If you’re anything like me, I’d like to extend my deepest apologies. You were a socially awkward child, spent most of your summers alone, and didn’t lose your virginity until well after high school. But on the upside, if you were a preadolescent in the early 80’s with HBO, summers weren’t so bad. I watched a lot of my favorite movies repeatedly. None more than the original Star Wars trilogy. But it never really hit me how many actors showed up in the other films I was watching just as much, and in equally minor roles. I would bet you can’t name them, much less, remember their other work.
A Canadian-born actor with the most Scottish name derived from an Irish name available at the time. The man playing Gold Leader in Star Wars: A New Hope went unrecognized to me with his role in Superman II as the Prison Warden. Perhaps due to his transition from wearing a helmet to a hat, or the fact I was 10 years old and he only had about 30 seconds of screen time in each. He was tricked by Lex Luthor to still appear in his cell using a hologram the same way you could trick a cat with a laser pointer. Maybe neither should be in charge of detaining the greatest criminal mind of our time.
He had a much larger role a couple years later in the best SCTV based movie ever made (and, I suppose the only one) Strange Brew as hockey player/brewery worker/love interest Jean LaRose. He even made the poster art. But I guess I didn’t spot him since he wore a different helmet and grew a mustache.
Another pilot fromStar Wars A New Hope. His call sign is Red Six, but you’ll know him better as the first example of intergalactic fat-shaming: Porkins. I mean… who named him that? Other guys on his squadron? Droid Bullies? He’s also Munson, assistant to Hans Zarkov at the beginning of 1980’s Flash Gordon, until he ran out under a hail of bullets from the good doctor.
The next year, he was one of the “Top Men” guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Major Eaton. I did not make that name up. Maybe Lucas just had it in for him. By the end of the decade, he played crooked cop Lt. Eckhardt in Tim Burton’s Batman, taking one in the chest from the future Joker. I guess it’s cooler to get shot by Jack Nicholson than Topol.
Little side note: I came up for the idea of this list when I recently discovered a late 80’s TV show called The New Statesman. It stars Rik Mayall (The Young Ones, Drop Dead Fred) as a British MP involved in a lot of shady dealings. The first two actors listed here played small roles in the first season as loud, obnoxious Americans (*sigh* wonderful) he hires as a part of his scams. Mayall has a near line-less appearance as a patron of The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London. Also known as the greatest werewolf movie ever made. Fight Me!
In 1981, he’s Gerald Bringsley, the man getting off the London Underground in An American Werewolf in London. And he lets us know he’s not the least bit amused at the thought of being mauled by a wild animal. Cut to two years later and he’s Bib Fortuna in Star Wars Return of the Jedi. You can’t be blamed for not spotting him right away under all the makeup. He’d have been easier to pick out had he used his natural speaking voice and not channeled Harvey Fierstein. Granted, a scene in Jabba’s lounge with Fortuna in drag belting out torch songs while a group of Japanese businessmen impatiently wait their turn at karaoke may have made Jedi a more interesting film, but it would probably have been lost on the target audience.
A lot happened to this guy in 1980. He gets disintegrated (one assumes) as one of the pilots at the beginning of Flash Gordon. Then in Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back fries as Luke’s Snowspeeder gunner, Dak, at the Battle of Hoth. And, finally, meets his doom at the hands of the Kryptonian super-villains as the astronaut helming the Artemis II moon capsule in Superman II. So in one calendar year he has the rare distinction of dying, while in flight, in the first 30 minutes of 3 separate movies. He never acted again.
Also in those last two movies, a pre-Cheers John Ratzenberger appears in scenes within minutes of Morton’s deaths safely back in the command centers. Way to go, Cliff!
As General Motti, you’ll remember him as the sneering Imperial Officer in Star Wars A New Hope touting they show off the Death Star as the ultimate power in the universe then immediately gets force-choked by Darth Vader just by looking at him. It’s a scene so memorable, his action figure can almost only reenact it.
Three years later, he pops up in (you guessed it) Superman II as the reporter for the News Beat news team in East Houston, Idaho covering the arrival of the previously mentioned Kryptonians. But the bigger question to me is why he isn’t investigating the 10 year old kid in the red shirt and overalls who’s probably lived his whole life in this backwater town and clearly has a British accent. Did he get a concussion once and now just talks like that? Or did he hear the fancy dialect of his new overlords and decided he should just blend in to escape their wrath? Go watch that scene again. Seriously, it’s disturbing. And it’s bothered me for over 35 years.
Shane Mackey is a comic and trivia host heavily based in Atlanta and loosely based on a true story.