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Archive for the ‘Charactor Actor Of The Day’ Category

I’ve been meaning to resurrect this series for ages, and I finally got around to it. Our Character Actor Of The Day is Leo Gordon.

Leo Gordon stands tall as one of the screen’s greatest heavies. At six foot two, with a deep voice and icy stare, he’s one of the few guys around who could really come up against someone like John Wayne (Hondo, McLintock!) or Clint Walker (Cheyenne, Night Of The Grizzly) and not look silly.

Don Siegel, who directed Gordon in Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954, above), called Gordon “the scariest man I have ever met.”

Leo Vincent Gordon, Jr. was born December 2, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. His family lived in poverty and he left school in the eighth grade to work in construction and demolition. Next came the Civilian Conservation Corps. After that, in 1941, Leo enlisted in the Army and served two years.

After the war, Gordon was arrested for armed robbery in southern California. During the ordeal, he pulled a gun and was shot in the stomach. Leo served five years in San Quentin, where he furthered his education by reading nearly every book in the prison library. (The mugshot was for a fight later, not the robbery arrest.)

Gordon attended the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts on the G.I. Bill — and married one of his classmates, Lynn Cartwright in 1950. They’d work together a number of times (such as Black Patch and some episodes of Adam 12 — often written by Leo) and their marriage would last until his death in 2000.

Gordon was soon cast in the London and Canadian companies of Mister Roberts. After a few years of stage work, Hollywood came calling. Lots and lots of crime pictures and Westerns.

His first Western was City Of Bad Men (1953). Then there’s Gun Fury (1953), Hondo (1954), Ten Wanted Men (1955), Tennessee’s Partner (1955), Yellow Mountain (1954, up top), The Tall Stranger (1957), Quantrill’s Raiders (1958, he’s Quantrill), McLintock! (1963), Night Of The Grizzly (1966), Hostile Guns (1967, below, one of those A.C. Lyles things) and My Name Is Nobody (1973, produced by Sergio Leone). There are lots, lots more.

Gordon turned up in crime pictures like Baby Face Nelson (1957, as John Dillinger), The Big Operator (1959) and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967). You’ll also find him in Tobruk (1967) and The Haunted Palace (1963). He was versatile and he stayed plenty busy.

On TV, Leo Gordon had recurring role on Maverick (below) as Big Mike McComb, and James Garner would later recruit him for several episodes of The Rockford Files. He’s terrific on The Andy Griffith Show as a guy who’s released from prison — and comes looking for Sheriff Taylor. On Cheyenne, he and Clint Walker are great in some real knock down drag out fights.

All in all, he’d go on to appear in more than 170 movies and TV shows from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s. His last feature was Maverick (1994), and his tiny part is the only reason to sit through that thing.

Gordon was a screenwriter, too. He wrote for shows such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Cheyenne and Adam 12 (right). And he penned features like Black Patch (1957), Hot Car Girl (1958), Escort West (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959), Bounty Killer (1965) and Tobruk. There were several novels, too, including the historical Western Powderkeg.

Though often the heavy, Leo Gordon had a way of not just making his presence known, but turning in a real performance. (He’s really terrific in The Intruder.) There’s an odd sympathetic angle to a lot of his villains. He was one of the best.

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Return of Jack Slade NB MB

Since watching Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956), Neville Brand has been on my mind. (Blake Lucas brought him up, too.)

If I was to make a list of underappreciated actors, Neville Brand would be near the top. He’s so good in so many pictures — big ones and small ones. And there was so much more to him than just a bad guy.

After serving in World War II — where he was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and other decorations, Brand studied acting on the G.I. Bill. His first sizable film role was in D.O.A. (1950). His career as a heavy was off to the races.

Neville Brand: “With this kisser, I knew early in the game I wasn’t going to make the world forget Clark Gable… I don’t go in thinking he’s a villain. The audience might, but the villain doesn’t think he’s a villain… I just create this human being under the circumstances that are given.”

Brand Laredo with bookFrom time to time, he’d play something other than a thug, or his thug would have a decent amount of screen time, and he’d really shine. Something like Halls Of Montezuma (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957) or Don Siegel’s Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954). There’s Reese Bennett on Laredo (1965-67). And he had great chemistry with John Wayne in Cahill: U.S. Marshall (1973), giving the film a much-needed shot in the arm.

Brand fought Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism. Was a veracious reader with a huge library (some of it was lost in a fire in the 70s). And everyone seems to say the same thing: that he was a tough guy — but also a really nice man.

He’s seen up top with Mari Blanchard in The Return Of Jack Slade (1955), one of the many movies to benefit from his presence, and reading on the Laredo set.

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Last Of The Comanches Saunders

Character actor Hugh Sanders stayed busy throughout the 50s, in both features and on TV — with parts in pictures like The Wild One (1953), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).

From Illinois, Sanders worked in radio before making the move to Hollywood in 1949. He made a number of Western features before his death in 1966 (at just 54), such as Last Of The Comanches (1953, above), The Guns Of Fort Petticoat (1957) and Warlock (1959, below). He played a lot of lawmen, as he did in City Of Bad Men (1953). And as is so common with character actors in this period, he often went without credit.

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On TV, you’ll see him in Western shows like The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Tales Of Wells Fargo and Maverick, along with Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. And that’s just scratching the surface.

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It’s been a while since I did a Character Actor Of The Day, so I decided on a big one: Robert J. Wilke (May 18, 1914 – March 28, 1989).

Wilke started out as a stuntman in the 30s, and was soon a very prolific bad guy in movies and eventually on TV. He has hundreds of credits, most in Westerns. Here he is (center) with Lee Van Cleef and Sheb Wooley in High Noon (1952). He was appearing in many of the Tim Holt pictures from around the same time.

Before breaking into the movies, he was a high diver at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. And he was known as one of the best celebrity golfers in Hollywood. Wonder if he and Randolph Scott set up a game during Badman’s Territory (1946)?

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Do you remember our Character Actor Of The DayJohn Dierkes, as Dr. Chapman in The Thing (1950)? He’s one of the scientists who realizes that despite all that science can learn from the Thing, it needs to die. Or maybe you know him as The Tall Soldier in The Red Badge Of Courage (1951, above, with Audie Murphy) or from Shane (1953) or The Alamo (1960) or One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Or even as one of the mutants in The Omega Man (1973).

Dierkes’ path to the movies was a strange one. An economist, he joined the Red Cross during World War II and met John Huston in England. The director urged him to give the movies a shot, but after the war Dierkes went to work for the U.S. Treasury. They sent him to Hollywood as an advisor on To The Ends Of The Earth (1948). Two years later, Huston brought him back to California for The Red Badge Of Courage (1951). He took a leave of absence from the Treasury Department, but never went back.

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He brought a lot to so many pictures. His scene in The Left-Handed Gun (1958, he’s right behind Paul Newman), as he reads Corinthians 13 to Billy The Kid, never fails to give me goosebumps. It’s a moment of grace in a film that’s all over the place.

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Character Actor Of The Day is something I’ve been meaning to kick off for a while, and when discussion of the great Frank Ferguson (1899-1978) cropped up the other day, I knew I’d waited too long.

As a kid, I came to know Ferguson as Mr. McDougal, owner of the house of horrors in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Once he was on my radar, it became obvious he’s in just about everything (as a gauge, the IMDB gives him 600 credits). He’s seen here with Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar (1954), one of the many 50s Westerns that benefitted from his (often-uncredited) presence.

The other day, Blake Lucas called Ferguson “essential,” and that’s the perfect word for him. Boy, I would’ve loved to interview him.

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Today I’d like to celebrate James Griffith, a character actor who doesn’t get near the recognition he deserves. That’s him in Rails Into Laramie (1954), in the green shirt, holding the double barrel shotgun.

Mr. Griffith was a musician first and foremost — a one-time member of Spike Jones’ band, but his busy acting career took off and lasted into the 80s. If you have a pulse and have ever sat in front of a television set, chances are good you’ve seen him. He’s in multiple episodes of Dragnet, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Batman and Emergency!, to name just a few. To give you an idea, the Internet Movie Database (not the most trustworthy of references) gives him over 200 actor credits.

Griffith both scored and appeared in Bullwhip (1958), and he co-wrote, scored and acted in Russ Meyer’s Lorna (1964). Standout film roles — his feature work is made up largely of Westerns — include the airline manager at the end of The Killing (1956), Pat Garrett in The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954) and a great turn as the ailing Doc Holliday in Masterson Of Kansas (1954, below with George Montgomery).

How many actors can say they worked for Stanley Kubrick, William Castle and Russ Meyer? Now that’s a career!

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