John Saxon: 1935 to 2020

Longtime, prolific actor John Saxon passed away on July 25th at the age of 83.

Born as Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn NY on August 5, 1936, Saxon was one of those actors who, if you watched enough movies or television, sooner or later you would almost inevitably see him in something, if not multiple somethings.  Saxon worked on nearly 200 projects in a career that spanned 60 years, from 1954 to 2015.

Due to his Italian American heritage and his rugged good looks, Saxon was often called upon to play characters of various different ethnicities early in his career.  From the 1970s onwards he slipped into the niche of character actor, portraying a variety of cops and criminals.

One of Saxon’s most high-profile roles was in Enter the Dragon (1973).  Saxon played Roper, a seemingly-untrustworthy gambler who surprisingly ends up fighting alongside Bruce Lee’s heroic martial artist against the forces of brutal Hong Kong crime lord Han.

Two years later Saxon played corrupt trade union lawyer Walter Deaney in the action movie Mitchell starring Joe Don Baker.  The critically panned movie was rescued from obscurity two decades later when it was brutally eviscerated by Joel, Tom Servo and Crow on a 1993 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Another noteworthy role in Saxon’s career was playing the evil mutant warlord Sador in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980).  Written by John Sayles, produced by Roger Corman and directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, Battle Beyond the Stars was a space opera re-imagining of The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.  Although a low-budget movie with an initially modest box office, Battle Beyond the Stars has gone on to become a well-regarded cult classic.

Saxon portrayed police lieutenant Donald Thompson in Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and reprised the role in the sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987).  Saxon’s character was killed off in that later entry, although he was able to return to the horror franchise with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) playing himself in a story that saw the fictional Freddy Kreuger invading the “real” world.

One of Saxon’s later roles was Walter Gideon on the two-part CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode “Grave Danger.”  Directed by Quentin Tanantino, “Grave Danger” was one of the most disturbing, horrific installments of CSI ever made.  Saxon’s brief but memorably sinister appearance in the story was the icing on the nightmare fuel cake.

I was fortunate enough to meet Saxon when he was a guest at a horror convention in New Jersey about a dozen years ago.  It’s definitely not an ideal situation to meet anyone when they’re answering questions about movies they made decades ago and signing photos for a succession of enthusiastic fans, but nevertheless you can often get a general impression of what sort of a person someone is at these types of events.  Saxon certainly came across as a polite and professional individual at that show.

I imagine that was one of the reasons why Saxon had such a lengthy career: he was a reliable and easy to work with professional who could always be counted on to turn in a good, solid performance.  That seems borne out by director Joe Dante, who yesterday tweeted:

 “RIP John Saxon. I had the privilege of working with him once in 2006. Very good actor, very nice guy.”

That feels like an appropriate epitaph for John Saxon: concise and effective.

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