Ed Lauter, ‘The Artist’ and ‘The Longest Yard’ actor, dies at 74


Ed Lauter attends the "Hitchcock" gala screening in Los Angeles in 2012. (John Shearer/Invision/AP)
October 17, 2013

Ed Lauter, a versatile character actor who became a recognizable Hollywood figure, if not a familiar name, by appearing in dozens of films, from “The Longest Yard” in 1974 to the Oscar-winning best picture of 2012, “The Artist,” died Oct. 16 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 74.

He had mesothelioma, a form of cancer, according to a statement from the actor’s spokesman, Edward Lozzi.

With his lanky frame and crooked smile, Mr. Lauter had a sometimes menacing appearance that often led him to be typecast as a villain, cop or coach early in his career. He had roles on “Mannix,” “Kojak,” “Cannon” and other detective shows, but he also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s final movie, “Family Plot” (1976).

Mr. Lauter made more than 70 films, he said, but never once kissed a woman onscreen.

“I got to Hollywood,” he told Toronto’s Globe and Mail in 1984, “and they took one look at this face and said, ‘This guy’s the heavy.’ ”

During a four-decade career, he worked with many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise.

He got his first major break in “The Longest Yard” (1974), working opposite Burt Reynolds in a prison-yard movie about an epic football game between the inmates and the guards. Mr. Lauter played the sinister Captain Knauer, the quarterback of the prison-guard team.

He didn’t have a formal audition for the part, but director Robert Aldrich wanted to see whether he could throw a football convincingly. He invited the rugged actor to join him in a park along with a technical adviser, former NFL wide receiver Pat Studstill. The 6-foot-2 Mr. Lauter, a onetime college basketball player, threw a tight spiral into Studstill’s hands and got the job.

In the film, Mr. Lauter’s character attacked Reynolds — the quarterback of the inmates — before the big game, then pointed a rifle at him in the climactic scene.

Hitchcock reportedly watched “The Longest Yard” while preparing to cast “Family Plot,” deciding whether to consider Reynolds for a role. Instead, he cast Mr. Lauter as a switchblade-brandishing gas station attendant working opposite Karen Black, Bruce Dern and William Devane.

“I was doing a scene with Bruce Dern,” Mr. Lauter told the Los Angeles Times last year. “We rehearsed it, and we were going out to get ready to shoot it. I said: ‘Mr. Hitchcock, what do you think?’ He said, ‘I think it has too many dogs’ feet in it.’ I said, ‘Dogs’ feet?’ and he said, ‘Pauses.’ So in other words, tighten it up.”

Mr. Lauter said Hitchcock had promised him a leading role in his next project, but the director died before the movie could be made.

Even so, Mr. Lauter amassed an impressive collection of film credits, including the police drama “The New Centurions” (1972) with Scott; “The Midnight Man” (1974), with Lancaster as the star and co-director; “The French Connection II” (1975) and “Eureka” (1983) with Gene Hackman; “Death Wish 3” (1985), in which he played a vigilante cop alongside Charles Bronson; and Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), starring Cruise.

He also appeared with Jeff Bridges and Tobey Maguire in “Seabiscuit,” the horse-racing film set in the 1930s that received an Oscar nomination for best picture.

In “The Artist,” the black-and-white, almost entirely dialogue-free 2011 film directed by Michel Hazanavicius, Mr. Lauter was the butler and chauffeur to Peppy, the lead female character, played by Berenice Bejo.

“The director wanted to see me,” Mr. Lauter told the Times, describing how he got the part, “and when he saw me he said, ‘I love that guy’s face. I want that guy’ . . . You know, years ago, I was thinking about getting my nose changed, but I am so glad I didn’t.” 

Edward Matthew Lauter was born Oct. 30, 1938, in Long Beach, N.Y. His parents were divorced when he was 4, and he was raised by his mother, Sally McKenna, a comedian and actress. He was a cousin of the Broadway star Elaine Stritch.

Mr. Lauter graduated in 1961 from the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, played in canteen shows while serving in the Army, then attended acting school and worked as a stand-up comedian. He played a reporter in the 1968 Broadway production of “The Great White Hope.”

Complete information about survivors could not be confirmed, but among Mr. Lauter’s survivors are his wife, Mia, and four children.

He continued to work until shortly before his death, with roles in the 2005 remake of “The Longest Yard,” with Adam Sandler; various TV shows, including “ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Office”; Eastwood’s 2012 baseball movie “Trouble With the Curve” (2012); and “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,” a 2012 family drama directed by Edward Burns.

Mr. Lauter often described himself as a “turn actor.”

“The movie starts out, and it’s running, and the story gets going,” he told Shock Cinema magazine in 2010, “and all of a sudden [my] character is introduced — that’s when the story takes a turn.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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