John McLiam

John McLiam
Born John Williams
(1918-01-24)January 24, 1918
Alberta, Canada
Died April 16, 1994(1994-04-16) (aged 76)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Film Actor
Television Actor
Years active 1952–1991

John McLiam (born John Williams; January 24, 1918 – April 16, 1994) was a character actor noted for his extensive work on film and television, and renowned for his skill at different accents.[1] His film appearances included In Cold Blood, My Fair Lady, The Missouri Breaks, First Blood, and John Frankenheimer's movie of The Iceman Cometh. He was a guest star in numerous television series and wrote a Broadway play, The Sin of Pat Muldoon.[2][3]

Early life

He attended St. Mary's College of California (Moraga, California). During World War II served in the United States Navy as an intelligence officer, having received a Bronze Star.[2] After the war he worked briefly as a journalist for the San Francisco Examiner.[1]

Acting career

He took McLiam, the Gaelic form of his real surname Williams, as a stage name.[1]

His acting career began in Maxwell Anderson's Winterset in San Francisco in 1946.[4] After a few roles in plays in California he moved to New York.[1] His first Broadway role was as a guard in Maxwell Anderson's Barefoot in Athens in 1951. His other stage roles include Shaw's Saint Joan, and Tiger at the Gates, Christopher Fry's version of a Jean Giraudoux play, which ran 1959–60 on Broadway. He appeared in the original Broadway cast of One More River (1960).

He moved to California in 1960 to work in film and television.[1] His film roles included a cockney ne'er-do-well in My Fair Lady (1964), Boss Keen in Cool Hand Luke (1967), In Cold Blood (1967) as murder victim Herbert Clutter,[5] Halls of Anger (1970), Woody Allen's Sleeper (1973), rancher David Braxton in The Missouri Breaks (1976), and Orval in First Blood (1982). He played Jimmy Tomorrow in John Frankenheimer's American Film Theater movie of The Iceman Cometh (1973), alongside Fredric March, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Jeff Bridges.

He was John of Gaunt in William Woodman's filmed version of Shakespeare's Richard II (1982): while the casts' acting was generally judged as poor, Charles R. Forker said McLiam delivered Gaunt's most famous speech "like an operatic aria" but in general was no match for Sir John Gielgud at speaking verse.[6]

He was cast as Walter Watson, the Olympic Club trainer of the boxer James J. Corbett (played by James Davidson) in the 1966 episode "The Fight San Francisco Never Forgot" of the syndicated television series, Death Valley Days. In the story line Watson halts a local bully and trains Corbett as his promotional rival.[7]

In the 1979 television miniseries Freedom Road, he played Ulysses S. Grant. He appeared in several episodes of the western series The Virginian and Gunsmoke, and was Doc Holliday in the pilot of Bret Maverick. He portrayed Elsworth Chisolm in two episodes of Dynasty, and the lead character's father in T.J. Hooker. He had guest roles in dozens of other television series.[8]


His play The Sin of Pat Muldoon, about a Roman Catholic family, ran for five performances from March 13 to 16, 1957 at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. The central character, played in that production by James Barton, is a father who renounces his faith following the death of his son and spends his savings on partying and loose women before having a heart attack. Though he attempts to resolve some of his family's problems, he dies unrepentant.[9] Playwright and producer Maxwell Anderson, given the script to consider producing it, condemned the play as lying on well-trampled ground following Seán O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, declaring, "I've grown weary of the whole subject. An ancient, irritable, blasphemous, dying but loveable Irishman says his last ten thousand words and goes to his own place. The hell with him."[4]

Personal life

McLiam and his wife Roberta had a daughter, Claire.[1] He died in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California in 1994 from melanoma and Parkinson's disease.[2]

Select filmography


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Oliver, Myrna (April 20, 1994). "John McLiam; Broadway, Film Character Actor". LA Times. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 "John McLiam, 76, Film and TV Actor". New York Times. May 5, 1994. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  3. Galloway, Doug (April 25, 1994). "John McLiam". Variety. 354 (12): 40.
  4. 1 2 Anderson, Maxwell. Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912–1958. pp. 283–284.
  5. "John McLiam". AllMovie Guide. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  6. Forker, Charles R (2008). Sarah Hatchuel, Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin, ed. Shakespeare on Screen: The Henriad. Publication Univ Rouen Havre. p. 38.
  7. "The Fight San Francisco Never Forgot details". Internet Movie Data Base. March 17, 1966. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  8. Ward, Jack (1993). Television Guest Stars: An Illustrated Career Chronicle for 678 Performers of the Sixties and Seventies. McFarland. p. 320.
  9. Bordman, Gerald (1996). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1930–1969. Oxford University Press. p. 344.
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