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

The frequent onscreen villain became an artist later in life.

Image: 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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kimmer 11 days ago
Condolences ..Funny knowing of a man for his body of work and type casting....Blessings!
Wiseguy 1 month ago
It's Hawaii Five-0 with a zero.
davidnc28658 1 month 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 1 month ago
I’m going to miss Ralph from the diner. “I didn’t mean to kill him.”
LeeWaller 1 month ago
That's so sad. I first saw him in the Naked Gun movie. RIP
Jeffrey 1 month ago
ah who else starred on gunsmoke? Maybe Mickey Rooney?
Michelle 1 month 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 1 month ago
Good to know his dream came true and I feel his was at peace when slept
Jon 1 month ago
His Disney movie was titled "Return FROM Witch Mountain", not "Return TO Witch Mountain".
Angela 1 month 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 1 month ago
Royal Dano seems to be everywhere too! He played St. Peter well in "King of Kings" with Jeffrey Hunter.
PortelaJ 1 month 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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