William Gargan

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 Life 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. He acted in decades of movies including parts in Follow the Leader, Rain, Night Flight, Three Sons, Isle of Destiny and many others. The role he was best known for was that of a private detective Martin Kane in the 1949–1952 radio-television series Martin Kane, Private Eye. In television, he was also in 39 episodes of The New Adventures of Martin Kane.

William Gargan
William Gargan circa 1950s.JPG
Gargan in c. 1950s
William Dennis Gargan

(1905-07-17)July 17, 1905
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 17, 1979(1979-02-17) (aged 73)
Flight between New York City and San Diego
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery, San Diego, California
Years active1925–1958
Mary Kenny
(m. 1928)

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] He also appeared on stage in Animal Kingdom.[3]


Gargan's first film 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.

Frame from trailer for Black Fury (1935)

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.[4]

Radio and televisionEdit

Publicity photo of Gargan for the radio series Martin Kane, Private Eye, 1949-1952

Gargan's first regular radio role was Captain Flagg on Captain Flagg and Sergeant Quirt, beginning in February 1942.[3] He portrayed private detective Martin Kane in the 1949–1952 radio-television series Martin Kane, Private Eye,[5]: 219  sponsored by U.S. Tobacco. He also appeared in the title role as a private detective in the NBC radio show Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, which ran from 1951 to 1955.[5] He also portrayed Ross Dolan in I Deal in Crime,[5]: 159 , and Inspector Burke in Murder Will Out,[5]: 214-242  and was host of G. I. Laffs[6]

On television, Gargan starred in 39 episodes of Martin Kane, Private Eye, which ran on NBC from 1949 to 1954 and was syndicated in 1957-1958[7] and on The New Adventures of Martin Kane, which ran on NBC in 1953-54.[7]: 751 

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.[8] Speaking through an artificial voice box, Gargan became an activist and spokesman for the American Cancer Society, often warning about the dangers of smoking.[9] In 1965, Mutual of Omaha presented its annual Criss Award to Gargan for "his inspirational self-rehabilitation efforts and his outstanding contributions to established rehabilitation programs."[10]

No longer able to act, he formed William Gargan Productions, making traditional films and television films in Hollywood.[11]


Gargan and his wife, Mary, had two sons, Leslie and Barrie.[12]


He died of a 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[13]


Gargan's autobiography Why Me? was published by Doubleday in 1969.[14] 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."[15]


  1. ^ "5th | Screen Actors Guild Awards". www.sagawards.org.
  2. ^ a b c d "Radio-Television". Altoona Tribune. March 25, 1952. p. 13. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  3. ^ a b "William Gargan Assumes Role of Captain Flagg". The Times. Louisiana, Shreveport. February 27, 1942. p. 10. Retrieved January 6, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ "William Gargan". oscars.org. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  6. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3.
  7. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. pp. 659–660. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  8. ^ "Cancer Society to Hear Actor William Gargan". The Bakersfield Californian. September 11, 1962. p. 36. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  9. ^ Reinehr, Robert C. & Swartz, Jon D. (2010). The A to Z of Old Time Radio. Scarecrow Press. p. 107. ISBN 9781461672074.
  10. ^ "William Gargan, Actor, Will Get 8th Criss Award". The Lincoln Star. September 14, 1965. p. 3. Retrieved July 7, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  11. ^ Swinford, T. William (March 12, 1964). "Suburbs Beat Hollywood – for Family Life". Arlington Heights Herald. p. 19. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  12. ^ "Gargan's Family Ill". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. September 21, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved July 6, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  13. ^ "Air Ya Listenin?". The Mason City Globe-Gazette. May 14, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  14. ^ Gargan, William (1969). Why me?; an autobiography. OCLC 794.
  15. ^ McLeod, Edyth Thornton (June 10, 1969). "Beauty After Forty". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. p. 25. Retrieved July 7, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  

External linksEdit