R.I.P. Anthony James, actor in ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Return to Witch Mountain’

The frequent onscreen villain became an artist later in life.

The Everett Collection

Eighteen-year-old James Anthony moved with his mother, who had raised him by herself since he was eight, from South Carolina to Los Angeles. He dreamed of becoming an actor and would do anything to make that happen.

James Anthony realized there was already an actor named Jimmy Anthony, so he came up with a stage name that still rang true – Anthony James.

After struggling to make ends meet, including cleaning bathrooms to pay for acting classes, he got his big break as Ralph the diner cook in the pivotal 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, which inspired the TV show of the same name.

He then played many roles on television, appearing on Gunsmoke seven times between 1967-1969, recurring four times as Elbert Moses. He was also in Bonanza, The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O and Starsky and Hutch. In 1978, he starred alongside Bette Davis and Christopher Lee in Return to Witch Mountain.

His tall, 6’6” frame and distinguished face won him many villainous roles throughout his career. A year before he retired from acting, he lampooned his evil image as the over-the-top Hector Savage in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.

After playing Skinny Dubois in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning 1992 western Unforgiven, James retired from acting and moved to New England. He spent his days painting and writing poetry, collecting both in the book Language of the Heart. He later released a memoir about his long career, appropriately titled Acting My Face. The book is as much about his beloved mother, Marika, as it is about himself, going against the advice of publishers.

James passed away on May 26. He was 77. In an obituary announcement, donations in his memory made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were encouraged. 

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FloridaTopCat 13 months ago
Saw him las week in an early '70's episode of Columbo
MikefromJersey 17 months ago
One of the all time best character actors of the "creepy weirdo" school.
Snickers 32 months ago
I've seen him in so many movies but never knew his name.
JHP 42 months ago
I am 100% positive that he played in a Clint Eastwood movie - maybe Josey Wales?
dmzabooo 42 months ago
Many a Gunsmoke episodes! I liked him in that role. He and his dirtier brother were Always out for a quick buck. The prize bull episode comes to mind. The one the brothers stole and were making moonshine under the schoolhouse. When that bull drank some of the spilled moonshine. And busted up the place. Interesting fun fact ( not sure though) the big bull that they used in that episode might have been used on a Bonanza episode too. Looked exactly alike. Probably rented the bull from the same place? That bull had a great manager. lol. Either way may this man R.I.P.
Mato1970 42 months ago
He was also the sleazy model agent in the music video for Poison's "Fallen Angel." I also remember him from the awesomely cheesy movie "World Gone Wild."
Lauro 47 months ago
I enjoyed many of the movies he came out in. He was very good at playing the heavy. I think my favorite was Naked Gun, he was hilarious. Rest in peace Anthony James.
kimmer 48 months ago
Condolences ..Funny knowing of a man for his body of work and type casting....Blessings!
Wiseguy 49 months ago
It's Hawaii Five-0 with a zero.
davidnc28658 49 months ago
Anthony James was great! I first saw him in a cheap sexploitation film called "The Teacher" with Angel Tompkins, and Jay (Dennis The Menace) North. Then memorably as a villain who gets his ear shot off, in Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter". He was hilarious in Naked Gun 2 1/2.
jbwphoto1 49 months ago
I’m going to miss Ralph from the diner. “I didn’t mean to kill him.”
LeeWaller 49 months ago
That's so sad. I first saw him in the Naked Gun movie. RIP
Jeffrey 49 months ago
ah who else starred on gunsmoke? Maybe Mickey Rooney?
Michelle 49 months ago
We are very familiar with his western roles. He was quite funny as Merry Florene's brother/cousin in Gunsmoke. Another artist on the show is Buck Taylor, and his drawings and paintings of the Gunsmoke actors, and of western scenes are incredible. Now, I will also check out James' artwork. I hadn't known of it.
Richard 49 months ago
Good to know his dream came true and I feel his was at peace when slept
Jon 49 months ago
His Disney movie was titled "Return FROM Witch Mountain", not "Return TO Witch Mountain".
Angela 49 months ago
He was wonderfully villainous on the "The Big Valley" as the kooky son who, along with his equally villainous dad, Royal Dano, killed everyone who stopped over at their rooming house. Ah, the days of the great character actors.
Michelle Angela 49 months ago
Royal Dano seems to be everywhere too! He played St. Peter well in "King of Kings" with Jeffrey Hunter.
BenSobeleone Michelle 14 months ago
Royal Dano appeared on the first episode of the Planet of the Apes tv series (1974) on CBS. He was also on a few episodes of The Rifleman.
PortelaJ 49 months ago
I really enjoyed his acting. So much that I genuinely disliked the mean characters he portrayed. Thankful we live in a world that shows reruns. Thanks for the memories Señor James. Continue to Stay Safe MeTV gang.
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