Friday, April 8, 2016

The Hardest Working Man in the History of (Sci Fi) Hollywood

Some youngsters of my acquaintance have started a site called "The Renaissance Fan".  It is rather well done and I have a link to it over there on the right side of the page.  It covers fandom of various sorts including sports and films.  The latter topic has gotten me thinking on cinema a little more than usual, sometimes with surprising results.

I got to wondering if there was any solid point of contact between the those two great Sci Fi dynasties, Star Wars and Star Trek.  For instance, did any actor appear in an actual role in both?

After tossing out a few unworthy entrants such as the animated versions I did find one remarkable man whose career covers a half century and virtually everything worth watching in the realm of science fiction and related imaginative fiction.  Here are a few of his roles:

Cousin Itt of the Addams Family

An uncredited role as a "Talosian" in the pilot episode of the original Star Trek.

"Twiki" in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  This was a Star Wars knock off 

A hang gliding Ewok in The Return of the Jedi.
By now you may have detected a pattern.  But to complete the picture lets mention his credits as:
a leprechaun in an episode of Bonanza; as "Baron von Munchkin" on Petticoat Junction, as a "Gorilla Child" in Planet of the Apes, various roles in the original Battle Star Galactica, and stunt work - often doubling for a child who was not allowed to do risky scenes - in an array of movies including ET, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Batman Returns and The Towering Inferno.

Meet Felix Silla.

Born near Rome in 1937 he came to the United States in 1955.  He found work with Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus before making the transition to acting and stunt work. Obviously his small stature was his greatest asset in show biz.  He was for instance cast as Cousin Itt after the producer took a brief glance at him, and turned up for work the next day having no idea at all what character he would be playing.

Felix has retired from acting and in recent years has been working the Convention circuit.  Such interviews as I have found suggest that his memory is not what it once was and that his account of exactly what parts he played in some of these movies may be imperfect.

But he did have quite a bit to say about working on Lord of the Rings.  No, not the epic Peter Jackson trilogy but the underfunded and highly flawed Ralph Bakshi animated/live action hybrid.   (As I have made a point of excluding animated versions I must reluctantly deny Felix the trifecta of appearing in all three of the great imaginative fiction series of recent cinema).

I vaguely remember seeing the Bakshi Lord of the Rings back in 1978. I was in college and had the usual distractions so can only recall it as being a mild disappointment.

But looking at the cast I realize that many of the cast members appeared - earlier or later - in movies that I consider my Top Ten List.

John Hurt and Ian Holm would go on to appear in Alien one year later.
Trey Wilson who voiced Aragorn would as his last role play the gravel voiced Skip in Bull Durham.
An uncredited Mel Smith would have a small role as the Albino in Princess Bride.
Anthony Daniels was fresh off playing C3P0 in a little movie called Star Wars.

We think of the movie industry as a huge sprawling entity but when you narrow things down to a certain genre, then to the highly specialized category of midget stunt/acting work you do get down to a handful of individuals.  Not all of whom btw get along with each other.

Demand for his diminutive artistry was great in 1978-79, Silla was for instance working simultaneously on Buck Rogers and Battle Star Galactica.  So he missed out on the chance to add another, albeit dubious, credit to his resume.

Shortly after completion of Lord of the Rings a remarkable bit of cinematic dreck called The Star Wars Holiday Special was made*.  It was so bad that George Lucas has expressed his desire to round up and destroy all of the bootleg copies that seem to be the only surviving versions of it.  Felix, you missed a bit opportunity there but two of your fellow "little people" from Lord of the Rings (Patty Malone and Paul Gale) attained Kitsch Immortality as "Lumpy" and "Itchy", two unkempt Wookie relatives of Chewbacca!
The question of "Why, for the love of God, why?" is subject of much debate among fans.


Boogers Poop said...

I am intrigued by the movies you noted after mentioning this top ten list. What else is in your top ten? Also, those "youngsters" over at renaissance fan have youngsters of their own!

Tacitus2 said...

I hate to do Top Ten lists but you do make me think on the matter of why certain movies continue to have a hold on me. Give me a day or two to think on it.