Home News celebrity news Harve Presnell: The Baritone Who Sang with Opera Legends and Hollywood Icons

Harve Presnell: The Baritone Who Sang with Opera Legends and Hollywood Icons

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Harve Presnell was an American actor and singer with an incredible 50-year career spanning classical baritone singing with opera companies and orchestras across North America and Europe, to musical theatre starring roles (The Unsinkable Molly Brown on Broadway and its film adaptation for which he won a Golden Globe). Additionally he appeared in numerous films such as Fargo, Saving Private Ryan, Flags of Our Fathers to demonstrate his versatility and talent.

harve presnell
harve presnell

Early life and classical singing career

Harve Presnell was born September 14th 1933 in Modesto, California. He spent much of his childhood working on a family ranch near Yosemite Valley where he discovered his singing talent at age seven as soloist at his local church. At Modesto High School he received a sports scholarship that enabled him to attend the University of Southern California and earn his Bachelors in Vocal Performance degree. Upon graduation he continued studying vocal performance both internationally as well as in Europe through Music Academy of the West.

Presnell made his professional stage debut at 21 when he participated in the American premiere of Darius Milhaud’s opera David at Hollywood Bowl. Since then, he has performed with various opera companies and orchestras during his 50s career, such as San Francisco Opera, Roger Wagner Chorale, Philadelphia Orchestra as well as opera productions La Forza del Destino, Un Ballo in Maschera, Marriage of Figaro and Tosca with sopranos Dorothy Kirsten and Leontyne Price.

Stage and film career

In 1960, Presnell’s career took an unexpected turn when musical theater composer Meredith Willson noticed him at a Gershwin Night concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Impressed by Presnell’s voice and charisma, Willson wrote Johnny “Leadville” Brown into his new Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown specifically for him. The musical based on Titanic survivor Molly Brown proved immensely popular and garnered rave reviews; its film adaptation co-starring Debbie Reynolds reprised his performance which earned him another Golden Globe Award nomination – Most Promising Newcomer.

Presnell appeared destined for greatness in Hollywood, yet movie musicals provided him with few opportunities to showcase his skills. Instead, he attempted a broader range of films such as western The Glory Guys and romantic comedy When the Boys Meet the Girls but neither were well received; his only memorable appearance in 1960s film was Paint Your Wagon where he sang haunting ballad “They Call the Wind Mariah” to great effect.

Presnell’s film career had faded by the 1970s, yet he continued working in musical theatre productions such as Camelot, The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever on Broadway, West End and tour productions as well as concerts and cabarets across the United States.

Presnell enjoyed a comeback in his film career during his early 60s. He played character roles in films like Fargo (1996), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Patch Adams (1998), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Old School (2003) and Flags of Our Fathers (2006) – also appearing on television shows such as The Pretender, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Dawson’s Creek and Andy Barker, P.I. He demonstrated both depth and range as an actor; often playing authoritative or comedic figures with authority or comedic qualities.

Personal life and death

Presnell was married twice. His first wife was Sheryl Mae Green, whom he wed in 1957 before divorcing her four years later in 1966 after four children together: Stephanie Ann Presnell (born 1958), Taylor Presnell (born 1960), Etoile Presnell (born 1962), and Tulley Presnell (born 1964). Later he wed Veeva Suzanne Hamblen with whom they had Raine (born 1971) and Shannon Presnell (born 1974).

Presnell passed away at 75 on June 30, 2009 in Santa Monica, California after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and receiving surgery and chemotherapy treatment in 2008. He leaves behind his wife, six children, and numerous grandchildren.

Harve Presnell was an exceptional and versatile performer who left an enduring impression with audiences through his powerful voice and captivating presence. Singing alongside opera legends as well as Hollywood icons, Harve starred in musicals, dramas, comedies, and war films alike.

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