James Whitmore

James Whitmore

James Whitmore, November 1955
Born James Allen Whitmore, Jr.
(1921-10-01)October 1, 1921
White Plains, New York, U.S.
Died February 6, 2009(2009-02-06) (aged 87)
Malibu, California, U.S.
Cause of death Lung cancer
Resting place Cremains scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Alma mater Yale University
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1949–2005
Spouse(s) Nancy Mygatt (1947–1971, divorced)
Audra Lindley (1972–1979, divorced)
Nancy Mygatt (1979–1981, divorced)
Noreen Nash (2001–2009, his death)
Children Three sons from first marriage:
James Allen Whitmore III
Stephen Whitmore
Daniel Whitmore
Relatives Matty Whitmore (grandchild)

James Allen Whitmore, Jr. (October 1, 1921 – February 6, 2009) was an American film, theatre and television actor.[1] During his extensive career, Whitmore won a Tony, Grammy, Golden Globe and an Emmy, and was nominated for two Academy Awards. He is one of only twenty performers to win three of the four EGOT honors.

Early life and military service

Born in White Plains, New York, to Florence Belle (née Crane) and James Allen Whitmore, Sr., a park commission official,[2] Whitmore attended Amherst Central High School in Snyder, New York, for three years,[3] before transferring to the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, on a football scholarship. He went on to study at Yale University but he had to quit playing football after severely injuring his knees.[4] After giving up football, he turned to the Yale Dramatic Society and began acting.[5] While at Yale he was a member of Skull and Bones,[6] and was among the founders of the Yale radio station (the student-run WOCD-AM, later renamed WYBC-AM).[7] Whitmore planned on becoming a lawyer and was a Government major at Yale. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserves while finishing his degree. He graduated from Yale University in 1944,[8] then served in the United States Marine Corps in the South Pacific, and emerged from the Marines as a Lieutenant.[9]

Marriage and later life

Whitmore, Nancy Mygatt, and their three sons in 1954. The boys are, from left-Stephen, James and Danny.

After World War II, Whitmore studied acting at the American Theatre Wing and the Actors Studio in New York. At this time, Whitmore met his first wife Nancy Mygatt.[10] They married in 1947, and the couple had three sons before their divorce in 1971. The eldest son, James III, found success as a television actor and director under the name James Whitmore, Jr. The second son, Stephen, became the public spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.[11] The youngest son, Daniel, was a Forest Service Snow Ranger and firefighter before he launched his own construction company. In 1979, Whitmore and Mygatt remarried, but they divorced again after two years.

Whitmore was married to actress Audra Lindley from 1972 until 1979. He co-starred in several stage performances with her both during and after their marriage. These included Elba (a play by Vaughn McBride about an elderly couple who escape from the nursing home); William Gibson’s Handy Dandy (he as a conservative judge, she as a liberal nun); and Tom Cole’s About Time (in which they played characters identified simply as the Old Man and the Old Woman).[12]

In 2001, he married actress and author Noreen Nash. Whitmore is the grandfather of Survivor: Gabon contestant Matty Whitmore. In 2010, James Whitmore, Jr. and his two children (grandchildren of James Whitmore), actress-director Aliah Whitmore and artist-production designer Jacob Whitmore, formed the theatre group Whitmore Eclectic. They perform in Los Angeles, California.[13]

In his later years, Whitmore spent his summers in Peterborough, New Hampshire, performing with the Peterborough Players.[14]

Although not always politically active, in 2007, Whitmore generated some publicity with his endorsement of Barack Obama for U.S. President.[15] In January 2008, Whitmore appeared in television commercials for the First Freedom First campaign, which advocates preserving "the separation of church and state" and protecting religious liberty.[16] "An avid flower and vegetable gardener, Whitmore was also known to TV viewers as the longtime commercial pitchman for Miracle-Gro garden products."[17]


Film and television

Following World War II, Whitmore appeared on Broadway in the role of the sergeant in Command Decision. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) gave Whitmore a contract, but his role in the film adaptation was played by Van Johnson.[18] His first major picture for MGM was Battleground,[19] in a role that was turned down by Spencer Tracy, to whom Whitmore bore a physical resemblance. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, and won the Golden Globe Award as Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role. Other major films included Angels in the Outfield, The Asphalt Jungle, The Next Voice You Hear, Above and Beyond, Kiss Me, Kate, Them!, Oklahoma!, Black Like Me, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Give 'em Hell, Harry!, a one-man show for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of former U.S. President Harry S Truman. In the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, he played Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey.

Whitmore appeared during the 1950s on many television anthology series. He was cast as Father Emil Kapaun in the 1955 episode "The Good Thief" in the ABC religion anthology series Crossroads (which can be viewed at archive.org). Other roles followed on Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater, Lux Video Theatre, Kraft Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, Schlitz Playhouse, Matinee Theatre, and the Ford Television Theatre. In 1958, he carried the lead in "The Gabe Carswell Story" of NBC's Wagon Train, with Ward Bond.[20]

In the 1960-1961 television season, Whitmore starred in his own ABC crime drama, The Law and Mr. Jones, in the title role, with Conlan Carter as legal assistant C.E. Carruthers and Janet De Gore as Jones' secretary. The program ran in the 10:30 p.m. Eastern half-hour slot on Friday. It was cancelled after one year but returned in April 1962 for thirteen additional episodes on Thursday.

In 1963, Whitmore played Captain William Benteen in The Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home." In 1965, Whitmore guest-starred as Col. Paul J. Hartley in "The Hero," episode 32 of Twelve O'Clock High, as well as appearing in an episode of Combat! titled "The Cassock," as a German officer masquerading as a Catholic priest. In 1967, he guest starred as a security guard in The Invaders episode, "Quantity: Unknown." That same year, Whitmore also appeared on an episode of ABC's Custer starring Wayne Maunder in the title role.

In 1968 he appeared as Head of the Simian Assembly in the Planet of the Apes. In 1969, he played the leading character of Professor Woodruff in the TV series My Friend Tony, produced by NBC. Whitmore also made several memorable appearances on the classic ABC western The Big Valley starring Barbara Stanwyck, and the classic NBC western The Virginian starring James Drury, during the second half of the 1960s.

From 1972-1973, Whitmore played Dr. Vincent Campanelli in the short-lived ABC medical sitcom Temperatures Rising.

Whitmore appeared as General Oliver O. Howard in the 1975 television film I Will Fight No More Forever, based on the 1877 conflict between the United States Army and the Nez Percé tribe, led by Chief Joseph. In 1979 Whitmore hosted a talk show of twenty-two episodes called simply Comeback. One of those segments focuses on the helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky.[21]

In 1986, Whitmore voiced Mark Twain in the first claymation feature film The Adventures of Mark Twain.

In 1994 Whitmore played the role of librarian Brooks Hatlen in the critically acclaimed and Academy Award-nominated 1994 Frank Darabont film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption. Two years later, he co-starred in the 1996 horror/sci-fi film The Relic. In 1999, he played Raymond Oz in two episodes of The Practice, earning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.

In 2002, Whitmore played the role of the Grandfather in the Disney Channel original film A Ring of Endless Light. Also in 2002, Whitmore played a supporting role in The Majestic, a film that starred Jim Carrey. In 2003, Whitmore appeared as Josh Brolin's father on the short-lived NBC drama series Mister Sterling, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award.

In April 2007, he made his last screen appearance in a C.S.I. episode titled "Ending Happy" as Milton, an elderly man who provides a clue of dubious utility.[22]

Awards and recognition

Whitmore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6611 Hollywood Boulevard. The ceremony was held on February 8, 1960.[23]

Theatre work

“Whitmore often said he found acting in films and television boring because of the long waits between scenes; his passion was for the theater, and he continued to act on stage throughout his long career.”[24] Whitmore first ventured into acting at Yale University – severe knee injuries sidelined him from football, so he turned to the Yale Dramatic Society.[25] After serving in the Marines he toured the South Pacific in a USO tour, then returned to America, where he studied acting for six months at the American Theatre Wing in New York and the Actors Studio. Afterward, he was hired by a summer stock company in Peterborough, New Hampshire - The Peterborough Players. His first play on Broadway – Command Decision – in which Whitmore played the part of Tech Sergeant Harold Evans, was the smash hit of 1947, and Whitmore won the Tony Award for “Best Newcomer of the Season.” Whitmore continued to be active in the theatre for all of his career, performing on Broadway, at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC, and on tour. He later won the title "King of the One Man Show"[26] after appearing in the solo vehicles Will Rogers' USA (1970) (repeating the role for TV in 1972); as Harry Truman in Give 'em Hell, Harry! (1975) (repeating the role in the film version, for which he was nominated for an Oscar); and as Theodore Roosevelt in Bully (1977), although the latter production did not repeat the success of the first two.

"Whitmore, who was an early student at the Actors Studio in New York in the late '40s, taught an acting workshop after moving to Hollywood. Among his students in the early '50s was young James Dean, whom Whitmore advised to go to New York. 'I owe a lot to Whitmore,' Dean told Seventeen magazine in 1955. 'One thing he said helped more than anything. He told me I didn't know the difference between acting as a soft job and acting as a difficult art.'"[27] Whitmore often returned to New Hampshire to the Peterborough Players, where he got his start in summer stock - in 2008 he played the stage manager in Our Town.[28] Each year the Peterborough Players award the "James Whitmore Award" to an excellent intern at the theatre.[29]


Whitmore was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2008, from which he died at the age of 87 on February 6, 2009, at his Malibu, California home.[30]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result Ref(s)
1948 Tony Awards Best Newcomer Command Decision
(tied with June Lockhart in For Love or Money)
Won [31]
1949 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Battleground Nominated [32]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor Won [33]
1975 Academy Awards Best Actor Give 'em Hell, Harry! Nominated [34]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Drama [35]
Grammy Awards Best Spoken Word Album Won [36]
1989 CableACE Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor – Movie or Miniseries Glory! Glory! [37]
1999 Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actor – Drama Series The Practice
(as Raymond Oz, 2 episodes)
2000 Genie Awards Best Actor Here's to Life! Nominated [39]
2003 Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actor – Drama Series Mister Sterling
(as Bill Sterling, Sr., 4 episodes)


Partial filmography









James Whitmore's theatre roles included:[41]

Whitmore received a 1948 Tony Award for this role. The category was "Outstanding Performance by a Newcomer."[42]
After the world premiere at the Ford's Theatre, the play went on to a six-city tour, during which it was videotaped for film at the Moore Theater, Seattle, Washington.[43][44]


See also


  1. Berkvist, Robert (February 7, 2009). "James Whitmore, Character Actor Skilled in One-Man Shows, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
  2. "James Whitmore Biography". FilmReference.com. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  3. "Actor James Whitmore, attended Amherst High School". Amherst Bee, February 11, 2009
  4. "James Whitmore dies at 87" by Dennis McLellan. Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2009.
  5. Biography on James Whitmore in Playbill for Will Rogers' USA, May 1974 – online at www.playbillvault.com.
  6. See Wikipedia article on Skull and Bones, which lists James Whitmore as a member and references this article: "Powerful Secrets" by Alexandra Robbins. Vanity Fair, July 2004, p. 116.
  7. Article on James Whitmore in The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz. Harper Perennial, 1994 ed., p. 1454.
  8. See list of notable Yale Alumni at: http://archives.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/01_03/blue.html
  9. Playbill, May 1974.
  10. Biography on James Whitmore on Turner Classic Movies website - http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/205552%7C78332/James-Whitmore/biography.html
  11. See the 2009 obituary on James Whitmore by The Associated Press, posted on www.legacy.com.
  12. Article on James Whitmore in Newsmakers. Gale Publishing, 2010, p. 596-597. Also see Berkvist, Robert (February 7, 2009). "James Whitmore, Character Actor Skilled in One-Man Shows, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
  13. "The Whitmore Family Will Never Grow out of This Stage" by Susan King. Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2013.
  14. Peterboroughplayers.org
  15. See the 2009 obituary on James Whitmore by The Associated Press, posted on www.legacy.com.
  16. Biography on James Whitmore on Turner Classic Movies website - http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/205552%7C78332/James-Whitmore/biography.html
  17. ”James Whitmore dies at 87” by Dennis McLellan. Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2009.
  18. Biography on James Whitmore on Turner Classic Movies website - http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/205552%7C78332/James-Whitmore/biography.html
  19. The following details on Whitmore's film and television career are found at www.imdb.com.
  20. "James Whitmore". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  21. "Comeback". tvguide.com. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
  22. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0926235/?ref_=sr_1
  23. "James Whitmore". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  24. ”James Whitmore dies at 87” by Dennis McLellan. Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2009.
  25. Except where noted, information on Whitmore’s theatre history is taken from his Biography in Playbill for Will Rogers USA, May 1974 – online at www.playbillvault.com
  26. ”Veteran character actor James Whitmore dead at 87,” Reuters, Feb. 6, 2009.
  27. ”James Whitmore dies at 87” by Dennis McLellan. Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2009.
  28. "The Whitmore Family Will Never Grow out of This Stage" by Susan King. Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2013.
  29. See their website at www.peterboroughplayers.com
  30. ”James Whitmore dies at 87” by Dennis McLellan. Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2009.
  31. Command Decision at tonyawards.com
  32. Battleground at awardsdatabase.oscars.org
  33. Battleground at goldenglobes.com
  34. Give 'em Hell, Harry! at awardsdatabase.oscars.org
  35. Give 'em Hell, Harry! at goldenglobes.com
  36. Give 'em Hell, Harry! at grammy.com
  37. HBO Leads the Way for Cable's ACE Awards
  38. The Practice Emmy wins at emmys.com
  39. Here's To Life! at academy.ca
  40. Mister Sterling at emmys.com
  41. Except where noted, information on the following plays that James Whitmore played in can be found at www.playbillvault.com
  42. Name search at Tony Awards Past Winners - http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/history/pastwinners/index.html
  43. http://www.fordstheatre.org/home/about-fords/production-history/1968-1977
  44. See Wikipedia article on Give 'Em Hell, Harry!
  45. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/whitmore-returns-to-artistic-home-fords-theatre-for-inherit-sept.-26
  46. "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. May 4, 1952. p. 50. Retrieved May 8, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
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