TV Actor from ’80s action movies made mark in ‘American Ninja’
You have questions. I have some answers — and a lot of flashbacks.
Q: I saw a movie called “American Ninja.” It starred an actor named Michael Dudikoff. What can you tell me about him?Is he still alive?
A: For connoisseurs of 1980s action movies, Dudikoff was a big name, particularly for starring in the first, second and fourth of five “American Ninja” movies. Not long ago, the El Rey Network had an “American Ninja” marathon. Dudikoff also worked in features other than action, such as “Bachelor Party” and the original “Tron,” and his TV work began with a guest role on “Happy Days.” Now 62, the former model still acts and makes public appearances.
Q: Are Robert Crawford Jr. from “Laramie” and Johnny Crawford in “The Rifleman” brothers? Did they do any acting besides those shows?
A: Robert Jr. (sometimes billed as Bobby) is the older brother of Johnny (and they followed their older sister, Nance, into acting). Both brothers worked often outside the shows you remember. Bobby later became a producer, while Johnny leads a dance orchestra specializing in vintage tunes.
Their father, Robert Crawford Sr., was a film and TV editor. When he died in 2016 at age 95, the Hollywood Reporter noted that the year 1959 found Robert Sr., Bobby and Johnny all nominated for Emmys: Dad for his work on “The Bob Cummings Show,” Johnny as best supporting actor in drama for “The Rifleman” and Bobby for “best single performance by an actor” for a role on “Playhouse 90.”
Q: Could you let us know what years “The Virginian” with James Drury and Doug McClure ran on TV? Also, are they still alive?
A: “The Virginian” premiered on NBC in September 1962; its final season, when it was renamed “The Men from Shiloh,” ended in September 1971. The series was noteworthy, in part, because, according to “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Show,” it was the first Western with 90-minute weekly episodes. (The long-running “Wagon Train” tried that format for a single season, 1963-64, and “Cimarron Strip” was 90 minutes long during its one season, 1967-68.)
James Drury, who played the Virginian, is still with us at age 83. Doug McClure, who played Trampas, died in 1995.
Q: I am a great fan of Lee Van Cleef. Is he still alive, and what can you tell me about him? He had such a unique look.
A: Van Cleef had one of the most memorable faces in movies, and one that often lent itself to villainous roles. Born in New Jersey in 1925, he served in the Navy and worked as accountant before taking up acting. (Can you imagine this guy telling you your books don’t balance?) He co-starred in many spaghetti Westerns, most famously with Clint Eastwood in “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” His American movie career included supporting roles in a couple of Western classics: “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “High Noon.” On TV, he starred in “The Master,” an action series for NBC in 1984. He was married three times, fathering three children in his first marriage. He died in 1989, reportedly of a heart attack. Do you have a question or comment about entertainment past, present and future? Write to Rich Heldenfels, P.O. Box 417, Mogadore, OH 44260, or Letters may be edited. Individual replies are not guaranteed.
Former model Michael Dudikoff starred in the first, second and fourth of the five “American Ninja” movies.