Preston actor who made it in Hollywood

Owen McGiveney featured in films and top rated television series

By Mike Hill
Saturday, 8th May 2021, 7:00 am
Owen McGiveney on television in America in the 1920s
Owen McGiveney on television in America in the 1920s

This week marks the birthday of a Hollywood star who left Lancashire to make his fortune in Tinseltown a century ago.

Owen McGiveney may not be a household name in his native Preston, but he carved out a respectable career in the States after starting out as a quick-change artist.

He was born on May 4, 1884 and took up career in acting at the age of 20 with his ambitions of stardom inspiring him to leave his flat in Fishergate Hill, Preston, in 1910 to catch the boat from Liverpool to America to seek his fame and fortune.

Rare photo of Owen McGiveney in his early days

He got his first big break that year appearing on the same bill in New York as one of the biggest stage stars of the era, Sarah Bernhardt.

One of his specialties was a version of Oliver Twist deploying his swift costume changing expertise to play the Charles Dickens classic’s characters Bill Sykes, Fagin, Monks, the Artful Dodger and Nancy.

He was said to hold the world record for the speed of his costume changes on stage. On a trip back to the family home in Rose Fold, Penwortham, in 1913 he revealed he had topped the bill at venues across the States earning up to $2,500 a week.

And he certainly wowed the critics with one saying of him: “No vaudeville act ever presented in America possesses greater merit than Owen McGiveney, whose quick changes in presenting the leading characters of Charles Dickens are positively wonderful... I regard him as the most versatile and talented Dickens’ actor the stage has ever known.”

When the age of vaudeville slipped out of vogue, McGiveney headed back to England where his talents still found favour on the music hall circuit.

After the Second World War he received the call from American stage star and comedian Ken Murray to return to Los Angeles and take up a role in his revue, Blackouts.

The show provided him with a springboard into a new career working in the movie industry as a character actor.

He appearing in a string of films including Show Boat (1951), Scaramouche (1952), Pat and Mike (1952), Titanic (1953), The Scarlet Coat (1955), The True Story of Jesse James (1957), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960), The Outer Limits (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964).

McGiveney also landed roles in a number of high profile television shows including Batman, The Monkees and Bewitched.

McGiveney and his American wife Elizabeth Hughes had two sons and a daughter, Mary, who would forge her own screen career as a comedian, singer and actress under the stage name Maura McGiveney.

She appeared in many TV shows, including The Fugitive, Perry Mason, Hawaii 5-0 and Dr Kildare.

Her career highlight came with a Golden Globe nomination as Most Promising Newcomer of 1966 for her role as Claire Hackett in the comedy Do Not Disturb, featuring alongside Doris Day and Rod Taylor.

Owen McGiveney often returned to Lancashire to stay with his sister Jane, in Penwortham, and died on July 31, 1967 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.