Actor. He is best remembered for being the voice of the cartoon character "Mr. Magoo," and for playing 'Thurston Howell III' on the classic television situation comedy "Gilligan's Island" that aired from 1964 to 1967. He had an extensive career for over five decades as a screen, stage, radio, and television figure. The son of a mechanical engineer, he grew up in Bratenahl, Ohio and attended Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio and the Kentucky Military Institute in Lyndon, Kentucky. During his teens he worked for a stock theater company and acquired an interest in acting, and convinced his father to let him skip a traditional college education and study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, New York. Graduating in 1933, he spent two years working in a variety of stage productions and in summer stock before trying his hand at radio. Adept at molding his booming voice into different characters, he became a freelance performer and appeared on numerous radio programs, including soap operas and "The Kate Smith Hour." In 1937 he made his Broadway debut in the comedy "Hitch Your Wagon." He scored his biggest radio success as the voice of the rich Hubert Updike III on "The Alan Young Show" (1949). He then starred as actress Joan Davis's character's husband (a domestic court judge) on the television sitcom "I Married Joan" that aired from 1952 to 1953. He appeared in over 50 motion pictures, including "Easy Living" (1949), "A Dangerous Profession" (1949), "Deadline - U.S.A." (1951), "Pat and Mike" (1952), "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955, as James Dean's ineffectual father), "Man of a Thousand Faces" (1957), "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" (1962), "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963), "Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County" (1970), "Myra Breckinridge" (1970) and "Pete's Dragon" (1977). He also appeared in the "Gilligan's Island" television movies "Rescue From Gilligan's Island" (1978), "The Castaways on Gilligan's Island" (1979), and "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" (1981). He and his wife, Henny Backus, co-wrote several humorous books, including "Only When I Laugh" and "What Are You Doing After the Orgy?" the title taken from a one of his lines in the 1965 film "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home." He also co-wrote the 1971 family film "Mooch Goes to Hollywood," about a dog who tries to become a movie star. He acted in several television commercials; as Mr. Magoo, he helped advertise the General Electric line of products over the years. In the 1970s he was spokesperson for La-Z-Boy furniture and in the late 1980s he reunited with former "Gilligan's Island' co-star Natalie Schafer in an advertisement for Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn. In 1984 he wrote his autobiography "Backus Strikes Back." His last movie appearance was in "Prince Jack" (1985). He suffered from Parkinson's disease in his later years and died from complications of pneumonia at the age of 76.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
Katherine Jane Backus Spencer