Michael Ansara, Actor Who Played Cochise and Kang, Dies at 91
By ALISON J. PETERSON
Published: August 2, 2013
Michael Ansara, a busy and widely recognizable character actor who was best known for portraying American Indians and later a Klingon in three different “Star Trek” series, died on Wednesday at his home in Calabasas, Calif. He was 91.
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His former agent, Michael B. Druxman, announced the death on Friday, saying the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in Syria, Mr. Ansara mostly played ethnic roles, Indians being a particular specialty. He became a star in the 1950s on the ABC television show “Broken Arrow,” a fictionalized account of the friendship between the Apache chief Cochise, played by Mr. Ansara, and the Indian agent Tom Jeffords, played by John Lupton.
“Broken Arrow” was on the air from 1956 to 1958. A year later, Mr. Ansara was back on television as another Apache, on the short-lived NBC series “Law of the Plainsman.” This time he played a United States marshal with a Harvard degree.
Indian roles kept coming, on shows like “Wagon Train” and “Gunsmoke” and in movies like “Texas Across the River” (1966). But he was also cast as an Egyptian taskmaster in “The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 epic with Charlton Heston; as Judas Iscariot in “The Robe” (1953), with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons; and an Arabian prince who kidnaps an American movie star, played by Elvis Presley, in “Harum Scarum” (1965).
His long résumé included characters who were Italian, Hispanic and, once in a while, even Americans of no particular ethnicity.
In one of his most memorable roles he embodied another species altogether, as the evil Klingon leader Kang in “Star Trek.” He played the part, complete with wing-like eyebrows, on the original television series in 1968 and reprised the role for two of its TV descendants: “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” He was one of a handful of actors to play the same part on three different “Star Trek” series.
Mr. Ansara was a guest star on many of the most well-known television series of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,” “The Rifleman,” “The Untouchables,” “Perry Mason,” “The Outer Limits,” “Ben Casey,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Lost in Space,” “Bewitched,” “The Fugitive,” “The Mod Squad,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Hawaii 5-0” and “Kojak.”
He last appeared on screen in “Long Road Home,” an independent film made in 1999, in which he played a man who unexpectedly becomes the guardian of his estranged grandson. Most recently he provided the voice of Mr. Freeze in the animated TV series “Batman” and “Batman Beyond.”
Michael Ansara was born on April 15, 1922, in a small town in Syria. His family moved to Massachusetts when he was 2 and Los Angeles when he was 10.
He studied at Los Angeles City College and originally planned to become a doctor, but changed his mind after he began studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in an effort to overcome shyness. He began his career onstage and made his screen debut in the 1944 thriller “Action in Arabia.”
Mr. Ansara was married three times. His first marriage, to the actress Jean Byron, who would go on to play the mother on “The Patty Duke Show,” lasted from 1949 to 1956. After his divorce, the publicity department at 20th Century Fox set him up on a date with the actress Barbara Eden, best known as Jeannie on “I Dream of Jeannie.” They were married in 1958.
He later appeared in a few episodes of Ms. Eden’s show, each time as a different character. The two divorced in 1973. They had one son, Matthew, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2001.
Mr. Ansara’s survivors include his wife of 36 years, the actress Beverly Kushida; and a sister, Rose Browers.
Although Cochise on “Broken Arrow” was his career-defining role, Mr. Ansara found himself frustrated by its limitations. “Cochise could do one of two things,” he once said: “stand with his arms folded, looking noble; or stand with his arms at his sides, looking noble.”
Ansara was born in a small village in Syria, and his family emigrated to the United States when he was two years old. They resided in Lowell, Massachusetts, for a decade before moving to California. He originally wanted to be a physician, but developed a passion for becoming a performer after he began taking acting classes to overcome his shyness. He was educated at the Los Angeles City College, from which Ansara earned a Bachelor of Arts degree.
During the 1950s, Ansara appeared in several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was the popular television series Broken Arrow (1956), wherein he played the lead role of Cochise, that raised Ansara's profile and made him a household name. While making the series, the 20th Century-Fox publicity department arranged a date between Ansara and actress Barbara Eden. The two later married and Ansara guest starred on Eden's I Dream of Jeannie series as the Blue Djinn, who had imprisoned Jeannie in a bottle. He also played King Kamehameha in the Jeannie episode "The Battle of Waikīkī" and in the final season he played Major Biff Jellico in the episode "My Sister, the Home Wrecker." Michael Ansara and Barbara Eden divorced in 1974. The couple had one son together, actor Matthew Ansara, who died on June 25, 2001, of a heroin overdose.
Ansara starred in his own ABC-TV series, Law of the Plainsman (1959–1960), with Gina Gillespie and Robert Harland. He performed as an Apache Indian named Sam Buckhart who had been appointed as a U.S. Marshal. The series began as an episode of The Rifleman. In 1961, he appeared as Carl in the episode "Night Visitors" of the NBC anthology series The Barbara Stanwyck Show.
Ansara also played in the Biblical epics The Robe (1953) as Judas Iscariot, The Ten Commandments (1956) as a taskmaster (uncredited), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) as Herod's commander. He also appeared as Belshazzar in Columbia's 1953 movie Slaves of Babylon.
In 1961, Ansara played the role of Miguel Alvarez in the film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, co-starring with Barbara Eden and Walter Pidgeon, who played the role of Admiral Harriman Nelson. Ansara later appeared in an episode of the television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, playing the rebel sub commander Captain Ruiz in "Killers Of The Deep" (1966). He also appeared in another episode as a Soviet scientist to disarm a defective Soviet atomic satellite that has crashed off the coast of California. The episode title was "Hot Line", broadcast on November 9, 1964.
In 1962, he starred in a Broadway show with famous silent film actor Ramon Novarro.
In 1964 he made his only guest appearance on Perry Mason as Vince Kabat in "The Case of the Antic Angel." He also played the title role (in 1964) in the acclaimed The Outer Limits original series episode "Soldier", written by Harlan Ellison.
Ansara starred in a supporting role in the 1965 Elvis Presley film, Harum Scarum. (His wife, Barbara Eden, had starred in an earlier Elvis film, 1960's Flaming Star.)
Ansara played the Ruler on episode 22, "The Challenge", of the television series Lost in Space (March 2, 1966) with a young Kurt Russell as his son Quano and, later that same year, appeared in the feature film Texas Across the River with Dean Martin. He also appeared on Daniel Boone as Red Sky in a 1966 episode. In another 1966 episode of that series, Ansara portrayed Sebastian Drake.
In 1967, Ansara guest-starred in the episode "A War for the Gravediggers" of the NBC western series The Road West starring Barry Sullivan, Andrew Prine, and Glenn Corbett, and in the episode "The Savage Street" of the ABC action drama series The Fugitive with Gilbert Roland and Tom Nardini.
In 1969, Ansara guest-starred in the episode "On a Clear Night You Can See Earth" as Murtrah in the ABC-TV series Land of the Giants. Also in 1969, he starred as the sadistic militant Diego in the film "Guns of the Magnificent Seven."
In 1973, Ansara guest-starred in "The Western", the penultimate episode of the original CBS television series Mission: Impossible.
In 1976, he starred in the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God (also titled The Message), about the origin of Islam and the message of prophet Mohammad.
Ansara played Killer Kane in the 1979-1980 season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, having previously played two different characters in two episodes of the 1966 science fiction television series The Time Tunnel. In episode #11, he played Colonel Hruda and in episode #28 he played The Curator. He narrated Paul Goble's "The Gift of the Sacred Dog" at Crow Agency, Montana, on June 17, 1983, and Sheila MacGill Callahan's "And Still the Turtle Watched" on October 21, 1993, on the PBS series Reading Rainbow.
Also in 1979, Ansara starred in the acclaimed miniseries Centennial, based on the novel by James A. Michener. In it, he played the great Indian leader Lame Beaver, whose descendants are showcased throughout the centuries alongside the growth of the West and the town that the novel and miniseries are named after.
In 1988, Ansara appeared in an episode of the television series Murder, She Wrote titled "The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel".
In 1994, Ansara portrayed the Technomage Elric in the science fiction television series Babylon 5 in the episode "The Geometry of Shadows".
In later years, Ansara performed voice-acting as Mr. Freeze in Batman: The Animated Series as well as the animated film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, an episode of both The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond and the video game Batman: Vengeance.
Ansara is one of seven actors to play the same character (in his case the Klingon commander Kang) on three different Star Trek television series — the original series ("Day of the Dove"), Deep Space Nine ("Blood Oath") and Voyager ("Flashback"). The other actors who hold this distinction are Jonathan Frakes (Riker; TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise), Marina Sirtis (Troi; TNG, Voyager and Enterprise), Armin Shimerman (Quark; TNG, DS9 and Voyager), Mark Allen Shepherd (Morn; TNG, DS9 and Voyager, although in the first and last, he only appeared in brief cameos) John de Lancie (Q; TNG, DS9 and Voyager), and Richard Poe (Gul Evek; TNG, DS9 and Voyager). Ansara also played Lwaxana Troi's husband Jeyal on the Deep Space Nine episode, "The Muse".
Ansara was nominated for an Academy of Science Fiction Award, and has won a Western Heritage Award for Rawhide and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for both films and television.
Ansara was married three times, first to Jean Byron in 1955. After a year of marriage, the couple divorced in 1956. In 1958, Ansara married Barbara Eden, who is best known for the I Dream of Jeannie sitcom series. The couple had a son named Matthew born in 1965. Ansara and Eden divorced in 1974, and he married Beverly Kushida in 1977. On June 25, 2001, his son Matthew died from a drug overdose in Monrovia, California. Ansara resided in Calabasas, California.
Ansara died following a long illness at his home in Calabasas on July 31, 2013 at the age of 91.
The filmography of Michael Ansara includes the following:
Michael George Ansara (April 15, 1922 – July 31, 2013) was a Syrian-born American stage, screen, and voice actor best known for his portrayal of Cochise in the American television series Broken Arrow, Kane in the 1979–1981 series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Commander Kang on three different Star Trek television series, Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart on the NBC series, Law of the Plainsman, and providing the voice for Mr. Freeze in Batman: The Animated Series and several of its spin-offs.
In 1976, Ansara starred (in the role of Abu Sufyan) in the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God (also titled The Message), about the origin of Islam and the message of prophet Mohammad.
The filmography of Michael Ansara includes the following: