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E. G. Marshall; Character Actor Won 2 Emmy Awards With 'The Defenders'

August 26, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

E. G. Marshall, the respected actor who portrayed lawyers, doctors and other authority figures so well that fans often mistook him for the real professional, has died.

According to biographies, he was 88. Marshall told Associated Press last year, however, that he was born in 1914--rather than the unanimously listed June 18, 1910--which would make him 84.

Marshall, Emmy-award winning star of the groundbreaking series "The Defenders" and "The New Doctors," died Monday night at his home in Mount Kisco, N.Y., his agent Clifford Stevens announced Tuesday.

Through his long and varied career, Marshall seemed as much at home in the White House or the Pentagon as he did in courtrooms and hospitals. He played the president in the film "Superman II" in 1980, Atty. Gen. John Mitchell in the 1995 film "Nixon" and aging tycoon and presidential backer Walter Sullivan in the 1997 "Absolute Power." He was President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a PBS biography titled "Ike" in 1986--even though Marshall candidly admitted to supporting Eisenhower's opponent, Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections.

In earlier years, he was a major in "Town Without Pity," a brigadier general in "The Bridge at Remagen" and a lieutenant colonel in "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Also popular as a voice in commercials and as a television and radio host, Marshall greeted PBS viewers each Independence Day on the annual production, "A Capitol Fourth," and hosted such programs as "In Memoriam: J.F.K." in 1966.

But the veteran actor became a household face in 1961 as Lawrence Preston, the wise senior partner to Robert Reed in the father-and-son law firm of Preston & Preston on "The Defenders." The series, which ran four years, dealt with issues few other television programs tackled in that era--abortion, mercy killing, restricted travel to other nations and Hollywood blacklisting.

"Although I'd been on television--playing various parts, of course--almost constantly for years, nobody seemed to recognize me on the street or in restaurants," Marshall said in 1962. "Now people are likely to turn around and look at me."

Marshall earned Emmys for the series in 1962 and 1963. He reprised his role in two Showtime episodes of "The Defenders" during the past television season.

The actor proved equally accepted as a doctor in 1969 as Dr. David Craig, heading his own medical treatment and research institute in "The New Doctors." The most durable of four rotating series in "The Bold Ones," the medical series lasted four successful years.

Among Marshall's most memorable motion pictures were "The Caine Mutiny" in 1954 and "Twelve Angry Men" in 1957, in which he was the important fourth juror. He had key roles in several classic Broadway plays including "The Petrified Forest," "The Skin of Our Teeth," "Waiting for Godot," "The Crucible" and "The Gin Game."

Born in Owatonna, Minn., to parents of Norwegian descent, Marshall reluctantly confessed that his given names were Edda Gunnar--the first for the book of Norse legends and the second a common name for Norse kings. Later biographies listed his formal name as "Everett G. Marshall." In his childhood, he shortened his given name simply to his initials.

Marshall attended prestigious Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and then the University of Minnesota, intending to become a clergyman. After performing a musical number on a St. Paul radio show in 1932--and deciding he was something of an agnostic--he switched his focus to the theater.

For three years, Marshall traveled the country performing the classics as part of the Oxford Players, and worked in radio theater in Chicago, where the company settled. He made his New York debut in 1938 in "Prologue to Glory," a Federal Theater production about Abraham Lincoln.

Marshall studied acting at Actors Studio in New York but learned his craft playing what he called "funny little character men" on the Broadway stage in the 1940s.

His breakthrough came in 1946 when he portrayed Willie Oban in the world premiere of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh." He was much in demand for stage roles after that, and in the live theatrical beginnings of television--"Philco Television Playhouse," "Armstrong Circle Theatre," 'Studio One" and "Kraft Television Theatre."

Marshall made his motion picture debut in 1945 as a morgue attendant in the thriller "The House on 92nd Street."

He continued his eclectic appearances on film, television, radio and the stage until shortly before his death.

Often portraying politicians, Marshall dabbled in the real thing by organizing the Preservation Party to support anti-development candidates in suburban New York. He also worked to improve health care nationwide.

Marshall married twice--Helen Wolf, from whom he divorced in 1953, and with whom he had two daughters, Jill and Degen, and Judith Coy, with whom he had three more children, Sam, Sarah and Jud.

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