Mickey Knox, Actor and Sergio Leone Writer, Dies at 92

Everett Collection
Mickey Knox in 1950

Norman Mailer’s onetime brother-in-law started out as an actor and appeared in such films as "Knock on Any Door" and "The Godfather: Part III."

Mickey Knox, an actor who after he was blacklisted in Hollywood served as the English dialogue writer on two classic Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns, died Nov. 15 in Los Angeles, his daughter Valentina said on Facebook. He was 91.

Knox played Marty Parisi, one of the crime bosses who is riddled with bullets in a helicopter attack, in The Godfather: Part III (1990) and appeared in Beyond the Law and Wild 90, a pair of 1968 films directed by his onetime brother-in-law, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Norman Mailer.

The Brooklyn native and World War II veteran appeared as hoodlum types in a slew of movies from the late 1940s through the mid-'50s, including Killer McCoy (1947), I Walk Alone (1948), Angels in Disguise (1949), The Accused (1949), Knock on Any Door (1949), City Across the River (1949), White Heat (1949), Destination Big House (1950) and Western Pacific Agent (1950).

For Oliver Stone's 1994 film Natural Born Killers, screenwriter Quentin Tarantino is said to have named the mass murderer character played by Woody Harrelson after Knox.

Blacklisted during the McCarthy era of the late 1950s, Knox moved to France and then Italy to work as a dialogue coach and screenplay translator of European movies. Actor Eli Wallach, who starred in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, convinced Leone to use Knox to direct the English dubbing on the 1966 action film. (Outside of Wallach, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, most of the actors spoke Italian.)

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Knox began his work after the movie was done shooting. "I had to find out the right dialogue not only in terms of moving the story along, but also to fit the lips," he told writer Cenk Kiral in a 1998 interview. "It's not an easy thing to do. As a matter of fact, it took me six weeks to write, what they say, 'the lip-synch script.' Normally I would have done it in seven to 10 days for a normal movie. But, that wasn't a normal movie."

On Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), starring Henry Fonda, Knox served as a screenwriter and was with the cast and crew during production in Spain, Italy and the Monument Valley in the U.S. His association with the Italian legend ended, he told Kiral, after he argued with the director after Leone refused to tip the poor waiters at their hotel.

"You could be dying in thirst and lying in the gutter. He'll step over you and walk away. He had very little concern about others. He was a very tough guy," Knox said.

Knox produced the 1971 spaghetti Western Don't Turn the Other Cheek, which starred Wallach and Italian leading man Franco Nero. Later, he showed up on such TV series as Archie Bunker's Place, Quincy, M.E. and Hart to Hart, on the 1983 miniseries The Winds of War and in the films Rent-a-Cop (1987) and Ghosts Can't Do It (1989).

Knox's second wife was Joan Morales, the younger sister of Adele Morales, who was married to Mailer from 1954-62. The novelist infamously stabbed his wife with a penknife after a party in 1960.

Knox wrote a 2004 memoir, The Good, the Bad and the Dolce Vita: The Adventures of an Actor in Hollywood, Paris and Rome. Mailer supplied the introduction.