Gregory Walcott

Active - 1952 - 1995  |   Born - Jan 13, 1928 in Wendell, North Carolina  |   Died - Mar 20, 2015   |   Genres - Western, Drama, Action, War, Comedy

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A top-flight character actor and sometime leading man, Gregory Walcott managed to bridge the tail-end of the studio system, the heyday of series television, and the boom years of the post-studio 1970s, and carve a notable career in the process. He was born Bernard Mattox in 1928 (some sources say 1932) in Wendell, NC, a small town about 10 miles east of the state capitol of Raleigh. After serving in the Army following the end of the Second World War, he decided to try for an acting career and hitchhiked his way to California. He managed to get work in amateur and semi-professional theatrical productions and was lucky enough to be spotted in a small role in one of these by an agent. That resulted in his big-screen debut, in an uncredited role in the 20th Century-Fox drama Red Skies of Montana (1952). With his 6'-plus height, impressive build, and deep voice, Walcott would seem to have a major career in front of him, but the movie business of the 1950s was in a state of constant retrenchment, battling the intrusion of television and the eroding of its audience. For the next three years, he had little but bit parts in films, some of them major productions. His performance as the drill instructor in the opening section of Raoul Walsh's Battle Cry (1955) was good enough to get him a contract with Warner Bros. He subsequently played supporting roles in Mister Roberts (1955) and in independent productions such as Badman's Country (1958), and also started showing up on television with some regularity. And with each new role, he seemed to gather momentum in his career.

As luck would have it, however, Walcott's most prominent role of the 1950s ended up being the one he received the lowest fee for doing, and that he also thought the least of, and also one that, for decades, he was loathe to discuss, on or off the record: as Jeff Trent, the hero of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Walcott's work on the magnum opus of writer/producer/director Edward D. Wood, Jr. amounted to less than a week's work, and he was so busy in those days that one can easily imagine him forgetting about it as soon as his end of the shoot was over. And the movie was scarcely even seen on its initial release in the summer of 1959 and went to television in the early '60s in a package that usually had it relegated to "shock theater" showcases and the late-night graveyard (no pun intended). But the ultra-low-budget production, renowned for its eerily, interlocking values of ineptitude and entertainment, has become one of the most widely viewed (and deeply analyzed) low-budget movies of any era in the decades since.

As this oddity in his career was starting to gather its fans (some would say fester), Walcott had long since moved on to co-starring in the series 87th Precinct and guest-starring roles in series television. Across the 1960s, he remained busy and had a chance to do especially good work on the series Bonanza, which gave him major guest-starring roles in seven episodes between 1960 and 1972. In one of these, "Song in the Dark" (1962), Walcott even had a chance to show off his singing voice, a talent of his that was otherwise scarcely recognized in a three-decade career. By the late '60s, he had also moved into production work, producing and starring in Bill Wallace of China (1967), the story of a Christian missionary. During the 1970s, Walcott finally started to get movie roles that were matched in prominence to his talent, most especially in the films of Clint Eastwood. He remained busy as a prominent character actor and supporting player -- part of that category of performers that includes the likes of Richard Herd and James Cromwell -- into the 1980s. He had retired by the start of the 1990s, but was called before the cameras once more for an appearance in Tim Burton's movie Ed Wood. Walcott died in 2015, at age 87.

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