Ohio-born actor Jim Backus's stage career began in summer stock, where, according to his then-roommate Keenan Wynn, he was as well known for his prowess with the ladies as he was for his on-stage versatility. Backus continued acting in New York, vaudeville, and especially radio in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a regular on radio's The Alan Young Show, portraying Eastern Seaboard snob Hubert Updike III, the prototype for his "Thurston Howell III" characterization on the 1960s TV sitcom Gilligan's Island. In 1949, Backus provided the voice of the nearsighted Mr. Magoo for the first time in the UPA cartoon Ragtime Bear; the actor later claimed that he based this character on his own businessman father. Also in 1949, Backus made his first film appearance in Easy Living, which starred his childhood friend Victor Mature. Backus' most famous screen role was as James Dean's weak-willed, vacillating father in Rebel without a Cause. On television, Backus co-starred with Joan Davis on the I Love Lucy-like 1950s sitcom I Married Joan, and played the leading role of fast-talking news service editor Mike O'Toole on the 1960 syndicated series Hot Off the Wire (aka The Jim Backus Show). In the 1960s, Backus continued to provide the voice of Mr. Magoo in several TV projects, and was seen on-camera in the aforementioned Gilligan's Island, as well as the 1968 TV version of Blondie, wherein Backus played Mr. Dithers. Co-starring as Mrs. Dithers was Backus' wife Henny, who also collaborated with her husband on several amusing volumes of memoirs. Jim and Henny Backus' last two books, Backus Strikes Back and Forgive Us Our Digressions, commented humorously on a deadly serious subject: Parkinson's Disease, the ailment which would eventually cost Backus his life at the age of 76.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Was a classmate of actor Victor Mature at the Kentucky Military Institute; they later costarred in the 1949 football drama Easy Living.
- Had an extensive career in radio in the 1930s and '40s. On The Alan Young Show he portrayed the snooty playboy Hubert Updike III, who became the prototype for his Thurston Howell III character on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island.
- Began to voice the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo in 1949; later claimed that he loosely patterned the character on his father.
- Costarred with wife Henny as Mr. and Mrs. Dithers in a 1960s TV adaptation of the comic strip Blondie.
- Collaborated with Henny on a series of books inspired by their life experiences, including their marriage and his struggle with Parkinson's disease.