John Saxon (1936-2020)

John Saxon, my all-time favourite ”not leading role” actor passed away on July 25 in pneumonia in Murfreesboro, Tennessee at the age of 83. The news really struck me hard since he has been with me since I watched ”Nightmare on Elm Street” for the first time. He’s extremely charismatic and I don’t know why he never got a serious big role. I think he would have been the perfect James Bond among other things. Most people know him from ”Enter the Dragon” where he played with Bruce Lee. But he did so much more, like his police role in Black Christmas, the proto-slasher from 1974 to the criminally underrated Italy made slasher ”Nightmare Beach” from 1989. Not to forget, his appearance in 3 different Elm street movies. His human flesh urgees in Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), in horror maestro Dario Argentos ”Tenebrae” (1982) or as an FBI agent in 1996’s ”From dusk til dawn”. The man, the legend have 198 actor credits and I haven’t even seen half of them so I better get on it right away. Rest in Peace Mr.Saxon.

From Wikipedia:

John Saxon (born Carmine Orrico; August 5, 1936 – July 25, 2020) was an American actor who worked on more than 200 projects during a span of 60 years. He was known for his work in Westerns and horror movies, often playing police officers and detectives.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Saxon studied acting with Stella Adler before beginning his career as a contract actor for Universal Pictures, playing in such movies as Rock, Pretty Baby (1956) and Portrait in Black (1961), which earned him a reputation as a teen idol and won him a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. During the 1970s and 1980s, he established himself as a character actor, frequently portraying law enforcement officials in horror movies such as Black Christmas (1974), Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

In addition to his roles in horror movies, Saxon co-starred with Bruce Lee in the martial arts movie Enter the Dragon (1973), and had supporting roles in the westerns The Appaloosa (1966; for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture), Death of a Gunfighter (1969) and Joe Kidd (1972), as well as the made-for-television thriller Raid on Entebbe (1977). In the 1990s, Saxon occasionally appeared in movies, with small roles in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) and From Dusk till Dawn (1996).

Early Life

Saxon, a second-generation Italian American, was born Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Antonio Orrico, a dock worker, and Anna (née Protettore). Both were immigrants from Italy. He attended New Utrecht High School, graduating in 1953. He then studied acting with Stella Adler. He started acting in movies during the mid-1950s, playing teenage roles.

According to Robert Hofler’s 2005 biography The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, agent Henry Willson saw Saxon’s picture on the cover of a detective magazine and immediately contacted the boy’s family in Brooklyn. With his parents’ permission, the 17-year-old Orrico contracted with Willson, and he was given the stage name John Saxon. He contracted with Universal Studios in April 1954 at $150 a week.

Universal Pictures

Saxon spent 18 months at Universal before the studio first used him for a movie. His first significant role was a juvenile delinquent in Running Wild (1955), co-starring Mamie Van Doren. According to Filmink, “young Saxon had a scowling, broody teen quality that was in fashion in mid-‘50s Hollywood.” He was then given a good role in The Unguarded Moment (1956), playing a youth who seemingly stalks Esther Williams. During February 1956 Universal exercised its option on Saxon and he was paid $225 a week.

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Teen idol

Saxon had the main part in a low budget teen movie, Rock, Pretty Baby (1956) which became an unexpected success and established Saxon as a teen idol. Universal executives were pleased, and Ross Hunter announced he would be in Teach Me How To Cry. First Saxon quickly reprised his Rock, Pretty Baby role in a sequel, Summer Love (1958). By now he was getting about 3,000 fan letters a week.

He then made Teach Me How to Cry with Sandra Dee, which was retitled The Restless Years (1958). 

Universal put him in an “A film”, This Happy Feeling (1958), directed by Blake Edwards, where Saxon romanced Debbie Reynolds in support of Curt Jurgens.  MGM borrowed him to appear opposite Sandra Dee in The Reluctant Debutante (1958), for director Vincente Minnelli, which was widely seen. Saxon was billed third, beneath Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall.

He had a support role in a large budget Biblical drama about Simon Peter, The Big Fisherman (1959) for director Frank Borzage, featuring Howard Keel. It was a financial disappointment.

In August 1958 Saxon signed a three picture deal with Hecht Hill Lancaster the first of which was to be the main role in Cry Tough (1959), a movie about juvenile delinquents. He was meant to follow it with The Ballad at Cat Ballou (not made for years later, with Jane Fonda). Instead for HHL he worked with another major director, John Huston, in the Western, The Unforgiven (1960), playing an Indian in support of Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. 

Back at Universal, he remained in a supporting role for Portrait in Black (1960), reunited with Dee, with Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn. 

He was essentially a juvenile delinquent cowboy in The Plunderers (1960), tormenting Jeff Chandler. He played in the Westerns Posse from Hell (1961) with Audie Murphy and guest featured in television series like General Electric Theater and The Dick Powell Theatre.

“I want to do all sorts of character parts,” he said in 1960.

Saxon played a serial killer soldier in War Hunt (1962), and had a small role in the comedy success Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962).

Europe

Saxon traveled to Italy to make Agostino (1962).

In 1963 Saxon co-featured with Letícia Román in Mario Bava’s Italian giallo movie The Girl Who Knew Too Much

He returned to Hollywood to perform in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963) and an episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre then was back to Europe for The Cavern (1964). 

The Ravagers (1965) was filmed in the Philippines; Night Caller from Outer Space (1965) was a science fiction movie filmed in Britain. 

In 1966, he featured in Curtis Harrington’s science fiction/horror classic Queen of Blood with Basil Rathbone and Dennis Hopper, then played opposite Marlon Brando in The Appaloosa (1966), winning a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor nomination for his portrayal of a Mexican bandit. Saxon recalls, “This was to me a terrific role and something I was ready for, but he [Brando] was despondent. He said he had lent a whole bunch of money to his father, and what he was saying to me was that his father ruined his life by losing all of his money. He was kind of bored in the picture.”

The Doomsday Flight (1966) was a made-for-television movie. In an interview in 1966 he said “I never felt comfortable being a teenage dreamboat… I regard myself as a craftsman.”

He portrayed Marco Polo in episode 26 of The Time Tunnel (“Attack of the Barbarians”), originally broadcast on March 10, 1967, and was a guest actor on Bonanza in 1967 (“The Conquistadores”). In episode 19, season 5 of The Virginian (“The Modoc Kid”) Saxon appeared in the title role alongside a young actor, appearing in one of his first speaking roles, Harrison Ford. And in 1969 he appeared in (“My Friend, My Enemy”).

Saxon was in a sex comedy for Sam Katzman, For Singles Only (1968) and played in some Westerns, One Dollar Too Many (1968), Death of a Gunfighter (1969), “The Men From Shiloh” (rebranded name for The Virginian (1971), and Joe Kidd (1972) (again playing a Mexican, this time a revolutionary named Luis Chama). I Kiss the Hand (1973) was a thriller made in Italy.

He spent three years playing Dr. Theodore Stuart for the television series The Bold Ones: The New Doctors (1969–1972).

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Enter the Dragon

He played the martial artist Roper in 1973’s Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s first major role in a Hollywood feature. He was in action movies: Mitchell (1974), The Swiss Conspiracy (1975), Strange Shadows in an Empty Room (1976), Napoli violenta (1976), Mark Strikes Again (1976), A Special Cop in Action (1976), Cross Shot (1976), The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (1977).

In 1974 he played police Lieutenant Fuller in the Canadian production of Black Christmas; from 1974–76, he appeared in The Six Million Dollar Man, first as Major Frederick Sloan and then as Nedlick. This role also extended into The Bionic Woman. The actor’s likeness was later used for the Kenner action-figure doll called ‘Maskatron’ which was based on the series.

In 1976, Saxon portrayed a homicidal vampire-like strangler in the Season Two Starsky & Hutch episode, ‘Vampire’. He played Captain Radl in the two-part Wonder Woman episode “The Feminine Mystique” (1976). Raid on Entebbe (1977) was a prestige television movie for him. Moonshine County Express was a big success for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures; Saxon made another for that company, The Bees (1978). He appeared in a Bollywood movie, Shalimar (1978) then it was back to exploitation: Fast Company (1979), The Glove (1979).

Saxon played Hunt Sears, chief of a breakfast cereal conglomerate, opposite Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in the 1979, Oscar-nominated film The Electric Horseman.

1980s-1990s

He appeared in the 1982 television movie Rooster, and was an occasional celebrity guest on the short-lived game show Whew!, including during the series’ final week. His extensive television credits include two years as Tony Cumson on Falcon Crest (1982, 1986–1988) as well as the recurring role of Rashid Ahmed on Dynasty (1982–84). He appeared twice (in different roles) on The A-Team, in 1983 and 1985. Saxon at the 2014 Fan Expo Canada.

Saxon played in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982) as the writer hero’s shifty agent; in Mitchell (1975) as the murderous union lawyer and prostitute provider Walter Deaney; in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) as Sador; in Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) where he played a Vietnam veteran tormented because his worthless pal bit him and years later, he is starting to get the urge to do the same; in Prisoners of the Lost Universe as an alternate-universe warlord, and in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as the heroine’s (Nancy Thompson’s) father. He reprised his role in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) as he played himself in a dual role. He also made his directorial debut in 1987 with the horror movie Zombie Death House, which starred Dennis Cole and Anthony Franciosa. He starred in Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) as and also made a cameo appearance in From Dusk till Dawn (1996).

Later career

In later years, Saxon continued to appear mostly in independent films and played in several television series. He had a notable guest part in “Grave Danger”, the 5th season finale of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which was directed by From Dusk till Dawn screenwriter and star Quentin Tarantino. Saxon starred in the episode opposite fellow cult film luminary Andrew Prine. He also appeared in an episode (“Pelts”) of the anthology horror series Masters of Horror, which reunited him with Tenebrae director Dario Argento.

Saxon was a regular guest at horror and cult film conventions. His last acting role was in the film Bring Me the Head of Lance Henriksen, which as of his passing was in post-production.

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