Pa­trick Mac­nee, star of 1960s ‘The Avengers,’ dies aged 93

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LYNN EL­BER

Pa­trick Mac­nee, the Bri­tish-born ac­tor best known as dap­per se­cret agent John Steed in the long-run­ning 1960s TV se­ries “The Avengers,” has died. He was 93.

Mac­nee died Thurs­day of nat­u­ral causes with his fam­ily at his bed­side in Ran­cho Mi­rage, his son Ru­pert said in a state­ment.

The clever spy drama, which be­gan in 1961 in the United King­dom, de­buted in the United States in 1966. It ran for eight sea­sons and con­tin­ued in syn­di­ca­tion for decades af­ter­ward.

Mac­nee’s um­brella- wield­ing char­ac­ter ap­peared in all but two episodes, ac­com­pa­nied by a string of beau­ti­ful women who were his side­kicks. The most pop­u­lar was likely Diana Rigg, who played sexy ju­nior agent Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968. Honor Blackman played Cather­ine Gale from 1962 to 1964, and Linda Thor­son was Tara King from 1968 to 1969.

“We were in our own mad, crazy world,” Mac­nee told the Wi­chita Ea­gle in 2003 when “The New Avengers” was be­ing is­sued on DVD. “We were the TV Bea­tles. We even filmed in the same stu­dio.”

But while he made his name in­ter­na­tion­ally play­ing a smart, debonair Bri­tish se­cret agent, Mac­nee was never a fan of the James Bond movies.

“I think their sto­ries aren’t that re­al­is­tic,” he told Salt Lake City’s De­seret News in 1999. “I think the sadism in them is hor­ri­fy­ing ... On the other hand, the books — the James Bond books — were fas­ci­nat­ing.”

Mac­nee nearly lost the role of Steed be­cause of his aver­sion to vi­o­lence. In a 1997 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, he re­called be­ing told by pro­duc­ers that he would have to pack a gun on “The Avengers.”

“I said, ‘No, I don’t. I’ve been in World War II for five years and I’ve seen most of my friends blown to bits and I’m not go­ing to carry a gun.’ They said, ‘What are you go­ing to carry?’ I thought fran­ti­cally and said, ‘An um­brella.’”

The tal­ented Mac­nee, who man­aged to make the im­prob­a­ble weapon seem prob­a­ble, later be­came an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of pri­vately owned guns.

In his droll 1992 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Blind in One Ear,” Mac­nee noted that his early life matched that of his famed char­ac­ter, John Steed, in many ways.

The fic­tional John Wick­ham Gas­coyne Ber­res­ford Steed was born in the mid-1920s to a noble Bri­tish fam­ily, ed­u­cated at Eton and served in the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II.

Daniel Pa­trick Mac­nee was born Feb. 6, 1922, in Lon­don to a pair of ec­centrics, and he also at­tended Eton, although he claimed to have been thrown out for deal­ing in horse race bets and pornog­ra­phy. He also served in the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II, cap­tain­ing tor­pedo boats that sought to de­stroy Ger­man U-boats in French wa­ters.

Be­fore he left Eton, Mac­nee had dis­cov­ered act­ing. He ap­pren­ticed in the Bri­tish theater, toured in pro­vin­cial the­aters and made his film de­but as an ex­tra in the 1938 film “Pyg­malion.”

At 19, he mar­ried Bar­bara Dou­glas, and they had two chil­dren, Ru­pert and Jenny.

Af­ter the war, Mac­nee grad­u­ated from drama school, but he had trou­ble find­ing work, mov­ing to Canada at one point to hunt for act­ing jobs.

“I did desert my fam­ily,” he ad­mit­ted to the Sun­day Mail. “I left when my son Ru­pert was 5 and my daugh­ter Jenny was 3, and I will al­ways feel bad about that.”

Although Mac­nee was away from the fam­ily for a long pe­riod when his chil­dren were young, Ru­pert Mac­nee said “he made up for it later in life.”

“I was a teenager when he be­came a TV star in Eng­land,” re­called his son, a doc­u­men­tary film­maker. “He was one of those dads you didn’t feel ashamed to in­tro­duce to your friends. He was very cool.”

He mar­ried ac­tress Kate Woodville in 1965, and they di­vorced in 1969. His fi­nal mar­riage was to Baba Ma­jos de Nagyzsenye in 1988. She died in 2007.

Mac­nee be­came an Amer­i­can citizen in 1959 and moved to Palm Springs in 1967, say­ing the dry desert air ben­e­fited his daugh­ter, who suf­fered from asthma.

Among his films: “Ham­let” (star­ring Lau­rence Olivier), “A Christ­mas Carol,” “Un­til They Sail,” “Les Girls,” “Young Doc­tors in Love,” “Sweet 16” and “This Is Spinal Tap.” He had a mem­o­rable comic turn in the lat­ter film as Bri­tish en­tre­pre­neur Sir De­nis Eton-Hogg.

Be­fore “The Avengers,” he had ap­peared in such TV shows as “Twi­light Zone,” “Rawhide” and “Play­house 90,” among many oth­ers.

But it was “The Avengers” that pro­vided a per­ma­nent liv­ing for Mac­nee. He owned 2.5 per­cent of the prof­its, and the se­ries con­tin­ued to play world­wide into the 21st cen­tury.

He ex­plained why in his in­ter­view with the De­seret News: “It’s a very sim­ple rea­son: It’s ex­tremely good. I feel very jus­ti­fied and de­lighted in see­ing af­ter all these years that the show works.”

Be­sides his son and daugh­ter, Mac­nee’s sur­vivors in­clude a grand­child.

Fu­neral ser­vices were pend­ing.


This 1966 photo pro­vided by ABC shows, Pa­trick Mac­nee, left, as John Steed, and Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Bri­tish se­cret agents in a scene from “The Avengers.”

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