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Subject: Archive: Jim Backus, July 3, 1989

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Date Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 12:15:51pm

Jim Backus, the beetle-browed actor whose booming voice gave life to the nearsighted cartoon character of ''Mr. Magoo'' and the self-indulgent, ascot-wearing millionaire of ''Gilligan's Island,'' died of pneumonia yesterday in St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 76 years old.

Mr. Backus, who had Parkinson's disease for many years, had entered the hospital more than two weeks ago.

Mr. Backus was an actor and writer in the theater, radio and television and in more than 80 movies. His most prestigious film role was that of James Dean's ineffectual father in ''Rebel Without a Cause,'' but it was as Mr. Magoo that he became best known to audiences. His vocal portrayal of the pink-nosed, W. C. Fieldsian bumbler in the screen cartoon series began in the late 1940's, continued for more than 50 episodes, and won two Academy Awards.

In 1958, in his freewheeling reminiscence ''Rocks on the Roof,'' Mr. Backus said he had loosely patterned the delivery and philosophy of Mr. Magoo on his late father, an amiable Cleveland engineer who confused names, dates and places with lovable determination. Difference of Perspective
''Magoo's appeal lies in our hositility toward an older generation,'' Mr. Backus said in a 1958 interview. ''But he's not only nearsighted physically; his mind is selective of what it sees, too. That is where the humor, the satire lies, in the difference between what he thinks he sees and reality as we see it.''

Born James Gilmore Backus and raised in Cleveland, Mr. Backus attended Kentucky Military Institute outside Louisville, where his best friend was a fellow student, Victor Mature. Mr. Backus later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, from which he was graduated in 1933. After two years of appearances in summer stock and several productions in New York, Mr. Backus said ''I decided to try radio as a source of livelihood because I like to eat regularly.''

He was a free-lance performer on hundreds of radio programs, including Columbia Workshop, Matinee at Meadowbrook and the Kate Smith Hour.

Ultimately he became a hit playing a character called Hubert Updyke III on the Alan Young and other shows. Hubert, a hilarious snob who insisted that his ancestors landed at ''Cadillac Rock,'' said things like ''Careful, or I'll have your mouth washed out with domestic champagne.''
His Broadway appearances included roles in ''Too Many Heroes'' (1937) and ''Paint Your Wagon'' (1951).
Marriage in Book Form

As a writer, Mr. Backus often collaborated with his wife, Henny, the former Henriette Kaye. The two wrote a lighthearted depiction of their life together in a 1962 book, ''What Are You Doing After the Orgy?''
As an actor, Mr. Backus played many charactes who were buffoons: Babbitt-like fellows full of bombast. Among his more memorable screen portayals were Commander Hutch in ''Francis in the Navy'' (1955) and the glib press agent in ''Man of a Thousand Faces'' (1957).

On television, Mr. Backus appeared in the ''Lux Video Theater,'' was a panelist on ''What's My Line?'' and played Joan Davis's long-suffering husband, a judge of the Court of Domestic Relations, on 117 episodes of ''I Married Joan'' (1952-1954).

''It was a program that was careful not to antagonize anyone,'' he said of the show later. ''The strategy worked well. The only things we were powerless against were the ravages of time.''

Mr. Backus won popularity with younger generations for his portrayal of the fabulously wealthy Thurston Howell III on television's ''Gilligan's Island,'' which originally ran from 1964 to 1967 and which has been in syndication ever since. ''The critics assassinated it,'' Mr. Backus once said, ''but the kids flipped for it. I've been watching the reruns, and confess I'm hooked on it myself.''
Mr. Backus is survived by his wife.

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"Delicious"Jim Backus & FriendTuesday, July 03, 05:30:47pm

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