Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy

Front Cover
1 Review

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - knahs - LibraryThing

Well researched book on tough guy McGraw who I always enjoyed on old time radio and in his films. It was always hard to find out anything about him but this book gives a great look at his life. Lots of interviews. Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (McFarland) relates the startling life of the memorable character actor against the backdrop of the old Hollywood studio system through anti-trust divestiture and the rise of television into the modern era of filmmaking.
Rode examines McGraw’s lengthy acting career that began when he hitchhiked to New York at the height of the Great Depression and landed a key role in the hit play Golden Boy alongside such Group Theatre luminaries as Luther Adler, John Garfield and Elia Kazan.
With his rough hewn profile, stocky build and guttural growl, Rode explains how Charles McGraw’s acting ushered in a new post war era of authentic screen toughness. After getting his big break from producer Mark Hellinger in The Killers (1946), McGraw parlayed subsequent roles into a starring contract at RKO in 1950.
Rode writes about the evolution of RKO Studios as the “Capital of Noir” dating back to Citizen Kane (1941), the Val Lewton pictures and other classic films including Crossfire, Out of the Past and Blood on the Moon. Rode explains that the distinctive RKO style was more the result of extraordinarily talented cinematographers, such as Nicholas Musaraca, and RKO craft department experts than any specific directorial auteur.
Rode also details the destruction of RKO Studios as a major filmmaking entity due to the bizarre behavior of Howard Hughes who bought the studio in 1948. Even though Charles McGraw would star in acclaimed second features such as The Threat, Armored Car Robbery and The Narrow Margin, and was hailed as the next Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, he was forced to vacate his contract in 1952 in order to find work as a freelance actor.
As chronicled by Rode, Charles McGraw’s hard-won success during the mid-1950’s, appearing in The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1956) and starring in two television series, became dissipated by the actor’s nihilistic life-style. McGraw’s long-term drinking problem resulted in a life filled with promise gradually morphing into a noir-stained tragedy.
Rode documents McGraw’s tumultuous personal life from his earliest days in Ohio, his long term marriage with a Eurasian beauty, being stalked by the FBI for alleged Communist ties, through his cinematic comeback in In Cold Blood to his bizarre death. He writes with great detail and passion about an era of stuntmen, cowboys and other irrepressible characters that lived and worked in Studio City, California when the town had a movie studio, a stoplight, and more than a few bars.
We see Charles McGraw as a superb acting craftsman who was a beloved Damon Runyon character, dubbed as “King Charles”, but who was actually an inwardly nervous man whose angst was deliberately obscured by the tall tales, bravado and barroom camaraderie.
Alan K. Rode gives us an intimate biography of a familiar, yet heretofore obscure actor, a wonderful narrative history of Hollywood and an incisive look at the evolution of the film noir style.
About the Author:
Film historian, journalist and blogger, Alan K. Rode is a staff writer for and has contributed to Classic Images and other publications. He is a director of the Film Noir Foundation and lives in Los Angeles. (see and for more information)
Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy will be available from all major book distributors and on-line booksellers by mid October. It is also available via
For more information about Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy, visit McFarland.

Bibliographic information