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R. G. Armstrong

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R. G. Armstrong
Armstrong in T.H.E. Cat (1966)
Robert Golden Armstrong Jr.[1]

(1917-04-07)April 7, 1917
DiedJuly 27, 2012(2012-07-27) (aged 95)
Alma materHoward College of Samford University
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A.)
The Actors Studio
Years active1954–2001
Ann Neale
(m. 1952; div. 1972)
Susan M. Guthrie
(m. 1973; div. 1976)
Mary Craven
(m. 1993; died 2003)

Robert Golden Armstrong Jr. (April 7, 1917 – July 27, 2012) was an American character actor and playwright. A veteran performer who appeared in dozens of Westerns during his 40-year career, he may be best remembered for his work with director Sam Peckinpah.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Armstrong was born in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, and was reared on a small farm near Birmingham.[4] He came from a family of fundamentalist Christians, and his mother wanted him to be a pastor. After graduating from Hueytown High School in 1935, Armstrong initially enrolled at Howard College, now Samford University in Homewood, Alabama, where he became interested in acting, and then transferred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While there, he began acting on stage with the Carolina Playmakers. Upon graduating, he attended the Actors Studio.[2]

Armstrong wanted to write, rather than act, and said in 1966, "I struggled so hard to be a serious writer."[5] As a student at UNC he wrote a three-act play that was produced. By 1966, he had written "nine full-length plays, four unpublished novels, and 50 unpublished poems."[5]


On Broadway, Armstrong portrayed Dr. Baugh and Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Sheriff Talbott in Orpheus Descending (1957), and Captain Keller in The Miracle Worker (1959).[6] He also began writing his own plays, which were performed off-Broadway.

Armstrong's first film appearance was in the 1954 film Garden of Eden; however, it was television where he first earned a name for himself. He guest-starred in virtually every television Western series produced in the 1950s and 1960s, including Have Gun - Will Travel playing Sheriff Jaffey in S1 E28 "Killer's Widow" which aired 3/21/1958, The Californians, Jefferson Drum, The Tall Man, Riverboat, The Rifleman, Zane Grey Theater, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Westerner, The Big Valley, Bonanza, Maverick (as Louise Fletcher's character's father in the episode which drew the series' largest single viewership, "The Saga of Waco Williams"), Gunsmoke (S7E10 as hard nosed Union soldier Capt. Benter”), Rawhide, Wagon Train, Lawman, and Bat Masterson.

Armstrong appeared on The Twilight Zone, in the episode "Nothing in the Dark" along with Robert Redford. He appeared in three episodes of Perry Mason, twice in the role of the defendant. In 1958, he appeared in the episode "The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde" as character Matthew Bartlett. In 1959, he played character Harry Bright in "The Case of the Petulant Partner," then in 1962 he played John Gregory in "The Case of the Stand-in Sister." Armstrong also appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Everglades, The Andy Griffith Show, The Fugitive, Daniel Boone, T.H.E. Cat, Hawaii Five-O, Starsky and Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard, Dynasty, and in the miniseries War and Remembrance. Armstrong had a recurring role in the second season of Millennium as a reclusive visionary known only as the Old Man. In the late 1980s, he played the demonic recurring character "Uncle Lewis Vendredi" in the Canadian horror series Friday the 13th: The Series.

While working on The Westerner in 1960, Armstrong met the up-and-coming writer/director Sam Peckinpah. The two men immediately struck up a friendship. Peckinpah recognized Armstrong's inner turmoil regarding the religious beliefs of his family and utilized that to brilliant effect in his films. Armstrong would almost always play a slightly unhinged fundamentalist Christian in Peckinpah's films, usually wielding a Bible in one hand and a shotgun in the other. This character archetype appeared in Ride the High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), and perhaps most memorably in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). However, Armstrong also appeared in The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), playing a more likeable character.

Even outside of Peckinpah's work, Armstrong became a tier-one character actor in his own right, appearing in dozens of films over his career, playing both villains and sympathetic characters. Some of his more memorable roles outside of Peckinpah's films include a sympathetic rancher in El Dorado (1966), Cap'n Dan in The Great White Hope (1970), outlaw Clell Miller in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), a bumbling outlaw in My Name is Nobody (1973), a secret Satanic cultist sheriff in Race with the Devil (1975), The Car (1977), as well as Children of the Corn (1984), Red Headed Stranger (1986) with Willie Nelson, and as General Phillips in Predator (1987). He appeared in several of Warren Beatty's films, including Heaven Can Wait (1978), Reds (1981), and as the character Pruneface in Dick Tracy (1990).

He semi-retired from films and television in the late 1990s, but he continued to be active in off-Broadway theater in New York and Los Angeles, until finally retiring from acting in 2005 because of near-blindness due to cataracts.[citation needed]

In 1991, Armstrong portrayed the title character in the music video for "Enter Sandman" from heavy metal band Metallica, which won the 1992 MTV Video Music award for best metal/hard rock video.[7]

Personal life and death[edit]

Armstrong was married three times:[2] his first wife was Ann Neale, with whom he had four children; he was then married to Susan Guthrie until 1976;[citation needed] he was married to his third wife, Mary Craven, until her death in 2003.[8]

Armstrong died of natural causes at the age of 95 on July 27, 2012, at his home in Studio City, California.[2]

Selected filmography[edit]

Selected television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Captain Bone Season 6 Episode 13: "The Man Who Found the Money"
1962 The Twilight Zone Construction Contractor Season 3 Episode 16: “Nothing in the Dark”
1962 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Fred Riordan Season 7 Episode 30: "What Frightened You, Fred?"
1962 Rawhide Gantry Hobson Season 5, Episode 6, "Incident of the Lost Woman"
1962 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour William Downey Season 1 Episode 6: "Final Vow"
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour John Cooley Season 2 Episode 3: "Terror at Northfield"
1965 Gunsmoke Jed Briar Season 10 Episode 27: “The Lady"
1966-1967 T.H.E. Cat Captain McAllister Recurring role


  1. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries. Part 1. [C] Group 3. Dramatic Composition and ... - Library of Congress. Copyright Office - Google Books. September 19, 1940. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Slotnik, Daniel E. (July 31, 2012). "R. G. Armstrong, Character Actor in Westerns, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 1, 2012. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  3. ^ Faulk, Kent (July 29, 2012). "R.G. Armstrong, prolific character actor from Birmingham, dies". The Birmingham News. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  4. ^ Weddle, David (December 18, 2000). If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah - David Weddle - Google Books. Grove Press. ISBN 9780802137760. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "R. G. Armstrong Explains Problems". The Idaho Sunday Statesman. Idaho, Boise. October 16, 1966. p. 99. Retrieved June 1, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "R. G. Armstrong". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on June 1, 2021. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  7. ^ Apatoff, Ben (August 15, 2021). Metallica: The $24.95 Book. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 245. ISBN 978-1-4930-6135-8.
  8. ^ Humphreys, Justin (2006). Names You Never Remember, with Faces You Never Forget : Interview With the Movies' Character Actors. Duncan, OK: BearManor Media. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-59393-041-7. "R.G., like L.Q. Jones, is a member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame and received their Golden Boot Award. He was interviewed extensively for David Weddle's biography of Sam Peckinpah [...] He and Mary were also guests at the Peckinpah film festival in Padua, Italy in September, 2000. Sadly, in November 2003, Mary Craven Armstrong died, still only in her fifties."

Further reading[edit]

  • Humphreys, Justin (2006). "R. G. Armstrong". Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget : Interviews with the Movies' Character Actors (softcover) (First ed.). Albany, GA: BearManor Media. pp. 10–43. ISBN 978-1-62933-094-5.

External links[edit]