Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Singer-Actor Harve Presnell Passes Away at 75

I had no sooner finished writing my tribute to Karl Malden then I clicked over to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and learned that wonderful Harve Presnell has passed away at the age of 75.

I was privileged to see Presnell performing live at least twice in the '70s. In 1977 I saw him opposite his UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN costar, Debbie Reynolds, in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at the Los Angeles Music Center. The production was directed by Gower Champion and costarred Gavin MacLeod. For a teenage fan of MGM musicals, it was a real treat to see the MOLLY BROWN team reunited on stage.

At the Westwood Playhouse I saw him with Constance Towers in a memorable musical review, RODGERS AND HART. This particular show made a very big impression on's a part of the reason Ella Fitzgerald's RODGERS AND HART SONGBOOK is one of my all-time favorite "desert island" albums. The CD always goes with me on long car trips and it's also a permanent fixture in my iPod. Of course, Ella's artistry has a lot to do with why I love it, too!

Presnell's own album of Western standards, NEW ECHOES OF THE OLD WEST, is another all-time favorite, mixing classic Western songs like "Shenandoah" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" with film and stage songs like "They Call the Wind Maria," "Deadwood Stage" (from CALAMITY JANE), and "Home in the Meadow" (the adaptation of "Greensleeves" Debbie Reynolds sang in HOW THE WEST WAS WON).

Presnell won acclaim on Broadway in THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (1960) and was popular as Daddy Warbucks in ANNIE.

Later in his career Presnell was an in-demand character actor in such films as FARGO (1996), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), THE FAMILY MAN (2000), and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006).

The Modesto Bee pays tribute to a native son.

It's a sad day for those of us who were fans of Mr. Malden and Mr. Presnell...but we are so much the richer for having been able to enjoy their talents.

Update: An obituary posted at the L.A. Times offers more details. Presnell had a sports scholarship to USC, but three weeks into the year the head of the music department heard him sing and offered him a music scholarship.

Presnell played Daddy Warbucks over 2000 times, including in two different short-lived sequels to ANNIE.


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