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Andrew McLaglen was born in London, the son of British actor Victor McLaglen and Enid Lamont, who moved to Hollywood in the early 1920s, shortly after his birth. He was from a film family that included eight uncles and an aunt, and he grew up on movie sets with his parents as well as John Wayne and John Ford. After working as an assistant director on a few smaller films, Ford gave him the assistant director job on the film The Quiet Man (1952).
After a few more assistant or second director jobs, McLaglen directed his first film, Man in the Vault (1956), which was followed by Gun the Man Down in 1956 - a western B-movie with James Arness, Angie Dickinson and Harry Carey, Jr., and co-produced by John Wayne.
He went on to work extensively in television directing, directing episodes of Perry Mason (7), Gunslinger (5), Rawhide (6), and then 116 episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel, The Lieutenant (4), The Virginian (2), and 96 episodes of Gunsmoke.
He returned to films, directing Shenandoah (1965) and The Rare Breed (1966), both with James Stewart; The Devil's Brigade (1968), Mitchell (1975), The Wild Geese (1978), North Sea Hijack (1979), and The Sea Wolves (1980). He did mostly westerns, but later specialized in war or action films, his last being Return from the River Kwai (1989). He also worked many times with John Wayne in such films as McLintock! (1963), Hellfighters (1968), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973). He also directed The Last Hard Men (1976) which starred Charlton Heston and James Coburn. McLaglen helmed Murder at the World Series, a 1977 TV movie that reteamed him with Chisum actress Lynda Day George.
McLaglen directed films in an assortment of categories, including crime, war, historical and comedy, but he was most frequently a director of Westerns, and would be among the last of the American film directors to specialize in the Western genre.
He later moved to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington State, directing plays for San Juan Island Community Theater.
McLaglen and his then wife, the American actress Veda Ann Borg, had one child, Andrew Victor McLaglen II (August 3, 1954–January 16, 2006).