Big-framed character actor (and sometime leading man) David Huddleston has worked in virtually every film and television genre there is, from Westerns to crime dramas to science fiction. Born in Vinton, Virginia, he attended the Fork Union Military Academy before entering the United States Air Force, where he received a commission as an officer. After returning to civilian life, Huddleston enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He made his television debut in 1961, at age 31, in an episode of the Western series Shotgun Slade. Two years later, the actor made his first big-screen appearance with a small role in All the Way Home (1963). A year later, he showed up in Black Like Me; and in 1968, Huddleston was back on the big screen in the thriller A Lovely Way to Die. He got considerably busier in the years that followed, mostly on television series such as Adam 12, Then Came Bronson, and Room 222, in roles of ever-increasing size. These were broken up by the occasional film job, of which the most notable at the time was the part of the comically helpful town dentist in Howard Hawks' Western Rio Lobo (1970), which gave Huddleston some extended (and humorous) screen-time alongside John Wayne. At the time, his feature-film work was weighted very heavily toward Westerns, while on television Huddleston played everything from service-station attendants to teachers to devious executives, primarily in crime shows.
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With his deep voice and prominent screen presence, plus a sense of humor that never seemed too far from his portrayals -- even of villains -- Huddleston was one of the busier character actors of the 1970s. Indeed, 1974 comprised a year of credits that any actor in the business could envy: John Wayne used Huddleston in McQ, one of the aging star's efforts to get away from Westerns, but Huddleston was back doing oaters in Billy Two Hats and aided Mel Brooks in parodying the genre in Blazing Saddles (all 1974). As comical as Huddleston could be, he could play sinister equally well, as he proved in Terence Young's The Klansman (1974) -- and that doesn't even count his television roles. By the end of the 1970s, he had graduated to a starring role in the series Hizzoner (1979), about a small-town mayor; and in the 1980s he had recurring roles in series such as The Wonder Years. Huddleston's big-screen breakthrough came with the title role in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), and he became a ubiquitous figure on the small screen with a series of orange-juice commercials. His subsequent big-screen appearances included Frantic (1988) and The Big Lebowski (1998), and he continued working into the first decade of the 21st century. In 2004, Huddleston essayed one of the most interesting and challenging roles of his screen career, in the short film Reveille. Working without dialogue alongside James McEachin (with whom he'd previously worked in the series Tenafly), he helped tell the story of a sometimes comical, ultimately bittersweet rivalry between two veterans of different armed services. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi