John Gavin

John Gavin (born John Anthony Golenor; April 8, 1931 – February 9, 2018) was an American actor who was the president of the Screen Actors Guild (1971–73), and the United States Ambassador to Mexico (1981–86). He was 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.

John Gavin
John Gavin Destry 1964.JPG
Gavin in Destry (1964)
United States Ambassador to Mexico
In office
June 5, 1981 – June 10, 1986
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byJulian Nava
Succeeded byCharles J. Pilliod Jr.
17th President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
Preceded byCharlton Heston
Succeeded byDennis Weaver
Personal details
John Anthony Golenor

(1931-04-08)April 8, 1931
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedFebruary 9, 2018(2018-02-09) (aged 86)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Height6 ft 4 in (193 cm)
Cecily Evans
(m. 1957; div. 1965)

(m. 1974)
Alma materStanford University
OccupationActor, diplomat
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1951–1955
Battles/warsKorean War

Life and careerEdit

Early lifeEdit

Born in Los Angeles, CA. Gavin's mother was Delia Diana Pablos, a Mexican from Sonora. His father was Herald Ray Golenor who had Irish origin and was mining engineer.[1][2][3]

After attending Roman Catholic schools St. John's Military Academy (Los Angeles) and Villanova Preparatory (Ojai, California), he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics degree and Latin American affairs from Stanford University, where he did senior honors work in Latin American economic history and was a member of Chi Psi fraternity and Navy ROTC.

Military serviceEdit

During the Korean War, Gavin was commissioned in the U.S. Navy serving aboard the USS Princeton off 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 for his work in the Honduras floods of 1954.[4]

In a 1960 interview, Gavin disputed rumors that he was born into wealth by revealing that he attended a preparatory school and Stanford University on scholarships.[5]

Entry into actingEdit

Following his naval service, Gavin offered himself as a technical adviser to family friend and film producer Bryan Foy, who was making a movie about the Princeton. Instead, Foy arranged a screen test with Universal-International. Gavin turned down the offer but his father urged him to try it. The test was successful and Gavin signed with the studio.[6][7] "They offered me so much money I couldn't resist", he said later.[8]

Universal groomed Gavin as a leading man in the mold of Rock Hudson. He trained in Jess Kimmel's talent workshop under the name John Gilmore. His classmates included Grant Williams, Gia Scala and John Saxon.[9]

His first film was Raw Edge (1956) where he played the brother of Rory Calhoun and was billed as John Gilmore. His name was changed to John Gavin for the films Behind the High Wall (1956), Four Girls in Town (1957), and Quantez (also 1957).

Gavin was meant to star in The Female Animal (1958) but was too busy on other projects and was replaced by George Nader.[10]

Stardom: A Time to Love and a Time to DieEdit

Gavin's break was the lead in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), directed by Douglas Sirk from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. His casting drew comparisons with the casting of the similarly inexperienced Lew Ayres in Universal's film version of All Quiet on the Western Front (1931).[11][12]

Sirk cast Gavin because of Gavin's inexperience, fresh looks and earnest manner.[13] The film was not a success when it was released, although Gavin received praise for his performance.[13]

A series of classic filmsEdit

Before A Time to Love and a Time to Die had been released, Gavin was cast by Douglas Sirk supporting Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959). Unlike A Time to Love and a Time to Die, this was a box-office success and Gavin was voted most promising male newcomer for his performance in the film by the Motion Picture Exhibitor.[14]

Gavin appeared as Julius Caesar in Universal's epic Spartacus (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick.[15] He was cast as Sam Loomis in the thriller Psycho (1960) for director Alfred Hitchcock. Gavin later claimed he was "terribly disturbed" by the sex and violence in Psycho, saying, "I think Hitch really got frosted with me."[13] Both films were successful critically and commercially.

Following the success of Imitation of Life, Gavin was often cast as the handsome opposite to leading ladies but as characters whom were permitted little action.[16] He co-starred against Doris Day in the thriller Midnight Lace, Sophia Loren in the comedic A Breath of Scandal (both 1960),[13] Susan Hayward in the melodrama Back Street and with Sandra Dee in Romanoff and Juliet and Tammy Tell Me True (all 1961). Most of these films were produced by Ross Hunter. Gavin also appeared periodically on television in various anthology series. He was directed by a young William Friedkin in the episode 'Off Season', S3, Ep29 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.[citation needed]

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

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 included 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.'[17]

Gavin disliked comparisons to Rock Hudson and in a 1960 interview said he considered quitting acting to take up law.[5]

Gavin left Universal in 1962. He signed to make several movies in Europe including The Assassins, The Challenge and Night Call.[16] However, he pulled out of The Assassins (which became Assassins of Rome (1965)), Night Call and The Challenge were never made.[18]

In early 1964, he starred in the TV series Destry.[19] The series was not a ratings success and was cancelled.

Return to UniversalEdit

In September 1964, Gavin signed a new contract with Universal which gave him the option to take work outside the studio.[18] He appeared in the television series, Convoy, which was cancelled after a short run.[20] He appeared in Mexican film Pedro Páramo (1967), based on the novel by Juan Rulfo.

Gavin's next role was of Mary Tyler Moore's stuffy boyfriend in Universal's 1920s-era musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Gavin saw the role as an opportunity to parody his performances in Ross Hunter films.[8]

In June 1966, Gavin signed a five-year non-exclusive contract with Universal.[21] He was cast in the lead in OSS 117 – Double Agent (1968), then titled No Roses for Robert, replacing Frederick Stafford who was filming Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz. He acted in supporting roles in The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969)[22] and Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970), in which he parodied his own image.[23]

James BondEdit

Gavin was signed for the role of James Bond in the film Diamonds Are Forever (1971) after George Lazenby left the role.[24] However, David Picker, head of United Artists, wanted the box-office assurance of Sean Connery. Gavin's contract was honored despite losing the role to Connery. According to Roger Moore's James Bond Diary, Gavin was slated to play Bond in Live and Let Die (1973), but Harry Saltzman insisted on a British actor for the role and Moore was given the part.[25]

Screen Actors GuildEdit

Gavin was on the board of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1965. He served a term as third vice president and two terms as president from 1971–73.[26] During his presidency Gavin testified before the Federal Trade Commission on phone talent rackets and met with President Richard Nixon to present the problem of excessive television reruns. He presented petitions to the federal government on the issues of prime-time access rules, legislative assistance for American motion pictures, and film production by the government using non-professional actors.[27]

Gavin's presidency in the Screen Actors Guild came to an end when he was defeated by Dennis Weaver in 1973. Gavin was the first incumbent president to be defeated by an independent challenger.[28]


Gavin made a 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 at the South Shore Music Circus twentieth anniversary summer season June 29-July 4, 1970 in Massachusetts.[citation needed]

In 1973, Gavin replaced Ken Howard in the Broadway musical Seesaw opposite Michele Lee.[29] Gavin said he first turned down the musical because of his unhappiness with the quality of the book but reconsidered when Michael Bennett asked him to join the cast.[30] He played the role for seven months and toured the United States in the role with Lucie Arnaz. Both the Broadway and touring production were directed by Michael Bennett.[13]

Later TV workEdit

In the late 1970s, Gavin played Cary Grant in the television movie Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (1980).[31]


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

Gavin was cultural adviser to the Organization of American States from 1961 to 1965.[32]

Ambassador to MexicoEdit

A Republican, Gavin was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in June 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and served until June 1986.

Business careerEdit

In June 1986 following his work as ambassador to Mexico, Gavin became vice-president of Atlantic Richfield in federal and international relations. In 1987, he resigned to become president of Univisa Satellite Communications, a subsidiary of Univisa, the Spanish language broadcasting empire.[33][34]

Gavin was president of Gamma Holdings, a global capital and consulting company which he helped found in 1968.[35] He became chairman of Gamma Services International in January 1990.

He served on the boards of Causeway Capital, the Hotchkis & Wiley Funds, the TCW Strategic Income Fund, Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., DII Industries, LLC, Claxson Interactive Group Inc., Anvita, Inc., the Latin America Strategy Board at HM Capital Partners LLC, Apex Mortgage Capital Inc., Krause's Furniture, Inc., Atlantic Richfield Co., International Wire Holdings Company and International Wire Group Holdings, Inc.

Gavin served as senior counselor to Hicks Trans American Partners (a division of Hicks Holdings) and managing director and partner of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst (Latin America) from 1994 to 2001. He was an independent trustee of Causeway International Value Fund.

Gavin served on various pro bono boards, including UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management, Don Bosco Institute, the FEDCO Charitable Fund, the Hoover Institution, Loyola-Marymount University, the National Parks Foundation, Southwest Museum, the University of the Americas and Villanova Preparatory School.[36][37]

Personal lifeEdit

Gavin married actress Cicely Evans in 1957. They had two children and lived in Beverly Hills.[38] The marriage ended in divorce in 1965. While making No Roses for Robert in Italy in 1967 Gavin dated co-star Luciana Paluzzi.[39]

In 1974, Gavin married stage and television actress Constance Towers. The two were introduced at a party in 1957 by Gavin's godfather, Jimmy McHugh. Towers had two children from her previous marriage to Eugene McGrath. Gavin and Towers remained married until his death in 2018.[40]

Gavin's oldest daughter, Cristina, is an actress and his daughter, Maria, has a career in television production.[40]


Gavin died of complications from pneumonia on February 9, 2018 at his home in Beverly Hills, California.[41]



Year Title Role Notes
1956 Raw Edge Dan Kirby Credited as John Gilmore
1956 Behind the High Wall Johnny Hutchins Credited as John Golenor[42]
1957 Four Girls in Town Tom Grant [42]
1957 Quantez Teach [42]
1958 A Time to Love and a Time to Die Ernst Graeber [42]
1959 Imitation of Life Steve Archer [42]
1960 A Breath of Scandal Charlie Foster [42]
1960 Psycho Sam Loomis [42]
1960 Spartacus Julius Caesar [42]
1960 Midnight Lace Brian Younger [42]
1961 Romanoff and Juliet Igor Romanoff [42]
1961 Tammy Tell Me True Thomas "Tom" Freeman [42]
1961 Back Street Paul Saxon [42]
1967 Pedro Páramo Pedro Páramo
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Trevor Graydon [42]
1968 OSS 117 – Double Agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath [43]
1969 The Madwoman of Chaillot The Reverend [42]
1970 Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You Charlie Harrison [42]
1973 Keep It in the Family Roy McDonald [44]
1976 House of Shadows Roland Stewart [45]
1978 Jennifer Senator Tremayne [42]
1981 History of the World, Part I Marche [42]


Year Title Role Notes
1960 Insight The Priest Episode: "The Martyr"
1962 Alcoa Premiere William Fortnum Episode: "The Jail"
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Dr. Don Reed Episode: "Run for Doom"
1964 Destry Harrison Destry Main role (13 episodes)[43]
1964 The Virginian Charles Boulanger / Baker Episode: "Portrait of a Widow"[43]
1964 Kraft Suspense Theatre Carlos Episode: "A Truce to Terror"
1964 Kraft Suspense Theatre Tom Threepersons Episode: "Threepersons"
1965 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Johnny Kendall Episode: "Off Season"[43]
1965 Convoy Commander Dan Talbot Main role (13 episodes)[43]
1970 Cutter's Trail Ben Cutter Television film
1971 The Doris Day Show Dr. Forbes Episode: "Skiing Anyone?"
1973 Mannix Arthur Danford Episode: "The Danford File"
1974 ABC Wide World of Mystery Episode: "Hard Day at Blue Nose"
1975 The Lives of Jenny Dolan Officer Television film
1976 Medical Center Lt. Col. Halliday Episode: "Major Annie, MD"
1977 The Love Boat Dan Barton Episode: "Silent Night"[43]
1978 Fantasy Island Harry Kellino Episode: "Family Reunion"[43]
1978 Doctors' Private Lives Dr. Jeffrey Latimer Television film[43]
1978 Flying High Senator James Sinclair Episode: "South by Southwest"
1978 The New Adventures of Heidi Dan Wyler Television film
1979 Doctors' Private Lives Dr. Jeffrey Latimer Television miniseries (4 episodes)
1980 Sophia Loren: Her Own Story Cary Grant Television film
1980 Hart to Hart Craig Abernathy Episode: "Murder, Murder on the Wall"
1981 Fantasy Island Jack Foster Episode: "Something Borrowed, Something Blue ..."[43]

Theatre creditsEdit


  1. ^ Bergan, Ronald (14 February 2018). "John Gavin obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  2. ^ Famous Celebrities Who Passed for White in Hollywood's Golden Age
  3. ^ Elliott, Vicky (May 2018). "Double Role as Actor and Politician". Stanford Magazine. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  4. ^ Richard L. Coe (June 28, 1961). "An Artist Is at Work". The Washington Post, Times Herald. p. B10.
  5. ^ a b Joe Finnigan (November 20, 1960). "False Rich-Boy Tag Perils Film Career, Gavin Claims". The Washington Post, Times Herald. p. G3.
  6. ^ Wise, James E. & Rehill, Anne Collier. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services Naval Institute Press, p. 265.
  7. ^ Hopper, Hedda (July 20, 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.
  8. ^ a b Thomas, Kevin (June 2, 1966). "Gavin Gets Down to Business". Los Angeles Times. p. D-12.
  9. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Feb 19, 1956). "Drama Arts: School for Future Stars Paying Off Handsomely". Los Angeles Times. p. D1.
  10. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (May 17, 1957). "UNIVERSAL CASTS TWO IN NEW FILM: Jane Powell, George Nader to Appear in 'Female Animal' --Actor Replaces Gavin". New York Times. p. 19.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (July 17, 1957). "John Gavin Wins Plum Remarque Role; Ford to Face 'Doomed World'". Los Angeles Times. p. 23.
  12. ^ "Another War, Another New Star". Chicago Daily Tribune. June 29, 1958. p. l10.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ HOWARD THOMPSON (September 23, 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.
  15. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (January 28, 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.
  16. ^ a b Scheuer, Philip K. (February 1, 1963). "Gavin Will Embark on Adventurous Life: News From Unsunny Spain; 'Nevada Smith' a Follow-up". p. D-9.
  17. ^ Harford, Margaret (July 13, 1967). "Gavin Breaks the Mold: GAVIN". Los Angeles Times. p. C-1.
  18. ^ a b Hopper, Hedda (September 25, 1964). "Looking at Hollywood: John Gavin Signs Pact to Do Outside Films, TV". Chicago Tribune. p. C-11.
  19. ^ Zylstra, Freida (February 14, 1964). "Salad Maker Makes Debut in New TV Series Tonight". Chicago Tribune. p. B-9.
  20. ^ Finnigan, Joseph (December 31, 1964). "Millions Utilized on Pilots for New Season". Los Angeles Times. p. B15.
  21. ^ Martin, Betty (June 3, 1966). "Gavin Signs Universal Pact". Los Angeles Times. p. D-12.
  22. ^ Martin, Betty (February 9, 1968). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: John Gavin Set for Role". Los Angeles Times. p. C-15.
  23. ^ Thomas, Kevin (March 27, 1970). "'Pussycat, Pussycat' Opens Multiple Run". Los Angeles Times. p. F-15.
  24. ^ Page, Eleanor (January 30, 1971). "Paging People: A Stylish Benefit". Chicago Tribune. p. n14.
  25. ^ Wood, Thomas (November 26, 1972). "Movie's: Search Over---Roger Moore the New James Bond The New Bond". Los Angeles Times. p. S-32.
  26. ^ "John Gavin"
  27. ^ "John Gavin biography". Screen Actors Guild.
  28. ^ Zyda, Joan (September 26, 1973). "Dennis Weaver Seeks Actor Guild Presidency". Los Angeles Times. p. C1.
  29. ^ Gold, Aaron (May 30, 1973). "Tower Ticker". Chicago Tribune. p. B-2.
  30. ^ Drake, Sylvie (September 1, 1974). "Will They Love Lucie, Too?: More Stage News". Los Angeles Times. p. M-31.
  31. ^ Mann, Roderick (July 1, 1980). "GAVIN AS GRANT: A TEST OF TASTE". Los Angeles Times. p. G-1.
  32. ^ Bustamante, Jorge (March 6, 1981). "Gavin's Selection: a Slap in Mexico's Face". Los Angeles Times. p. C-7.
  33. ^ Nancy Brooks (28 April 1987). "Gavin Leaving Arco to Take Post at Univisa". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  34. ^ Daniel F. Cuff and Stephen Phillips (April 28, 1987). "BUSINESS PEOPLE; Gavin Quits ARCO For Univisa Satellite". New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  35. ^ John Gavin at
  36. ^ John Gavin biography Archived 2017-11-07 at the Wayback Machine at
  37. ^ Biography at Business Week accessed 30 November 2014
  38. ^ Vernon, Scott (28 Mar 1965). "A Look at John Gavin at Home". Chicago Tribune. p. d9.
  39. ^ February 26, 1968 The Daily Herald from Provo, Utah, pg. 17
  40. ^ a b "John Gavin Is Our Man in Mexico and Constance Towers Is His Woman in the (TV) Capitol".
  41. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (9 February 2018). "John Gavin, Actor and Ambassador to Mexico Under Reagan, Dies at 86". NY Times.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Filmography for John Gavin". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i "John Gavin List of Movies and TV Shows". TV Guide. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  44. ^ "Keep it in the Family". Cinepix. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  45. ^ "House of Shadows (La casa de las sombras) (1976)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 February 2018.

External linksEdit

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