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John Gavin

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Subject: 1960 in film, Thoroughly Modern Millie, List of American films of 1960, Psycho (1960 film), Spartacus (film)
Collection: 1931 Births, Ambassadors of the United States to Mexico, American Actor-Politicians, American Male Actors of Mexican Descent, American Male Film Actors, American Male Stage Actors, American People of Irish Descent, American Politicians of Mexican Descent, California Republicans, Hispanic and Latino American Male Actors, Hispanic and Latino American Politicians, Living People, Male Actors from Los Angeles, California, Presidents of the Screen Actors Guild, Stanford University Alumni, United States Navy Officers
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John Gavin

John Gavin
United States Ambassador to Mexico
In office
June 5, 1981 – June 10, 1986
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Julian Nava
Succeeded by Charles J. Pilliod, Jr.
Personal details
Born John Anthony Golenor
(1931-04-08) April 8, 1931
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Spouse(s) Cecily Evans (m. 1957–1965; divorced); 2 children
Constance Towers (1974–present); 2 stepchildren by this marriage
Occupation Actor

John Gavin (born John Anthony Golenor; April 8, 1931) is an American film actor and a former United States Ambassador to Mexico from 1981–86 and head of the Screen Actors Guild from 1971-73. He is best known for his performances in the films Imitation of Life (1959), Spartacus (1960), Psycho (1960), and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), playing leading roles in a series of films for producer Ross Hunter, and for being cast as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) before Sean Connery agreed to reprise the role.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Military service 1.2
    • Entry into acting 1.3
    • Universal Studios 1.4
    • Stardom: A Time to Love and a Time to Die 1.5
    • A series of classic films 1.6
    • Freelance 1.7
    • Return to Universal 1.8
    • James Bond 1.9
    • Screen Actors Guild 1.10
    • Live theatre 1.11
    • Later TV work 1.12
  • Politics 2
    • Ambassador to Mexico 2.1
    • Possible Senate run 2.2
  • Personal 3
  • Business career 4
  • Critical appraisal 5
  • Select filmography 6
    • Film 6.1
    • Television 6.2
    • Unmade films 6.3
  • Select theatre credits 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Early life

Born John Anthony Golenor, Gavin is of Mexican and Irish descent, and is fluent in Spanish. His father, Herald Ray Golenor, was of Irish origin, and his ancestors were early landowners in California when it was still under Spanish rule. Gavin's mother (Delia Diana Pablos) hailed from the historically influential Pablos family of Sonora, Mexico.[1]

After attending St. John's Military Academy (Los Angeles) and Villanova Prep (Ojai, California), both Catholic schools, he earned a B.A. from Stanford University, where he did senior honors work in Latin American economic history and was a member of Stanford's Naval ROTC unit. He graduated with a degree in economics and Latin American affairs.[2] "I never did any acting in school, never had any curiosity about college plays", he later said. "My entire thought moved in quite another direction."[3]

Military service

During the Korean War Gavin was commissioned in the U.S. Navy serving aboard the USS Princeton offshore Korea where he served as an air intelligence officer from 1951 until the end of the war in 1953. Due to Gavin's fluency in both Spanish and Portuguese he was assigned as Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Milton E. Miles until he completed his four-year tour of duty in 1955.

He received an award due to his work in the Honduras floods of 1954.[4]

Gavin later said in a 1960 interview:

Some people have inferred from what I said in the past I'm a rich boy, which I'm not, and that I'm doing this for a lark... Apparently you're either born in abject poverty and rise above it or else you're enormously wealthy. The fact that I went to a nice prep school and Stanford University has something to do with it... I went on a scholarship. I have been on my own ever since I got commissioned in the Navy. I never came into an estate or anything like that.[5]

Entry into acting

Following his naval service Gavin offered himself as a technical adviser to family friend Bryan Foy who was making a movie about the Princeton. Instead Foy arranged a screen test with Universal. Gavin originally turned down the offer – he had never acted in college – but his father urged him to try it. The test was successful and Gavin signed with the studio.[2][3]

"They offered me so much money I couldn't resist", he said later.[6]

Universal Studios

Ross Hunter. He lobbied for the role of Mary Tyler Moore's stuffy boyfriend to Hunter and Universal production head Ed Muhl. "This is a square, square guy so I told them it would be such type casting that they just couldn't get anyone else but me", said Gavin.[6]

Gavin read for director George Roy Hill and was cast. "I told Ross I'm playing a parody of every part I've had in a Ross Hunter picture", said Gavin.[6]

He thought Millie had been a "breakthrough comedy role" for him. "Now I'm beginning to feel like a journeyman actor and I want a little more dimension in movie roles", he said.[24]

"I've developed into a pretty good Sunday actor", claimed Gavin in 1966, although he admitted to making mistakes in his career. "I have to be beat over the head. I'm intelligent, but not smart."[6]

In June 1966 Gavin signed a new non-exclusive contract with Universal, for five years at one film a year.[29]

Gavin never regained his former prominence but he did get cast in the lead in OSS 117 - Double Agent (then called No Roses for Robert, replacing Frederick Stafford, who was filming Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz). He also had good supporting roles in The Madwoman of Chaillot[30] and Pussycat, Pussycat I Love You (in the latter sending up his own image[31]).

James Bond

Gavin was signed for the role of

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Julian Nava
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
Succeeded by
Charles J. Pilliod, Jr.

External links

  1. ^ Stars in Blue, referenced below, page 265, states that Gavin's mother married Ray Gavin, who adopted John. The Internet Movie Data Base says that Herald Ray Golenor changed the family name to Gavin. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Wise, James E. & Rehill, Anne Collier. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services Naval Institute Press, p. 265.
  3. ^ a b c Hopper, Hedda (20 July 1958). "HE NEVER LEFT HOME: Los Angeles Native John Gavin Wanted No Part of Pictures, So Producers Beat a Path to His Door". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. f12. 
  4. ^ Richard L. Coe (28 June 1961). "An Artist Is at Work". The Washington Post, Times Herald. p. B10. 
  5. ^ a b c Joe Finnigan (20 Nov 1960). "False Rich-Boy Tag Perils Film Career, Gavin Claims". The Washington Post, Times Herald. p. G3. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Thomas, Kevin (2 June 1966). "Gavin Gets Down to Business". Los Angeles Times. p. d12. 
  7. ^ THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (17 May 1957). "UNIVERSAL CASTS TWO IN NEW FILM: Jane Powell, George Nader to Appear in 'Female Animal' --Actor Replaces Gavin". New York Times. p. 19. 
  8. ^ a b Marian Christy, "Handsome John Gavin", Reading Eagle 29 August 1973, accessed 1 December 2015
  9. ^ Schallert, Edwin (17 July 1957). "John Gavin Wins Plum Remarque Role; Ford to Face 'Doomed World'". Los Angeles Times. p. 23. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Tom Donnelly (28 July 1974). "John Gavin: One for the 'Seesaw': John Gavin: One for the 'Seesaw'". The Washington Post. p. L1. 
  11. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (21 July 1957). "A Town Called Hollywood: Remarque Enjoys Adapting Own Novel Into Screenplay". Los Angeles Times. p. E2. 
  12. ^ a b THOMAS M. PRYOR (11 Aug 1957). "HOLLYWOOD IDEAS: Newcomers Face Stardom at Universal --'South Pacific' on the Horizon Appraisal "Pacific" Launching Movie Slant". New York Times. p. 89. 
  13. ^ Tinee, Mae (19 Jan 1958). "A Sneak Look Via Film Test of New Actor". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. e9. 
  14. ^ Hopper, Hedda (16 Apr 1958). "José Ferrer to Produce Broadway Play in Fall". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. a6. 
  15. ^ Tinee, Mae (22 June 1958). "Young Film Newcomer Ambitious, but Level Headed: Current War Picture First Starring Role". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. e9. 
  16. ^ "Another War, Another New Star". Chicago Daily Tribune. 29 June 1958. p. l10. 
  17. ^ TINEE, MAE (4 July 1958). "Movie Version of Book by Remarque Excellent: "A TIME TO LOVE and A TIME TO DIE"". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 14. 
  18. ^ BOSLEY CROWTHER (10 July 1958). "Screen: 'A Time to Love': Remarque Film Opens at Two Theatres". New York Times. p. 22. 
  19. ^ Scott, John L (31 July 1958). "'A Time to Love' Is Poignant War Drama". Los Angeles Times. p. B6. 
  20. ^ Richard L. Coe (6 Sep 1958). "War Novels Flat on Film". The Washington Post and Times Herald. p. C15. 
  21. ^ HOWARD THOMPSON (23 Sep 1959). "MOVIE HOUSE HERE UNDER NEW SET-UP: Rugoff and Becker Chain to Join in Direction of the Paris -- Rights Bought". New York Times. p. 44. 
  22. ^ THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (28 Jan 1959). "MOVIE EXECUTIVE TO MAKE TV FILMS: Mervyn LeRoy Is Planning Series -- A.F.M. Local Head Vows Fight on Rival". New York Times. p. 34. 
  23. ^ a b c
  24. ^ a b "Looking at Hollywood: John Gavin Signs Pact to Do Outside Films, TV Hopper, Hedda". Chicago Tribune. 25 Sep 1964. p. c11. 
  25. ^ "Salad Maker Makes Debut in New TV Series Tonight Zylstra, Freida". Chicago Tribune. 14 Feb 1964. p. b9. 
  26. ^ Gavin's first series MacMinn, Aleene|work=Los Angeles Times |date=15 Mar 1964|page=E3}}
  27. ^
  28. ^ Gold, Aaron (30 May 1973). "Tower Ticker". Chicago Tribune. p. b2. 
  29. ^ Drake, Sylvie (1 Sep 1974). "Will They Love Lucie, Too?: More Stage News More Stage News More Stage News More Stage News More Stage News". Los Angeles Times. p. m31. 
  30. ^ Sullivan, Dan (6 Sep 1974). "Local Girl Makes Good in 'Seesaw': LUCIE IN 'SEESAW'". Los Angeles Times. p. f1. 
  31. ^ Colander, Pat (9 Aug 1974). "Jerry's Just jake with John". Chicago Tribune. p. b8. 
  32. ^ GAVIN AS GRANT: A TEST OF TASTE Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 01 July 1980: g1.
  33. ^ Bustamante, Jorge (6 Mar 1981). "Gavin's Selection: a Slap in Mexico's Face". Los Angeles Times. p. c7. 
  34. ^ a b Alan C. Miller "Gavin Weighs GOP Bid for U.S. Senate : Politics: The former actor and ambassador meets with leaders who feel the declared candidates can't win." Los Angeles Times 2 August 1991, accessed 30 November 2014
  35. ^ Vernon, Scott (28 Mar 1965). "A Look at John Gavin at Home". Chicago Tribune. p. d9. 
  36. ^ February 26, 1968 The Daily Herald from Provo, Utah · Page 17
  37. ^ People MagazineProfile in
  38. ^ , 28 April 1987Los Angeles TimesNancy Brooks, "Gavin Leaving Arco to Take Post at Univisa", accessed 30 November 2014
  39. ^ "BUSINESS PEOPLE; Gavin Quits ARCO For Univisa Satellite" by Daniel F. Cuff and Stephen Phillips New York Times 28 April 1987, accessed 30 November 2014
  40. ^ John Gavin at
  41. ^ John Gavin biography at
  42. ^ Business WeekBiography at accessed 30 November 2014
  43. ^ Hopper, Hedda (15 July 1960). "Laurence Olivier Shuns $300,000 to Play Caesar". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. b12. 
  44. ^ Born to be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of LifeSam Staggs, , Macmillan, 2009, accessed 29 November 2014
  45. ^ Hopper, Hedda (12 July 1958). "Looking at Hollywood: Ski Murder Film Will Star John Gavin". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 13. 
  46. ^
  47. ^ "TONY CURTIS SET FOR 3 NEW FILMS: Robert Mulligan to Direct Star in Two -- 'Rat Race' Editing Is Completed". New York Times. 23 Jan 1960. p. 15. 
  48. ^ Scheuer, Philip K (3 Apr 1962). "'Pawnbroker' Will Be Steiger Vehicle: McGiver Back at Funmaking; Curious Case of Lotte Lenya". Los Angeles Times. p. C9. 
  49. ^ EUGENE ARCHER (19 Aug 1961). "NEW YORK LURES MOVIE PRODUCER: Ross Hunter to Work Here on Films and a Musical". New York Times. p. 10. 
  50. ^
  51. ^ "Taylor-Burton Film Fun for Rod Taylor: 'I Remain Healthy,' He Says; Has Nine Pictures Lined Up Hopper, Hedda". Los Angeles Times. 13 Feb 1963. p. D12. 
  52. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (1963, Aug 08). Rita hayworth will return in 'circus'. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from


Select theatre credits

  • Backlash (1958) – with Douglas Sirk and Ross Hunter from the novel by Morris West[54] – film was never made
  • Ken Curtis – the role was played by [56] for John WayneCaptain Dickinson (1960) – meant to play The Alamo but he did not appear in the final film|author=*[55]
  • The Wine of Youth (circa 1960) – to co star with Tony Curtis[57] – film was not made
  • A Gathering of Eagles (1962) – originally announced as Rock Hudson's co-star[58]Rod Taylor took the role
  • a remake of The Dark Angel for producer Ross Hunter to star with Rock Hudson and possibly Ingrid Bergman[59] – this was never made
  • Assassination in Rome (1965) – originally The Assassins a "chase melodrama" to be shot in Spain with Vittorio Gassman, Cyd Charisse and Lilo Pulver starring Gavin as an American newspaperman[23][60] – Gavin pulled out after a disagreement and was replaced by Hugh O'Brian[61]
  • The Challenge (1963) – a swashbuckling spoof from Titanus Studios in Italy[62][63] – the film kept getting pushed back and was never made[64]|author=
  • Night Call (1963) – based on three stories in the book The Man Nobody Knows by B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, to be shot in Mexico[65][66]
  • biography of Simon Bolivar (1963)[67]

Unmade films



Select filmography

In both films, Gavin is a foreign body: he slows them down like a virus that must run its course... What he did in this picture... he did in all the others – rather, it's what he didn't do: he didn't act with his face, his eyes, his voice, his body. He resembles a chiseled monolith and his facial muscles move as rarely as Nicole Kidman's... From the outset, critics have called Gavin "wooden". But that critical cliche tells only half. If heartthrobs like Rock Hudson were dreamboats, then Gavin is a glass bottom boat – in dry dock. His depthless transperancy exposes his shortcomings... [Gavin was] eye candy... low-calorie but filling and incapable of stealing a scene.[53]

Sam Stagg, author of a book on the making of The Imitation of Life was critical of Gavin's performance in that film and A Time to Love and a Time to Die:

For a long time I wondered if I shouldn't have gone into something worthwhile, such as being a doctor. To the bitter end Spencer Tracy was also tortured with the same agony. I've only recently realized there's the actor in every human being – and to let it out, let it happen is a very wonderful, very giving thing. But I would have been so much happier in the past if I realized that sooner. You see, I would have relaxed.[8]

In 1973 Gavin himself reflected:

In 1960 Hedda Hopper claimed she suggested Gavin play the lead in Back Street over William Holden or Gregory Peck as he was "a better actor than either of them."[52]

Critical appraisal

Gavin served on various pro bono boards, including: The Anderson Graduate School or Management at UCLA; Don Bosco Institute; the FEDCO Charitable Fund (administered by the California Community Foundation); The Hoover Institution; Loyola-Marymount University; The National Park Foundation; The Southwest Museum; The University of the Americas; and Villanova Preparatory School.[50][51]

He was Senior Counselor to Hicks Trans American Partners (a division of Hicks Holdings) from 2001, a Managing Director and partner of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst (Latin America) from 1994 to 2001. He has been an Independent Trustee of Causeway International Value Fund since September 2001.

He served on the boards of Causeway Capital (Chairman); The Hotchkis & Wiley Funds (Chairman); The TCW Strategic Income Fund since 2001; Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. since April 1993, DII Industries, LLC since 1986; Claxson Interactive Group Inc. since September 21, 2001; Anvita, Inc.; the Latin America Strategy Board at HM Capital Partners LLC; Apex Mortgage Capital Inc. since December 1997; Krause's Furniture, Inc. since September 1996; Atlantic Richfield Co. since 1989; International Wire Holdings Company and International Wire Group Holdings, Inc. since June 1995.

Gavin was also president of Gamma Holdings, a global capital and consulting company which he helped found in 1968.[49] He was chairman of Gamma Services International from January 1990.

After his work as ambassador, Gavin became vice president of Atlantic Richfield in the field of federal and international relations in June 1986. In 1987 he resigned to become president of Univisa Satellite Communications, a new subsidiary of Univisa, the Spanish language broadcasting empire.[47][48] He worked with them until December 1989.

Gavin had numerous business interests parallel to his acting career.

Business career

Gavin has been married to Constance Towers, a stage and television actress, since 1974. They had first met in 1957 at a party when his godfather, Jimmy McHugh, introduced them. Towers had two children from her previous marriage to Eugene McGrath. Gavin's elder daughter, Cristina, followed in his footsteps and became an actress. His younger daughter, Maria, also followed in Gavin's footsteps in her own right with a master's degree from Stanford, and has a successful career in television production.[46]

While making No Roses for Robert in Italy in 1967 he dated co star Luciana Paluzzi.[45]

He married actress Cicely Evans in 1957. They had two children and lived in Dennis O'Keefe's former house in Beverly Hills.[44] Gavin's first marriage ended in divorce in 1965.


In 1991 Gavin was sounded out about running for the Senate for the Republican Party but decided not to.[43]

Possible Senate run

According to the Los Angeles Times Gavin was an "activist envoy to Mexico" who "won praise in many circles for his handling of such issues as trade and illegal drug dealing as well as for speaking out against anti-American sentiment. But his candor and meetings with critics of the ruling party prompted accusations by Mexicans of meddling in the country's domestic affairs."[43]

A Republican, Gavin was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in June 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and served until June 12, 1986. During his tenure as ambassador, he was involved in an incident where he roughed up a local television cameraman.

Ambassador to Mexico

Gavin was cultural adviser to the Organisation of American States from 1961 to 1965.[42]

John Gavin with first ladies Paloma Cordero of Mexico (left) and Nancy Reagan of the United States (right) after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.


In the late 1970s Gavin concentrated on TV and his growing business interests. His best known performance around this time was playing Cary Grant in the TV movie Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (1980).[41]

Later TV work

Gavin reflected in an interview during the tour, "I used to play one dimensional people. But looking backwards my work has been varied. Some people have said rich."[40]

He played the role for seven months, then stayed in it when the show toured the country with Lucie Arnaz. Both the Broadway and touring production were directed by Michael Bennett.[10] The Los Angeles Times said he gives a "solid performance".[39]

In 1973 Gavin replaced Ken Howard in the Broadway musical, Seesaw (1973) opposite Michele Lee, beating out Tab Hunter who also auditioned. The producers said Gavin got the role because "he sings and dances better than Hunter and looks great on stage with Michele".[37] (Gavin later claimed he was offered the musical from the beginning but turned it down because the book was not up to scratch, then changed his mind when Michael Bennett asked him to join the cast later.[38])

Gavin made a successful foray into live theatre in the 1970s, showcasing his baritone voice. He toured the summer stock circuit as El Gallo in a production of The Fantasticks.

Live theatre

|author=He was defeated in a ballot by Dennis Weaver in 1973. Gavin was the first incumbent president to be defeated by an independent challenger.[36]

As Guild President, in 1972, he testified before the Federal Trade Commission on phony talent rackets; met with President Richard Nixon to present to problem of excessive television reruns; presented petitions to the federal government on issues of prime-time access rules, legislative assistance for American motion pictures (to combat Runaway Production), and film production by the government using non-professional actors.[35]

According to the SAG website:

Gavin had been on the Board of the Screen Actors Guild in 1965. He served one term as 3rd Vice-President, and two terms as 1st Vice-President. He was president from 1971 to 1973.

Screen Actors Guild

According to Roger Moore's James Bond Diary, Gavin also was slated to play Bond in 1973 in Live and Let Die, but Harry Saltzman insisted on a British actor for the role and Roger Moore played the role instead.[34]

Head of United Artists, David Picker, however, wanted the box office insurance of Sean Connery, and made Connery a highly lucrative offer to return as Bond. Gavin's contract was still honored in full.

[33]. "We had to have someone in the bullpen."Albert Broccoli "Time was getting awfully short", said producer [32] While filming in Mexico, Gavin heard Universal was making an expensive 1920s-era Julie Andrews musical

In September 1964 Gavin signed a new contract with Universal which gave him the option to take work outside the studio.[25] He tried another TV series, Convoy which only had a short run before being cancelled.[28]|author=Gavin then appeared in a Mexican film Pedro Páramo, based on a famous novel. "I had to do something I was proud of", said Gavin of the latter movie.[6] "Pedro broke the mold. I had to break it. All the trash I've done. I just couldn't do it anymore."[24]

Return to Universal

The series was not a rating success and was soon cancelled.

When I came to Universal, they were making 40 pictures a year. I walked through the gate, was given a contract, and immediately the number of pictures dropped to eight or nine a year. I'm not complaining because I was given good roles... roles with scope and breadth. But I wish I could have been put in 40 or 50 roles before making my 'first' picture, do you know what I mean? Doing a series now is like putting the cart before the horse. I'm glad to be doing Destry now though because of the experience. My gosh, I've shot more film in the last five weeks than I have in my entire life.[27]

Gavin left Universal in 1962 to freelance. He signed to make several movies in Europe including The Assassins, The Challenge and Night Call.[23] However he pulled out of The Assassins (which became Assassins of Rome (1965)), Night Call was never made and The Challenge kept getting pushed back and was eventually never made.[25] In early 1964 Gavin starred in the TV series Destry.[26] He was quoted during filming:


He added that he wished people would stop comparing him to Rock Hudson "because I can't but help come off second best."[5]

I decided to stay after I became aware of what I was doing. I don't want to be mediocre and I'm conceited enough to think I can be good in this business. But I really hope it's nothing as silly as conceit that makes me say that.[5]

He admitted in a 1960 interview that at one stage he even considered quitting acting to take up law:

When I walked through the gate, Universal quit building actors. All of a sudden I was doing leading roles. I knew I was a tyro but they told me to shut up and act. Some of those early roles were unactable. Even Laurence Olivier couldn't have done anything with them. The dialog ran to cardboard passages such as 'I love you. You can rely on me darling. I'll wait.' It was all I could do to keep from adding, 'with egg on my face'... So I psyched myself negative... There was no studio system to let me work my way up through small roles. When I got up on my hind legs, no one would believe it.[24]

Gavin later claimed that he lacked training support from Universal during his early days there:

In the words of one writer, the success of Imitation of Life meant Gavin "was invariably cast as a staunch fellow of good will who looked handsome but was permitted little action opposite... [his] leading ladies."[23] He co-starred against Doris Day in the 1960 thriller Midnight Lace, Sophia Loren in the comedic A Breath of Scandal (which Gavin later called a "turkey"[10]), Susan Hayward in the melodrama Back Street and with Sandra Dee in Romanoff and Juliet and Tammy Tell Me True. Most of these film were produced by Ross Hunter. Gavin also appeared periodically on TV during this time in various anthology series; he was directed by a young William Friedkin in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Universal then used him in the epic Spartacus (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick in a key supporting role as Julius Caesar.[22] He was then cast in the classic thriller Psycho (1960) for director Alfred Hitchcock. Both were also big hits. Gavin later claimed he was "terribly disturbed" by the sex and violence in Psycho and felt "I think Hitch really got frosted with me."[10] Both movies were spectacularly successful critically and commercially.

Before A Time to Love and a Time to Die had been released, Gavin had already been cast by Douglas Sirk in another important role – supporting Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959). Unlike A Time to Love and a Time to Die, this was a spectacular success at the box office, and Gavin was voted most promising male newcomer for his performance in the film by the Motion Picture Exhibitor.[21]

A series of classic films

The film was not a big success when it was released, although Gavin was praised by Jean-Luc Godard in an article in Cahiers du cinéma.[10] "For a comparative newcomer he does remarkably well", wrote the Chicago Daily Tribune.[17] The New York Times called him a "good-looking, dull young man whose speech, attitude and dull delivery betray the tyro from Hollywood."[18] The Los Angeles Times said he gave a "sensible, likeable" performance.[19] "Never once is one convinced that Gavin is anything other a nice looking American lad just out of college", wrote the Washington Post. "One can hardly call Gavin's a performance."[20]

Universal were so excited about Gavin they sent a copy of his screen test to critics in advance of the movie's release.[13] Hedda Hopper saw a preview and predicted that Gavin will "take the public by storm and so will the picture."[14] He was dubbed "Universal's new white hope".[15] Publicity consistently drew comparisons with Lew Ayres.[16]

"It changed my entire life", said Gavin,[3] who then went on to add: "If I should have the good fortune to become a star I certainly don't intend to become a star twenty four hours a day."[12]

"I think we have a good man", said Remarque of Gavin's casting.[11] Universal executive Al Daff called Gavin "the greatest prospect I've seen in years".[12]

"I felt that, after extensive tests, that he could be just right because of his lack of experience", said director Douglas Sirk. "He was fresh, young, good looking, not pretty though, earnest – and had this little dilettante quality I figured would be quite the thing for the lead in this picture."[10]

Gavin's first big break was being given the lead in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. This drew comparisons with the casting of the similarly-inexperienced Lew Ayres in Universal's film version of All Quiet on the Western Front (1931).[9]

Stardom: A Time to Love and a Time to Die

Gavin later remembered, "When I started out in front of the cameras I was green – raw, scared and just plain awful."[8]


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