Friday, 21 May 2010

Michael Pataki 1938-2010

I love B-movies.

The other day I was watching Grave of the Vampire, a little-known 1974 horror flick. While it had some low-budget flaws, like all the interior shots, including a hospital and three homes, obviously filmed in the same three rooms with the furniture moved around, it featured some good writing, tolerable acting, and a neat central idea. I won't spoil it for you. If you like B movies and/or vampires, check it out.

As usual with a movie I like, I looked it up on the Internet Movie Database and discovered that the actor who played the vampire, Michael Pataki, died last month. I read his list of roles and was impressed by how long it was, with roles stretching back to 1958 and his latest dating to this year. It turned out that even though I'd never heard his name I remembered him from my childhood.

If you grew up in a certain time and place, you loved the original series Star Trek. I know you did so don't pretend. Remember The Trouble with Tribbles, where a space station gets overrun by cute furry little creatures that hate Klingons? Both the Klingons and the crew from the Enterprise are on shore leave and while Scotty and Chekov are having a drink in the bar, a Klingon named Korax, played by Pataki, comes over to pick a fight by dissing the Enterprise.

"That sagging old rust bucket is designed like a garbage scow!" he sneers as he stands over Scotty.

"Laddie," Scotty says with a glint in his eye, "Don't you think you should rephrase that?"

"You're right, I should" Korax/Pataki says in a mocking Scottish accent. "I didn't mean to say that the Enterprise should be hauling garbage, I meant to say that it should be hauled away as garbage."

At this point little ten-year-old me knew there was a fight coming, and Star Trek fights always rocked. Sure enough Scotty, a Scotsman just like me, slowly gets up, decks Korax, and a riot breaks out.

Thirty years later I still remember that scene, and a quick look on Youtube confirmed my memory is correct.

So why am I talking about a little-known actor on a writing blog? Because Pataki was a character actor, and character actors are Hollywood's midlisters. They're the pros that can be relied on to do a good job day in and day out. They don't have star potential, but that's OK because that makes them more reliable. Today's star is yesterday's has-been, but character actors can keep working all their lives.

Just like Michael Pataki did.

I'd love to be a star, of course, and I'm sure back in the day Michael dreamed the same dreams, but being a midlister in writing or acting isn't too bad either. You can hop between genres, you can move with the winds of change without worrying about them blowing you over, and you can look forward to a lifetime of doing what you love.

And maybe someday I'll create a scene that everyone will remember thirty years after they read it.

1 comment:

davidleesummers said...

Sorry to hear that Michael Pataki passed away. As it turns out, I just watched the Trouble with Tribbles with the girls a couple of weeks ago. I've often found myself more fascinated by the careers of character actors than more prominent stars. Seems they get some of the more fun parts!

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