Anthony James: Farewell To A Treasured Childhood Nightmare

Anthony James as the creepy chauffeur in “Burnt Offerings,” the 1976 horror film
that left an indelible impression on many young horror fans.

He was a character actor whose career spanned 25 years and who was known for playing bad guys, from the racist diner cook in In The Heat Of The Night (1967) to the violent bordello owner in Unforgiven (1992). To me, Anthony James will always be the creepy chauffeur conjured from the memories of family patriarch Ben as a portent of death in the creepy 1976 film Burnt Offerings. The movie starred Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis and was adapted from the novel by Robert Marasco. James’ eeriely smiling visage was the most striking image from that classic chiller and took it to another level.

In his review for the NY Times, Lawrence Van Gelder wrote that Burnt Offerings included “a chauffeur (Anthony James) whose face is going to haunt a lot of dreams for months to come.”

The tall, lanky actor, who passed away from cancer on Tuesday at age 77, had a more extensive resume than I realized with credits spanning television and film throughout his career. He had notable small screen work in Gunsmoke, Police Story, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, The A-Team, and Simon and Simon. He also appeared in the films mentioned above along with titles like The Teacher, Return From Witch Mountain, and The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear in which he satirized his bad guy image. It turns out he wrote two books: the 1994 collection of painting and poems called Language of the Heart and his 2014 memoir, Acting My Face. It looks like I have some reading to do.

RIP to a man who scared the hell out of me as a kid. I really do appreciate it.

Who scares ya, baby?

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