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Dirty Harry Actors You Might Not Know Passed Away

Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood were quite the director-actor tandem, teaming up for 5 films, but with none leaving more of a mark on society (and the box office) than their 1971 effort "Dirty Harry." While their politics were on opposite ends of the spectrum, they never injected those beliefs into their work, with Siegel telling The New York Times in 1972: "I was telling the story of a hard‐nosed cop and a dangerous killer. What my liberal friends did not grasp was that the cop is just as evil, in his way, as the sniper."

Eastwood brought a grizzled imperfection to Detective "Dirty Harry" Callahan, as he took a shoot first and (maybe) ask questions later approach to bringing down the Zodiac-inspired Scorpio, a killer who brought San Francisco to its knees. The film left audiences and critics divided, with some labeling it "fascist," and even had protesters waving "Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig" placards at the 1972 Academy Awards (for which it received zero nominations), while others loudly cheered the detective on in theaters, and in Harry's four subsequent flicks (sans Siegel) — 1973's "Magnum Force," 1976's "The Enforcer," 1983's "Sudden Impact," and 1988's "The Dead Pool."

While Callahan was a maverick loner, going ahead and making his own day, Eastwood was not alone in his first Harry screen adventure. He was gifted with a wonderful supporting cast consisting of film and stage veterans, as well as newcomers, playing lawmen, bad guys, victims and innocent bystanders. Five decades later, the legacy and controversy of the film still endures, but sadly some of those from that stellar supporting cast are no longer with us. Let's take a look at the "Dirty Harry" actors you might not know passed away.

Harry Guardino (Lieutenant Al Bressler)

When looking back on his "Dirty Harry" duties in 1993, Harry Guardino told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I was a lieutenant in the first one then they upped my grade to captain in the second. My friend Clint Eastwood offered me the part and I accepted without even reading the script." While his rank never actually changed from the first film to his appearance in the third (not second), Guardino was a perfect fit for the brash Al Bressler, who tried his best to keep Callahan on some sort of a leash while still letting him do his job.

The Tony- and multi-Golden Globe Award-nominated Guardino fulfilled his "life's dream of playing a variety of roles," telling The Windsor Star, "you can't categorize me. I've worked at being a character actor." Those varied roles included stints on Broadway alongside Angela Lansbury, Lauren Bacall, Shelley Winters and Steve McQueen, and in films starring Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Sophia Lauren, and naturally a couple more with Clint Eastwood. He was also a fixture on televisions since the early 1950s, guest starring on an array of shows including "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "The Untouchables," "Hawaii Five-O," "Cheers" and "Murder She Wrote."

Guardino died of lung cancer in 1995, at age 69.

Reni Santoni (Inspector Chico Gonzalez)

Having Detective Callahan assigned as your partner is typically not a welcome development for any officer, but rookie Inspector Chico Gonzalez was up to the task, or so he thought. Reni Santoni was no rookie actor when he took on the role, however, having won raves (and earning new teeth) in Carl Reiner's 1967 film "Enter Laughing," and arming up for "Anzio" and "Guns of the Magnificent Seven."

Reni (which is short for Renaldo) had a gift for bouncing back-and-forth between gritty dramas and uproarious comedies with ease. He got tough with Scorpio actor Andy Robinson in "Cobra" and with Sean Penn in 1983's "Bad Boys," and let loose again with Reiner for "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," with Walter Hill for "Brewster's Millions" and with partner Betty Thomas in many of her laugh riots, including "The Brady Bunch Movie" and "Private Parts." Santoni got "a new life" when he strapped on an apron as dirty pizzaman Poppi on "Seinfeld," netting himself a new generation of fans.

Santoni died of complications from throat and lung cancer in 2020, at age 82.

John Vernon (The Mayor)

Adolphus Raymondus Agopsowicz is better known to audiences as actor John Vernon who, with an assured deep voice, tried to display a sense of control and authority but was often undermined by those he sought to intimidate. In "Dirty Harry" he was the unnamed Mayor, who Callahan had little respect for — and seven years later, he got even less respect as Dean Wormer in "Animal House." John Landis actually was inspired to cast him in that later role after he saw his "black beard and piercing, blue eyes" peer into Eastwood's in "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

The Canadian actor was quite the presence on both stage and screen, and in some cases, only needed to supply his unforgettable voice to make a mark. Vernon's first movie role was voicing ominous Big Brother in a 1955 movie version of George Orwell's "1984," and he later lent his pipes to 1960s Marvel comics cartoons, "Heavy Metal," and "Batman The Animated Series." He worked as a heavy in films by Hitchcock, George Cukor, John Boorman, Keenan Ivory Wayans, and again for Don Siegel with "Charlie Varick" and "The Black Windmill."

Vernon died in 2005, at age 72.

John Larch (Chief of Police Paul Dacanelli)

The "comically inclined" John Larch often had to set those talents aside, as he was cast to play many "snarlers" in his career. One such role was that of S.F.P.D Chief of Police Paul Dacanelli, who has to appease the Mayor, clean up after Harry, and try to stop the Scorpio killer. Eastwood enlisted his former "Rawhide" co-star for his directorial debut "Play Misty For Me," and later scratched that funny bone when he cross examined John Vernon in "Airplane II: The Sequel."

The one time minor league baseball player born Harold Aronin latched onto many parts, including "Wagon Train," "The Fugitive," "The Twilight Zone," "Written on the Wind," "The Wrecking Ball," "Lou Grant," and "The Amityville Horror." He yearned "to be somebody you read about in the newspaper," but never had any luck in series that he was featured in, like "Arrest and Trial" and 1965's "Convoy," where he first crossed paths with director Don Siegel, but didn't make it past the pilot.

Larch died in 2005, at age 91.

John Mitchum (Inspector Frank DiGiorgio)

John Mitchum may not have achieved the same heights of fame as his older brother (and sometime collaborator) Robert, but the latter never got to chew up scenery with Clint Eastwood. John did so seven times, including a trio of "Dirty Harry" pictures as frank-talking Inspector Frank DiGiorgio, and in the Westerns "High Plains Drifter" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales." John had previously worked with Siegel on "The Legend of Jesse James," and later for his 1977 film "Telefon."

Starting in the late 1940s, the WWII veteran and Army boxing champ went quite the distance as an extra, bit player and character actor in Hollywood, before eventually racking up well north of 160 credits in his four-decade career. Mitchum's round face made the rounds in shows like "Gunsmoke," "F Troop," "Batman," "The Twilight Zone," and also made sweet music with fellow cowboys Dan Blocker and John Wayne. Wayne said of his lyricist friend, "John Mitchum thinks like I think and writes like I wish I could."

Mitchum died in 2001, at age 82.

Mae Mercer (Mrs. Russell)

After Mrs. Russell's son is found dead, she arrives on the cordoned off scene, with not much to say about the horrible situation. The mother was played by Mae Mercer, who did this bit part as a favor for her "ashamed" "Beguiled" director Don Siegel and co-star Clint Eastwood, when they realized there originally weren't any roles in their script "for a black woman."

North Carolinian Mercer not only made a name for herself as a singer in Paris, but also had a cabaret room named after her there: Mae Mercer's Blues Bar. While in France she appeared in two films, "Mondo Sexy Di Notte" and "Le glaive et la balance," and eventually returned to America to further her career. She co-starred with "Dirty Harry" alum Harry Guardino in "The Hell with Heroes," and appeared in the films "Pretty Baby," and "Homer and Eddie," and series "Ironside," "Mannix," "King Fu," "ER," and her final role, "The Shield."

Mercer died in 2008, at age 76.

Lyn Edgington (Norma)

Inspector Chico Gonzalez is having second thoughts about being on the force after getting shot up by Scorpio, and his wife Norma is leading that cry, worried as a cop's wife that every time he walks out the door "this is the last time I ever see him again." Detective Callahan agrees, and tells actress Lyn Edgington that "this is no life for you two."

Edgington had appeared on shows such as "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," "Rawhide" (opposite Clint Eastwood), and "The F.B.I.," had minor roles in films starring James Stewart, Jack Lemon and Elvis, and even gave exercise and skin care tips in newspapers. She took a break from acting when her husband died of a brain tumor in the late '60s, only to return for a bit, including Siegel's 1971 film. She married a couple more times, with her final husband, Dr. James Platler saying (via Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood) upon her death in 2005 at age 65: "What Lyn did after retiring was to enrich the lives of her two girls, my two sons, and me. She filled us with excitement, enthusiasm, and wholesome fun every day."

Ruth Kobart (Marcella Platt, school bus driver)

In real life, the Bay Area serial killer Zodiac sent the citizens of San Francisco into a tizzy with threats of blowing up school buses. This idea was channeled into a frightening sequence where "Dirty Harry" killer Scorpio hijacks a bus full of children, on a ride from hell, with Ruth Kobart having a "panicky time" at the steering wheel as driver Marcella Platt.

The onetime opera hopeful from Iowa utilized her "big voice and a big body" under the bright lights of the theater stage, while finding time for film and television projects in-between (like "Sister Act" and "Car 54, Where Are You?"). Kobart succeeded in both Broadway's 1961 hit "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and its 1967 film version, earning a Tony nomination for her work in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." She also stood out in big roles like Nurse Ratched and Miss Hannigan via national tours of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Annie."

Kobart died of pancreatic cancer in 2002, at age 78.

Woodrow Parfrey (Mr. Jaffe)

Service with a bit of a smile is what hot dog purveyor Mr. Jaffe offers to Harry, and the actor who portrayed him, Woodrow Parfrey, was offering up his services for director Siegel since the mid-'60s. They teamed up for episodes of "Breaking Point" and "The Legend of Jesse James," as well as the films "Madigan," "Charlie Varick," and "Jinxed!" Parfey would saddle up with Eastwood again in "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Bronco Billy."

Poor health from enduring WWII as a POW forced the mechanic into a new vocation, one that saw him rack up hundreds of film and TV credits over three decades. Parfrey didn't play to his audience, saying "I play it for me," and play acted in such classic shows as "The Untouchables," "The Fugitive," "Batman," and films like "Planet of the Apes," "Papillon," and "Used Cars."

Parfrey died of a heart attack in 1984, at age 61.

William Paterson (Judge Bannerman)

Dirty Harry gets the job done, even if he has to bend the rules, and unfortunately, how he came to apprehend Scorpio wasn't even remotely by the book. Appellate Court Judge Bannerman (and Berkeley professor of constitutional law to boot), played by an eyebrow-raising William Paterson, had the thankless job of breaking the bad news that the evidence collected would be inadmissible and without it they "couldn't convict him of spitting on the sidewalk."

A peek at the rest of Paterson's screen resume looks rather meek: TV Westerns (even playing a similar character named Vannerman on "Bonanza"), a Peter Bogdanovich flop, and 1990's "Pacific Heights," but the thespian made the most of his talents on the stage ... smaller ones. According to Playbill, he said he achieved "continuous employment ... by eschewing Broadway and staying put at two regional theatres," The Cleveland Play House and later at San Fran's American Conservatory Theater. The Purple Heart-awarded WWII vet also wrote a biography, worked for the San Francisco Arts Commission and served as Senator Dianne Feinstein's campaign treasurer twice.

Paterson died in 2003, at age 84.

James Nolan (Liquor Proprietor)

When Scorpio is freed on a technicality, he hits the streets and heads to a liquor store to stock up. The kind proprietor of the liquor store, played by James Nolan, had been robbed "14 times in the last 3 years," and sent the last two assailants "out on platters." That would not be the outcome this time, however, as Scorpio took him out with a fifth of Seagrams to the head, stealing his gun, ammo and a small bottle of booze.

"Dirty Harry" was Nolan's second turn for director Don Siegel, after 1968's "Madigan," and followed with four additional Siegel pictures, including "Charley Varick," which also co-starred Scorpio actor Andrew Robinson. The San Fran native and World War II vet served on stages and screen in New York and Hollywood, with hundreds of supporting roles (many as officers of the law) starting in the 1930s. Two of his more stand-out roles in the twilight of his career were playing a priestly father in 1970's "Airport" and then Barbra Streisand's grandfather in 1981's "All Night Long."

James F. Nolan died of cancer in 1985, at age 69.

Maurice Argent (Sid Kleinman)

Sid Kleinman's police gadget man character never was identified by name onscreen, but the bespectacled Maurice Argent made the most of his brief screentime, hooking Harry and Chico up with communication gear for a stakeout. All he politely asks of Detective Callahan is to "bring it back in one piece."

Allentown, Pennsylvania native Argent only had a dozen screen credits, including suiting up alongside Clint Eastwood's Harry once again in "Magnum Force," and joining director Don Siegel on the role call for a 1978 remake of his film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The remainder of his works were filmed in and around his adopted hometown of San Francisco, including "One is a Lonely Number," "Freebie and the Bean," and nine episodes of "The Streets of San Francisco." The Actor's Workshop member also commanded local stages, directed USO shows during WWII, and taught high school drama and English.

Maurice S. Argent passed away in 1981, at age 65.

Albert Popwell (Bank Robber)

When Harry asked a "punk" if he felt "lucky," the bank robber staring up at his .44 magnum decided not to press his luck. The detective and criminal may have been strangers, but the actors, Clint Eastwood and Albert "Poppy" Popwell were not. The two had tangoed before in Siegel's 1968 "Coogan's Bluff," and Popwell would pop up in the next three "Dirty" sequels, including playing baddie Mustapha in "The Enforcer," although scheduling conflicts prevented him from the finale "The Dead Pool."

Along with Leslie Stevens and Carl Reiner, Eastwood was one of Popwell's "three godfathers" who helped him make the leap from Broadway to Hollywood. He also had parts in "Cleopatra Jones" and its sequel, Siegel's "Charlie Varrick," "The Buddy Holly Story," and "Who's That Girl," and in shows like "Roots: The Next Generations," "Buck Rogers," "The A-Team," and "Magnum P.I." "Uncle Poppy" was also an advocate for children and the NAACP.

Popwell died of complications from open-heart surgery in 1999, at age 72.

Debralee Scott (Ann Mary Deacon)

For Debralee Scott, her acting career and life were both filled with much comedy and tragedy. Her screen debut began in morbid fashion — as a kidnapped, raped and murdered victim of Scorpio, but happily there was much laughter that followed. She cruised around with Harrison Ford in "American Graffiti," then became "the proverbial sister" to Louise Lasser on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and Donna Pescow on "Angie." Scott also attended class in "Welcome Back, Kotter," and enlisted in two "Police Academy" films. She was a regular on the classic game show circuit, and was even a seasoned bad girl for Donna Summers.

Scott retired from the industry in 1999 and became an agent at Empowered Artists. Once a sweetheart of actor Jonathan Frakes, she was later engaged to a Port Authority of New York/New Jersey police officer who tragically died in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Scott died of natural cases in 2005, at age 52.

Don Siegel (cameo as a pedestrian)

Academy Award winning director Don Siegel is best known for his action packed films, although friend and frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood once said that he's "an extremely underrated guy who's never gotten the credit he deserves." Quentin Tarantino would seem to agree, citing Siegel (whose final film was the widely-panned 1982 Bette Midler clunker "Jinxed!") as an example of a great director who should have quit while he was ahead — and has inspired the "Pulp Fiction" filmmaker to not make the same mistake.

Not as well known as Siegel's directorial efforts, however, were his credits in front of the camera, with 12 bit parts and cameos to his name. Six of which were in his own films, including walking alongside Detective Callahan on the streets of San Francisco in the opening credits of "Dirty Harry."

Siegel gave his time and image to work from some of his favorite collaborators, including two films by John Cassavetes, and for Eastwood in his directorial debut, "Play Misty for Me" (Siegel also signed his director's card). His role, "the bartender, a good luck charm, is my best piece of acting," Siegel told The Guardian. He later paid homage to his breakthrough work, 1956's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," by appearing in the 1978 remake as a cab driver, and his last acting gig had him as an "embarrassed man" in John Landis' "Into the Night" from 1985.

Siegel died of cancer in 1991, at age 78.