A favourite of Robert Aldrich, the short, blond and stocky Richard Jaeckel seemed to spend most of his long screen career carrying a gun. He played in many westerns and war movies, and even though he sometimes disappeared into the background, his tough-guy persona was always a welcome presence, even in the most trashy of pictures.
Born in New York on October 10th 1926, Jaeckel was discovered while working at 20th Century-Fox as a mailboy. After debuting in the 1943 war flick ‘Guadalcanal Diary’, Richard’s first role of note came in the powerful John Wayne picture ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (’49). After being killed by Gregory Peck’s aging outlaw in ‘The Gunfighter’ (’50) it was the Oscar-winning melodrama ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’ (’52), that I first remember seeing Richard in, where he played Terry Moore’s budding athlete boyfriend.
Following strong turns in Robert Aldrich’s excellent war drama ‘Attack!’ (’56), and Delmer Dave’s thriller ‘3:10 to Yuma’ (’57), one of Jaeckel’s best roles came in Don Siegel’s superb noir ‘The Lineup’ (’58). Playing a cocky killer who writes down his unfortunate victim’s final words, Jaeckel excelled in a small but memorable part, something he would excel at over the next few years. Keeping busy at this time with TV spots on such popular shows as ‘Naked City’ and ’77 Sunset Strip’, another good film role came in the tense courtroom drama ‘Town Without Pity’ (’61), as one of four drunken G.I’s accused of raping Christine Kaufman’s 16 year old German girl.
A rare comedy came in the shape of Aldrich’s 1963 Frank Sinatra/ Dean Martin western; ‘4 for Texas’, followed by a psychotic turn in John Derek’s WWII drama ‘Once Before I Die’ (’66). One of Jaeckel’s best remembered and certainly most recognizable roles came in Aldrich’s hugely popular adventure ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (’67), as the tough, second-in-command sergeant Bowren. A rare time where his character survives at the end of the picture!
Richard would then be a platoon member in the similar but not as good ‘The Devil’s Brigade’ (’68). A true story this time, it would also feature ‘Dozen’s’ comical characters and good supporting players, which included Claude Akins, Andrew Prine and Britain’s Jack Watson. After dying again (this time to save the world!) in the trashy Sci-fi favourite ‘The Green Slime’ (’68), Richard would receive his only Academy Award nomination for Paul Newman’s starry drama ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’ (’70). In one of his rare ‘nice guy’ roles, Richard was rather moving as Oregon logger Joe Ben, who tragically drowns while on a dangerous logging mission. Back with Robert Aldrich, Jaeckel was excellent in the superb and violent western ‘Ulzana’s Raid’ (’72), as a tough and loyal Cavalryman who (of course!) meets another nasty end. After playing real-life Sheriff; Kip McKinney, in Sam Peckinpah’s cult western ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’ (’73), he would venture back into Sci-fi territory with the apocalyptic drama ‘Chosen Survivors’ (’74).
A trio of cult “killer creature” horrors came next, starting with ‘Grizzly’ (’76), a sort of ‘Jaws’ homage, but with a rampaging bear! Next up was ‘Mako: Jaws of Death'(’76) which had a top billed Jaeckel on the side of the revenging sharks. Finally, there was ‘Day of the Animals’ (’77), the best-known of the bunch, which saw Richard reteaming with ‘Grizzly’s Christopher George, and ends up being torn apart by a pack of dogs. In between Aldrich’s cult political thriller ‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’ (’77) and the excellent wrestling comedy ‘..All the Marbles’ (’81), Jaeckel appeared in more cult genre fare, including ‘The Dark’ and ‘The Amazing Mr No Legs’ (both ’79), as well as the hit-man drama ‘Delta Fox’ (’79) and Disney sequel ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’ (’80).
After playing a Military man on the trail of Jeff Bridges’ alien, in John Carpenter’s Sci-fi romancer ‘Starman’ (’84), Richard reprised his role of Sergeant Bowren, alongside Lee Marvin’s Major Reisman, in the TV sequel ‘The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission’ (’85). Following a scene-stealing turn in the John Carpenter scripted ‘Black Moon Rising’ (’86), Jaeckel would now mainly stick with television, having recurring roles in both ‘Spenser: For Hire’ (’85-7) and ‘Baywatch’ (’91-4). In 1994 Jaeckel would file for bankruptcy and eventually lose his Californian home. He later moved into a retirement home for actors where he would remain until his death in 1997.
A private person off screen, Richard Jaeckel died after a 3 year battle with cancer, on June 14th 1997, aged 70. With a career and marriage spanning 50 years, Jaeckel became one of Hollywood’s most respected character actors, whether playing kindly authority figures, or killers for hire, he did it with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.
Favourite Movie: Ulzana’s Raid
Favourite Performance: The Dirty Dozen