William “Biff” McGuire, whose Broadway career spanned over seven decades and included a role in the original 1949 South Pacific, died according to a statement released on April 1. He was 94.
His death was announced by the Seattle Rep, a theater that McGuire shared a long history with. He performed in over 30 productions there, including Saint Joan (1979-80), Noises Off (1986-87), and A Flaw in the Ointment (1993-94). With dozens of films under his belt, he has appeared in scenes with Al Pacino in Serpico, Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, and Alan Arkin in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Biff was also a regular on television from the late 1940’s to the early 2000’s. In his seventies, he was nominated for two Tony’s for his roles in The Young Man From Atlanta (1997) and Morning’s At Seven (2002).
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In 1960, he was cast opposite British actress Jeannie Carson in a 1960 revival of Finian’s Rainbow. They married in November of that year, and then starred in the original national tour of Camelot. He played King Arthur while Carson played Guinevere. This was just the beginning of their lifelong romance and acting partnership. Together, they moved to the Pacific Northwest to bring playwrights’ works to life, including Shakespeare, Shaw and Ibsen.
Former Seattle Rep Associate Artistic Director Doug Hughes remembers the late actor as “reserved, even shy in real life.” However, Hughes says that Biff gained “a nearly scary confidence once he stepped on a stage.”
McGuire got his famous nickname from playing football as a kid growing up in Camden, CT. He attended the University of Massachusetts, where he studied agricultural engineering and later left to join the U.S. Army in the midst of World War II. Stationed in England, he studied acting, directing, radio, and television, eventually setting his sights on set design, only to return to acting.
In a 2004 talkinbroadway interview, McGuire attributes his love for theater to his big family and his love for entertaining them. “We had all of these big gatherings of the whole family on Saturday nights, and everybody had to do something, so that was my theater. I shared it with a very large family,” Biff reminisced.
McGuire is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren.
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