Ed Lauter, a prolific and versatile character actor whose career in film and television spanned more than 40 years, has died at the age of 74, of mesothelioma. Lauter’s own preferred term for what he did was “turn actor,” a phrase he said he picked up from
an older writer at the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York, and he said, "You know what you are?—you're a turn actor." "A turn actor?" I said. "Whaddya mean?" And he said, "Well, the movie starts out, and it's running along, and the story gets going, and all of a sudden your character is introduced—that's when the story takes a turn. Your character is important to the plotline because he gives it an important turn or twist, making it go into a completely different direction."
After honing his stagecraft as a stand-up comedian, Lauter debuted on Broadway by playing multiple roles in The Great White Hope, where he was noticed by the legendary casting director Lynn Stalmaster. Stalmaster got him into one of his first movies, The New Centurians (1972). With his bald pate, hawk’s profile, and a voice so dry it often seemed on the verge of cackling, Lauter was well-equipped to snatch up any roles that, 10 years earlier, would likely have gone to Robert Duvall.
Among his many, many appearances: Robert Culp’s Hickey & Boggs (1972); Robert Benton’s Bad Company (1972); Rage, directed by his New Centurians co-star, George C. Scott; Lamont Johnson’s The Last American Hero (1973); Executive Action (1973), where he plotted JFK’s assassination; Robert Aldrich’s The Longest Yard (1974) and its 2005 remake; The French Connection II (1975); Alfred Hitchcock’s final movie, Family Plot (1976); King Kong (1976); the crazy-ventriloquist horror film Magic (1978); the lovable sci-fi/ Western mashup Timerider (1982); Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka (1983); Cujo (1983), where he was killed by the title character; Martha Coolidge’s Real Genius (1985); and cranking Charles Bronson up and turning him loose in Death Wish 3.
He could also be seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Raw Deal (1986); Oliver Stone’s Born On The Fourth Of July (1989); the Dave Stevens adaptation The Rocketeer (1991); uncredited as his umpteenth cop in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993); with John Candy in his last movie, Wagons East (1994); Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas (1995); Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls (1995); Seabiscuit (2003); the existential Western Seraphim Falls (2006); as the butler in 2011’s Oscar winner, The Artist; and most recently, in the Clint Eastwood vehicle Trouble With The Curve (2012).
Lauter’s many, many TV roles included the Michael Mann TV film The Jericho Mile (1979); Undercover With The KKK (1979); playing the Reverend Jim Jones’ father in Guyana Tragedy (1980); with George C. Scott again in The Last Days Of Patton (1986); the Stephen King miniseries Golden Years (1991); and a recurring role on ER. While Lauter made a couple of movies that have yet to be released, his last appearances to date were from earlier this year, as a suit salesman on The Office and in a recurring role on Showtime’s Shameless. “I love what I do,” Lauter told an interviewer in 2010. “I chose the right career.”