James Tolkan

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James Tolkan
Tolkan autographing a Back to the Future poster in 2019
James Stewart Tolkan

(1931-06-20) June 20, 1931 (age 92)
EducationUniversity of Iowa
Coe College
Eastern Arizona College
Actors Studio
Years active1960–2015, 2021
Parmelee Welles
(m. 1971)

James Stewart Tolkan (born June 20, 1931) is an American actor. He is best known for his roles as Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future (1985) and Back to the Future Part II (1989), and as Marshal Strickland in Back to the Future Part III (1990). Other memorable film roles include Love and Death (1975), Top Gun (1986), Masters of the Universe (1987) and Dick Tracy (1990).

Early life[edit]

Tolkan[1] was born in Calumet, Michigan, the son of Dale Nichols and Ralph M. Tolkan,[2] a cattle dealer.

He attended the University of Iowa, Coe College, the Actors Studio and Eastern Arizona College.[3] Tolkan served in the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Sandoval, but he had an issue with his heart; within a year, he was discharged for medical reasons.[4]


Tolkan is known for his role in the 1985 film Back to the Future as the strict Hill Valley High School principal, Gerald Strickland; the character refers to Marty McFly, his father, and Biff Tannen derisively as "slackers". He reprised the role in the 1989 sequel Back to the Future Part II, in which unnamed gang members make a drive-by assault on him in a dystopian 1985; he also refers to these criminals as "slackers" as he shoots back. In 1990, he played the part of Mr. Strickland's grandfather Chief Marshal James Strickland in Back to the Future Part III. James Tolkan would again reprise his role as Strickland, and the character's ancestors and descendants, in the 1991 animated series spin-off.

Other well-known roles include an FBI agent in WarGames and Stinger, the no-nonsense commanding officer of USS Enterprise's embarked F-14 squadron in the 1986 box-office hit Top Gun. He portrayed the role of cold and determined District Attorney Polito in Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City. He played the obsequious and evasive union treasurer Lou Brackman in 1986’s Armed and Dangerous. He appeared in the 1987 film Masters of the Universe as Detective Lubic. He had a dual role in the Woody Allen comedy Love and Death, playing both Napoleon and a look-alike.[5] He appeared as Big Boy Caprice's accountant "Numbers" in the 1990 Warren Beatty film Dick Tracy. He appeared in Serpico (1973) in a small but notable role as a policeman who loudly accuses Officer Serpico of having a homosexual encounter with another policeman in a men's room.

Tolkan has made guest appearances on many TV shows, including Naked City, Remington Steele, Miami Vice and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.[6] A member of the repertory cast of A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–02), he played more than a dozen varied roles in the A&E TV series and also directed two episodes[5] ("Die Like a Dog" and "The Next Witness").



Year Title Role Notes
1960 Naked City (TV series) Evan Humboldt "The Man Who Bit a Diamond in Half"
1962 Armstrong Circle Theatre (TV series) Stefan Malwitz "The Man Who Refused to Die"
1966 The Three Sisters Unknown
1969 N.Y.P.D. Unknown "The Night Watch"
Stiletto Edwards
1971 They Might Be Giants Mr. Brown
1973 The Friends of Eddie Coyle The Man's Contact Man
The Werewolf of Washington Dark Glasses
Serpico Lieutenant Steiger credited as James Tolkin
1975 Love and Death Napoleon Bonaparte
Abduction Off-Duty Cop
1976 Independence Tom Paine
1979 The Amityville Horror The Coroner
1981 Wolfen "Baldy", Medical Examiner
Prince of the City District Attorney Polito
1982 Hanky Panky Conferee
Author! Author! Lieutenant Glass
1983 American Playhouse (TV series) Billy Episode: "Wings"[7]
WarGames FBI Agent George Wigan
Nightmares Voice of The Bishop (segment) "The Bishop of Battle"
1984 Iceman Maynard
The River Howard Simpson
1985 Turk 182! Hanley
Hill Street Blues Coach Beasley "Queen for a Day"
Back to the Future Principal Gerald Strickland
Walls of Glass Turner
1985–1986 Mary (TV series) Lester Mintz
1985–1987 Remington Steele (TV series) Norman Keyes "Diced Steele"
"Forged Steele"
"Bonds of Steele"
"The Steele That Wouldn't Die"
1986 Off Beat Harry
Top Gun Commander Tom "Stinger" Jardian
Armed and Dangerous Lou Brackman
Little Spies The Kennel Master
1987 Masters of the Universe Detective Hugh Lubic
Made in Heaven Mr. Bjornstead
Miami Vice Mason Mather "Amen ... Send Money"
1988 Weekend War (TV) Dr. Alex Thompson
Viper Colonel William Tansey
Leap of Faith (TV) Dr. Siegel
Split Decisions Benny Pistone
1989 The Equalizer (TV series) Ruger "The Visitation"
The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (TV) Unknown
True Blood Detective Joe Hanley
Second Sight Captain Coolidge
Back to the Future Part II Principal Gerald Strickland
Ministry of Vengeance Colonel Freeman
Family Business Judge In 2nd Trial
1990 Opportunity Knocks Sal Nichols
Sunset Beat (TV series) Ray Parker "One Down, Four Up"
Back to the Future Part III U.S. Marshal James Strickland
Dick Tracy "Numbers"
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Dr. Oates / Dr. Bloat "Day Damn One"
1991 Hangfire "Patch"
Trabbi Goes to Hollywood Vince
Tales from the Crypt (TV series) Sergeant McClaine "The Trap"
Problem Child 2 Mr. Thorn
1992 Tequila and Bonetti (TV series) Unknown "Fetch This, Pal"
Sketch Artist (TV) Lieutenant Tonelli
The Hat Squad (TV series) Mike Ragland "The Widow Marker"
Back to the Future (TV series) Civil Defense Warden "Marty McFly PFC"
Bloodfist IV: Die Trying Agent Sterling
1993 The Wonder Years (TV series) Coach Silva "Hulk Arnold"
Boiling Point Senior US Treasury Agent Jerry Levitt
1993–1994 Cobra (TV series) Dallas Cassel
1994 Beyond Betrayal (TV) Joe Maloney
1995 Sketch Artist II: Hands That See (TV) Lieutenant Tonelli
1996 Top Gun: Fire at Will (video game) Commander Hondo
Nowhere Man (TV series) Commander Cyrus Quinn "Heart of Darkness"
Underworld Dan "Iceberg" Eagan
Robo Warriors Quon
Early Edition (TV series) Coach Phillips "Hoops"
1997 Love in Ambush (TV) Agent Price
The Pretender (TV series) FBI Special Agent Korkos "Dragon House"
1998 Top Gun: Hornet's Nest (video game) Commander Hondo
1999 Wings: Thrill of Flight Host
2001–2002 Nero Wolfe (2001 TV series) Richard Wragg
Mr. Hackett
Bernard Quest
Mr. Joseph Pitcairn
Percy Ludlow
Avery Ballou
Loftus, Dog Expert
Leo Bingham
Adrian Dart
Benedict Aiken
Ben Jenson
Richard Wragg
Ed Graboff
"The Doorbell Rang"
"Champagne for One"
"Prisoner's Base"
"Disguise for Murder"
"Door to Death"
"Over My Dead Body"
"Death of a Doxy"
"Die Like a Dog"
"Poison à la Carte"
"Too Many Clients"
"Help Wanted, Male"
"The Silent Speaker"
"Cop Killer"
2004 Seven Times Lucky "Dutch"
2006 Heavens Fall Thomas Knight Sr.
2011 Leverage (TV series) Dean Chesny "The Cross My Heart Job"
2013 Phil Spector Larry Fidler TV film
2015 Bone Tomahawk The Pianist
2021 Expedition: Back to the Future Strickland / Guard Series, season 1 episode 1


  1. ^ "Miss Welles Wed to Actor". The New York Times. August 29, 1971.
  2. ^ "James Tolkan Biography". FilmReference.com.
  3. ^ "James Tolkan". Yahoo Movies. Archived from the original on August 22, 2007.
  4. ^ Searls, Joel (March 23, 2021). "From gangs to the Navy and then to the theater, James Tolkan has seen it all". We Are the Mighty.
  5. ^ a b "Tolkan Donates Scripts, Memorabilia To UNA Archives". BTTF.com. April 26, 2012. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  6. ^ "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Season 1 Episode 14". TVGuide.com. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  7. ^ "American Playhouse: Wings (TV)". The Paley Center for Media. Retrieved August 18, 2022.

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