Leo Gordon

LOS ANGELES--Leo Gordon, the burly rough-edged ex-con turned character actor who specialized in playing brutish bad guys in five decades of Westerns and TV shows, died at his home here Dec. 26, 2000. He was 78. MSTies may recall a brief but pivotal appearance in episode 615- KITTEN WITH A WHIP as the appropriately named Sgt. Enders, who wraps up the plot as the movie comes to a close. Gordon also was a screenwriter with more than a dozen films to his credit, ranging from 1966's "Tobruk" to the movie in episode 406- ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES.

Born in Brooklyn on Dec. 2, 1922, he joined the Army in 1941, but chafed under military discipline and left the service after two years.

He drifted to Southern California, into crime and eventually to a four-year stretch at San Quentin. After serving his time, he returned to New York and was working a construction job when he decided to use his military benefits to take acting classes. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he met his future wife, Lynn. They were married in 1950. Gordon went on to stage work and was discovered by a Hollywood agent in a Los Angeles production of "Darkness at Noon.'' Thus began a career that included about 70 films and dozens of TV shows, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Gordon, making good use of his broad-shoulders and steely blue eyes to create many memorable characters. Director Don Siegel, who used Gordon in his prison film "Riot in Cell Block 11, " said that "Leo Gordon was the scariest man I have ever met. "Riot in Cell Block 11" was filmed at San Quentin and several of the guards remembered Gordon from his time there, when he was regarded as a troublemaker. Prison officials would not let Gordon enter and leave the prison with the other cast and crew members; he was only allowed to enter and exit by himself and was thoroughly searched each time. But Gordon was best known as a Western bad guy in series from 1953's "Hondo" to 1994's "Maverick." During the 1950s and 1960s, he seemed to make an appearance on virtually every Western TV show, from "Bonanza" to "Rin Tin Tin." For TV, he wrote about 50 scripts for shows such as "Bonanza'" and "Cheyenne," including 21 episodes of "Adam-12."

"Thank God for typecasting," he said in 1997 as he received the Golden Boot award for his Western screen work. He is survived by his daughter.