Sunday, June 17, 2012

Birthday Tribute (a day early!): Wesley Lau

This entry was meant for tomorrow, actually, but since I forgot to announce that I decided to see if I could get it up today instead, so it would be here for anyone checking in.

Tomorrow, June 18th, is Wesley Lau’s birthday. (He was born in 1921.) Perhaps it’s fitting to make the post today, when this year the 17th falls on Father’s Day. When Wesley was first starting work on Perry, he and his wife had a young child. They were grateful for the steady pay Wesley received for his part in the main cast. And among the beautiful tributes to him on his epitaph is “beloved father.”

I’ve continued to attempt watching Wesley in his guest-starring roles whenever I can. I found him in an episode of Combat!, where he not only played a German, he spoke the language.

He seems to turn up as characters of Germanic descent semi-frequently. I’ve always imagined it was because with his blond hair and blue eyes, he looked the part quite well. And if he knew the German language before he ever needed to speak it on Combat!, that was surely part of the reason as well.

EDIT: I finally looked up the origin of his family name, Lau, and it is German. That is a surprise to me; it definitely did not call German to my mind from its spelling. But then again, I'm certainly no expert in German.

He has a small part in the suspense thriller Skyjacked as an FBI agent. I wish he had been involved in the film’s main action, though; they just talk to him on the phone in a scene.

He appears in an early episode of The Big Valley, as someone in town trying to hide a secret about an affair he had with another woman. While cowardly for a large portion of the episode, he does finally seem to come to want to repent and to mend things with his wife.

Slightly along the same lines is his second Bonanza appearance, in which he plays a clinging and needy brother of a woman who is falling in love with Ben Cartwright. is misleading in their descriptions of the episode; they make Wesley's character sound like some sort of treacherous villain. Really, he isn't. He's a series of contrasts: he honestly wants his sister to be happy and to find someone, but he is terrified of losing her and doesn't want her to fall in love because of that. When they were children, she accidentally started a fire that killed their parents and left his lungs injured for life. He may or may not hold her responsible for that; he indicates it once, but he could have been speaking in his fear. She has always blamed herself and feels that she must stay with him no matter what.

He’s also been in three episodes of Mission: Impossible, once as a definite antagonist, once as an assistant to the antagonist, and once as a neutral party (a security guard). The one in which he plays the antagonist, My Friend, My Enemy, is especially intense. He and his cronies try to brainwash Leonard Nimoy’s character into killing Jim Phelps!

I’ve even seen him play downright psychopaths, such as in an episode of Have Gun-Will Travel. He also sometimes plays young ruffians; he did this twice on Gunsmoke, and one time was in the episode Miguel’s Daughter with Simon Oakland! That isn’t the only time they can both be seen in something, either; they were both in I Want to Live! (albeit they did not share scenes) and in Crosscurrent, a television movie I still want very badly to see.

(I did manage to locate another television movie with Wesley, Incident on a Dark Street. It’s a very good film, all about the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the subject matter as well as for Wesley, who has a small part as a defense attorney. For me being fascinated by the district attorney’s office, I greatly enjoyed the whole film.)

A third time on Gunsmoke he played a ranch hand forced into keeping silent about the cruel and merciless killing of his boss. He doesn’t want to keep quiet, and had tried and failed to stop his associate from committing the murder. When he later discovers the wretch is stealing the widow’s cattle, he confronts him and is shot down and left for dead. Though he survives and struggles back to the house, he’s terrified to the point of tears that he’ll be blamed for the old man’s murder, especially when he hears that the real murderer was shot down in a fight by Marshal Dillon. Thankfully, there is a happy ending for him.

Most recently I saw Wesley in Cannon, playing a blackmailer. The most interesting notation about that role is that he and Richard Anderson both played characters with the exact same name of Ray Norman. And Richard’s character by that name was in The New Perry Mason!

We lost Wesley on August 30th, 1984. He was an amazing and sadly underrated actor. From all I’ve seen, he could handle any part he was given, from innocent and hapless ranch hands to cold and calculated spies to completely mad killers. And while of course Lieutenant Anderson is my favorite of his characters, I love branching out and seeing all the many others he is capable of portraying.

Interestingly enough, it was Amory Fallon (from The Impatient Partner) and not Andy who made me realize I’d become quite fond of not only Wesley, but Andy as well. I’d been lukewarm towards Andy up to that point. And I hadn’t wanted to bring him into my stories. Now I can scarcely imagine them without him.

I think the reason that Amory was the key may have been that Amory showed a lot more emotion than Andy had up to that point (I hadn’t rediscovered The Hateful Hero yet), and the contrast between the characters somehow brought me to the hidden knowledge of my positive feelings. The Impatient Partner is still one of my favorite episodes. After I finally see the uncut version this week, I should spotlight it in a post.

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