Thursday, June 4, 2009

John Carradine, patting down the bad guy

On Yahoo news today I see that actor David Carradine, star of the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu," has been found dead in Bangkok. The report says he was found hanged in his hotel room with a cord used with the room's curtains. His body was found by a hotel maid. It is believed he committed suicide. He was 72 years old. The news report tells us that Carradine was a leading member of a venerable Hollywood acting family that included his father, character actor John Carradine.

Reading the story I feel a peculiar sensation in my breast that I cannot describe. It has something of anxiety about it, but that doesn’t seem to nail it. But there’s something there, over the heart. I understand immediately that the sensation I feel is related to the memory I have of the father, John Carradine. He played the role of a bad-guy in the Australian outback, probably in the early or mid-1940s. He was a bad guy, but I identified with him. The only scene in the movie that I can still recall is what I imagine to be the last one. There he meets his death with a soft voice, a laconic smile and maybe a wisecrack. There was something about that scene that stayed with me for years. I don't know exactly what it is, but from the sensation that hovers over my heart it looks like it's still there.

In 1953 when I was 23 years old I was a deputy sheriff for Los Angeles Country. I was working in the booking office in the county jail downtown when one night John Carradine was brought into the holding tank on some kind of public drunk charge. There he was, dressed in loose-fitting dark clothes, his hair a little long, he little more than skin and bones, his hands in his pockets smiling and looking around, aware that anyone who saw him would know who he was. And then there I was, telling him to spread his legs and put his hands on the counter, patting him down to make certain he had no weapon on him, my hands moving around and across the body of the Australian outbacker and gunman who when I was a kid had met his death, and who was willing to meet it, with a wonderfully ironic smile and no ill will.

1 comment:

John Weir said...

The movie you describe sounds like CAPTAIN FURY (1939). John Carradine was in a huge number of movies.
His son, David appears to have been a bit twisted in his personal habits. Later news stories indicate he may have accidentally killed himself. His ex, who didn't want to say anything negative about him, went on to explain in an interview how he would spend days planning bondage devices and sessions. It is heartening to know a man of his age was still that frisky.