Michael Ansara played Kang, the best and manliest of the original series Klingons -- but there was much, much more to this Syrian-born actor’s Hollywood career.
Cribbed from a post by talkbacker Red Ned Lynch:
When I was growing up Michael Ansara was The Indian. He wasn't The Native American because the term was just coming into vogue, and he couldn't be identified by his tribe because...well, he was Syrian. And yes, he played a great number of roles as djinns, Russians, Klingons, Technomages, Killer Kanes, and evil Biblical characters, so his dance card as an "exotic" was widely varied. But for a kid who was more Cherokee than any other single thing, whose family name came from a fort in Oklahoma, Michael Ansara was The Indian, and I did love him.
Anyone here who's seen more than two posts of mine knows how much I love the seedy side of the movie world. And my two greatest memories of Michael, predictably enough, come from that arena. In William Girdler's Day of the Animals he played Daniel Santee, the Native American guide who tries to bring an all star cast of hikers safely down from a mountain where nature has gone wild. As John Singing Rock in The Manitou he matched his skills as a medicine man against an immortal wizard trying to force his way back into our world. There were other great roles as Native Americans, of course, in the Michael Curtiz movie The Comancheros, alongside Dean Martin and Joey Bishop in Texas Across the River, and in a host of television shows, including his own, Law of the Plainsman, where he starred as an Apache who had been appointed a US Marshall. Ansara was tough and cool in nearly every role, and yeah, that was nice, but what was nicer was that whether he was a good guy or a bad guy he always brought a depth to his roles, even when no depth had been written, that made the characters he played more than just bad or good guys.
Of course, for most folks who read this site Ansara's greatest claim to fame was his work as a host of aliens, those most exotic exotics of all. Most famously he played Kang, one of just seven characters to be played by the same actor on three different Star Trek series, but he also guest starred in Babylon Five, Buck Rogers, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and played roles in both the film and television versions of Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. Michael starred in perhaps the most acclaimed episode of the Outer Limits, the Harlan Ellison penned Soldier, and appeared in three different episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He not only appeared multiple times on I Dream of Jeannie, he married the star of the show, Barbara Eden. The couple had one son, who died of a heroin overdose in 2001. Over the last few years Michael did voice work for various animated productions, perhaps most notably as Mr. Freeze in Batman Beyond.
Michael Ansara spent his career playing the other, in one form or another, and he brought a humanity and grace to his roles that defied the simple stereotypes that so often marked those characters. When he was on screen, whether as hero or villain, he displayed a presence that identified the character he portrayed as the protagonist of his own story, and he did so in roles that in the hands of lesser actors would have been stock, stereotypical, and quickly forgotten.
I won't miss him, because I'll visit him all the time, but I do mourn his passing. And I honor the extraordinary body of work he left behind, not just in those genres that this site should most especially note, but for all the work he did throughout his long and varied career. Thank you, Michael.
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