Scott Rasmussen, editor of the Journal of the San Juan Islands, was the first to break the news: “Celebrated film director and longtime San Juan Island resident Andrew McLaglen died Saturday, Aug. 30, at his Friday Harbor home. He was 94.”
McLaglen would have noticed that the “V.” is missing, “part of his authorial signature,” as Wheeler Winston Dixon pointed out in the introduction to his interview with the director in 2009 for Senses of Cinema. “Coming of age when his father, the gifted actor Victor McLaglen, won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in John Ford’s The Informer (1935), young Andrew worked and lived with the cream of Hollywood’s most original and idiosyncratic artists. In addition to John Ford, he knew and/or worked with John ‘Duke’ Wayne, William Wellman, Budd Boetticher and Cary Grant, and later carved out a career for himself as a director in the Western genre that few can equal…. In all his work, Andrew V. McLaglen is a genuine artist, but one who also kept an eye on the bottom line, and kept his projects moving.”
Which made him perfect for television. McLaglen directed 96 episodes of Gunsmoke, 116 episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, seven episodes of Perry Mason, six episodes of Rawhide and so on.
But back to the movies, and of course, to John Wayne. Mike Barnes in the Hollywood Reporter: “The 6-foot-7 McLaglen called the shots for Wayne in the Westerns McLintock! (1963)—which he always said was his big career break—The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970) and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973) and directed the famed actor in Hellfighters (1968), an action film about oil-well firefighters. He paired with James Stewart for the Westerns Shenandoah (1965), The Rare Breed (1966) and Bandolero! (1968) and for the comedy Fools’ Parade (1971). McLaglen also directed such feature Westerns as The Ballad of Josie (1967), starring Doris Day and Peter Graves; The Way West (1967) with Kirk Douglas; One More Train to Rob (1971), starring George Peppard; Something Big (1971) with Dean Martin; and The Last Hard Men (1976), starring Charles Bronson.”
And back to Rasmussen, who notes that McLaglen “would frequently lend his expertise at San Juan Community Theatre, including directing the memorable 2008 production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Many milestones and highlights of McLaglen’s illustrious career behind the camera are on display in San Juan Island sole movie house, The Palace Theater, which has long maintained a ‘Wall of Fame’ in its foyer in his honor, featuring on-location and candid photographs, movie billboards and a host of cinematic memorabilia.”
Update, 9/5: “By making mostly westerns, four of which starred Wayne, and by casting many actors from Ford’s repertory company, such as Harry Carey Jr. and Ben Johnson, McLaglen brazenly invited comparison with the great director,” writes Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. “Yet he denied being influenced by Ford. ‘I never thought of John Ford at all. I knew Ford from the time I was 13 years old because my father worked with him. But once you direct, you become your own person,’ he said. Nevertheless, take away Ford’s eye for visual composition and poetry, and play up his machismo, slapstick and sentimentality, and you have a movie by McLaglen. With good scripts and Hollywood legends such as Wayne and James Stewart, McLaglen made some entertaining action movies and was able to extend the life of the western beyond the genre’s sell-by date.”