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“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, February 26, 2006
    Vade Darren McGavin

    Vampires couldn't stop him. Werewolves couldn't stop him. Zombies? He got the best of them. Even the Bumpuses' hounds stealing his Christmas turkey couldn't keep him down for long. (No one ever better delivered the line "We. Are going out. To eat.") But time eventually caught up to him: Darren McGavin died yesterday at the age of 83.

    McGavin was marvelous (if a little overage) as the eccentric father in A Christmas Story, but he excelled as Carl Kolchak, the lead character of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. My sister and I used to watch this in reruns on the late show while babysitting and then turn on every light in the house out of sheer terror. Last year I found Night Stalker on the SciFi channel and have enjoyed rewatching the shows. Seen today, they're quite hokey (Kolchak using a tape recorder and typewriter to write his stories looks positively antique, and most of the monsters just... aren't that scary any more) but still worth watching. The scenes set in the office showing Kolchak interacting with his co-workers are priceless, especially the shouting matches with his editor Tony Vincenzo (played by actor Simon Oakland).

    As I watched show after show, it became clear that Kolchak's office was his family: you never saw where Carl lived, he had no girlfriend, and he wore the same outfit in every episode. (Did he ever do laundry?) He lived for his job. And the shows aren't without suspense. The highlight has to be the "Zombie" episode, the climax of which has our hero wedged into a car trunk basically on top of the (dormant) zombie, desperately trying to kill it by filling its mouth with salt and then sewing the lips shut. But before he finishes, the zombie's eyes pop open. Thirty years later, I still jumped in my seat when I saw this.

    Darrin McGavin was a gifted character actor who appeared in dozens of movies and several other TV shows, but for me, he'll always be running around in a seersucker suit with a hideous straw hat and a recorder on his hip, trying to crack the latest series of "mysterious deaths" and driving the cops of Chicago crazy. Rest in peace, sir, and I hope you don't rise from your grave.



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