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William Dennis Gargan (July 17, 1905 – February 17, 1979) was an American film, television and radio actor. He was the 5th recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967,[1] and in 1941, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Joe in They Knew What They Wanted.

William Dennis Gargan
William Gargan in Black Fury trailer.jpg
Frame from trailer for Black Fury (1935)
Born(1905-07-17)July 17, 1905
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 17, 1979(1979-02-17) (aged 73)
Died in flight between New York City and San Diego
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery (San Diego), California
Years active1925–1958
Spouse(s)Mary Kenny (1928–1979) (his death)
Publicity photo of Gargan for the radio series Martin Kane, Private Eye, 1949-1952

Early yearsEdit

Gargan was born in Brooklyn, New York. He was the younger brother of actor Edward Gargan, whose birthday July 17 he shared. His father was a detective, and his mother was a teacher. He graduated from St. James School in Brooklyn.[2]

On leaving school, Gargan became a salesman of bootleg whiskey to New York speakeasies and then joined a detective agency.


While visiting his brother on a musical comedy stage, he was offered a stage job which he accepted. He began his stage career in Aloma of the South Seas.[2]


Gargan's first movie was Rain.[2] Later, he played in Misleading Lady and had character roles in many Hollywood productions, including starring in three films as detective Ellery Queen.

He was cast in a number of stereotypical Irish parts in films playing policemen, priests, reporters, and blustering adventurers. In 1945, he played Joe Gallagher in The Bells of St. Mary's, starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman.

In 1935, Gargan went to England and made several films.[2]

In 1940, Gargan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Joe, the foreman, in They Knew What They Wanted.[3]


Gargan was best known for his role as private detective Martin Kane in the 1949–52 radio-television series Martin Kane, Private Eye, sponsored by U.S. Tobacco. He also appeared as a private detective in the NBC radio show Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, which ran from 1951 to 1955.


Gargan starred in 39 episodes of The New Adventures of Martin Kane, a syndicated series premiering September 14, 1957, and distributed in Europe by United Artists Television for Ziv Television Programs.

Later yearsEdit

Gargan's acting career came to an end in 1958 when he developed throat cancer, and doctors were forced to remove his larynx in 1960.[4] Speaking through an artificial voice box, Gargan became an activist and spokesman for the American Cancer Society, often warning about the dangers of smoking.[5] In 1964, Mutual of Omaha presented its annual Criss Award to Gargan for "his inspirational self-rehabilitation efforts and his outstanding contributions to established rehabilitation programs."[6]

No longer able to act, he formed William Gargan Productions, making traditional films and television movies in Hollywood.[7]


Gargan and his wife, Mary, had two sons, Leslie and Barrie.[8]


He died of heart attack aged 73 on February 17, 1979 on a flight between New York City and San Diego. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in San Diego, California.

Partial filmographyEdit

Radio appearancesEdit

Year Program Episode/source
1943 Philip Morris Playhouse Roberta[9]


Gargan's autobiography Why Me? was published by Doubleday in 1969.[10] A reviewer described the book as "a compelling story of the life, faith and courage of a man who as an actor was a notable success."[11]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d "Radio-Television". Altoona Tribune. March 25, 1952. p. 13. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via  
  3. ^ "William Gargan". Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Cancer Society to Hear Actor William Gargan". The Bakersfield Californian. September 11, 1962. p. 36. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via  
  5. ^ Reinehr, Robert C. & Swartz, Jon D. (2010). The A to Z of Old Time Radio. Scarecrow Press. p. 107.
  6. ^ "William Gargan, Actor, Will Get 8th Criss Award". The Lincoln Star. September 14, 1965. p. 3. Retrieved July 7, 2015 – via  
  7. ^ Swinford, T. William (March 12, 1964). "Suburbs Beat Hollywood – for Family Life". Arlington Heights Herald. p. 19. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via  
  8. ^ "Gargan's Family Ill". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 21, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via  
  9. ^ "Air Ya Listenin?". The Mason City Globe-Gazette. May 14, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via  
  10. ^ "Why me?; an autobiography". WorldCat. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  11. ^ McLeod, Edyth Thornton (June 10, 1969). "Beauty After Forty". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. p. 25. Retrieved July 7, 2015 – via  

External linksEdit