Monday, August 5, 2013


On July 31st, the eve of our annual salute to the TV Western, actor Michael Ansara passed away from complications of Alzheimer's disease.  He was 91.  He was born in Syria in 1922 but his family moved to New England when he was 2, and then from the age of 10 he grew up in the Los Angeles area.

I like to think of Mr. Ansara as the Anthony Quinn of the small screen, in that he played a wide variety of nationalities and ethnic groups, Hispanics, Italians, Jews, Arabs, Hawaiians, Indians of the Sub-Continent, even an English king and a Vietnamese rebel, because he had an indefinably exotic look to his handsome features. 

As Elric the Technomage in
'Babylon 5'
As The Ruler in
'Lost In Space'
As Qarlo in
'The Outer Limits'
As Colonel Hruda in
'The Time Tunnel'
And that served him well for the sci-fi characters he played as well, with roles in such series as 'The Time Tunnel', 'Land Of The Giants', 'Lost In Space', 'The Outer Limits', 'Babylon 5', and 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea'.  

"Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" - the Cineverse
Barbara Eden & Michael Ansara... with a puppy
He also appeared in the movie version of 'Voyage' which must be kept separate in the Cineverse.  (As you can see from four of these entries plus the movie, Irwin Allen must have realized that Ansara was tailor-made for his type of shows.)

"Buck Rogers In The 25th Century"
For 'Buck Rogers In The 25th Century', Ansara played Kane in three episodes.  But of course the role for which he'll probably be best remembered was that of the Klingon commander Kang whom he first portrayed in an episode of the original 'Star Trek' series.  He would later return to the character for two other shows in the 'Star Trek' franchise - 'Deep Space Nine' and 'Voyager', thus making him eligible for membership into the TV Crossover Hall of Fame.  (But I think there's another character for which he'll get in this month as well.....)

Of all those ethnic groups, Mr. Ansara was probably best known for playing Native Americans, and back when they were still being referred to as Indians.  The role that brought him to fame was that of the televersion of Indian leader Cochise of the Apache in the series 'Broken Arrow'.  

"Broken Arrow"
A year after that series ended, he played another Apache, Sam Buckhart, who was a Harvard-educated U.S. Marshal working out of Santa Fe.  That series lasted only one season, but the character was first introduced in an episode of 'The Rifleman'.  And I think I can make the case he appeared one last time on TV so that at the very least he can be an honorary inductee in the TVXOHOF for our Western salute.

As Sam Buckhart in two episodes of 'The Rifleman'
He would go on to play the role in his own series, 'Law Of The Plainsman'
The last great Native American role he would have - as my O'Bservation, of course - would be Lame Beaver in the amazing mini-series made from James Michener's epic tome "Centennial".

Being Syrian-born, perhaps it's no surprise that he played several Arabs over his career in such shows as:
'Hardcastle & McCormack'
'The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.'
and for one of his episodes of 'Fantasy Island' he appeared as Ptolemy.

Take a gander at the TV shows he made guest appearances in over the years.  During the 1960s and 70s, he was in great demand!

As we're in August, let's start with the Westerns, those that I haven't already mentioned:

'The Lone Ranger'
'Wagon Train'
As Dr. Adam MacKenzie in
"The Adam MacKenzie Story"
'Barbary Coast'
'The Virginian'
'High Chaparral'
'The Road West'
'The Iron Horse'
'Here Come The Brides'
As Wakando in
"Wives For Wakando"
'A Man Called Shenandoah'
'Tales Of Wells Fargo'
'Wagon Train'
'The Westerner'
'The Rebel'
'Zane Grey Theater'
'Frontier Doctor'
modern Westerns like
'The Wide Country'
and two that were on the Eastern seaboard, but about the frontier life:
'Daniel Boone'
'Hawkeye And The Last Of The Mohicans'

As the evil Ogana in
"Hawkeye's Homecoming"
[Series Premiere]
[It's a shame he never appeared in an episode of 'The Wild Wild West'.  I think he would have been a formidable antagonist against Jim West and Artemus Gordon.  There were several cases of actors being brought back for different roles on that series and surely one of them could have been ably played by Ansara.  (I'm thinking in particular of John Dehner's first appearance in "The Night Of The Casual Killer".)

Ansara was in the Toobworld adaptation of "The Ox-Bow Incident", one of the many Cineverse remakes of movies to be found in 'The 20th Century Fox Hour'.  And the 1950s were the high water mark for anthology series, like 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', 'Family Theatre', and in the 1970s, 'Police Story', which could provide more than one role to an actor like Ansara.  But he also played more than one role on several of the regular series as well.  

As Sammy Warren in
'McMillan & Wife'
In fact, in several series, like 'MacMillan & Wife', 'Dangerous Assignment', and 'Rawhide', he would come back to play three or more roles.  I think the series which he enjoyed returning to the most would have been 'I Dream Of Jeannie', playing three roles on that show and directing another.  Why?  Because the star was his wife at the time, Barbara Eden.

As the Blue Djinn & as King Kamehameha in
'I Dream Of Jeannie'
As for the other shows in which he guest starred, there were a handful of medical dramas:

As Eddie in
'Police Surgeon'
'Ben Casey'
'Police Surgeon'

As Sergio in
'It Takes A Thief'
Spy shows:
'It Takes A Thief'
'Mission Impossible'
and both 'U.N.C.L.E.' series, 'Man' and 'Girl'

As Ed Stoner in
'Mission Impossible'
Private eye shows:

As Joseph DeMinna in
'The Rockford Files'
'The Rockford Files'
'Boston Blackie'
'Simon and Simon'
'China Smith'
'The New Mike Hammer' 
(That would be set in an alternate TV dimension.)

As Nick Rossi in
'Murder, She Wrote'
And there were a couple of mystery shows that didn't quite fit into that category, like 'The Fall Guy', 'Perry Mason', 'Murder, She Wrote', and 'The Name Of The Game'.  As for shows difficult to pigeon-hole, there were also 'The Fugitive', 'Tarzan', 'Cowboy In Africa', 'Fantasy Island', 'The Survivors', 'Tales Of The Bengal Lancers' and 'Terry And The Pirates', based on the comic strip.

But for the most part, Michael Ansara's work outside of Westerns was in cop dramas:

As Piro Manoa in
'Hawaii Five-O'
As Keith McCallum in
'Hawaii Five-O'
'Burke's Law'
'Chopper One'
'The Untouchables'
'The Streets Of San Francisco'
'Mod Squad'
'Naked City'
'Jigsaw John'
As Big Bwana Smith in
'Burke's Law'
As Charlie Steuben in
'The Untouchables'
But don't let all of those dramas fool you into thinking he could only play the heavies.  He had a light touch as well, sometimes playing his tough-guy persona and morphing ethnicity to that advantage, and it was on display in several sitcoms besides 'I Dream Of Jeannie':

'The Farmer's Daughter'
'The Wackiest Ship In The Army'
'The Bill Cosby Show'
'The George Burns Comedy Week'

As the Russian diplomat in
'The Farmer's Daughter'
And for the kiddies, he also appeared twice on 'Reading Rainbow', hosted by fellow 'Trek' alumnus LeVar Burton.

It was on 'Bewitched' where Ansara played an English king, the infamous Rufus the Red.  Partly because of this episode I chose Rufus as the subject of a high school essay when the assignment was to write about somebody in the English monarchy.  (The other reason was because my hair used to be as red as his.)

As Rufus the Red in
Michael Ansara also made his home over in the Tooniverse, and one of his characters will also one day be inducted into the TV Crossover Hall of Fame. There was more instability in the casting of Mr. Freeze (real name Dr. Victor Fries) in the Tooniverse than in his three appearances on 'Batman' in Earth Prime-Time, but in the end they're all the same guy.  Other big name actors to give voice to Mr. Freeze include Ted Knight, Casey Brown, Keith Szarabajka, Lennie Weinrib, and John DiMaggio (of 'Futurama' fame as Bender).

As Mr. Freeze in
But Ansara played Mr. Freeze in three separate series:
'The New Batman Adventures'
'Batman Beyond'

If Michael Ansara played Mr. Freeze in "real life"
[Image by "Input Jack"]
So Michael Ansara might well become the first actor to have three roles inducted into the TV Crossover Hall of Fame.

Among other roles in the Tooniverse, he voiced General Warhawk in over sixty episodes of the 'Rambo' cartoon, based on the movie.  (Quite frankly, I didn't even know that show existed!)

Frequent visitors to the Inner Toob blog may have noticed that I have spent far more time on Mr. Ansara's television career than I've probably done in the past for other actors.  I don't think I've done a Hat Squad tribute quite like this since 2005.  Well, you can take that as a sign of how much I enjoyed seeing his performances.  I'm a big fan of character actors and he was a type that was more than just menace and brute force.  There was always the presence of great intelligence behind those dark eyes.

Here's to you, Mr. Ansara!
Plus, so many of his roles are notable for what they can bring to the Toobworld Dynamic.  O'Bviously this includes his portrayal of Cochise, the official televersion for Earth Prime-Time.  (His Rufus the Red is also the official televersion.)  Three of his roles are worthy of the TVXOHOF - Kang, Sam Buckhart, and Mr. Freeze.

But there are also shows in which he appeared that have connections to other fictional universes, like BookWorld, the Cineverse, and the Comic Strip Universe.  There are other historical portrayals like Ptolemy, and King Kamehameha (although both were technically recreations).  And some of those other series are just ripe for making theoretical connections to other shows.

Just one last Toobnote - long before he died, I tipped my hat to Mr. Ansara by making his last name part of the Telvish language.  Telvish was created for the TV elves that show up at the end of my Toobworld novel, where it sounds a lot like English, but with actor names substituting for our words.  

As an example, "ansara" means "answer".  Only a handful of Telvish words will make it into the novel and "ansara" is one of them.

Usually when I sign off on a Hat Squad tribute, I co-opt Red Skelton's signature farewell, "Good night and may God bless."  But in honor of Mr. Ansara's memorable turn as Kang, I shall say instead:

bomDI' 'IwwIj qaqaw

"The memory of you sings in my blood."

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