Ed Lauter, the New York-born actor who died late last week at age 74, was a fixture on American TV and movie screens over the last 40 years. He debuted on Broadway in 1968, but the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists his first TV gig in a small role on a 1971 episode of Mannix. He subsequently appeared in numerous series, including Longstreet, Ironside, Kojak, The Rockford Files, Nero Wolfe, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, Cold Case, Miami Vice, NYPD Blue, The X-Files, Psych, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Among his film credits were parts in Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot, the 1975 picture made from Alistair MacLean’s Breakheart Pass, Cujo, Lassiter, The Rocketeer, Mulholland Falls, and The Artist.
(Left) Lauter as Bud Delaney
“Whether he was an irascible authority figure, a brutal thug or a conniving con man,” the Associated Press remarked in its obituary, “Lauter’s presence made him all but impossible to miss in any film he was in. That was so even on those occasions when he was playing a character more bumbling than menacing, although menacing was clearly his forte.” In his own report of Lauter’s demise, Stephen Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog wrote: “Tall, sharp-chinned, and prematurely bald, Lauter sketched in a lot of thankless authority figures (as a fire chief, for instance, in several episodes of ER) but acquired a cult following through juicier turns as a gamut of bad guys, from the coolly sinister to the outright terrifying.”
Although Lauter is usually described as a “character actor,” the role for which I remember him best is as the star of Last Hours Before Morning, an unsuccessful 1975 pilot film for NBC-TV. He played Bud Delaney, a 1940s Los Angeles cop who was booted from the force “after being framed by a mysterious higher-up,” and took a job working as the house detective for a down-at-heels Hollywood hotel. Lauter brought to that role a world-weariness and rather reluctant brilliance that I recall even now--even though I haven’t seen Last
Hours Before Morning since its premiere. A few years ago, I chose this teleflick as one of my favorite old TV pilots, and I’ve been hoping ever since to find the film in DVD format, so far without success. (If anyone knows how I can get my hands on a copy, don’t hesitate to tell me!)
Lauter’s publicist said the actor died of mesothelioma, a
cancer generally associated with asbestos exposure.
(Hat tip to Don Herron at Up and Down These Mean Streets.)