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|Born||Victor Edwin French
December 4, 1934
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
|Died||June 15, 1989
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Cremated, Ashes scattered at sea near Santa Barbara|
|Spouse(s)||Judith Schenz (1959–?)
Julie Cobb (1976–1978)
Born in Santa Barbara, California, to Ted French, an actor and stuntman who appeared in westerns in the 1940s, Victor later appeared with his father in one episode of Gunsmoke entitled "Prime Of Life" in 1966, as well as a war film in 1963 called The Quick And The Dead. Ted French died in 1978.
Following in his father's footsteps, French also began his television career as a stuntman in mostly westerns and anthology shows. During this period, he guest starred in some thirty-nine television series. Though he was uncredited as an office clerk in the film, The Magnificent Seven, French's first real western role was the 1961 episode "The Noose" of the syndicated series, Two Faces West; his fellow guest star on the segment was L.Q. Jones, another actor destined to become well known in western roles. French was cast as Larrimore in the episode "Fargo" on the ABC/Warner Brothers western series, The Dakotas.
French appeared twenty-three times on Gunsmoke, often playing a crook, whether dangerous or bumbling. On October 25, 1971, he portrayed a cold-hearted gunman named "Trafton", who while robbing the communion vessels in a Roman Catholic church murders a priest. As the clergyman lies dying, he forgives his killer, a development which dogs Trafton, who holds human life in low regard, for the entire episode until he is shot to death by Marshal Matt Dillon. French guest starred in another episode, titled Matt's Love Story, in which Dillon falls in love with a character played by Michael Learned. This episode would then lead to the story line in the 1990 made-for-television movie, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache in which Matt rejoins with Learned's character "Mike" and he learns that he has a grown daughter.
The appearance also led to French's re-teaming with Learned in a guest-actor role on The Waltons a year later. In "The Fulfillment", French plays a blacksmith named Curtis Norton whose wife could not have children and subsequently adopts an eight-year-old orphan boy who has come to spend the week on Walton's Mountain.
In other work, French also starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1969 western, Charro! and played the recurring character "Agent 44" in the NBC series Get Smart in 1965-1966, where he portrayed an undercover spy who showed up in the worst, most unlikely of places (like a mailbox or a porthole in a boat) and appeared in a few episodes of Bonanza, with Michael Landon. The two young actors found considerable common ground and became each other's best friends as a result. Shortly before being teamed up once again, French made a guest appearance on Kung Fu as a corrupt, bigoted sheriff in 1973. Victor also guest starred in episode 52 of Mission Impossible. This second season episode 24 was titled "Trial by Fury", in which he played the informer in a prison.
In 1976, French appeared in an episode of the western series Sara.
Work with Michael Landon
French is most widely known for costarring with Michael Landon on two television series. He appeared on Little House on the Prairie (1974–1977), (1981–1984) as Isaiah Edwards (French also directed some episodes of Little House). He appeared on Highway to Heaven (1984–1989) as Mark Gordon.
From 1977–79, he left Little House to star as a small-town Georgia police chief in Carter Country. When the series ended, the actor was surprised that Michael Landon was agreeable to his returning to the character of Mr. Edwards. French appeared in Episode 8 of Season 6, in Episode 8 of Season 8, then returned full-time, starting with Episode 19 of Season 8.
According to interviews with Cindy Landon, and Kent and Susan McCray on the A&E DVD release of Highway to Heaven Season 3, Victor and Michael Landon were "crazy about each other", indicating that they always made each other laugh and enjoyed each other's company. Cindy Landon mentions that Victor was a quiet and reclusive kind of guy as opposed to Michael Landon's outgoing personality.
A heavy smoker, French was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in April 1989, from which he died two months later on June 15, 1989 in Los Angeles, California. According to one anecdote, he left a final, good-humored message for friends and family at his wake, having arranged for an airplane to fly overhead with it. Michael Landon died from pancreatic cancer a mere two years later. Both men were 54 years old when they died, and both were only diagnosed with their respective illnesses a few months before their deaths.
- The Magnificent Seven - Front Office Clerk (uncredited) (1960)
- The Quick and the Dead - Milo Riley (1963)
- Charro! - Vince Hackett (1969)
- Rio Lobo - Ike Gorman AKA Ketcham (1970)
- Chato's Land - Martin Hall (1972)
- An Officer and a Gentleman - Joe Pokrifiki (1982)
- Hazel - episode - A Matter of Principle - Bailiff (1961)
- The Virginian - episode - The Accomplice - Roy (1962)
- Bonanza - episode - Gallagher's Sons - Conn (1962)
- The Virginian - episode - The Secret of Brynmar Hall - Michael (1964)
- Wagon Train - episode - The Silver Lady - Beal (1965)
- Get Smart - 7 episodes - Insurance Man/Agent 44 (1965-1966)
- Branded - episode - Kellie - Sheriff (1966)
- Batman - episode - A Death Worse Than Fate - Hood No. I (1966)
- Gunsmoke - 18 episodes - Various (1966-1975)
- The Hero - 10 episodes - Fred Gilman (1966)
- Daniel Boone - episode - The Ballad of Sidewinder and Cherokee - Blue Belly Sangster (1967)
- The F.B.I. - episode - False Witness - Loyd Smit (1967)
- Mission: Impossible -episode - Trial by Fury - Leduc (1968)
- Gentle Ben - episode - Ben the Champ - Turner (1968)
- Bonanza - episode - The Burning Sky - Aaron Gore (1968)
- The F.B.I. - episode - Moment of Truth - Vincent Roger Tobias (1969)
- Bonanza - episode - Meena & The Horse Traders - Jesse Potter (1969-1970)
- Daniel Boone - episodes - Love and Equity, The Landlords, & How to Become a Goddess - Ess (1969-1970)
- Mannix - episode - Figures in a Landscape - Carl Hastings (1970)
- O'Hara, U.S. Treasury - episode - Operation: Deadhead - Paris Kohler (1971)
- Bonanza - episode - An Earthquake Called Callahan - Tom Callahan (1971)
- Mission: Impossible - episode - The Tram - Vic Hatcher (1971)
- Kung Fu - episode - The Ancient Warrior - Sheriff Aldon Pool (1973)
- The Streets of San Francisco - episode - Deathwatch - Reggie 'Reg' Norris (1973)
- The F.B.I. - episode - Tower of Terror - Riles (1973)
- Mannix - episode - The Dark Hours - Matt Brandon (1974)
- Little House on the Prairie - 59 episodes - Isaiah Edwards (1974-1983)
- Battle of the Network Stars III - TV Special - Himself - ABC Team (1977)
- Carter Country - 44 episodes - Chief Roy Mobey (1977-1979)
- Dinah! - episode - 3/6/1978 - Himself (1978)
- Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color - episode - The Ghosts of Buxley Hall: Parts 1 & 2 - Sergeant Major Cheater B. Sweet (1980)
- Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color - episode - The Cherokee Trail - Scant Luther (1981)
- Little House: Look Back to Yesterday - TV Movie - Isaiah Edwards (1983)
- Little House: Bless All the Dear Children - TV Movie - Isaiah Edwards (1984)
- Little House: The Last Farewell - TV Movie - Isaiah Edwards (1984)
- Highway to Heaven - 111 episodes - Mark Gordon (1984-1989)
Director (Film & Television)
- Little House on the Prairie - 18 episodes (1974-1983)
- Gunsmoke - 5 episodes (1974-1975)
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - episode - The Satyr (1981)
- Dallas - episode - Denial (1982)
- Little House: Look Back to Yesterday - TV movie (1983)
- Little House: Bless All the Dear Children - TV movie (1984)
- Highway to Heaven - 12 episodes (1984-1986)
- Rock-a-Doodle - co-director (live action segments) (1991)
- "Victor French, 54, Actor on TV". New York Times. June 16, 1989. Retrieved 2010-08-10.
- ""The Noose", Two Faces West, May 15, 1961". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
- ""Fargo," The Dakotas, February 25, 2013". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
- Associated Press (March 30, 1998). "Bronze statue of Reagan to be unveiled at awards Western Heritage ceremony packs star power". Dallas Morning News.
- Victor French at the Internet Movie Database
- "Victor French dies of cancer." Los Angeles Times at the Houston Chronicle. Friday June 16, 1989. A6.
- Victor French at Find a Grave