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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published January 01 2013

Eriksmoen: Many actors with North Dakota ties appeared in sci-fi movies

Since motion pictures first became talkies, I discovered that at least 22 actors who were born in or moved to North Dakota have appeared in at least 64 feature science-fiction movies.

The fascination of this genre of films with North Dakotans makes sense. With clear and unhindered night skies, many of us have gazed at the starry heavens and wondered what lies out there.

In “Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies,” Phil Hardy defines science-fiction movies as simply films in which there is a “direct relationship between science and fiction.”

For this article, I only included feature motion pictures that were shown in theaters. I did not include movies made for television or movie shorts, and of course, I did not include any soft- or hard-core films.

Since this is the first time I am aware of anybody publicly attempting to link North Dakota actors with science-fiction movie roles, I make no claims that this list is complete. Any additions are more than welcome.

Directly after I mention the actor’s name, I have included the town or county in which the actor lived.

The first talking science-fiction movie was released in 1931, with Boris Karloff (Minot) playing Frankenstein’s monster. Karloff appeared in 99 talking pictures, of which 17 were considered science fiction. In all of them except “Frankenstein,” he was the star of the film. Besides Frankenstein, his movies in the 1930s were “The Mask of Fu Manchu,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Ray,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Man Who Lived Again,” “Son of Frankenstein” and “The Man They Could Not Hang.”

During the 1940s, Karloff starred in “Black Friday,” “The Man With Nine Lives,” “Before I Hang,” “The Devil Commands” and “House of Frankenstein.” He also appeared in “Frankenstein-1970” in 1958, “Die, Monster, Die” in 1965, “Fear Chamber” in 1968 and “Alien Terror” in 1971.

Karloff’s only rival in the total number of science-fiction movie appearances was Lane Chandler (Walsh County). After starring in a number of Westerns in the early 1930s, he settled into supporting roles.

In science-fiction movies, Chandler often played soldiers or other military personnel. During the 1930s, Chandler appeared in “The Phantom Empire,” “Flash Gordon- Undersea Kingdom,” “Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars,” “Buck Rogers” and “The Phantom Creeps.”

In the 1940s, Chandler was in “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe,” “Invisible Agent,” “The Lady and the Monster,” “Manhunt of Mystery Island” and “The Purple Monster Strikes.” Chandler also had minor roles in “Creature with the Atom Brain” in 1955 and “Space Master X-7” in 1958.

Virginia Bruce (Fargo) was the star of the 1940 film “The Invisible Woman.”

Besides Karloff and Chandler, other North Dakotans made science-fiction movies in the 1950s. Wilson Wood (Pembina County) appeared in the science-fiction classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951. In 1952, he had a larger role in “Radar Men From the Moon” and also co-starred in “Zombies of the Stratosphere.”

Erik Blythe (Fargo) landed a major role in the 1952 film “Invasion USA” and Carol Thurston (Valley City) co-starred in “Killer Ape” in 1953. Sally Fraser (Williston) played major roles in “It Conquered the World” in 1956 and “Earth vs. the Spider” in 1958. She then became the leading lady in “Giant from the Unknown” and “War of the Colossal Beast,” both released in 1958. Bob Ivers (Fargo) played a lead role in the 1958 film “I Married a Monster from Outer Space.”

Aside from Karloff, I am not aware of anyone from North Dakota appearing in any science-fiction movies during the 1960s.

In 1971, Richard O’Brien (Fargo) had a featured role in “The Andromeda Strain” and Marneen Fields (Minot) was an extra in “The Swarm” in 1978 and “The Incredible Shrinking Woman in 1981.” In both films, she was also a stunt double.

David Lloyd Nelson (town unknown) had a minor role in “Star Worms II: Attack of the Pleasure Pods” in 1985. In 1988, Michael Forest (Harvey) appeared in “Deep Space” and Sam Anderson (Wahpeton) in “Critters 2.”

Anderson was also featured in “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” in 1992 and “The Puppet Masters” in 1994.

Mathew James Gulbranson (Grand Forks) was seen in the science-fiction comedy “Mars Attacks!” in 1996, and both Leslie Stefanson (Fargo) and Mylo Ironbear (Devils Lake) appeared in the remake of “Flubber” in 1997.

There are plenty of North Dakota actors in science-fiction movies during the early years of the 21st century. Stefanson had featured roles in “Unbreakable” in 2000 and “Alien Hunter” in 2003. Kam Heskin (Grand Forks) played a small role in the 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes,” and Michal Soltis (Minot) appeared in “X2” in 2003.

Mimi Weddell (Williston), an 89-year-old actress, was given major billing in “Messengers” in 2004. As Major Lennox, Josh Duhamel (Minot) was one of the stars in the “Transformers” series. “Transformers” was released in 2007, “Revenge of the Fallen” in 2009 and “Dark of the Moon” in 2011. Gulbranson also appeared in the latter Transformer movie.

Leslie Bibb (Bismarck), as Christine Everhart, graced the screen in “Iron Man” in 2009 and “Iron Man 2” in 2010. Gordon Joseph Weiss (Bismarck) played Dr. Burns in “Zenith” in 2010, and Ironbear had a minor role in the 2011 movie “Cowboys and Aliens.”

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections

to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.

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