Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Steve Ihnat -- Man without a Star



I'm going to delay my next post on Route 66 because I got the sudden urge to write about an actor I greatly admired. His name was Steve Ihnat and though he never became a major star, he was one of the most sought after guest stars on television in the late 60s and early 70s. He made more than 70 appearances in various television series, including Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Outer Limits, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Bonanza, etc. Although he favored westerns two of his most memorable roles were in Star Trek and the Outer Limits. His performance as Garth, a maniacal, shape shifting warlord, devoured all the scenery and left very little for Shatner and Nimoy to chew on. But it was his performance as Lt. Mims, a sensitive and compassionate alien in "The Inheritors", a two-part episode on the Outer Limits, that led to his career as an A-list guest star. You probably saw him many times if you watched the classic television series of the 60s and 70s, but didn't know his name. He appeared in several motion pictures most notably as the man who killed Robert Redford in The Chase and murdered Richard Widmark in Madigan. But I knew who he was and I was a fan.

Reader, I met him. While I was trying out for a Hollywood trivia game show I met Jo Heims, who wrote the screenplay for Play Misty for Me. She knew Steve Ihnat and I had the chutzpa to ask her to set up a meeting for me with Steve. I received a phone call from Steve and we set up a meeting at his home in the Hollywood Hills. I had written a synopsis for a TV series in which he would be the lead and I wanted to give it to him. I had actually spoken with his agent who told me,"He's not a star". To say the least I was appalled by this statement. Anyway on the appointed day I jumped into my rented Mustang convertible and drove up into the Hollywood Hills. He was editing the film that he had directed Do Not Throw Pillows into the Ring and allowed me to watch him run the film through the editing machine. I gave him a copy of my synopsis and he said he would read it. What I found interesting was that he had a large port wine stain around one of his eyes; the makeup artists really did a good job of concealing that.

He went on to direct the rodeo film Honkers starring James Coburn. He was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972 trying to get a distributor for his film Do Not Throw Pillows into the Ring, when he died of a heart attack at the age of 37. I attended his funeral where they christened his six-week-old son.

I always checked the TV Guide to see if he was guest starring in any TV shows and usually he appeared at least once a week. To me he was a star giving many excellent performances in a wide variety of genres. He was a damned good actor!

3 comments:

  1. Sazball, what an excellent post! I remember Steve Ihnat as a versatile stalwart of 1960s television and movies. You mentioned my favorite of his performances: the two-part Outer Limits episode called "The Inheritors." (It's my second favorite among all Outer Limits shows, but that's another blog.) "The Honkers" was pretty good, too.

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  2. Sazball, this is a great post. I am a big Star Trek fan and remember Steve as Garth in that episode. I watched many TV shows that he guest starred in also. I always thought he was a handsome man and was sad when I read about his death. I read an article about him that said his son died at 32 in 2004. That made me sad too. I miss seeing him on TV.

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  3. Steve was not an alien on The Inheritors, his mind was just controlled by them. I'm also a big fan, indeed I've got a website devoted to him: http://volcanoseven.com/BriefCandle. Also putting up a few videos of him on YouTube. And I "cast" him as the star in a music video I did. Anyone can find it by going to YouTube, doing a search on Ihnat, and choosing Let Joy And Innocence Prevail.

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