Friday, February 24, 2006

Camera Obscura - Decades Defining The Bad Guy

The focus today is on the sadly obscure career of an actor whose work spans movies and television from the 1940s to 2006 and likely will continue for many years - at least I'm sure he will keep working as long as he is alive, but in addition to the acting he's also a winner of the Purple Heart, and perhaps is best known for being bad guys in biker movies, westerns, courtrooms, horror and action films, comedies, and claims to be a direct descendant of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson. And he's still at it, and is apparently working on a book to tell his life story.

As I was growing up, it seemed he was in almost every TV show playing some bad guy and when he appeared as Conan the Barbarian's dad in the 1982 movie (that's where the screen capture above originates) it seemed a natural. I recently read an interview where he says he mostly ad-libbed his dialog with the young Conan:

Bill: I wrote the whole speech. They hadn't written one. Every now and then [director John] Milius would come to me and say, "I want something about fire and wind and steel." The line he liked best was "For no one, no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. This you can trust." [points to sword] He loved that line.

Q: Didn't the review in Time magazine say something like the movie started going bad when you stopped talking?

Bill: Something like that maybe. [a little smile]"

Some quick highlights might jog your memory - he played in the final episode of the 1960s "Batman" TV show as a character named Adonis; he was also the last actor to play The Marlboro Man in the last Marlboro television ad; he was the villainous Falconetti in the first TV-miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man"; and he was in a bare-knuckle fighter who fought with Clint Eastwood in "Any Which Way You Can", a brawl the demolished half the town.

He began at the age of eight in small roles, in "Ghost of Frankenstein" and a small part in the musical "Meet Me In St. Louis." He found fame after some television roles in "Perry Mason" and many TV westerns as a young man and then hit the silver screen again in the biker movie classics "Run Angel Run" and "Angels Die Hard".

I happened to see an old movie the other night in which he was the son of a vampire who had turned vampire hunter called "Grave of the Vampire", which set my memory of William Smith in motion. And a little min-bio at IMDb had more details about this highly educated actor who has appeared in about 300 plus movies. Outside of acting, he earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War, held a Guiness World Record for reverse-curling his own bodyweight (someone has since surpassed his record), he was a two-time Arm Wrestling Champ, has a 31-1 record in amateur boxing, and on and on the list goes. (We're talking a career that goes through "Dukes of Hazzard," "Lassie," "Simon and Simon," "Fantasy Island", "The A-Team," "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," "Deep Space Nine," "Knight Rider", and on and on and on.....)

For the next day or so, I happened to see him over and over on various movie channels, such as the often forgotten Western comedy "The Frisco Kid" with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford, and then late yesterday, in his villainous turn as Col. Strelnikov in "Red Dawn".

More recently, he's been voicing the character of Dragga in the "Justice League" cartoon series and is still working on some direct-to-DVD movies for 2006 release.

Few, if any other actors, can claim to have worked with so many legendary performers in movies and TV and if he does ever write his autobiography, it will be a book that sprawls across the history of television and movies.


  1. I love this post.
    I love character actors, and the impact they have on cinema. I really am bored by leading men and women, but then again, my favorite movies are Female Trouble and Harold and Maude.
    This was really very good and I enjoyed it.

  2. Cinemonkey9:31 AM

    William Smith was THE go-to bad guy in the '70's. Glad to hear he's still acting. Thanks for the spotlight on him.

  3. Very happy to know you enjoyed the info!