Heroes of Cult

Heroes of Cult: William Smith

William Smith aka “Big” Bill Smith was born on March 24th 1933 was in Columbia, Missouri. Smith began his acting career at the age of eight when he first appeared on the Cult Faction radar in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), following that were the films The Song of Bernadette (1943), Going My Way (1944), Meet Me in St Louis (1944) and Gilda (1946).

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As he grew older Smith won the 200 pound (91 kg) arm-wrestling championship of the world multiple times and also won the United States Air Force weightlifting championship. Smith is a record holder for reverse-curling his own bodyweight. His trademark arms measured 18 and 1/2 inches. Smith held a 31-1 record as an amateur boxer and studied martial arts with kenpo instructor Ed Parker for several years. Smith also played semi-pro football in Germany and competed in motocross and downhill skiing events.

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Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse and a Master’s degree in Russian Studies from UCLA. He taught Russian at UCLA before abandoning his Ph.D. studies for an MGM contract and stunt doubling for former screen Tarzan Lex Barker in a 1958 French film The Strange Awakening.

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He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Munich while learning languages through the military. Smith is fluent in Russian, Serbo-Croatian, French and German. During the Korean War he was a Russian Intercept Interrogator and flew secret ferret missions over Russia. He had both CIA and NSA clearance and intended to enter a classified position with the U.S. government, but his marriage to a French actress meant the loss of security clearance.

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Smith holds the distinction of being the final Marlboro Man before cigarette advertising was discontinued on television.

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By 1961, Smith was a regular on the television series The Asphalt Jungle, portraying police Sergeant Danny Keller. One of his earliest leading roles was as Joe Riley, a Texas Ranger on the NBC western series Laredo (1965–1967). Smith’s character was good-natured with muscles of steel; co-star Peter Brown’s character was a ladies’ man, and Neville Brand portrayed a relentless bumbler.

In 1967, Smith guest starred on Wayne Maunder’s short-lived ABC military-western Custer. Smith played Jude Bonner in a classic 1972 episode of Gunsmoke, “Hostage!”, where he beats and rapes Kitty and shoots her in the back (twice) — while wearing a shirt that exposes his cleavage. He has been described as the “greatest bad-guy character actor of our time”.

Smith was added to the cast on the final season of Jack Lord’s long-running CBS crime drama, Hawaii Five-O as Honolulu Police Detective James “Kimo” Carew who was a new officer on the Five O unit. He had also appeared much earlier as a guest star in Lord’s previous series about a rodeo circuit rider, Stoney Burke. Smith starred in one episode of Kung Fu, and as the Treybor, a ruthless warlord, in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode “Buck’s Duel to the Death”. Smith has also made guest appearances in the 1974 pilot for The Rockford Files, “Backlash of the Hunter”, I Dream of Jeannie, and two appearances – as different characters – in episodes of The A-Team (the first season’s “Pros and Cons”, and season four’s “The A-Team Is Coming, The A-Team Is Coming“).

In the 1976 television miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man, Smith portrayed Anthony Falconetti, nemesis of the Jordache family. He made an appearance in the Kolchak: The Night Stalker ; The Energy Eater, playing an Indian Medicine man who helps Kolchak figure out the monster of the week.

On film, Smith played Clint Eastwood’s bare-knuckle nemesis Jack Wilson in Any Which Way You Can, as a drag racing legend in 1979’s Fast Company, as the barbarian’s father in Conan the Barbarian, bad guy Matt Diggs in The Frisco Kid, as a Russian commander in Red Dawn and a vindictive sergeant in Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

For fans of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, Smith did a turn as chief heavy Terry Bartell in Darker Than Amber, opposite Rod Taylor and Theodore Bikel, in 1970. He also played Jed Clayton in Boss Nigger (1975) a blaxploitation film from the 1970s which also starred Fred Williamson, and was seen in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic 1983 films The Outsiders and Rumble Fish as a store clerk and a police officer, respectively.

His starring roles came in films such as Grave of the Vampire, Invasion of the Bee Girls, and The Swinging Barmaids. Smith also played in several biker flicks including C.C. and Co., where he starred as the menacing “Moon”, opposite football great Joe Namath and Ann-Margret. He also starred in Nam’s Angels, which is briefly seen on a television in a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction. Smith played Count Dracula in The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula. He also plays Rinaldi in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Cops  film series.

With Island of Witches being his most recent film it is good to see the real WIlliam Smith still bringing us some cult classics!

2 replies »

  1. William Smith is one of my all time favorite actors.
    No one can look more menacing than Big Bill can & have the physique & fighting skills to back it up.
    I first became aware of him as good guy Texas Ranger Joe Riley on the terrific TV western series Laredo(1965~’67) where he portrayed Joe Riley.
    Laredo was unique among westerns on TV at that time in that it employed as much humor as it did action adventure. Few TV westerns did that,they were usually played as very serious each week.
    Always laughed when Bill would guest star on some TV show as a villain and end up getting trounced by the TV show’s lead actor.
    I seriously doubt if there were many,if any,actors on television at that time that would have given Bill much trouble in the fisticuffs department in a real battle.

    Like

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