"As familiar as a favorite leather easy chair" is how one magazine writer described the craggy, weather-beaten face of ineluctable character actor James Gregory. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any time in the past six decades that Gregory hasn't been seen on stage, on TV or on the big screen. There were those occasional periods during the 1930s and 1940s when he was working on Wall Street rather than acting, and there were those uniformed stints in the Marines and the Naval Reserve. Otherwise, Gregory remained a persistent showbiz presence from the time he first performed with a Pennsylvania-based travelling troupe in 1936. Three years later, he was on Broadway in Key Largo; he went on to appear in such stage hits as Dream Girl, All My Sons, Death of a Salesman and The Desperate Hours.
In films from 1948, Gregory was repeatedly cast as crusty no-nonsense types: detectives, military officers, prosecuting attorneys and outlaw leaders. With his bravura performance as demagogic, dead-headed senator Johnny Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Gregory launched a second career of sorts, cornering the market in portraying braggadocio blowhards. One of his best characterizations in this vein was as the hard-shelled Inspector Luger in the TV sitcom Barney Miller. He played Luger for six seasons (1975-78, 1979-81), with time out for his own short-lived starring series, Detective School (1978). He also played Prohibition-era detective Barney Ruditsky on The Lawless Years (1959-61) and T. R. Scott in The Paul Lynde Show (1972), not to mention nearly 1000 guest appearances on other series. James Gregory has sometimes exhibited his sentimental streak by singing in his spare time: he has for many years been a member of the SPEBQSA, which as any fan of The Music Man can tell you is the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America.