Retrobituaries: Doug McClure and Troy Donahue, the Two Halves of Troy McClure
Hi, I’m D.B. Grady. You might remember me from such articles as The Criminal Lives of Classical Composers and Remarkable Things Discovered Under Parking Lots. In all of television history, no fictional character hosting fictional documentaries is better loved than Troy McClure. Voiced by the late Phil Hartman, the Simpsons fixture was based on real-life actors Doug McClure and Troy Donahue, the producers taking the surname from one and the first name from the other. Here are a few things you might not know about both halves of Troy McClure.
Troy Donahue almost married into the Corleone crime family.
“I don't know this Merle,” said Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II, “I don't know what he does. I don't know what he lives on.” Michael might have been more open to his sister marrying Merle Johnson if he’d known that the would-be groom was played by the future Troy Donahue. But here’s the postmodern twist—”Troy Donahue” was just a screen name that Hollywood producers gave the actor at the start of his career. His real name? Merle Johnson.
A certain Simpsons character seemed strangely familiar...
"Are they making fun of me?" asked Doug McClure while he and his family were watching an episode of The Simpsons. According to his daughter, Doug became a big fan of the series, and his kids jokingly called him “Troy” behind his back.
Troy is the word.
Troy Donahue features in the lyrics of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” from the musical Grease:
As for you Troy Donahue,
I know what you wanna do
You got your crust
I'm no object of lust
I'm just plain Sandra Dee
He was also the subject of Andy Warhol in the photo-silkscreen print Troy Diptych.
They once crossed paths in the Old West.
The Virginian ran for nine seasons and was the first 90-minute western series on television. It was also, apparently, the nexus of pop culture. Among the show’s many guest stars were George C. Scott, Harrison Ford, William Shatner, Ricardo Montalban (KHAAAAAAAN!), Burgess Meredith, and Leslie Nielsen. Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley once appeared together. And even though they have two hundred movies and TV roles between them, Shiloh Ranch marked the one place where Doug McClure and Troy Donahue appeared together on screen, in a single 1969 episode titled “Fox, Hound and the Widow McCloud.”
“Damn, it's nice to be a movie star.”
Troy Donahue got his big break when he was cast opposite Sandra Dee in the film A Summer Place. "I think I was always just amazed, and I never got cocky about the whole thing," he later said. "It was more of a 'Gee whiz' or 'Damn, it's nice to be a movie star' kind of feeling." His most successful star vehicle was 1961’s Parrish, a coming of age story of a young farmer and businessman; his most remembered role will probably be the aforementioned Merle Johnson from The Godfather, Part II.
McClure’s most famous role was on The Virginian, where he starred as Trampas, a boisterous, reformed villain who worked on the Shiloh Ranch. Said McClure of the role, "I'm back where I want to be. I like doing outdoor shows. I'm out in the fresh air instead of being cooped up in a stage all day, and this show gives you a chance to get a little color in the characterization. In a detective show, most of the dialogue is along the lines of ‘Where were you on the night of Jan. 12?’”
Doug McClure gets a star
Two months before he died of lung cancer, Doug McClure received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "It gave me the incentive to get well,” he said at the event, “and I am well." Indeed, he was well enough to guest star in episodes of Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues and One West Waikiki. McClure collapsed on set of the Hawaii-based television series, and later learned that his cancer had spread to his liver and bones. He died on February 5, 1995 at the age of 59.
“It's never been as good as it is now.”
After his star reached its peak in the mid-1960s, Troy Donahue spent the next thirty years as a B-movie superstar. His last role was in the 2000 independent comedy The Boys Behind the Desk. "I'm not looking for comebacks," he said in an interview. "I don't pine for the old days or think, 'Oh, it could have been.' It's never been as good as it is now, and if you told me back then that this is the way it was going to be, I would have been much relieved." He died in 2001 at the age of 62.