A Celebration of Richard “Jaws“ Kiel

Written by Johnny Proctor
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With details of the latest in the line of Bond films “Spectre” being recently announced, ZANI takes a look back and remembers the life of one of its most infamous characters.

Richard Jaws  Kiel 1.When Richard Kiel passed away in September, the film world, when it came to iconic villains, lost one of its dons, the type of actor that presents the blueprint for what we have always wanted in a bad guy, a gentle giant of a man affectionately known over the world simply as “Jaws“, a character that you could love and be scared of in equal doses and most definitely a man once seen never forgotten. One of the few recurring “baddies“ in the James Bond films, Kiel’s character was undoubtedly one of the most famous and loved bad guys throughout the Bond franchise, despite barely speaking a word in either of the two films that he appeared in, his character only getting the chance of a spoken line in his return in Moonraker. Then again, when you’re over seven feet tall with teeth made of steel you don’t really need spoken lines to make an impact with the audience?. Such an iconic character was Jaws that he was considered one of the best villains in cinematic history and not so much a character that you loved to hate but more simply a character you just loved to LOVE. As a child watching the Roger Moore Bond films, I was fascinated by the role that Kiel played, first as henchman to Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me and following his stint with Stromberg his role then working for Hugo Drax in Moonraker. Only now, thinking back, I start to question how he could have worked for one power mad megalomaniac in one film and was then seen carrying out the dirty work for an entirely unrelated sociopath in the next film?  Maybe the underworld operates a Jean Marc Bosman style system that allows villains to transfer from one company to another? Did he have an agent negotiating his transfer and terms? 20 kills a season and Jaws wants a 20% bonus on top of salary and so on. No matter, as a kid you’re not exactly worried about the who’s, the why’s and the what’s. Whenever there was a scene with Jaws in it he simply owned the set with his presence and always ended up taking the scene for himself. Undoubtedly the only henchman in a very long list of Bond baddies that I secretly wouldn’t have minded if he’d given the ever so slightly camp Roger Moore a complete doing which I know isn’t exactly how, by the numbers, a Bond film works but well that was Jaws, he somehow got a pass.

But what about Kiel the actor behind the steel teeth, mindless yet comical destruction and mayhem while wearing ironically cool yet ill-fitting suits as he did so? It is true that with his height mixed with the aesthetics God granted him, his range of film and TV roles were destined to be extremely limited yet in fairness to him those minor details weren’t going to hold him back. Prior to working in the entertainment industry, Kiel, from Detroit Michigan, held down a plethora of jobs including that of bouncer in various North Hollywood nightclubs. Now if that is an occupation that you could instantly picture him filling, the exact opposite could be said about the job he held as a door to door Hoover salesman. Just picture if you will, hearing a knock on your door only for you to open it and find 7”2 Kiel standing there attempting to sell you a vacuum cleaner?. Despite what on the surface would seem like a strange match in that you’d find a would be James Bond henchman going door to door as a salesman, I’m going to take a punt and guess that he was successful at it? Being someone who has never bought a product from someone who has cold called at my house in my life I’m picturing myself being not so confident in knocking back someone with Kiel’s appearance so easily and can more imagine myself taking a couple of Hoovers from him, just to be safe. If the Jehovah’s Witness’s ever want to rethink their strategy on why they get so many doors slammed in their face and go down the route of employing people more of his appearance then the majority of the western world who have doors waiting to be knocked on quite simply are all fucked. It was actually during his stint as bouncer where Kiel said his acting career inadvertently began. During an appearance on the David Letterman show in 1985 he joked about how, whilst doing door work at The Rag Doll nightclub, he would find that as the night went on he would appear less taller in the eyes of some of the more inebriated clubbers leading to some occasionally wanting a pop at him and that, to defuse potentially volatile situations, he would act his way out of situations as opposed to what would’ve most certainly been a bad ending to the night for anyone who thought about taking him on.

Hollywood - LA - 1950s

His acting career started in earnest in 1957 with an uncredited role in the film The D.I playing the role of “ugly marine“ in what was a pre-empting of the general typecasting that he would go on to find throughout his career. Without having ever met the man however, I think it would be safe to say that with the height and facial features that he possessed he would surely have needed a degree of pragmatism when deciding that he wanted to work in film and television and instead use his so called disadvantage to his advantage. Such “illustrious“ roles followed, like the one of a giant in the 1963 film House Of The Damned, Bodybuilder #1, in the original version of The Nutty Professor of the same year and my own personal favourite, Tall man at funeral in the Cesar Romero film “ Two On A Guillotine “. From his screen debut in 1957 Kiel went on to make appearances as non recurring characters in well known shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E, The Monkees, I Dream Of Genie, Gilligans Island and Starsky & Hutch. 1975 however brought him his first major role starring in the William Shatner wild west adventure “ Barbary Coast “ with Kiel’s character Moose Moran appearing in 14 episodes in total working for Shatner as (funnily enough) a bouncer, the show itself proving to be short lived lasting the same amount of 14 episodes before being shelved by the ABC network. His recurring role as Moran however brought him to the attention of producers Albert Broccoli and William Cartlidge who were due to start work on the new James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  Both producers seeing Kiel as the perfect fit for the role of Bond adversary, Jaws. According to Christopher Woods’ novelisation of the film, Jaws (actual name Zbigniew Krycsiwiki) had been imprisoned by secret police due to his part in the fictitious 1972 bread riots and while in prison badly beaten up and left for dead with a broken jaw beyond all repair, leading to Karl Stromberg hiring a prestigious doctor which saw 14 operations performed on Krycsiwiki eventually leaving him with a fully restored jaw using steel components and creating two rows of razor sharp teeth that would leave him with the ability to bite through metal and cable leaving him open to all kinds of villainous mischief.

It was during this phase of his career that Kiel suffered from a thespian version of having waited for his bus to come along, three came at once in the sense that not only did he catch a major break in being headhunted by the Bond producers for The Spy Who Loved Me role, he was to also attract the attention of Kenneth Johnson, producer of the 1977 Incredible Hulk movie, which was to be the pre- cursor pilot of the popular 70’s TV show of the same name. In addition to being singled out to play the Marvel superhero he was also targeted to play the role of Darth Vader in some film called Star Wars. Bond role aside the other two roles were to provide a waste of his time and quite possibly his biggest regret. Kiel filmed the pilot for the Incredible Hulk only for the decision to be taken mid way shooting that the producers were looking for their hulk with a more pumped up and ripped appearance, something their initial selection didn’t have despite his size. This led to the Mr America and Mr Universe winning bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno being hired for the role with the Pumping Iron star reshooting all scenes with the exception of one where The Hulk saves a girl from drowning which wasn’t cut from the movie.

Looking at it pragmatically Kiel was said to have accepted being replaced by Ferrigno, citing that through only having the ability of seeing through one eye the contact lenses he was required to wear for the role hurt his eyes on a daily basis. The removal of the green paint needed for the part each day was also said to have been a bastard of a job and would take hours after shooting, my words not his, but it was one of the things he was quoted as having not enjoyed about his stint playing The Hulk. The role of Darth Vader in the up-and-coming first film in the George Lucas trilogy Star Wars? Well, with a move that reminds me of that old VW Golf advert with some playboy leaving the casino, a man who had put a million on black only for it to come up red, a man who also married a sex kitten just as she turned into a cat, Kiel was to turn down the role on account of being worried that he was being selected for too many monster roles by this point. I can fully appreciate how during those recent times he’d both taken on a role of a psychopathic henchman with steel teeth and then a green monster with superhuman strength, but to turn down the role of one of the main characters in what was to become a billion dollar brand probably wasn’t the best career move he could’ve made. The role of Darth Vader, or any other famous masked character, is undoubtedly a paradox for an actor who has a respect for their craft. On one hand if they end up playing a character who goes on to become of the iconic sort then it’s going to lead to an endless payday, one continuing long after they retire. The flip side however is they’re, well they’re wearing a mask, so automatically lose acting points as are the rules in the business. As it was to turn out, he could only choose one role between Jaws or Darth Vader so, regardless of if he would’ve made more money out of the Vader role, I think he chose correctly in an artistic sense every bit as much as my feeling that the actor who played Darth Vader is (for me anyway) more recognisable to me for playing a Green Cross Code man on a public information advert in 1970’s Britain, than for ever playing the imperial leader and friend of the dark side.

Richard Jaws  Kiel - The Spy Who Loved Me.Jaws he ultimately and unmistakably became though, and absolutely bossed his two appearances in The Spy Who Loved Me then Moonraker even though he ended up on the wrong side of Roger Moore’s delightful puns all too often. Scenes such as biting his way through cables to fuck with Roger Moore’s cable car ride in Rio (with obligatory stunner of a lady of course) to showing just how adept he was at skydiving while having a little bit of mid air wrestling with his nemesis. He had the equivalent of a 4 storey Egyptian construction site fall on him only to walk away like nothing had ever happened. Thrown out of a train at high speed he would seem more concerned with the dirt and grass stains on his suit than anything else, oh and I can’t write this piece without giving extra special mention to him taking a Ford right off a mountain side, falling into a small cottage with obligatory explosion only to walk out moments later once more making his suit intact. Too many scenes to mention and watching those films as a kid I, of course, had no idea that I was watching an actor playing out the most defined moments in his career but that’s exactly what Kiel was doing.

Following Moonraker he would occasionally pop up in an episode of The Fall Guy here and the obligatory hackneyed comedy bad guy role in a Cannonball Run there. His only notable film role was to come when he starred in the Clint Eastwood western Pale Rider. Following the Bond films, Richard Kiel, in the eyes of the movie watcher from that point was only ever going to be looked upon as Mr Jaws,  the ruiner of cables, a cleaner of suits, someone who tried and failed to put Roger Moore into intensive care on too many occasions to fuck up every time but yet always did but still a general all round scary bastard you could do without having on your case. Not a bad way to be remembered actually …

Read 4888 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 April 2015 16:46
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