Sunday, November 8, 2009

Robert Tessier

Robert Tessier was an interesting man. He was an Army paratrooper during the Korean War, who saw more than his share of combat, winning a Purple Heart as well as a Silver star for his actions.

When he got out of the Service, he kicked around a little, and wound up as a circus stuntman, with his specialty being motorcycle stunts. It wasn't until he was 33 that he got his break in the movies, and it really wasn't a planned career move for him.
Robert Tessier as "Que-ball" from Born Losers.

In '67, a friend of Robert's had heard that a movie company was looking for riders - especially stunt riders for an upcoming "biker" movie. This friend persuaded a reluctant Tessier to go and answer the casting call, and because of his experience, was instantly hired as both an actor and stunt rider for the Tom Laughlin movie Born Losers. Tessier had been given the role of "Que-Ball". Pretty ironic, because Tessier's character sported a full head of hair! Robert had yet to adopt his trademark shaved head look.

Right rear: Jody McCrea, left rear: unidentified actress. Front: a younger Hal Needham. No mystery here why Needham was (among others) Richard Boone's stunt double.

Because of the exposure from Born Losers, Robert was able to pick up stunt work from time to time, along with un-accredited bit parts and extra roles in other movies. This lead to another biker part - that of Magoo, in The Glory Stompers.

Jody McCrea (son of western star Joel McCrea), at this time, was mainly known for his re-occurring character "Deadhead" in the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach party movies. During the filming of Beach Blanket Bingo, Jody had made the acquaintance of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, while Roth had his Surfite car on the set. Ed dug the fact that McCrea's character always wore one of his "RF" hats in the series, and they became friends during the movie filming.

After the beach party movie fad had passed, McCrea had picked up on motorcycles about the same time Roth did. It was Roth's suggestion that McCrea cash in on the biker movie craze, which McCrea did. He formed a partnership, along with some unlikely people as Bob Crew and Kasey Kasam, and produced The Glory Stompers for American International.

Robert Tessier answered the casting call for Glory Stompers, along with another stunt man named Hal Needham. During the filming, Tessier became friends with both McCrea and Needham, and after filming McCrea and Needham both were a good source of steady employment for him from then on out. After his role as Magoo, he also appeared in other biker films such as The Hard Ride, Run Angel, Run, The Sidehackers, Outlaw Riders, and The Jesus Trip.

Shortly after Glory Stompers, McCrey sold out his part of the production company, and mostly retired from acting and Hollywood, but Tessier and Needham remained fast friends, both on and off the screen.
Tessier as Verdugo, from Sword and the Sorcerer

It was around '70 that Robert Tessier ( himself an Algonquin Indian) was cast as a Mohican Indian, and was asked to shave his head for the part.
It was here that Tessier developed his trademark bald head, which he kept throughout his career. He was affectionately called "Q-ball" by his friends after that, for both his bald head, and from the name of his character in his first role as an actor.

With his 6'4" frame, bald head, and rugged "bad guy" looks, Tessier was the man all the studios now called whenever they needed a "heavy" or a "tough guy". Tessier was in demand for almost every TV series that needed a tough guy that was filmed during the '70's to the '80's. Along with those TV roles, he was asked personally by Charles Bronson to play opposite him in both Hard Times, and Breakheart Pass. And, Needham was able to secure Tessier roles and stunt work in the Burt Reynolds movies The Longest Yard, Hooper, and Cannonball Run, along with many other movies that Needham was involved in as an actor, or stunt coordinator.

Robert Tessier and Roger Moore, from the "biker scene" in Cannonball Run

From Here, Needham and Tessier formed Stunts, Unlimited, a very well known company in the industry, supplying stunt people and stunt coordination for both the movies, and television. Tessier continued to actively take on many movie rolls himself up until the late '80, when cancer finally forced him to slow down. He fought his cancer relentlessly until the disease finally took his life in Oct. of 1990, at the age of 56.

Another interesting trivia piece on Robert Tessier, is that he was the only "flesh & blood" Mr. Clean to ever appear in Proctor&Gambles' television commercials. All the other Mr. Clean's were animated. I tried to find the commercial with Tessier as Mr. Clean, jamming his head thru a tile bathroom wall, for Mr. Clean Tile and Tub Cleaner, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Too bad, because Tessier looked like he was hardly able to keep a straight face when they filmed it, and I used to laugh my ass off when I used to see it on TV.


Guy@GK said...

I love this stuff! Great post.

drsprocket said...

Well done Rich.

Motorcycho said...

super cool! I believe the band Girl Trouble are huge R.T. fans!!!!!

Roadside Marty said...

Fuckin great job Rich!! I always love to hear the real story behind people that I watched while I was growing up!! Keep it coming..Roadside

tiptopdadddy said...

Chris Pfouts (Iron Horse, Inernational Tattoo Art) grew up in LA. He graduated from high school in 68 or so. He once told me a story about seeing Tessier around that time driving through town pulling a trailer loaded with ratty, stock knuckleheads. Fodder for chopping I'd guess. What a cool cat!

Unknown said...

Rich, Bob was my workout partner and friend for the last ten or so years of his life. I went to see him the day he left Ca. with his oldest son, Joe, and his brother-in-law to return home to Lowell, Mass. He'd lost a lot of body-weight, but I didn't think he was going home to die. A couple of weeks before he passed away he called me from Lowell. He'd given me his scuba tank he'd gotten from "The Deep," and during our conversation he told me to hang on to it because he'd need it when he returned to Ca. I miss him. He was a good friend. The commercial he did was for a cleanser called "Tough Act," not Mr. Clean. That might help you find it on youtube...I don't know. Good luck. Les Lannom