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Morgan Paull, a veteran character actor who had a brief but memorable turn in the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, died Tuesday at his home in Ashland, Ore. He was 67.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer shortly before his death.
Paull also appeared opposite Oscar winners George C. Scott in Patton (1970) and Sally Field in Norma Rae (1979), but he’s famous for his role as Holden, the blade runner who’s killed by a replicant in the first scene of Blade Runner. His line, “You know what a turtle is?” is known to die-hard fans of the thriller.
Director Ridley Scott initially hired him only to screen test the actresses.
“My agent called and said, ‘Would you stand in and do the tests for these girls?’ ” Paull recalled in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter shortly before his death. “I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ And he said, ‘Just do it.’ So I did it.”
Famously funny, outspoken and opinionated, Paull recommended Daryl Hannah, who was soon cast as the replicant Pris, but strongly advised that Sean Young not be given the role as Rachael, Harrison Ford’s love interest in the film. She got the job anyway.
“Halfway through the tests, Ridley fell in love with me,” Paull said with a laugh. “He wanted me around all the time. He cast me as Holden, and whenever he had an idea, he’d say, ‘Hey, Morgan, what do you think of this?’ ”
Born to one of the wealthiest and oldest families in West Virginia, Paull fell in love with acting after appearing in a high school play. After his junior year, his father asked him what college he planned to attend.
“Boston University. I want to continue acting,” Morgan said. “That is not happening in this family!” his father huffed.
So Morgan ran off and joined the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., where Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal and many other notable actors had honed their craft. He later appeared on Broadway in New Faces of 1965 and off-Broadway in That Thing at the Cherry Lane.
Moving to the West Coast, he appeared in Muzeeka at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, where he caught the eye of director Franklin Schaffner and producer Frank McCarthy, who were assembling the cast for a movie based on the life of Gen. George S. Patton.
“They came backstage and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing Patton’s aide?’ ” Paull recalled. “At that point, I didn’t even know who Patton was, but I said, ‘Sure. I’d love to.’ ”
Two months later, McCarthy called from Spain, where he was prepping Patton for production.
“I thought you were enthusiastic about the role,” the producer reminded the young actor. “I am,” Paull insisted. “Well, we made your agent an offer two months ago,” McCarthy said.
Morgan asked around and found out that his agent had been trying to place another client, Ryan O’Neal, in the role. So he fired his agent and got the job.
Paull, a natural-born storyteller, recalled sitting at the bar at the Hilton in Madrid one night after a long day of shooting Patton. He was having a drink with Scott and James Edwards, an African-American member of the cast, when a drunken tourist from Chicago walked past.
“What’s a big star like you doing here in Spain drinking with a n—–?” the tourist asked Scott.
Scott was outraged. “George stood up, picked up his glass and smashed it into the guy’s face,” Paull recalled. “The guy lost an eye. There was blood everywhere. 20th Century Fox paid the guy a fortune.”
Paull’s many other film credits included 1971’s Fools’ Parade with Jimmy Stewart, 1973’s Cahill U.S. Marshal (with his childhood hero John Wayne) and 1976’s The Last Hard Men (with his good friend Charlton Heston).
His numerous television credits include The F.B.I., Gunsmoke, The Waltons, Quincy M.E., McCloud, Black Sheep Squadron and Ironside.
Paull entered Screen Actors Guild politics in 1981 when he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board of directors. That same year, he finished third — behind winner Ed Asner and William Schallert — in a run for SAG president.
With Heston, he founded Actors Working for an Actors’ Guild, a conservative group that opposed mergers of SAG with the Screen Extras Guild and with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.
Paull and Heston angered many union supporters when they traveled around the country together supporting right-to-work legislation, but Paull was recently honored by the governor of Idaho for his efforts.
“Morgan was a great actor, but above all, he was a great friend,” said TV producer Roger Bacon. “He got behind his friends and would do anything to help them. He was very funny and very, very wise.”
Said former SAG vp Kent McCord: “I knew Morgan long before we became friends — first, from his wonderful work as an actor and then as adversaries fighting for what we felt was the right direction for SAG to take during a time of change in the picture business. He has always been a straight shooter who said exactly what he thought. His love of acting and his love for the Screen Actors Guild were always what motivated his fight to protect actors wherever they worked. I’m going to miss him.”
Paull became a talent agent in the mid-’80s. His clients included Jack Elam, Theresa Saldana, Rory Calhoun and Don Galloway.
A few days before his death, Paull told THR, “I’m happy, and I’ve got no regrets.”
Paull is survived by Jenny Elam, his longtime companion; daughters Melissa Paull and Kristen McCarthy Paull; sisters Penny Paull Thorson and Mary Paull Riley; granddaughter Macy Kate Houston Shafto; grandson Cooper Paull Shafto; and stepmother Nancy Paull.
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