Jack MacGowran

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Jack MacGowran
MacGowran in trailer for How I Won the War (1967)
John Joseph MacGowran

(1918-10-13)13 October 1918
Dublin, Ireland
Died30 January 1973(1973-01-30) (aged 54)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1951–1973
Spouse(s)Aileen Gloria Nugent (m. 1963)

John Joseph MacGowran (13 October 1918 – 30 January 1973) was an Irish actor, probably best known for his work with Samuel Beckett. His last film role was as the alcoholic director Burke Dennings in The Exorcist (1973).

Stage career[edit]

MacGowran was born on 13 October 1918 in Dublin,[1] and educated at Synge Street CBS.[2] He established his professional reputation as a member of the Abbey Players in Dublin, while he achieved stage renown for his knowing interpretations of the works of Samuel Beckett. He appeared as Lucky in Waiting for Godot at the Royal Court Theatre, and with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Endgame at the Aldwych Theatre. He released an LP record titled MacGowran Speaking Beckett to coincide with Samuel Beckett's 60th birthday in 1966, and he won the 1970–71 Obie for Best Performance By an Actor in the off-Broadway play MacGowran in the Works of Beckett.

He also specialised in the work of Seán O'Casey, creating the role of Joxer in the Broadway musical Juno in 1959, based on Juno and the Paycock, O'Casey's 1924 play about the Irish Civil War. He played O'Casey's brother Archie in Young Cassidy (1965), one of John Ford's later films (which the director had to abandon due to ill health).

In 1954, he moved to London, where he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. There he struck up a lasting friendship with Peter O'Toole, with whom he later appeared in Richard Brooks' Lord Jim (1965).

He apparently had a fractious relationship with Royal Shakespeare director Peter Hall. He was Old Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice, and when the set arrived, Hall called all the cast into the theatre to view it. MacGowran was not there, still in his dressing room. An assistant was sent to fetch him. He returned alone: "Mr MacGowran says, Mr. Hall, that if you had read the play you would know that Old Gobbo was blind."

MacGowran played the title role of Gandhi in the Broadway play written by Gurney Campbell in 1971, directed by Jose Quintero.

Film career[edit]

MacGowran's film career started in Ireland with the film No Resting Place (1951), and many of his earlier films were set in Ireland. Notably The Quiet Man (1952), The Gentle Gunman (1952), Rooney (1958) and Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959).

In 1966 Roman Polanski cast him as the gangster Albie in Cul-de-sac, before creating Professor Abronsius in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) especially for him. Other notable film appearances include the Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Tony Richardson's Tom Jones (1963), David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), Richard Lester's How I Won the War (1967), Peter Brook's King Lear, the leading role of Professor Collins in Wonderwall (1968), and Age of Consent (1969). On TV, he appeared in "The Happening", an episode of The Champions and as professor Poole in The Winged Avenger episode of The Avengers. He played a safecracker opposite Kenneth Cope in "The Ghost Talks" episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). His last film was The Exorcist (1973), where he played Burke Dennings, an alcoholic director and Regan's first victim.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1963, he married Aileen Gloria Nugent, daughter of Sir Walter Nugent, Bt., the Irish MP for South Westmeath and Senator of the Irish Free State.

Shortly after completing work on The Exorcist, while in New York City appearing as Fluther in Seán O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars, MacGowran died at 54 from influenza after complications resulting from the recent London flu epidemic.[4] He had one daughter.

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ British film and television year book. Cinema TV Today. 1970. p. 234.
  2. ^ Battersby, Eileen (9 November 1988). "Jack MacGowran: Born to play Beckett". Irish Times. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  3. ^ Maye, Brian (8 October 2018). "Hero of the stage – An Irishman's Diary on actor Jack MacGowran". Irish Times. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  4. ^ van Gelder, Lawrence (31 January 1973). "Jack MacGowran, Interpreter Of Beckett and O'Casey, Dead". The New York Times. p. 44. Retrieved 5 March 2019.

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