Charles McGraw

Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy


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About the Book

The iconic actor Charles McGraw appeared in over 140 roles on films and television, including the classic noir pictures The Killers (1946) and The Narrow Margin (1952). Whether portraying tough cops or sadistic killers, McGraw brought a unique authenticity to the screen. Emphasizing his impact on the film noir style, this comprehensive biography examines McGraw’s lengthy career against the backdrop of a changing Hollywood. Through numerous personal interviews with his surviving intimates, close acquaintances and co-workers, his tumultuous personal life is detailed from his earliest days to his bizarre, accidental death. Also included are an extensive critical filmography of McGraw’s feature film career, a complete list of television appearances and previously unpublished film stills and personal photos.

About the Author(s)

Film historian and journalist Alan K. Rode is a director of the Film Noir Foundation ( He lives in Los Angeles.

Bibliographic Details

Alan K. Rode

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 228
Bibliographic Info: 75 photos, filmography, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012 [2008]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7172-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0035-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments       vii
Foreword: The McGraw Role No One Knows (by Jim Steranko)       1
Prologue: Not Ready for His Close-Up      3

1. Child of the Heartland      7
2. Young Thespian      12
3. Hungry During the Golden Era      18
4. What Did You Do in the War, Charlie?      22
5. Bright Boy Gets a Break      27
6. The Watershed Year      32
7. The Lion Goes Black      43
8. In Demand      48
9. The Capital of Noir      57
10. The Other Side of the Hill      66
11. “Not Enough (Blood) to Suit Me”      71
12. The Certifiable Howard Hughes      77
13. The Sleeper That Almost Wasn’t      82
14. Missing the Brass Ring      92
15. RKO Studios as Andersonville      100
16. Freelance Actor      104
17. Small-Screen Evolution      107
18. “Where Do We Get Such Men…”      112
19. Family Tensions      119
20. Character Actor      124
21. Spartacus      132
22. “Good Evening”      138
23. Golden Age Dissolution      145
24. A Glorious Time      149
25. Single Actor, Needs Work      155
26. Cold-Blooded Comeback      157
27. Last Hurrah      163
28. Means of Descent      170
29. Last Call      179
30. A Noir-Stained Legacy      184

Critical Filmography      191
Television Credits      197
Chapter Notes      199
Sources      203
Index      209

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “finally in softcover. Few books are more deserving. Rode is one of our best film historians, and this biography is sharp, well-researched, and thoroughly entertaining. Rode has written an excellent book, incorporating perceptive comments and good interviews to uncover the man and his work…terrific, fascinating…immensely readable…absolutely riveting…highly recommend this book…well-written…first-rate…sensational…a good read”—Classic Images
  • “amazing detail”—Canyon News
  • “a spellbinding account of the great noir heavy…and a must-have addition to all film-noir libraries. Deft biography and overall wild tale.”—James Ellroy
  • “Very little, if anything, seems to be left out…an incredible history lesson for movie enthusiasts. The only thing that confuses us is how Rode managed to fit such a wealth of information in just under 230 pages. We chalk it up to great writing!”—Gary Sweeney, The Midnight Palace
  • “A colorful and illuminating study of not only an actor’s saga, but Hollywood’s evolution.”—Michael Fox, SF 360
  • “Not only a detailed, well-researched portrait of Charles McGraw; but, a veritable who’s-who of Hollywood film noir history, including nuanced sketches of such seminal personalities as Mark Hellinger, Robert Siodmok, Bryan Foy, Johnny Rosselli, Reed Hadley, Sidney Boehm, Crane Wilbur, Walter Wanger, Daniel Mainwaring, Earl Felton, Dick Fleischer—the list goes on and on.”—Michael Guillen, The Evening Class