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‘The Towering Inferno’ Cast: A Look Back At Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire and More!


Released in 1974, this disaster epic captivated audiences with its gripping storyline, star-studded cast, and groundbreaking special effects. Directed by John Guillermin and produced by Irwin Allen, The Towering Inferno remains a classic example of the disaster genre, blending suspense, action and human drama into a thrilling spectacle that continues to resonate with viewers today.

The Towering Inferno revolves around the opening ceremony of the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Glass Tower, located in San Francisco. However, as the celebration gets underway, a small fire breaks out due to faulty wiring.

What begins as a minor incident quickly escalates into a raging inferno, trapping hundreds of people on the upper floors of the building. As the flames spread and the situation grows increasingly dire, a race against time ensues to rescue the survivors and prevent further catastrophe.

Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (1974)
Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (1974) Bros

The film was a collaboration between two Hollywood titans: producer Irwin Allen and director John Guillermin. Allen, known as the master of disaster, had previously found success with films like The Poseidon Adventure, while Guillermin brought his expertise in crafting tense, action-packed scenes to the project. Their combined efforts resulted in a cinematic tour de force that captivated audiences and critics alike.

One of the key factors behind the film’s popularity was its star-studded cast, which featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time. With actors like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Faye Dunaway in leading roles, The Towering Inferno boasted a level of star power rarely seen in disaster films of the era. Audiences flocked to theaters to see their favorite actors face off against the towering blaze, making the film a box office sensation.

Here, we look at the The Towering Inferno cast.

Paul Newman as Doug Roberts

Paul Newman as Doug Roberts
1974/2005 Bros; James Devaney / Contributor/Getty

Born on January 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Paul Newman starred as Doug Roberts, the architect who designed the Glass Tower.

Prior to The Towering Inferno Newman was already enjoying a success film career. He was known for his charismatic presence and piercing blue eyes. He had starred in numerous films, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) The Hustler (1961) Hud (1961), What a Way to Go! (1964), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

After his performance in The Towering Inferno, Newman went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Color of Money (1986). He continued to act in Nobody’s Fool (1994) and Road to Perdition (2002). Late in his career he did a lot of voice work including the voice of Doc Hudson in Cars (2006).

Newman passed away in 2008 at the age of 83.

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Steve McQueen as Chief Michael O’Hallorhan: The Towering Inferno

Steve McQueen as Chief Michael O'Hallorhan (The Towering Inferno)
1974/ Bros; Sunset Boulevard / Contributor/Getty

Born March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana, Steve McQueen played the role of Chief Michael O’Hallorhan, the head of the San Francisco Fire Department’s rescue team.

Prior to The Towering Inferno McQueen was in a host of movies including The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Sand Pebbles (1966), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and the mega-hit Bullitt (1968).

After his role in The Towering Inferno, McQueen appeared in An Enemy of the People (1978), the Western Tom Horn (1980), and The Hunter (1980), in which he portrayed real-life bounty hunter Ralph Papa’ Thorson.

McQueen passed away in 1980 from cancer. He was only 50.

Faye Dunaway as Susan Franklin

Faye Dunaway as Susan Franklin
1974/ Bros; Tristar Media / Contributor/Getty

Born January 14, 1941, in Bascom, Florida, Faye Dunaway played the role of Susan Franklin, Doug Roberts’ fiancée (aka the love interest of Paul Newman).

Dunaway got her start on Broadway before moving to film. She received her first Academy Award nomination for her role as Bonnie in the movie Bonnie and Clyde. From there, she went on to star in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), the drama The Arrangement (1969), The Three Musketeers (1973, with The Four Musketeers following in 1974), and the neo-noir mystery Chinatown (1974) for which she earned her second Oscar nomination.

After The Towering Inferno, she continued to act in such movies as the political thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), the satire Network (1976) for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress, and the thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). She was well-known for her starring role as Joan Crawford in the book-turned-movie Mommy Dearest.

She also had guest appearances in several TV shows including Touched by An Angel, Alias, and Grey’s Anatomy. Her most recent appearance was in the 2022 movie The Man Who Drew God.

William Holden as James Duncan: The Towering Inferno

William Holden as James Duncan (The Towering Inferno)
1974/ Bros; Silver Screen Collection / Contributor/Getty

Born April 17, 1918, in O’Fallon, Illinois, William Holden played the role of James Duncan, the wealthy businessman who built the Glass Tower.

Prior to The Towering Inferno, Holden was a veteran actor with a long and distinguished career, known for films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Stalag 17 (1953) for which he won an Academy Award. He also appeared in the popular 1954 movie Sabrina.

After The Towering Inferno, Holden continued to act in movies such as Network (1976) Fedora (1978) and The Earthling (1980).

He remained active in Hollywood until his death in 1981.

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Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne

Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne
1974/ Bros; Kypros / Contributor/Getty

Born on May 10, 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska, Fred Astaire played the role of Harlee Claiborne, a con artist attending the opening ceremony of the Glass Tower. For his role, Astaire received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Astaire was a legendary dancer and actor, his most memorable work was with dancing partner Ginger Rogers, with whom he co-starred in 10 Hollywood musicals during the classic age of Hollywood cinema, including Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), and Shall We Dance (1937).

After The Towering Inferno, he continued to have a successful career. He was the famous voice of the mailman narrator in the 1970s animated television special Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. In 1976 he appeared in the cult movie The Amazing Dobermans and in 1977 he stared in the French film The Purple Taxi (1977). His last film was the 1981 movie Ghost Story.

He died in 1987 at the age of 88.

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Richard Chamberlain as Roger Simmons: The Towering Inferno

Richard Chamberlain as Roger Simmons (The Towering Inferno)
1975/2017 Silver Screen Collection / Contributor/Getty; Jason LaVeris / Contributor/Getty

Born March 31, 1934, in Beverly Hills, California, Richard Chamberlain played the character Roger Simmons, the chief electrical engineer responsible for the faulty wiring that starts the fire.

Chamberlain had gained fame for his roles in television series like Dr. Kildare where he became an overnight heart throb. He also did films including The Three Musketeers (1973) and was known for his stage work both in New York and London.

After The Towering Inferno he went back to TV and became known as the king of the mini-series. He earned Emmy nominations and Golden Globe awards for his roles in The Count of Monte-Cristo (1975), Shogun (1980), and The Thorn Birds (1983).

He continued doing TV and was in the TV miniseries The Bourne Identity, Island Son, Brothers and Sisters. His most recent appearance was in the 2019 movie Finding Julia.

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