Jim Backus, a celebrated film and television character actor, will probably live on in America's imagination as the voice of a myopic curmudgeon named Mr. Magoo.
He's also known for his role as Joan Davis' husband on the TV series "I Married Joan" (1952-55) and the thirsty and daffy millionaire Thurston Howell III in "Gilligan's Island" (1964-67 and on into syndication).
The first of the unique Backus characters evolved not from TV or films, however, but radio. He had been Hubert Updike on "The Alan Young Show," a character not unlike that of Thurston Howell III, 20 years later, on "Gilligan's Island."
He had also been heard on "The Penny Singleton Show," "The Danny Kaye Show" and other radio programs as an uncredited voice.
His first film was "The Great Lover" in 1949, and at least 75 more films followed, including the whimsical "Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town" and "Francis in the Navy," and "Rebel Without a Cause," the James Dean classic in which Backus played father to Dean's Jim Stark.
It was a favorite role and a dramatic portrayal he looked back on fondly—particularly during the Magoo years.
Backus once described his film career as a series of "best friends," the guy who always drove the bride to the church but never married her.