Dec. 06--'Sometimes people don't know my name," actor Ed Lauter once remarked. "They'll say, 'Oh, yeah! There's that guy! You were in ... Jesus Christ ... you were in ... in ..."
That's one reason not too many people noticed when Lauter died quietly back in October at the age of 74. If you couldn't remember Ed Lauter's name, though, you remembered him.
He was the sadistic prison-guard captain who tormented Burt Reynolds in "The Longest Yard" (1974) and he popped up in a cameo in Adam Sandler's 2005 remake.
He played the sleazy gas station attendant in Alfred Hitchcock's "Family Plot" (1976), a loudmouthed American Legion commander in Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989) and the police officer who becomes an unlikely ally of Charles Bronson in "Death Wish III" (1985).
Movie Shock magazine once described Lauter as a "turner," the sort of character whose arrival marks a big turn in the movie's plot. The burly 6-foot-2 actor was often typecast as a police officer, an Army officer or a mobster, though he did take comic turns in such movies as "My Blue Heaven" (1990) with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis and as the coach in "Not Another Teen Movie" (2001).
Lauter even served a couple of tours of duty in Wilmington, filming "Raw Deal" with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1985 and playing a good-guy general in the short-lived Stephen King TV series "Golden Years," which was shot here in 1991.
In addition to his film work, Lauter enjoyed a busy TV career, with recurring roles on "ER" and "B.J. and the Bear" and memorable appearances in "The Office," "Psych," "J.A.G.," "Law & Order," "The X-Files," "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Rockford Files."
According to family spokesmen, Lauter died of mesothelioma, a form of cancer often associated with asbestos exposure. He acted nearly until the end, appearing as Peppy Miller's butler in 2011 Oscar-winner "The Artist" (Wilmington's own Beth Grant played the maid) and as a ballpark denizen in Clint Eastwood's 2012 baseball drama "Trouble With the Curve." At least three other performances are in the can, awaiting release, according to Internet Movie Database.
Born on Long Island and a cousin of actress Elaine Stritch, Lauter was a three-letter man (football, basketball and baseball) at C.W. Post College, and later studied drama at the Herbert Berghof Studio in Manhattan. After starting out as a standup comic, he made his Broadway debut in 1970 in "The Great White Hope," the same production that made James Earl Jones a star. TV jobs followed, and he landed his first film role in Stan Dragoti's 1972 Western "Dirty Little Billy."
Lauter was the epitome of a character actor, what a friend of mine once called "Him Agains." You watch enough movies, and there he is, again and again and again. To another interviewer, Lauter once defined a character actor as "someone who's most usually not an 8-by-10 glossy. You know, not a Steve Stunning."
Maybe not, but character actors often have a longer shelf life than Steve Stunnings, and they make movies a lot more fun.
Ben Steelman: 343-2208
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