Described by Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Tibbett as "one of the best young baritones I have heard," McPhail appeared with nightclub bands in South America before extra work in motion pictures led to romantic singing parts in features. Paired with Betty Jaynes in such films as Sweethearts (1938) and Babes in Arms (19139), McPhail secretly married the actress in 1938. When they divorced in 1941, Jaynes was awarded sole custody of their daughter. Shortly afterward, a distraught McPhail drank poison, but phoned his mother in time to be saved. The singer volunteered for the Army in 1943, but a fall incurred during basic training kept him bedridden for eight months. Medically discharged with the rank of private, the 30 year old worked four hours a day as a gardener while pursuing his musical studies in the hope of appearing in a concert. Suffering from acute nervous exhaustion, McPhail swallowed poison in his home at 1818 N. Vine in Hollywood on December 7, 1944. He died shortly afterward in General Hospital.