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Archive for the ‘Charactor Actor Of The Day’ Category

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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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