Leo Gordon

Active - 1923 - 1994  |   Born - Dec 2, 1922   |   Died - Dec 26, 2000   |   Genres - Western, Drama, Action, Adventure, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Leo Gordon cut one of the toughest, meanest, and most memorable figures on the screen of any character actor of his generation -- and he came by some of that tough-guy image naturally, having done time in prison for armed robbery. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, and with muscles to match, Gordon was an implicitly imposing screen presence, and most often played villains, although when he did play someone on the side of the angels he was equally memorable. Early in his adult life, Gordon did, indeed, serve a term at San Quentin for armed robbery; but after his release he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and was a working actor by the early 1950's. His first credited screen appearance (as Leo V. Gordon) was on television, in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of "The Blue And White Lamp", with Frank Albertson and Earl Rowe, in 1952. His early feature film appearances included roles in China Venture (1953) and Gun Fury (1953), the latter marking the start of his long association with westerns, which was solidified with his villainous portrayal in the John Wayne vehicle Hondo (1953). It was in Don Siegel's Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), which was shot at San Quentin, that a lot of mainstream filmgoers discovered precisely how fearsome Gordon could be, in the role of "Crazy Mike Carnie." One of the most intimidating members of a cast that was overflowing with tough guys (and which used real cons as extras), Gordon's career was made after that. Movie work just exploded for the actor, and he was in dozens of pictures a year over the next few years, as well as working in a lot of better television shows, and he also earned a regular spot in the series Circus Boy, as Hank Miller. More typical, however, was his work in the second episode of the western series Bonanza, "Death on Sun Mountain", in which he played a murderous profiteer in Virginia City's boomtown days. Once in a while, directors triped to tap other sides of his screen persona, as in the western Black Patch (1957). And at the start of the next decade, Gordon got one of his rare (and best) non-villain parts in a movie when Roger Corman cast him in The Intruder (1962), in the role of Sam Griffin, an onlooker who takes it upon himself to break up a race riot in a small southern town torn by court-ordered school integration. But a year later, he was back in his usual villain mold -- and as good as ever at it -- in McLintock!; in one of the most famous scenes of his career, he played the angry homesteader whose attempt to lynch a Native American leads to a head-to-head battle with John Wayne, bringing about an extended fight featuring the whole cast in a huge mud-pit. Gordon was still very busy as an actor and sometime writer well into the 1980's and early 1990's. He played General Omar Bradley in the mini-series War And Remembrance, and made his final screen appearance as Wyatt Earp in the made-for-television vehicle The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Hollywood Follies. He passed away in 2000 of natural causes.

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