William Gargan

William Dennis Gargan (July 17, 1905 – February 17, 1979) was an American film, television and radio actor. He was the 5th recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967[1], and nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in 1941 for his role as Joe in 'They Knew What They Wanted'.

William Dennis Gargan
William Gargan in Black Fury trailer
from the trailer for the film Black Fury (1935).
BornJuly 17, 1905
DiedFebruary 17, 1979 (aged 73)
Died in flight between New York City and San Diego
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery (San Diego), California
Years active1925–1958
Spouse(s)Mary Kenny (1928–1979) (his death)
1949 promotional photo of Gargan for Martin Kane, Private Eye

Early years

Gargan was born in Brooklyn, New York. He was the younger brother of actor Edward Gargan, whose birthday July 17 he shared. His father was a detective, and his mother was a teacher. He graduated from St. James School in Brooklyn.[2]

On leaving school, Gargan became a salesman of bootleg whiskey to New York speakeasies and then joined a detective agency.


While visiting his brother on a musical comedy stage, he was offered a stage job which he accepted. He began his stage career in Aloma of the South Seas[2]


Gargan's first movie was Rain[2] later he played in Misleading Lady and had character roles in many Hollywood productions, including two appearances as detective Ellery Queen.

He was cast in a number of stereotypical Irish parts in films playing policemen, priests, reporters, and blustering adventurers. In 1945 he played Joe Gallagher in The Bells of St. Mary's, starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman.

In 1935, Gargan went to England and made several films there.[2]

In 1940, Gargan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Joe, the foreman, in They Knew What They Wanted.[3]


Gargan was best known for his role as private detective Martin Kane in the 1949–51 radio-television series, Martin Kane, Private Eye, sponsored by U.S. Tobacco. He also appeared as a private detective in the NBC radio show Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, which ran from 1951 to 1955.


Gargan starred in 39 episodes of The New Adventures of Martin Kane, a syndicated series premiering September 14, 1957, and distributed in Europe by United Artists Television for Ziv Television Programs.

Later years

Gargan's acting career came to an end in 1958 when he developed throat cancer, and doctors were forced to remove his larynx in 1960.[4] Speaking through an artificial voice box, Gargan became an activist and spokesman for the American Cancer Society, often warning about the dangers of smoking.[5] In 1964, Mutual of Omaha presented its annual Criss Award to Gargan for "his inspirational self-rehabilitation efforts and his outstanding contributions to established rehabilitation programs."[6]

No longer able to act, he formed William Gargan Productions, making traditional films and television movies in Hollywood.[7]


Gargan had a wife, Mary, and two sons, Leslie and Barrie.[8]


He died of heart attack aged 73 on February 17, 1979, on a flight between New York City and San Diego. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Partial filmography

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1943 Philip Morris Playhouse Roberta[9]


Gargan's autobiography, Why Me? was published by Doubleday in 1969.[10] A reviewer described the book as "a compelling story of the life, faith and courage of a man who as an actor was a notable success."[11]


  1. ^ https://www.sagawards.org/nominees/life-achievement-award-recipient/5th
  2. ^ a b c d "Radio-Television". Altoona Tribune. March 25, 1952. p. 13. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  3. ^ "William Gargan". oscars.org. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Cancer Society to Hear Actor William Gargan". The Bakersfield Californian. September 11, 1962. p. 36. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  5. ^ Reinehr, Robert C. & Swartz, Jon D. (2010). The A to Z of Old Time Radio. Scarecrow Press. p. 107.
  6. ^ "William Gargan, Actor, Will Get 8th Criss Award". The Lincoln Star. September 14, 1965. p. 3. Retrieved July 7, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  7. ^ Swinford, T. William (March 12, 1964). "Suburbs Beat Hollywood--for Family Life". Arlington Heights Herald. p. 19. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  8. ^ "Gargan's Family Ill". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 21, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  9. ^ "Air Ya Listenin?". The Mason City Globe-Gazette. May 14, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  10. ^ "Why me?; an autobiography". WorldCat. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  11. ^ McLeod, Edyth Thornton (June 10, 1969). "Beauty After Forty". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. p. 25. Retrieved July 7, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access

External links

Alibi for Murder

Alibi for Murder is a 1936 American crime film directed by D. Ross Lederman and starring William Gargan and Marguerite Churchill. The supporting cast features Dwight Frye.

Black Fury (film)

Black Fury is a 1935 American crime film starring Paul Muni, Karen Morley, and William Gargan. It was adapted by Abem Finkel and Carl Erickson from the short story "Jan Volkanik" by Judge Michael A. Musmanno and the play Bohunk by Harry R. Irving. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the plot is based on a historic incident during a Pennsylvania walk-out in 1929, in which John Barkowski, a striking coal miner, was beaten to death by private company police.In 1936, at the 8th Academy Awards, Muni was not officially nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, but he came in second on the basis of write-in votes, which were allowed that year.

Dynamite (1949 film)

Dynamite is a 1949 American film noir drama film directed by William H. Pine and written by Milton Raison. The film stars William Gargan, Virginia Welles, Richard Crane, Irving Bacon, Mary Newton and Frank Ferguson. The film was released on January 18, 1949, by Paramount Pictures.

Emergency Call (1933 film)

Emergency Call is a 1933 American Pre-Code action film directed by Edward L. Cahn and written by Houston Branch and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film stars William Boyd, Wynne Gibson, William Gargan, George E. Stone and Betty Furness. The film was released on June 24, 1933 by RKO Pictures.

Flying Cadets

Flying Cadets is a 1941 American adventure film directed by Erle C. Kenton and written by George Waggner, Roy Chanslor and Stanley Rubin. The film stars William Gargan, Edmund Lowe, Peggy Moran, Frank Albertson, Frankie Thomas and Riley Hill. The film was released on October 24, 1941, by Universal Pictures.

Follow That Woman

Follow That Woman is a 1945 crime film starring William Gargan, Nancy Kelly, and Regis Toomey. The movie was directed by Lew Landers.

Four Frightened People

Four Frightened People is a 1934 American Pre-Code adventure film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Claudette Colbert, Herbert Marshall, Mary Boland, and William Gargan. It is based on the novel by E. Arnot Robertson.

Hot Cargo

Hot Cargo is a 1946 American drama film directed by Lew Landers and written by Daniel Mainwaring. The film stars William Gargan, Jean Rogers, Phillip Reed, Larry Young, Harry Cording and Will Wright. The film was released on June 28, 1946, by Paramount Pictures.

Midnight Manhunt

Midnight Manhunt is a 1945 film noir crime film mystery directed by William C. Thomas and written by David Lang. The film premiered on July 24, 1945 and is in the public domain.

The film stars William Gargan, Ann Savage, Leo Gorcey and George Zucco.

Miss Annie Rooney

Miss Annie Rooney is a 1942 American drama film directed by Edwin L. Marin. The screenplay by George Bruce has some similarities to the silent film, Little Annie Rooney starring Mary Pickford, but otherwise, the films are unrelated. Miss Annie Rooney is about a teenager (Shirley Temple) from a humble background who falls in love with a rich high school boy (Dickie Moore). She is snubbed by his social set, but, when her father (William Gargan) invents a better rubber synthetic substitute, her prestige rises. Notable as the film in which Shirley Temple received her first screen kiss, and Moore said it was his first kiss ever. The film was panned.

She Asked for It

She Asked for It is a 1937 American comedy film directed by Erle C. Kenton and written by Frederick J. Jackson and Theodore Reeves. The film stars William Gargan, Orien Heyward, Vivienne Osborne, Richard Carle, Roland Drew, Harry Beresford and Alan Birmingham. It was released on September 17, 1937, by Paramount Pictures.

She Gets Her Man (1945 film)

She Gets Her Man is a 1945 American comedy film directed by Erle C. Kenton and written by Warren Wilson, Clyde Bruckman, Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat. The film stars Joan Davis, William Gargan, Leon Errol, Vivian Austin, Milburn Stone and Russell Hicks. The film was released on January 12, 1945, by Universal Pictures.

Song of the Sarong

Song of the Sarong (1945) is a musical film starring Nancy Kelly and William Gargan. The film was written by Gene Lewis and directed by Harold Young.

Strange Impersonation

Strange Impersonation is a 1946 American film noir drama film directed by Anthony Mann and starring Brenda Marshall, William Gargan and Hillary Brooke.


Sweepings is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film directed by John Cromwell, written by Lester Cohen, and starring Lionel Barrymore, Eric Linden, William Gargan, Gloria Stuart and Alan Dinehart. It was released on April 14, 1933, by RKO Pictures.

Swing Fever

Swing Fever is a 1943 American musical comedy film directed by Tim Whelan. Kay Kyser plays an ambitious music composer, also gifted with a hypnotic "evil eye", who gets mixed up with promoting a boxer. The film also features Marilyn Maxwell, William Gargan, Nat Pendleton and Lena Horne. Amid the credited music and boxing-world cameos many other familiar faces can be glimpsed: Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Mike Mazurki, Mantan Moreland, and a young Ava Gardner.

They Knew What They Wanted (film)

They Knew What They Wanted is a 1940 film directed by Garson Kanin, written by Robert Ardrey, and starring Carole Lombard, Charles Laughton and William Gargan. It is based on the 1924 Pulitzer Prize winning play They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard. For his performance Gargan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Things Are Looking Up (film)

Things Are Looking Up is a 1935 British musical comedy film directed by Albert de Courville, produced by Michael Balcon for Gaumont British and starring Cicely Courtneidge, Max Miller and William Gargan. It was made at Islington Studios by British Gaumont, an affiliate of Gainsborough Pictures. The film's sets were designed by Alex Vetchinsky. Courtneidge plays a dual role as the sisters Bertha and Cicely Fytte. Bertha is a dour schoolteacher, while the bubbly Cicely runs a nearby showground. When Bertha surprisingly elopes, Cicely takes her place at the school to prevent her from getting the sack. It was the film debut for Vivien Leigh.

Waterfront at Midnight

Waterfront at Midnight is a 1948 American drama film directed by William Berke, written by Bernard Girard, and starring William Gargan, Mary Beth Hughes, Richard Travis, Richard Crane, Cheryl Walker and Horace McMahon. It was released on June 25, 1948, by Paramount Pictures.

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