Andrew V. McLaglen dies at 94; veteran director of western films
BY ELAINE WOO
Andrew V. McLaglen, a prolific veteran of westerns, action films and television who directed many of classic Hollywood's most enduring stars, including John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and William Holden, died Aug. 30 at his home in Friday Harbor, Wash. He was 94.
McLaglen died in his sleep of natural causes, said his daughter Mary McLaglen.
Apprenticing under legendary directors John Ford and William Wellman, McLaglen was one of the last to specialize in the western.
His best-known work includes five movies with Wayne — "McClintock!" (1963), "Hellfighters" (1968), "The Undefeated" (1969), "Chisum" (1970) and "Cahill U.S. Marshal" (1973) — "Shenandoah" (1965), starring James Stewart, and 96 episodes of "Gunsmoke," the long-running TV western starring James Arness.
Although he said he never intended to concentrate on the western, he brought old-fashioned star power, solid craft and a certain tough-guy humor to the genre well past its heyday.
"As westerns, through directors like Anthony Mann, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, became more harsh, McLaglen retained an optimism about his characters, and their goals," author C. Courtney Joyner, who interviewed McLaglen for his book "The Westerners," said Thursday. "For all its brutalities, the dream-promise of the American West was something he believed in, even when it was out of fashion."
He was the son of British actor Victor McLaglen, who won an Oscar as an Irish rebel in Ford's "The Informer" (1935). Born in London on July 28, 1920, Andrew was 5 when his father moved the family to Hollywood.
He attended the Cate School in Carpinteria and the University of Virginia, dropping out after a year to pursue film directing. After working as a gofer at Republic Pictures, he became an assistant director for Ford on "The Quiet Man," a 1952 romantic comedy starring Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.
Through Wayne, McLaglen directed his first feature, a noirish crime movie called "Man in the Vault" (1956), which starred William Campbell and Anita Ekberg. It was written by Burt Kennedy, who would earn critical praise as a writer and director of westerns. Wayne guaranteed the financing.
McLaglen directed his first western with his next film, "Gun the Man Down" (1956), which starred Arness and Angie Dickinson.
It was Arness who recommended McLaglen to CBS to direct a couple of episodes of "Gunsmoke." Over the next decade McLaglen was behind more wagon trains, cattle drives and shootouts than he ever dreamed of, directing not only the 96 episodes of "Gunsmoke" but 116 episodes of "Have Gun — Will Travel," starring Richard Boone as the gentlemanly gunslinger Paladin. He also helmed half a dozen episodes of "Rawhide" starring the then-little-known Clint Eastwood.
Directing westerns, McLaglen once said, happened "totally by mistake."
It began "because first I did 'Man in the Vault.' Then I got a western, 'Gun the Man Down,' because I knew Jim Arness. Then ... I wound up doing a whole bunch of 'Gunsmoke' episodes," he said in a 2009 interview in Scenes of Cinema magazine. "I then became the 'Western Director,' the star over at CBS. Then everybody thinks, 'Jesus, that's his big specialty.'"
He directed several war movies, including "The Devil's Brigade" (1968), featuring Holden as the head of a commando unit charged with capturing a Nazi stronghold. One of the director's last major projects was the 1982 miniseries "The Blue and the Gray," a Civil War saga with an all-star cast that included Gregory Peck as Abraham Lincoln.
"He would have loved to have directed many different kinds of movies," said his daughter Mary, a producer, "but in Hollywood when you do enough of something they think that is all you can do."
During the course of his long career he put Katharine Ross in her first movie role, in "Shenandoah." He directed Maurice Chevalier in his last movie, the Disney comedy "Monkeys, Go Home!" He also directed his father a few times, including in an episode of "Rawhide" before he died in 1959.
McLaglen, who was married four times, retired in the early 1990s and moved full time to San Juan Island in Washington, where he satisfied some of his creative yearnings by directing a variety of local theater productions, including comedies by Neil Simon.
Besides his daughter Mary, he is survived by daughter Sharon Lannan, son Josh McLaglen, stepdaughter Laura Geniuch, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.