Friday, June 10, 2005

Dana Elcar - 1927-2005

Dana Elcar, probably best known for playing Pete Thornton for six years on MacGyver died on Monday of complications from pneumonia. His family decided to delay release of the information to keep things quiet. He was 77.

For years before MacGyver Dana Elcar was one of those dependable but anonymous character actors who you always knew but could never quite name. He was "that guy; you know the one who was in ... and he did .... and ..... Now what was his name? Well you'll know him when you see him." He did a lot that would get him recognised if never really becoming a big name before MacGyver. His IMDB lists over 100 guest appearances on TV shows from 1959 when he appeared in the Play of the Week production of John Steinbeck's Burning Bright with Colleen Dewhurst, to his last on-screen appearance in 2002 when he did an episode of ER (actually his first screen appearance was in a 1954 series called A Time to Live that ran 15 minutes an episode on NBC. In between he worked - usually in guest appearances - in a host of TV shows that TV fans are bound to remember, including The Defenders, Gunsmoke, Mannix, The F.B.I., Hawaii Five-0, Ironside, The A-Team, and quite literally a host of others. In some cases he appeared in the same show in different roles - he appeared on three different episodes of Mannix in three different roles over a three year period. Although most of his work was on TV he also appeared in movies, notably as the fake FBI agent in The Sting.

Somehow I always think of Dana Elcar before MacGyver, as yelling. It seems he was always playing some ticked off bureaucrat or commanding officer of something who was usually yelling at someone. In 1975 he was Lieutenant Shiller, and yelling at Robert Blake in Baretta. In from 1976 to 1978 he got to yell at Robert Conrad, playing the base CO in Black Sheep Squadron. However it was MacGyver that made people remember Dana Elcar's name. He appeared in the pilot episode as a minor character named Andy Colson, but when it was decided to have Mac work for the Phoenix Foundation, Elcar was added to the cast as his boss and best friend Pete Thornton. In a statement Richard Dean Anderson, who played MacGyver said "At a time when I had very little business being called an actor, he made things so easy for me. It was a learning experience that was very warm and loving for all seven years."

Dana Elcar was diagnosed with Glaucoma after the fourth season of MacGyver. It was decided that the character of Pete Thornton would also learn that he had glaucoma. By the time the series ended Elcar was nearly totally blind, which in part may explain why he did neither of the two MacGyver TV movies. His post MacGyver appearances, in a 1993 episode of Law & Order and in the 2002 episode of ER were playing blind characters.

(I hate writing obituary posts because sadly I have had to do a number of them for actors I liked a lot.)

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