John Gavin, the tall, strikingly handsome actor who appeared in Spartacus (1960), Psycho (1960), Imitation Of Life (1959), and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), died today at 86-years-old.
He co-starred opposite Doris Day in the thriller Midnight Lace (1960), Sophia Loren in the comedy A Breath Of Scandal (1960), Susan Hayward in the noir Back Street (1961) and Sandra Dee in the fluffy Tammy Tell Me True (1961).
Gavin was taken by complications from pneumonia after battling leukemia, surrounded by his family at his home in Beverly Hills.
Gavin served as President of the Screen Actors Guild in the early 1970s.
He had a decades-long career as an actor beginning as contract player at Universal Pictures, starting with his lead role in in A Time To Love And A Time To Die (1958) from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, winning a Golden Globe Award, and then the next year appearing in a supporting role opposite Lana Turner in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation Of Life.
He gave memorable performances in the epic Spartacus directed by Stanley Kubrick, playing Julius Caesar, appearing shirtless in a bathhouse scene with Laurence Olivier, and the classic thriller Psycho for director Alfred Hitchcock. He claimed that he was “terribly disturbed by the sex and violence in Psycho” and “I think Hitch really got frosted with me”.
Gavin later said:
“When I started out in front of the cameras I was green – raw, scared and just plain awful”.
Gavin left Universal to freelance, but then returned to the studio in 1964, appearing in the Mexican film Pedro Páramo. Born Juan Vincent Apablasa, Gavin was of Mexican and Chilean descent, and was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.
While filming in Mexico, Gavin heard that Universal was making an expensive 1920s-era Julie Andrews musical Thoroughly Modern Millie directed by George Roy Hill, with his friend Ross Hunter as producer. He lobbied hard for the role of Mary Tyler Moore’s stuffy boyfriend, auditioning for Hill and Hunter before being cast in the role.
Gavin almost played James Bond twice. He had signed for the role in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) after George Lazenby gave up on 007. But United Artists wanted the box-office insurance of Sean Connery. Gavin was slated to play Bond again in 1973 in Live And Let Die, but the producers decided they needed a British actor for the role and Roger Moore got the gig.
Gavin focused on television and his growing business interests in the late 1970s. One of his more memorable performances was playing Cary Grant in the made-for-television movie Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (1980).
He attended Stanford University with a degree in Economics and Latin American Affairs. President Ronald Reagan appointed Gavin as Ambassador to Mexico in 1981. Yes, Gavin was a staunch Republican. It is difficult to remember that there was a time when males in the GOP were handsome. Now, being ugly in spirit and appearance seems a requirement.
Gavin had a rich baritone singing voice. I saw him on stage in the Broadway musical Seesaw (1973) opposite Michele Lee, and again in the same role on tour with Lucie Aranaz. He was very good.
Gavin was married to actor Constance Towers. I met them both backstage after a performance by a mutual friend, Betty Garrett. They were both extraordinary beautiful.
Let’s remember him as a liked him best, shirtless: