Richard Kiel who, at 7-foot-5, long stood as one of Hollywood’s most gigantic talents, departed this veil of shorter mortal last Wednesday at age 74. He would’ve been 75 years old today. Of course, tThe humongously hulking Detroit native is best remembered as the steel-toothed James Bond villain Jaws in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me a character he reprised (after a good guy conversion) in the 1979 sci-fi 007 extravaganza, Moonraker (making Kiel one of only two actors to play the same antagonist in two separate franchise entries). When Jaws bites through huge metal cords that are suspending cable cars in mid-air, Kiel makes us believe he could do it–and maybe even did.
Kiel also dished out what’s arguably the greatest twist on TV’s The Twilight Zone as bulbous-skulled space alien Kanamit in the 1962 episode “To Serve Man.” The otherworldly visitors to Earth, led by Kanamit, are guided by a biblical-looking tome of the episode’s title as they round up and coddle happy humans who believe the text contains instructions for being gracious and accommodating. It turns out, of course, to be a cookbook.
Other notable Kiel canon highlights include brandishing a club in the title role of the 1962 rock-and-roll caveman saga Eegah!; playing recurring evildoer Voltaire on the steampunk cowboy series The Wild Wild West; and big bad Beany in 196’s legendarily insane acid-fried Hollywood counterculture comedy Skidoo! You probably also recall Kiel’s uproarious turn as Mr. Larson in Happy Gilmore.
Let’s salute Richard Kiel’s enormous body (of work) with a YouTube film festival highlighting some of his biggest, weirdest accomplishments–with selections that show off entire films and television episodes, until certain people figure out this stuff is there…
No-budget drive-in auteur Arch Hall Sr.’s crazy tale of a leftover Cro-Magnon in the California desert features Arch Hall Sr. as a guitar-slinging surf-rock teen hero and Richard Kiel in a fur sash and wild wig that undoubtedly came from the same off-season costume shop. The hilariously campy Eegah! has been put through the Mystery Science Theater 3000 ringer, but check it out here and come up with your own wisecracks, why don’t you?
Twilight Zone: “To Serve Man” (1962)
“To Serve Man” may be the single best-loved episode of Rod Serling’s peerless spooky sci-fi anthology series. The Simpsons famously parodied “To Serve Man” on their first-ever “Treehouse of Horror” special. Watching the original now, Kiel as Kanamit actually does seem like he’d fit right into with the Simpsons’ traditional tentacled space tormentors Kang and Kodos.
Hardnosed German director Otto Preminger took on flower power and psychedelic madness with the unimaginably off-the-wall Skidoo. It’s as bizarre a blend of late-’60s pop art and Golden Age Hollywood veterans gone wild as anyone (and maybe no one) could ever hope to witness. You will see Richard Kiel in a typical role that takes advantage of his tremendous physicality, and you will also see Jackie Gleason take an LSD trip, Carol Channing in George Washington garb performing a striptease, and Groucho Marx as God.
The Wild Wild West: “The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth” (1965)
Although the title Wild Wild West is probably most familiar now as the 1999 Will Smith big-screen bomb, that movie was based on a TV series that inventively blended classic cowboy sagas, James Bond espionage, and Victorian-era science fiction. Up against heroes James T. West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), Richard Kiel played Voltaire, the mightily menacing henchman of Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn) on three episodes, beginning in 1965 with “The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth”.
The Nasty Rabbit (1964)
Richard Kiel briefly by memorably appears in the Z-movie spy spoof The Nasty Rabbit as a ranch manager. It’s another production from the brain-trust behind Eegah!, only this time concerning Soviet spies attempting to conquer America by way of plague-infested rabbits—all played for laughs!