James Gregory, craggy-faced character actor often cast as a gruff heavy and who essayed memorable roles in “The Manchurian Candidate” and TV’s “Barney Miller” as well as a hirsute commander in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” and Broadway’s Biff in “Death of a Salesman” during a wide-ranging career that spanned five decades, died Monday Sept. 16 of natural causes at his home in Sedona, Ariz. He was 90.
Gregory’s characters were usually loud, brash and unmistakably New York bred. His recurring role for eight seasons on the popular TV series, “Barney Miller” as the loudmouthed, opinionated Inspector Luger kept that image intact throughout the 1970s.
A native of the Bronx, he grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he was elected president of the high school Drama Club. (He was also good enough at golf to consider a pro career.) After high school, he worked as a runner on Wall Street shortly after the stock market crash of 1929 and had numerous odd jobs thereafter. He continued to perform in drama groups, though, and became a summer stock pro player in 1935.
After four years of performing in New York, New Jersey and other Northeastern states, he made his Broadway bow in the 1939 production of “Key Largo” starring Paul Muni and Jose Ferrar.
During the 1940s and through most of the ’50s, he appeared in 25 Broadway plays including “Death of a Salesman” playing the role of Biff Loman opposite five different Willy Lomans including original Lee J. Cobb, “The Desperate Hours” with Paul Newman and Karl Malden, “Dead Pigeon” with Lloyd Bridges and “All My Sons” with John Forsythe and Ed Begley Sr.
During World War II he served in the Navy and Marine Corps in the South Pacific and after his return to civilian life, he continued his legit career well into the 1950s and also starred on radio, as Capt. Vincent J. Cronin on CBS’ “21st Precinct” plus did narration and commercial work.
Then he made the leap into TV’s golden age of live television, appearing on many of that era’s shows including “Philco Playhouse,” “Kraft Television Theatre,” “Studio One,” “The Alcoa Hour” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” His work ethic was so rock solid and dependable that he worked for every major live TV production from New to Hollywood and arguably holds the record for most live performances, acting in five different dramatic productions in 10 days.
Gregory also appeared on several classic “Twilight Zone” episodes including “Where is Everybody?” Known for his many stints in Westerns, he appeared on numerous TV oaters including “Rawhide,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Big Valley,” “The Virginian” and “The Wild Wild West.”
Among his many other appearances were those in “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Mission: Impossible,” “That Girl,” “The Partridge Family,” “All in the Family,” etc.
His film work also was steady. In addition to playing Angela Lansbury’s husband in “Manchurian Candidate,” he played Elvis Presley’s father in “Clambake,” Dean Martin’s boss in the Matt Helm films and John Wayne’s nemesis in “The Sons of Katie Elder.”
Gregory retired from acting in 1983 and moved to Sedona.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ann, as well as two nephews and a niece.