Jack Cassidy (b. Richmond Hill, NY, March 5, 1927; d. West Hollywood, CA, December 12, 1976) was an American actor of stage, film and television. The type for which he was frequently cast was one of a suave, larger-than-life egotist, rather in the style of John Barrymore, whom he played in the feature film W.C. Fields and Me (1976). His sense of humor, however, made him appealing, even when he played oily villains (as, for instance, on Columbo).
John Joseph Edward Cassidy was of Irish descent on his father’s side (the side he tended to emphasize), and German on his mother’s. Encouraged by an uncle who was a famous circus contortionist, he quit school at age fifteen to pursue an acting and singing career, supporting himself as a bellhop, cashier, dishwasher, chauffeur, salesman, postal clerk, hotel clerk, stable boy, and coal and ice deliveryman. His first Broadway gig was in the chorus of Something for the Boys in 1943, and in subsequent years he performed in many musicals and revues, landing his first lead roles in Wish You Were Here (1952) and Sandhog (1954).
At least thirteen original cast recordings of Broadway shows from the ’50s and ’60s preserve Cassidy’s smooth baritone. He is near the top of the list of frequent recipients of Tony Award® nominations, winning the 1964 Tony Award® for Best Supporting or Featured Actor in a Musical for She Loves Me, and three other nominations for Fade Out – Fade In (1965), It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman! (1966), and Maggie Flynn (1969).
Jack Cassidy’s first wife, from 1948 to 1956, was actress Evelyn Ward. Their son David Cassidy, born in 1950, was to become a television teen idol in the 1970s as eldest son Keith on The Partridge Family sitcom, and still remains an international pop star. In the year of his divorce, Jack Cassidy met Shirley Jones on a European tour of Oklahoma! and married her. They had three sons, Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan, each of whom has established a career in entertainment. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy developed a close and trusting relationship working together in The Partridge Family (1970–74), in which, coincidentally, she played his mother. Jack and Shirley were divorced in 1974.
Beginning with an appearance on The United States Steel Hour (1957), Cassidy had an important television career as a guest star, in series like Gunsmoke (1958), Wagon Train, Alfred Hitchcock, Maverick, Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6, I Spy, Get Smart, That Girl, Bewitched, The Mod Squad, Columbo, Mary Tyler Moore, Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, and McCloud. He was a charming presence on variety and game shows (Match Game), and starred in a revival of Hellzapoppin‘. For his performances in the series He & She (1967) and in the television drama The Andersonville Trial (1970) he received two Emmy® Award nominations.
From 1961 Jack Cassidy appeared in eight feature films, the most noteworthy being Bunny O’Hare (1971) with Ernest Borgnine and Bette Davis, The Eiger Sanction (1975) with Clint Eastwood, and W.C. Fields and Me (1976) with Rod Steiger.
Cassidy died in a fire in his fourth-floor penthouse in West Hollywood after returning home from a long night of partying. Apparently he lit a cigarette and fell asleep on the couch. A star in his memory on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has been approved, and funds for the dedication ceremony are being raised by his son Ryan.