982 Gilligan's Planet Voice

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Events in 1913 in animation.


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