Friday, March 6, 2009

"Who Is That Guy!?": Anthony James


Named for the jaw-dropping scene in Cruising in which sad-sack murder suspect Skip Lee (Jay Acovone) is brutalized by a mysterious large black man (the uncredited Henry Judd Baker) during a police interrogation that is anything but "by the books," this section will focus on those distinctive character actors that leave large impressions, but who are perpetually known as "that guy."

"Who is that guy!?"

First up: Anthony James. With such a nondescript name, it's no wonder this guy got lost in the shuffle. However, I've been made uneasy by this actor ever since I saw him in Blue Thunder where he played syndicate hitman Grundeltus (I don't think we ever hear him addressed by this rather unwieldy name in the film). I was five years-old and my dad and I snuck into a screening of Blue Thunder after watching Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.


James' pockmarked face, greasy hair, and dead eyes were seared into my young consciousness and I think that's why this seemingly innocuous popcorn movie has always left me a little unsettled. Without compunction, James mows down shackled rookie cop Lymangood (the lovable Daniel Stern) and masterminds the assault and murder of an innocent woman in her driveway. James is most effective in scenes where he appears in the background unnoticed by the other actors (as in the scene in which Blue Thunder's capabilities are demonstrated for a crowd). It's a testament to his abilities as an actor and striking features, that the most chilling moments in the film belong to him and not to chief villain Malcolm McDowell, a man who is not exactly revered for his "nice guy" qualities.


James' few lines reveal a suitably cold and disaffected voice, as when he and his boss (Paul Lambert) discuss what to do about an incriminating recording made by Blue Thunder that's proven hard to dispose of--"We don't have the code number." To which his boss replies, "Then, erase them all." In this case, he refers to a videocassette, but he as may well be talking about any human obstacle that might get in the way of the organization's criminal operations.


By this time, James had cornered the market on unrepentant creeps, essaying these types of roles in such high-profile films as In the Heat of the Night and Vanishing Point and over hours of episodic television (Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, Bonanza, Charlie's Angels). Younger audiences probably remember him best from a memorably goofy fight scene with Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. In a way, James went out on top. He quit the Hollywood game in 1992 after playing saloon owner Skinny Dubois in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, finishing his career with a role in a film that would go onto win Best Picture, along with three other Academy Awards.


His IMDb bio claims that James left acting behind to pursue a career as an artist, but from what I can tell it is a far different Anthony James whose work is being exhibited in galleries all over the world.


Being that Anthony James, the actor, was never very well known, at least by name, it's appropriate that his identity is now being confused with a British artist some thirty years his junior. Ah, the always reliable IMDb...

34 comments:

Mr. Peel said...

I don't have the disc handy right now but I vaguely recall that on the NAKED GUN 2 1/2 commentary it was actually mentioned that James was some sort of artist and even gave David Zucker (I think) a painting as a gift when the film wrapped. So he's not the British guy, but probably is an artist of some kind.

Ned Merrill said...

Well, whatta ya know? Thanks for that tidbit, Mr. Peel. The plot thickens...

Arbogast said...

You owe it to yourself to seek out James in The Teacher, in which he isn't just a stalker... he's a SCUBA stalker!

Ned Merrill said...

Arbogast,

THE TEACHER has gone to the top of my list!

stephen said...

Yeah: I've searched everywhere for any images of his paintings... I'm really intrigued. If you ever do find any, please do post!

Hollywoodboston said...

I ran into this guy in a diner in MA last Friday and I couldn't think of who he was. All I could come up with was possibly seeing him in Buck Rogers, Charlie's Angels and Hawaii 5-0. After I spoke with the waitress that served him she confirmed movies with Clint Eastwood. Back at the office "Unforgiven" hit me and then after an IMDB I realized the shows above were correct but that I had forgotten about Blue Thunder. Great character actor. Still unmistakable but aged ;-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anthony James lives in my town, in Massachusetts. I got to meet him about 5 years ago, and it struck me how diametrically opposed he is, to all of the dark, evil characters he has portrayed. He was actually very kind and unassuming..

anaïs nincompoop said...

Nice piece about Anthony James...

I actually knew him when I was a child. I called him Jimmy for some reason and he was indeed a sweet and kind man. (I'm sure he still is.) I actually had a huge crush on him! He was a friend of the family and I can also confirm that he is indeed an artist; I saw his wonderful paintings in his home. Sadly, I am almost positive he is not the same Anthony James whose art is currently being displayed and sold in galleries.

Ah, this blog has been quite a wonderful trip for me! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see a picture of Anthony from the classic 1976 horror film "Burnt Offerings" in which Mr. James portrayed a very creepy chauffeur, yet no mention of the film. This character gave me nightmares as a child seeing this on tv in the late
70's -> early 80's. This movie which stars Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis and Burgess Meredith is by far one of the best "creepy" movies ever filmed.
My other favorite role of his was on Buck Rogers "The Plot To Kill A City" (10/79) in which he plays right hand man Barak so to Frank Gorshin's character. He also played a character in a second season Buck Rogers episode "The Golden Man" (2/81)

Ian Zamboni said...

There are two Anthony James artists of note, one is more of a pop art Jeff Koons-type, and one is abstract expressionistic. The actor Anthony James is the latter.

Anonymous said...

I was a neighbor of Anthony James in the 70's. His birth name is actually James Anthony so those who know him call him Jimmy. The first time he came to my door to introduce himself, I was a bit frightened. At that time I hadn't seen any of his films but he was in a famous American Express Travelers Check commercial that featured Karl Maulden and Jimmy as a purse snatching thief. It's true what the others say, in real life he's a sweet and gentile man. He was an artist then too, but is paintings in those days were very different from the abstract expressionist paintings he's doing now. Very different!

Jaime V said...

Some of his paintings: http://www.ardengallery.com/James/anthony-james.htm

Anonymous said...

I'm getting ready to list one of his paintings on Ebay for a friend. It is from his 'dark' period...'Haiku XI' Brilliant original Acrylic on Canvas 48"x48" and signed. Multi faceted and talented man!

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous (the one listing his painting)-

Do you know if he ever entertains any thoughts at all about working in film again? Even Indie stuff?

Anonymous said...

His artwork was recently shown at the Boston International Art Show. I met him, and he is indeed a very warm, kind, funny, and highly intelligent man. His art is abstract and and quite dramatic. I personally love it. Very emotional. Here is a link to his page at the gallery that represents him.

Anonymous said...

The chauffeur in Burnt Offerings reminded me of John Lennon for some reason when I was young and first saw that movie. It was a great movie and I'm glad to know who played that part now.

Anonymous said...

burnt offerings definitely "seared" his image into our little girl heads... the sexy creepy guy... thanks for the photo - it jarred loose some old memories for sure... and gave us old ladies a good laugh!

Anonymous said...

I am a neighbor of Anthony's. I grew up watching him on Gunsmoke, etc., and when I met him I told him how much I had enjoyed his acting. He graciously thanked me and said those days were long behind him and his life today is an a artist. His paintings are interesting and sophisticated; some have been published in a 'coffee-table' book of his work. He is a gentle, kind, and charming man who was also a devoted son to his mother.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy anthony was raised and grauated from Myrtle Beach High School in South Carolina. Left M.B after school to become a actor. He and his mother moved 1959 to Calif.

Kate said...

Wonderful blog about Anthony James. :)

I just have one question. After all that I've read thus far about Anthony James (the character actor), why is he being confused so much with the British artist?

I've only seen Anthony James in several movies, one of my favorites on the top of my movie list is Dan Curtis' "Burnt Offerings". Anthony James does make a very spooky chauffeur, no doubt.

I was also going to mention that Anthony James appeared in (I think), a low budget movie: The Fifth Floor. However, I can't seem to locate a copy of that particular movie anywhere. - Kate

EmEyeKay said...

Thanks for the article and for the links to his art. Watching "Burnt Offerings" right now and decided to look him up - had no idea he was an artist! After that, could NOT find any of his work - just the work by the younger Anthony James. Glad I came across your blog!

Lynette Patrice said...

I would love to meet this guy! After just watching "Burnt Offerings", which I have seen countless times, his creepy smiling face is burned in my brain. He never speaks a single word in the whole film and he carries the whole film's creepiness!

Teri McMin said...

In 1975 I lived above his mom on Hollywood Blvd and we went out a few times. Very nice fellow, quiet, intelligent, and very kind to me. Amazed and delighted to hear his mom is still alive. I'm not at all surprised to hear he still devoted to her. So happy to hear of his shift to doing his art full time and leave acting behind. Talented man.

Anonymous said...

he (the actor) is an artist but NOT the expressionist. Mr. James the actor is 30yrs, I believe, the expressionist artists senior. And two very different styles.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, that's been established over the course of this long comment stream going back to March '09.

Anonymous said...

Anthony James has a beautiful book of his paintings and writings. He is a genius of both. It is titled "Language of the Heart", published by Journey Editions 153 Milk Street Boston, Massachusetts 02109 in 1994. He is the well known actor and is about 70 years old.

Anonymous said...

I was in a relationship with him for three years. His intimate self is very different from his outwardly appearing one. He is an incredibly disturbed man-- and nearly destroyed me.

julie buzzelli said...

I was in a relationship with him for almost 2 years and we have continued to be great friends for many years (presently). He is a wonderfully warm and tender person -- highly intelligent and well read with a depth of character that has no peer.

I regret that the 'annonymous' poster found him to show a side that was percieved are 'disturbed' in her relationship with him. I find him to be the exact opposite and felt compelled to defend his integrity! If he was even aware of such a negative post he would be deeply wounded that someone owned this perception of him.

I don't want to invalidate anothers reality, however, something so personal between adults such as a love relationship should be kept private no matter the outcome. And knowing how deeply Anthony gaurds his privacy - this is out of line, especially claiming to have been in a relationship with him for 3 years? I seriously doubt you could have known him well at all -- or you would know better than to post such travesties!

Anonymous said...

Anthony James (the actor not the avant-garde Brit) displays his artwork around Massachusetts where he lives now. Karen Wilson Fine Art, Lexington MA, has an up-to-date picture of him.
http://lexington.patch.com/listings/karen-watson-fine-art#photo-795631

Lynda Walsh said...

I would love to meet Anthony James. I thought he was a fantastic actor. I also agree about the relationship posts. No one wants to hear the bitterness. Move on with your life. Anthony James I hope to see you sometime. I live near Lexington, MA.

Camille H said...

Anthony James is a great man. I have been working with him on his memoir, Acting My Face, which is due out early next year. He is a kind, soft spoken, and friendly person unlike most of the characters he portrayed. This just goes to show how good an actor he is. Here is a link to his book http://www.amazon.com/Acting-My-Face-A-Memoir/dp/1617039853/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383098606&sr=8-1&keywords=anthony+james

Julie Buzzelli said...

I am a longtime friend of Anthony James and he does in fact have a memoir book coming out in Feb of 2014. However, his book is completely self written without any outside source as stated in the post by "Camille". In fact he doesn't know who you are?? Anyway, his memoir is uniquely written and different than any memoir currently available. Pre-order your copy today!

http://www.amazon.com/Acting-My-Face-A-Memoir/dp/1617039853/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383514816&sr=8-1&keywords=anthony+james

Along These Lines ... said...

I just interviewed Anthony - see link below. Lovely fellow.

http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20140421%2FENT%2F304219990

Anonymous said...

Had thanksgiving dinner with Who;s That Guy Judd Henry Baker! He still looks good at 80!