Jim Backus (born James Gilmore Backus, February 25, 1913-July 3, 1989) was an American Actor. Out of all his numerous TV and movie roles, He is perhaps more known to TV audiences as Thurston Howell III on the classic 1960s television series Gilligan's Island and Mr. Quincy Magoo in the cartoon series of the same name. He once appeared as a panelist on the CBS game show Match Game during it's early days in 1973.
Born James Gilmore Backus in Cleveland, Ohio but raised in the city of Bratenahl, a wealthy village surrounded by greater Cleveland. He was the son of Russell Gould Backus, a mechanical engineer,and Daisy Taylor Backus. He attended Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio and later, he was expelled from the Kentucky Military Institute for riding a horse through the mess hall.
Jim's career began in the early 1940s, first with playing the role of millionaire aviator Dexter Hayes on Society Girl on CBS. He had an extensive career and worked steadily in Hollywood over five decades, often portraying characters with an "upper-crust", New England-like air. He appeared in A Dangerous Profession in 1949 (as well as narrating), Deadline – U.S.A. alongside Humphrey Bogart in 1951, Pat and Mike in 1952 with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Rebel Without a Cause in 1955, The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1957, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963.
He frequently could be heard on prime-time radio programs in the postwar era, including The Jack Benny Program, and portrayed an exceedingly vain character named Hartley Benson on The Mel Blanc Show on the CBS Radio Network; as well as a similar character named Hubert Updike on The Alan Young Show on the NBC Radio Network. He also starred on the short lived variety program The Jim Backus Show on the ABC Radio Network in 1957 and 1958, when that network changed its name to the American Broadcasting Network (ABN) and tried out a "Live and Lively" format of "Big Time Radio" with orchestras and audiences. Backus costarred in the comedy show I Married Joan from 1952 to 1955, portraying the husband of Joan Davis.
Backus was also the voice of the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo. In 1952, he had a brief scene in Don't Bother to Knock with Marilyn Monroe. Years later, when Backus was a frequent talk show guest, he would recount the time Monroe urgently beckoned him into her dressing room. Once there, she exclaimed in her breathy voice, "Do Mr. Magoo".
It wasn't until 1964 when Backus landed perhaps his more known notable role to TV audiences: Millionaire Thurston Howell III on the classic series Gilligan's Island (debuting September 24, 1964 on CBS). He remained with the program until it's abrupt cancellation in 1967 and reprised the role on revivals of the TV series in TV films made between 1978 and 1981 but the third and final TV film, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, ill health forced him to only make a cameo appearance. He also did revivals of Mr. Magoo from 1964 to 1977, which included The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo and What's New, Mr. Magoo?.
Jim appeared as a panelist/celebrity guest on a number of game shows from What′s My Line? to Password to Beat the Clock to The Hollywood Squares. He appeared as a panelist during the early days of Match Game on CBS.
Backus also acted in a number of television commercials. As Mr. Magoo, he also helped advertise the General Electric line of products over the years. He was also spokesman for La-Z-Boy furniture throughput the 1970s. In the late 1980s, he was reunited with former Gilligan's Island co-star Natalie Schafer (who played his wife Lovey Wentworth Howell on the series) in an advertisement for Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn, reprising their roles from the 1960s television series, but instead of still being shipwrecked, the setting was a luxurious study or den. Both performers were rather frail and this marker the last television appearances for both.
Backus and his wife, Henny Backus, co-wrote several humorous books, including: ...Only When I Laugh, his autobiography, Backus Strikes Back, a memoir, Forgive Us Our Digressions: An Autobiography, and What Are You Doing After the Orgy? — the title taken from a line Backus spoke in the 1965 film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! He also co-wrote the 1971 family film Mooch Goes to Hollywood, about a dog who tries to become a movie star.
In the late 1950s, he made two novelty 45 rpm records, Delicious and Cave Man. In 1974, a full-length comedy LP album was released on the DORE label under the title The Dirty Old Man, with sketches written by Bob Hudson and Ron Landry, who also appear on the album, along with voice-actress Jane Webb. Backus also played the voice of God in the recording of Truth of Truths, a 1971 rock opera based on the Bible.
On July 3, 1989, Backus died in Los Angeles, California from complications of pneumonia, after suffering from Parkinson's disease for many years. He was buried at the southwest corner of Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles.