James W. Gavin, ace pilot for TV and movies

James W. Gavin pilots a helicopter with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

James W. Gavin pilots a helicopter with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on board.

One in a series about unsung figures of television.

James W. Gavin over a long career in television and movies mostly went unnoticed.

The pilot/second unit director/bit part player was a top helicopter pilot. His services were in demand for various TV serious as well as films such as Vanishing Point and The Towering Inferno.

Gavin got a bit of recognition in the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz told the anecdote of how Gavin had the presence of mind to get the cameras rolling when explosions were set off for what was supposed to be a rehearsal for the oil-rig sequence.

According to Mankiewicz, some of that footage ended up in the final version of Diamonds.

On occasion, Gavin got to be an actor. Not surprisingly, he played pilots, presumably because it was cheaper to film him reciting lines while he was flying. In some cases, he was billed as “Gavin James,” rather than by his real name.

Gavin was one of the go-to pilots for QM Productions, flying helicopters for the company’s various shows, including The FBI.

Gavin died in 2005 at the age of 70.

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