Sunday, September 7, 2008

Actor Michael Pate Passes On

Actor Michael Pate, a frequent guest star on American television in the Fifties and Sixties, passed on September 1. The cause was respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia. He was 88 years old.

Michael Pate was born in Sydney on February 26, 1920. He started his career on radio on the Australian Broadcasting Commission (Australia's equivalent of the BBC or PBS) in 1938 as both a writer and a broadcaster. During World War II he served in the Australian Army, eventually becoming part of 1st Australian Army Amenities Entertainment Unit, a special unit which entertained combat troops. He had a small role in the movie 40,000 Horsemenin 1940

Following the war Pate again worked in radio, performing in both radio shows and plays. It was in 1949 that he broke into film once more with the movie Sons of Matthew. The following years he would appear in such films as Bitter Springs, Thunder on the Hill, The Strange Door, The Black Castle, Julius Caesar, Houdini, Hondo, The Court Jester, and The Court Jester.

By the early Fifties Pate was working almost exclusively in the United States. It was here that he made his television debut, in an episode of The Lone Wolf in 1954. His next guest shot on a TV series would be historic. He appeared in the adaptation of the very first 007 novel Casino Royale on the series Climax, playing "Clarence Leiter." "Clarence Leiter" was essentially "Felix Leiter" renamed for American television (why they renamed him I cannot say), hence Michael Pate was the first actor to ever play Felix Leiter! Still working in the movies, Pate would make several guest appearances on television in the Fifties, appearing on the shows Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars, Four Star Playhouse, Broken Arrow, (as Geronimo, no less), The Millionaire, Alcoa Theatre, Sugarfoot, Wanted Dead or Alive, and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor.

In the Sixties Pate appeared almost exclusively on television. He guest starred on such series as Thriller, Peter Gunn, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Rifleman, Route 66, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, Batman, The Wild Wild West, and Tarzan. He was a regular on the series Hondo, playing Chief Vittoro. Pate was not totally absent from film in the Sixties. He appeared in The Great Sioux Massacre and The Singing Nun, among a few other films.

In 1968 Pate returned to his native Australia. There he guest starred in the series Riptide. He would also be an associate producer on Michael Powell's film Age of Consent. He was a regular on Matlock Police, staying with the show almost its entire run (which was 1971 to 1976) as Detective. Sergeant Vic Maddern. He would guest star on the series Cash and Company and was a regular on Power Without Glory.

For much of the rest of his career Pate returned to movies. He appeared in Mad Dog Morgan, Duet for Four, Death of a Soldier, and The Howling III.

Pate was also a writer. He wrote the story for Escape From Fort Bravo, an episode of Rawhide, and the films The Most Dangerous Man Alive, and Tim (which was also his lone director credit). He also worked in theatre in both Melbourne and Sydney. In the Eighties he and his son Christopher worked together on a stage production of Mass Appeal. He had also published literary and theatrical reviews and short stories in both Australia and the United States.

Michael Pate was a multi-talented actor. His career as what I call a "professional guest star (those actors who seemed to make a living on guest shots on television in the Fifties and Sixties)" emerged largely because he could play nearly any role. He was as convincing as 19th century British serial killer William Hare (who with his partner William Burke killed at least 17 people) on The Alfred Hitchock Hour as he was playing Sitting Bull in The Great Sioux Massacre. That he was also a writer who had a successful career in short stories makes him all the more remarkable. Truly, he was one of the great "professional guest stars" and TV stars of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.

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