He worked as part of Paul Newman's troop of supporting actors repeatedly. You will see him in most of Newman's films of the 1960s and 1970s. He also worked in John Wayne films more than a half dozen times in the same time frame. He frequently provided the comic relief in a western, or played an ineffectual businessman or crook. The parts he was known for on television and in the westerns was that of "Prairie Scum". If there was a call for a disgusting vermin from the plains or dirty desert or crawling out of the mountains, he probably played it or was looked at for it.
He was one of many Western Actors who would define the image of the old west on TV shows, but also bring home the unpleasantness of real prairie scum with a vengeance. He starred with Raquel Welch, Ernest Borgnine, and Jack Elam in Hannie Caulder. The three villains were not just bank robbers who pulled their neckerchiefs over their faces, they were heartless, self centered cruel men who deserved the comeuppance that the will receive by the end of the movie.
His best known role was probably that of the Captain of the Chain Gang that Paul Newman serves on in "Cool Hand Luke". It is his voice that echoes the famous line that often defined the 1960's:
In my opinion, it was a great performance that should have been recognized with dozens of awards. It is however number 11 on the American Film Institutes list of greatest movie quotes.
As you can see he was often the frustrated loser whol steals a scene and then moves on.
Below is an obituary from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Strother died the day before my wedding. He was my Mother's cousin and we expected him at the service. She knew why he did not come, and she did not tell me because she did not want it to overshadow the day. 1980 was not like today with a twenty four hour news cycle. I did not find out until Sunday Morning in the papers when we were on our honeymoon. This article was one of the ones my mother saved.
A pretty good illustration of his cult status is the presence of a mural featuring his image in the Rampart section of Los Angeles. by world renown artist Kent Twitchell.
Last year I noticed it was his birthday by accident, this year I knew it was coming so I prepared this little salute for him. Actors are an interesting breed, we often feel like we know them when the only contact we have had with them is through the screen. Some actors manage to get under your skin and make an impression on you even if they are not the lead in the story. We know so many of them as "Oh yeah, that guy", it seems a shame that we don't get to know them better. Here's hoping that all the great character actors working today will be remembered fondly as well. I think Jay would have liked that.
|Jay, my little brother Kirk, and me. Out in Agoura around 1966.|