Actor Jim Backus

James Gilmore Backus (February 25, 1913 – July 3, 1989) was an American actor. Among his most famous roles were Thurston Howell III on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, James Dean’s character’s father in Rebel Without a Cause, the voice of nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo, the rich Hubert Updike III on the radio version of The Alan Young Show, and Joan Davis’ character’s husband (a domestic court judge) on TV’s I Married Joan. He also starred in his own show of one season, The Jim Backus Show, also known as Hot Off the Wire.

An avid golfer, Backus made the 36-hole cut at the 1964 Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournament. He was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Early life

Backus was born February 25, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Bratenahl, Ohio, a wealthy village surrounded by greater Cleveland. He was the son of Russell Gould Backus and Daisy Taylor (née Gilmore) Backus. He attended Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio.



Backus was acting on radio as early as 1940, playing the role of millionaire aviator Dexter Hayes on Society Girl on CBS. He had an extensive career and worked steadily in Hollywood over five decades, often portraying characters with an “upper-crust”, New England-like air, much like his best-known role, Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. He appeared in (and narrated) A Dangerous Profession (1949); Deadline – U.S.A. (1951) with Humphrey Bogart; Pat and Mike (1952) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn; Rebel Without a Cause (1955); The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957); and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). He also made television appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962).

Backus was the voice of the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo. Years later, when Backus was a frequent talk show guest, he would recount the time Marilyn Monroe urgently beckoned him into her dressing room. Henny Backus, Jim’s wife, recalled the story: “Jim was in the 1952 film Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe. He came home one night during the filming and told me that Miss Monroe in her most seductive breathy voice asked him to meet her in her dressing room. His curiosity got the better of him and he went. Once there, she exclaimed like an excited child, ‘Do Mr. Magoo!’ And Jim did.”

He frequently could be heard on primetime radio programs in the postwar era, including The Jack Benny Program, and he portrayed an exceedingly vain character named Hartley Benson on The Judy Canova Show on the CBS Radio Network, as well as a similar character named Hubert Updike on The Alan Young Show on the NBC Radio Network. He also starred on the short-lived variety program The Jim Backus Show on the ABC Radio Network in 1957 and 1958, when that network changed its name to the American Broadcasting Network (ABN) and tried out a “Live and Lively” format of “Big Time Radio” with orchestras and audiences. Backus costarred in the comedy show I Married Joan from 1952 to 1955, portraying the husband of Joan Davis.

In stark contrast to his usual affluent characters, he guest-starred on The Brady Bunch as an old gold prospector, a role he also played on a Gilligan’s Island episode. He also had a role in the final season episode “The Hustler” in which he plays Mike’s boss, Mr. Matthews.

Backus appeared on Gilligan’s Island for all three seasons of its run, 1964 to 1967, and later in reunion TV films made between 1978 and 1981. By the third and final film, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, Backus was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and his participation was limited to a cameo appearance. Backus also returned as the voice of Mr. Magoo in various revivals between 1964 and 1977, which included The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo and What’s New, Mr. Magoo?.

In 1977, Backus appeared in “Never Con a Killer,” the pilot for the ABC crime drama The Feather and Father Gang. In 1981, he and his wife Henny appeared in an episode of The Love Boat. In it, he had one line in his four scenes.

Writing and recording

Backus and his wife, Henny Backus, co-wrote several humorous books, including: …Only When I Laugh, his autobiography, Backus Strikes Back, a memoir, Forgive Us Our Digressions: An Autobiography, and What Are You Doing After the Orgy? — the title taken from a line Backus spoke in the 1965 film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! He also co-wrote the 1971 family film Mooch Goes to Hollywood, about a dog that tries to become a movie star.

In the late 1950s, he made two novelty 45 rpm records, “Delicious” and “Cave Man”. In 1974, a full-length comedy LP album was released on the Doré label under the title The Dirty Old Man, with sketches written by Bob Hudson and Ron Landry, who also appear on the album, along with voice-actress Jane Webb. Backus also played the voice of God in the recording of Truth of Truths, a 1971 rock opera based on the Bible.

Television commercials

Backus acted in several television commercials. As Mr. Magoo, he also helped advertise the General Electric line of products over the years. He was also spokesman for La-Z-Boy furniture during the 1970s. In the late 1980s, he was reunited with former co-star Natalie Schafer in an advertisement for Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn. They reprised their roles from Gilligan’s Island, but instead of still being shipwrecked, the setting was a luxurious study or den. This would be the final TV appearance for both actors, who were in frail health. They also both appeared on Fox’s short lived talk show The Late Show with Ross Shafer, along with the rest of the cast of Gilligan’s Island, in 1988.


On July 3, 1989, Backus died in Los Angeles from complications of pneumonia after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years. He is buried at the southwest corner of Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles.[citation needed]


  • Magoo in Hi-Fi (RCA Victor, 1957) as Mr. Magoo
  • Delicious! (Jubilee, 1958)
  • Cave Man (Jubilee, 1958)
  • Truth of Truths (Oak, 1971) as God
  • The Dirty Old Man (Doré, 1974)
  • Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol (Wonderwall, 1979) as Mr. Magoo
  • Filmography


    1948 A-Lad-In His Lamp Genie Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Where Will You Hide? Narrator Short, Voice
    1949 One Last Fling Howard Pritchard
    Easy Living Dr. Franklin
    Ragtime Bear Mr. Magoo Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Father Was a Fullback Professor Sullivan
    The Great Lover Higgins
    A Dangerous Profession Police Lt. Nick Ferrone / Narrator
    1950 Spellbound Hound Mr. Magoo Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town Joseph ‘Little Joe’ Rogers
    Customs Agent Shanghai Chief Agent Thomas Jacoby
    The Miner’s Daughter John Harvard Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Trouble Indemnity Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The Killer That Stalked New York Willie Dennis Uncredited
    Emergency Wedding Ed Hamley
    Bungled Bungalow Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    1951 M The Mayor
    Barefaced Flatfoot Mr. Magoo Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Bright Victory Bill Grayson
    Half Angel Michael Hogan
    Plutopia Milton Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Hollywood Story Mitch Davis
    His Kind of Woman Myron Winton
    Iron Man Max Watkins
    Fuddy Duddy Buddy Mr. Magoo Short, Voice, Uncredited
    The Man with a Cloak Flaherty
    I’ll See You in My Dreams Sam Harris
    Grizzly Golfer Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    I Want You Harvey Landrum
    1952 Here Come the Nelsons Joe Randolph
    Sloppy Jalopy Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Deadline – U.S.A. Jim Cleary
    The Dog Snatcher Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Pat and Mike Charles Barry
    Don’t Bother to Knock Peter Jones
    Pink and Blue Blues Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The Rose Bowl Story Michael ‘Iron Mike’ Burke
    Pete Hothead Floorwalker Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Hotsy Footsy Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Captains Outrageous Short, Voice
    Above and Beyond Gen. Curtis E. LeMay
    Androcles and the Lion Centurion
    1953 Angel Face District Attorney Judson
    I Love Melvin Mergo
    Safety Magoo Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Masterpiece Short, Voice
    Magoo Slept Here Short, Voice
    Geraldine Jason Ambrose
    1954 Magoo Goes Skiing Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Kangaroo Courting Short, Voice
    Four Wheels, No Brakes Television Quizmaster / New Cat Salesman Short, Voice, Uncredited
    Deep in My Heart Ben Judson
    Destination Magoo Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Look Who’s Driving Charlie Short, Voice, Uncredited
    1955 When Magoo Flew Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Check Up Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo Express Short, Voice
    Madcap Magoo Short, Voice
    Francis in the Navy Cmdr. E.T. Hutch
    Stage Door Magoo Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Rebel Without a Cause Frank Stark
    Magoo Makes News Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The Square Jungle Pat Quaid
    1956 Meet Me in Las Vegas Tom Culdane
    Magoo’s Canine Mutiny Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo Goes West Short, Voice
    Calling Dr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The Naked Hills Willis Haver
    Magoo Beats the Heat Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Puddle Jumper Short, Voice
    Trailblazer Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Problem Child Short, Voice
    The Opposite Sex Psychiatrist
    The Girl He Left Behind Sgt. Hanna
    You Can’t Run Away from It Danker
    Meet Mother Magoo Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The Great Man Nick Cellantano
    1957 Top Secret Affair Col. Homer W. Gooch
    Magoo Goes Overboard Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Matador Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo Breaks Par Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Glorious Fourth Short, Voice
    Man of a Thousand Faces Clarence Locan
    Magoo’s Masquerade Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo Saves the Bank Short, Voice
    Rock Hound Magoo Short, Voice
    Eighteen and Anxious Harvey Graham
    Magoo’s Moose Hunt Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Private War Short, Voice
    1958 Magoo’s Young Manhood Short, Voice
    Scoutmaster Magoo Short, Voice
    The Explosive Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The High Cost of Loving Paul Mason
    Magoo’s Three-Point Landing Mr. Magoo / Air Traffic Controller Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Cruise Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Love Comes to Magoo Short, Voice
    Gumshoe Magoo Short, Voice
    Macabre Police Chief Jim Tyloe
    1959 Bwana Magoo Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    The Untouchables Norbit, the accountant
    Magoo’s Homecoming Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Merry Minstrel Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo’s Lodge Brother Short, Voice
    Ask Any Girl Maxwell
    The Wild and the Innocent Mr. Forbes
    Terror Faces Magoo Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    A Private’s Affair Jim Gordon
    The Big Operator Cliff Heldon
    1001 Arabian Nights Uncle Abdul Azziz Magoo Voice
    1960 Ice Palace Dave Husack
    Magoo Meets Frankenstein Mr. Magoo Short, Voice
    Magoo Meets McBoing Boing Short, Voice
    I Was a Teenage Magoo Short, Voice
    Inside Magoo Mr. Magoo / Himself Short, Voice, Cancer awareness short produced by the American Cancer Society
    1961 The Errand Boy Mr. Arbutt Voice, Uncredited
    1962 The Horizontal Lieutenant Cmdr. Jeremiah Hammerslag
    Boys’ Night Out Peter Bowers
    Zotz! Horatio Kellgore
    The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm The King (‘The Dancing Princess’)
    1963 A Child Is Waiting Hot Dog vendor Uncredited
    Operation Bikini Bosun’s Mate Ed Fennelly
    My Six Loves Sheriff
    Critic’s Choice Dr. William Von Hagedorn
    Johnny Cool Louis Murphy
    It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Tyler Fitzgerald
    Sunday in New York Chief Pilot Drysdale
    The Wheeler Dealers Bullard Bear
    1964 Advance to the Rear Gen. Willoughby
    1965 Mr. Magoo in Sherwood Forest Mr. Magoo Voice
    Mr. Magoo’s Noah’s Ark Mr. Magoo, Mr.Magoo as Noah Voice
    John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! Miles Whitepaper
    Fluffy Sergeant
    Billie Howard G. Carol
    1967 Hurry Sundown Carter Sillens
    Don’t Make Waves Himself Uncredited
    1968 Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? Tru-Blue Lou
    1969 Hello Down There T.R. Hollister
    1970 The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County Staunch
    Myra Breckinridge Doctor
    1972 Now You See Him, Now You Don’t Timothy Forsythe
    1974 Goodnight Jackie Mr. Landry
    1975 Konyok-gorbunok The Tsar Voice
    Crazy Mama Mr. Albertson
    Friday Foster Enos Griffith
    1977 The Magic Pony The Tsar Voice, English version
    Pete’s Dragon Mayor of Passamaquoddy
    1978 Good Guys Wear Black Doorman
    1979 Angels’ Brigade Cmdr. Lindsey March
    The Electric Horseman Mr. Magoo Voice, Uncredited
    C.H.O.M.P.S. Mr. Gibbs
    1980 There Goes the Bride Mr. Perkins
    1986 Enchanted Journey Gamun Voice, English version
    1982 Slapstick of Another Kind President of the U.S.
    1984 Prince Jack Dealy


    Year Title Role Notes
    1952–1955 I Married Joan Judge Bradley Stevens
    1957 The Pied Piper of Hamelin King’s Emissary TV movie
    1960–1961 The Jim Backus Show Mike O’Tool
    The Untouchables William Norbert Episode: “Star Witness”
    Mister Magoo Mr. Magoo Voice
    1962 Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge / Mr. Magoo TV movie, Voice
    1963 The Beverly Hillbillies Marty Van Ransohoff Episode: “The Clampetts Entertain”
    1964–1965 The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo Voice
    1964–1967 Gilligan’s Island Thurston Howell III
    1964 Mr. Magoo in Sherwood Forest Mr. Magoo TV movie, Voice
    1966 Password Himself Game Show Contestant / Celebrity Guest Star
    1967 Damn Yankees! Coach Benny Van Buren
    1968 The Wild Wild West Fabian Swanson Episode: “The Night of the Sabatini Death”
    1968–1969 Blondie Mr. Dithers
    1969 The Good Guys Henry Arsdale 3 episodes
    Wake Me When the War Is Over Colonel TV movie
    1970 I Dream of Jeannie General Fitzhugh Episode: “Help, Help, a Shark”
    Uncle Sam Magoo Mr. Magoo TV movie, Voice
    1971–1974 The Brady Bunch Zaccariah T. Brown / Harry Mathews 3 episodes
    1973 The Girl Most Likely To… Tilson TV movie
    Miracle on 34th Street Shellhammer TV movie
    1974–1975 The New Adventures of Gilligan Thurston Howell III Voice
    1974 Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus Narrator / Santa Claus TV Special, Voice
    1975 Kolchak: The Night Stalker Herb Bresson Episode: “Chopper”
    1977 What’s New, Mr. Magoo? Mr. Magoo Voice
    1977 CHiPs Weitzman Episode: “Undertow”
    1978 Rescue from Gilligan’s Island Thurston Howell III TV movie
    1979 The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island TV movie
    The Rebels John Hancock TV Miniseries
    1981 The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island Thurston Howell III TV movie
    1982 Gilligan’s Planet Voice

    External Links

    Actor Jim Backus – Wikipedia

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