R. G. ARMSTRONG
Director Sam Peckinpah once said, “R. G. Armstrong played righteous villainy better than anybody I’ve ever seen.” Armstrong played a crazy preacher who would drag blonde-headed girls around by the hair, then take them into the church where he was going to whip them in one episode of TV’s “Jefferson Drum”. In fact, Armstrong played crazed, demented, backwoods preachers better than anyone ever has. “I’ve always loved Walter Huston in ‘Duel In the Sun’ as a preacher. I’ve always wanted to play some preachers like that ‘cause my mother wanted me to be a preacher so bad, it broke her heart when I didn’t. That wasn’t my cup of tea. I had repressed a lot of things in me from my father’s action and behavior towards his children. I didn’t want to be a man like that, I didn’t want to be violent, so I repressed it. When they started giving me these villains, I started drawing on that and I saw I had all the fury of hell and violence there, that I was really psychotic inside, because I could go into an instant rage or hostility. It was not acting, it was real. And they just kept giving these parts to me.”
Big, balding, boisterous, R. G. (Robert Golden) Armstrong was born April 17, 1917, in Wylam (Birmingham), Alabama. After growing up on a rural Alabama farm, he won a scholarship to college by playing high school football. In college he took a writing course as he wanted to be a poet. He also wrote plays and acted in them. WWII intervened, but when he returned, he came back to the University of North Carolina on his G.I. bill and earned a Master’s Degree in dramatic art. R. G. taught a year after receiving his Master’s, but he wanted to be an author in the league of William Faulkner.
Actress Eva Marie Saint introduced R. G. into the Actor’s Studio in New York. Within three months he’d obtained a role on Broadway. Director Elia Kazan saw him and cast him as Big Daddy in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” when Burl Ives took a two week vacation.
He came to films with a role in “Garden of Eden” in ‘54. Other roles on “Zane Grey Theatre”, “Have Gun Will Travel”, “The Californians”, “Jefferson Drum” followed. An agent spotted Armstrong and recommended him to Henry Hathaway for a heavy in “From Hell to Texas”. That jumpstarted his career in 1958.
R. G.’s hard-nosed, blustery, often brutal characterizations remained in constant demand during the ‘60s and ‘70s, including all the major TV Westerns. R. G. continued to work on through the ‘90s including a showy role in “Dick Tracy” (as Pruneface) (‘90). His last film was “The Waking” in 2001.
R. G. died at 95 on July 27, 2012.