James Whitmore

James Allen Whitmore Jr. (October 1, 1921 – February 6, 2009) was an American film, theatre, and television actor.[1] During his career, Whitmore won three of the four EGOT honors: a Tony, a Grammy, and an Emmy. Whitmore also won a Golden Globe and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

James Whitmore
Whitmore in November 1955
James Allen Whitmore Jr.

(1921-10-01)October 1, 1921
DiedFebruary 6, 2009(2009-02-06) (aged 87)
Resting placeAshes scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Alma materYale University (1944)
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1949–2005
Nancy Mygatt
(m. 1947; div. 1971)

Audra Lindley
(m. 1972; div. 1979)

Nancy Mygatt
(m. 1979; div. 1981)

Noreen Nash
(m. 2001)
Children3, including James Allen Whitmore III
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Marine Corps
UnitMarine Forces Reserve
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early life and military service

Born in White Plains, New York, to Florence Belle (née Crane) and James Allen Whitmore, Sr., a park commission official,[2] Whitmore attended Amherst Central High School in Snyder, New York, for three years,[3] before transferring to the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, on a football scholarship. He went on to study at Yale University, but he had to quit playing football after severely injuring his knees.[4] After giving up football, he turned to the Yale Dramatic Society and began acting.[5] While at Yale, he was a member of Skull and Bones,[6] and was among the founders of the Yale radio station (the student-run WOCD-AM, later renamed WYBC-AM).[7] Whitmore planned on becoming a lawyer and graduated with a major in government from Yale University. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1942 while finishing his degree, which he awarded in 1944.[8] In the Marines he trained at Parris Island and Quantico, Virginia and Officers Candidate School, and was commissioned a second lieutenant. After further training he was assigned to the 4th Marine Division on Saipan in July 1944. While at Tinian he contracted amoebic dysentery and was hospitalized. He served on guard duty at the Panama Canal Zone until his discharge in March 1946.[9][10]

Marriage and later life

After World War II, Whitmore studied acting at the American Theatre Wing and the Actors Studio in New York. At this time, Whitmore met his first wife, Nancy Mygatt.[11] They married in 1947, and the couple had three sons before their divorce in 1971. The eldest son, James III, found success as a television actor and director under the name James Whitmore, Jr. The second son, Stephen, became the public spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.[12] The youngest son, Daniel, was a Forest Service Snow Ranger and firefighter before he launched his own construction company. In 1979, Whitmore and Mygatt remarried, but they divorced again after two years.

Whitmore was married to actress Audra Lindley from 1972 until 1979. He co-starred in several stage performances with her both during and after their marriage. These included Elba (a play by Vaughn McBride about an elderly couple who escape from the nursing home); William Gibson's Handy Dandy (he as a conservative judge, she as a liberal nun); and Tom Cole's About Time (in which they played characters identified simply as the Old Man and the Old Woman).[13]

In 2001, he married actress and author Noreen Nash. Whitmore is the grandfather of Survivor: Gabon contestant Matty Whitmore. In 2010, James Whitmore, Jr., and his two children (grandchildren of James Whitmore), actress-director Aliah Whitmore and artist-production designer Jacob Whitmore, formed the theatre group Whitmore Eclectic. They perform in Los Angeles, California.[14]

In his later years, Whitmore spent his summers in Peterborough, New Hampshire, performing with the Peterborough Players.[15]

Although not always politically active, in 2007, Whitmore generated some publicity with his endorsement of Barack Obama for U.S. President.[12] In January 2008, Whitmore appeared in television commercials for the First Freedom First campaign, which advocates preserving "the separation of church and state" and protecting religious liberty.[11] "An avid flower and vegetable gardener, Whitmore was also known to TV viewers as the longtime commercial pitchman for Miracle-Gro garden products."[4]

A Democrat, he supported the campaign of Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 presidential election.[16]


Film and television

Following World War II, Whitmore appeared on Broadway in the role of the sergeant in Command Decision. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gave Whitmore a contract, but his role in the film adaptation was played by Van Johnson. His first major picture for MGM was Battleground,[17] in a role that was turned down by Spencer Tracy, to whom Whitmore bore a noted physical resemblance. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, and won the Golden Globe Award as Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role. Other major films included Angels in the Outfield, The Asphalt Jungle, The Next Voice You Hear, Above and Beyond, Kiss Me, Kate, Them!, Oklahoma!, Black Like Me, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Give 'em Hell, Harry!, a one-man show for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of former U.S. President Harry S Truman. In the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, he played Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey.

Whitmore appeared during the 1950s on many television anthology series. He was cast as Father Emil Kapaun in the 1955 episode "The Good Thief" in the ABC religion anthology series Crossroads. Other roles followed on Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater, Lux Video Theatre, Kraft Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, Schlitz Playhouse, Matinee Theatre, and the Ford Television Theatre. In 1958, he carried the lead in "The Gabe Carswell Story" of NBC's Wagon Train, with Ward Bond.[18]

In the 1960–1961 television season, Whitmore starred in his own ABC crime drama, The Law and Mr. Jones, in the title role, with Conlan Carter as legal assistant C.E. Carruthers and Janet De Gore as Jones' secretary. The program ran in the 10:30 pm Eastern half-hour slot on Friday. It was cancelled after one year, but returned in April 1962 for 13 additional episodes on Thursdays.

In 1963, Whitmore played Captain William Benteen in The Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home." Whitmore also appeared in Route 66 on January 18, 1963, as Ralph Vincent in “A Gift for a Warrior.” He appeared twice in Twelve O'Clock High. In 1965, Whitmore guest-starred as Col. Paul "Pappy" Hartley in Season 1, Episode 32 "The Hero"[19] and as Col. Harry Connelly in 1966 Season 3, Episode 12 "The Ace".[20] He also appeared in an episode of Combat! titled "The Cassock", as a German officer masquerading as a Catholic priest. In 1967, he guest-starred as a security guard in The Invaders episode, "Quantity: Unknown". That same year, Whitmore also appeared on an episode of ABC's Custer starring Wayne Maunder in the title role.

In 1968, he appeared as head of the Simian Assembly in the Planet of the Apes. In 1969, he played the leading character of Professor Woodruff in the TV series My Friend Tony, produced by NBC. Whitmore also made several memorable appearances on the classic ABC Western The Big Valley starring Barbara Stanwyck, and the classic NBC Western The Virginian starring James Drury, during the second half of the 1960s.

From 1972 to 1973, Whitmore played Dr. Vincent Campanelli in the short-lived ABC medical sitcom Temperatures Rising.

Whitmore appeared as General Oliver O. Howard in the 1975 television film I Will Fight No More Forever, based on the 1877 conflict between the United States Army and the Nez Percé tribe, led by Chief Joseph. In 1979, Whitmore hosted a talk show of 22 episodes called simply Comeback. One of those segments focuses on the helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky.[21]

In 1986, Whitmore voiced Mark Twain in the first claymation feature film The Adventures of Mark Twain.

In 1994, Whitmore played the role of librarian Brooks Hatlen in the critically acclaimed and Academy Award-nominated 1994 Frank Darabont film The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Two years later, he co-starred in the 1996 horror/sci-fi film The Relic. In 1999, he played Raymond Oz in two episodes of The Practice, earning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.

In 2002, Whitmore played the role of the grandfather in the Disney Channel original film A Ring of Endless Light. Also in 2002, Whitmore played a supporting role in The Majestic, a film that starred Jim Carrey. In 2003, Whitmore appeared as Josh Brolin's father on the short-lived NBC drama series Mister Sterling, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award.

In April 2007, he made his last screen appearance in a C.S.I. episode titled "Ending Happy" as Milton, an elderly man.[18]

Awards and recognition

Whitmore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6611 Hollywood Boulevard. The ceremony was held on February 8, 1960.[22]

Theatre work

"Whitmore often said he found acting in films and television boring because of the long waits between scenes; his passion was for the theater, and he continued to act on stage throughout his long career."[4] Whitmore first ventured into acting at Yale University – severe knee injuries sidelined him from football, so he turned to the Yale Dramatic Society.[23] After serving in the Marines he toured the South Pacific in a USO tour, then returned to America, where he studied acting for six months at the American Theatre Wing in New York and the Actors Studio. Afterward, he was hired by a summer stock company in Peterborough, New Hampshire – The Peterborough Players. In 1947 he was selected to appear in a production of All My Sons, representing the U.S. at the World Youth Festival in Prague.[24]

His first play on Broadway – Command Decision – in which Whitmore played the part of Tech Sergeant Harold Evans, was the smash hit of 1947, and Whitmore won the Tony Award for "Best Newcomer of the Season." Whitmore continued to be active in the theatre for all of his career, performing on Broadway, at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC, and on tour. He later won the title "King of the One Man Show"[25] after appearing in the solo vehicles Will Rogers' USA (1970) (repeating the role for TV in 1972); as Harry Truman in Give 'em Hell, Harry! (1975) (repeating the role in the film version, for which he was nominated for an Oscar); and as Theodore Roosevelt in Bully (1977), although the latter production did not repeat the success of the first two.

"Whitmore, who was an early student at the Actors Studio in New York in the late '40s, taught an acting workshop after moving to Hollywood. Among his students in the early '50s was young James Dean, whom Whitmore advised to go to New York. 'I owe a lot to Whitmore,' Dean told Seventeen magazine in 1955. 'One thing he said helped more than anything. He told me I didn't know the difference between acting as a soft job and acting as a difficult art.'"[4] Whitmore often returned to New Hampshire to the Peterborough Players, where he got his start in summer stock – in 2008 he played the stage manager in Our Town.[14] Each year the Peterborough Players award the "James Whitmore Award" to an excellent intern at the theatre.[26]


Whitmore was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2008. He died from the disease at the age of 87 on February 6, 2009, at his Malibu, California home.[4]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result Ref(s)
1948 Tony Awards Best Newcomer Command Decision
(tied with June Lockhart in For Love or Money)
Won [27]
1949 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Battleground Nominated [28]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor Won [29]
1975 Academy Awards Best Actor Give 'em Hell, Harry! Nominated [30]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Drama [31]
Grammy Awards Best Spoken Word Album Won [32]
1989 CableACE Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor – Movie or Miniseries Glory! Glory! [33]
1999 Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actor – Drama Series The Practice
(as Raymond Oz, 2 episodes)
2000 Genie Awards Best Actor Here's to Life! Nominated [35]
2003 Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actor – Drama Series Mister Sterling
(as Bill Sterling, Sr., 4 episodes)


Partial filmography









James Whitmore's theatre roles included:[37]

  • Command Decision – as Tech Sergeant Harold Evans – Fulton Theatre, New York, NY – (Oct. 1, 1947 – Sep. 18, 1948).
Whitmore received a 1948 Tony Award for this role. The category was "Outstanding Performance by a Newcomer."[38]
  • Winesburg, Ohio – as Tom Willard – National Theatre, New York, NY – (Feb. 5 – Feb. 15, 1958).
  • Inquest – as Emanuel Bloch – Music Box Theatre, New York, NY – (Apr. 23 – May 16, 1970).
  • Will Rogers' USA – Solo Performance as Will Rogers – Helen Hayes Theatre, New York, NY – (May 6–11, 1974).
  • Give 'Em Hell, Harry! – Solo Performance as Harry Truman – Ford's Theatre, Washington, DC – (April 15 – May 4, 1975).
After the world premiere at the Ford's Theatre, the play went on to a six-city tour, during which it was videotaped for film at the Moore Theater, Seattle, Washington.[39][40]
  • Bully – Solo Performance as Theodore Roosevelt – 46th Street Theatre, New York, NY – (Nov. 1, 1977 – Nov. 6, 1977).
  • Almost an Eagle – as The Colonel – Longacre Theatre, New York, NY – (Dec. 16, 1982 – Dec. 19, 1982).
  • Inherit the Wind – as Henry Drummond – Ford's Theatre, Washington, DC – (Sep. 26 – Nov. 5, 2000).[41]


See also


  1. Berkvist, Robert (February 7, 2009). "James Whitmore, Character Actor Skilled in One-Man Shows, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
  2. "James Whitmore Biography". FilmReference.com. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  3. "Actor James Whitmore, attended Amherst High School" Archived October 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Amherst Bee, February 11, 2009
  4. "James Whitmore dies at 87" by Dennis McLellan. Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2009.
  5. Biography on James Whitmore in Playbill for Will Rogers' USA, May 1974 – online at www.playbillvault.com.
  6. See Wikipedia article on Skull and Bones, which lists James Whitmore as a member and references this article: "Powerful Secrets" by Alexandra Robbins. Vanity Fair, July 2004, p. 116.
  7. Article on James Whitmore in The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz. Harper Perennial, 1994 ed., p. 1454.
  8. "Who's Been Blue". Yale Alumni Magazine. March 2001. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  9. "Whitmore Went to War to Win Prized Antoinette Perry Award". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. April 25, 1948. Retrieved August 17, 2019 via Newspapers.com.
  10. Playbill, May 1974.
  11. "James Whitmore Biography". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  12. See the 2009 obituary on James Whitmore by The Associated Press, posted on www.legacy.com.
  13. Article on James Whitmore in Newsmakers. Gale Publishing, 2010, p. 596-597. Also see Berkvist, Robert (February 7, 2009). "James Whitmore, Character Actor Skilled in One-Man Shows, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
  14. "The Whitmore Family Will Never Grow out of This Stage" by Susan King. Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2013.
  15. Peterboroughplayers.org
  16. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  17. The following details on Whitmore's film and television career are found at www.imdb.com.
  18. "James Whitmore". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  19. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734466/fullcredits
  20. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734458/fullcredits
  21. "Comeback". tvguide.com. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
  22. "James Whitmore". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  23. Except where noted, information on Whitmore's theatre history is taken from his Biography in Playbill for Will Rogers USA, May 1974 – online at www.playbillvault.com
  24. "To Act American Play in Prague". Brooklyn Eagle. June 1, 1947. Retrieved August 17, 2019 via Newspapers.com.
  25. "Veteran character actor James Whitmore dead at 87," Reuters, Feb. 6, 2009.
  26. See their website at www.peterboroughplayers.com
  27. Command Decision at tonyawards.com
  28. Battleground at awardsdatabase.oscars.org
  29. Battleground at goldenglobes.com
  30. Give 'em Hell, Harry! at awardsdatabase.oscars.org
  31. Give 'em Hell, Harry! at goldenglobes.com
  32. Give 'em Hell, Harry! at grammy.com
  33. HBO Leads the Way for Cable's ACE Awards
  34. The Practice Emmy wins at emmys.com
  35. Here's To Life! at academy.ca Archived May 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  36. Mister Sterling at emmys.com
  37. Except where noted, information on the following plays that James Whitmore played in can be found at www.playbillvault.com
  38. "Search Past Tony Award Winners". Tony Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  39. http://www.fordstheatre.org/home/about-fords/production-history/1968-1977
  40. See Wikipedia article on Give 'Em Hell, Harry!
  41. Jones, Kenneth (June 27, 2000). "Whitmore Returns to Artistic Home, Ford's Theatre, for Inherit, Sept. 26". Playbill. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  42. "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. May 4, 1952. p. 50. Retrieved May 8, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
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