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Remembering G.D. Spradlin

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefYou probably knew G.D. Spradlin best as Senator Pat Geary from The Godfather, Part II, where he played the corrupt politician blackmailed by Michael Corleone after he wakes up and finds himself drenched in a murdered prostitute’s blood.

I knew him as Elliot P. Grantham, the Idaho farmer who was Patient Zero, the first official victim of the alien Hive’s infestation in the NBC series Dark Skies.

My co-creator Brent Friedman and I knew we’d caught a break in casting. Who didn’t cringe a little in The Godfather, Part II when Spradlin’s Senator Geary treats Michael Corleone with contempt early in the film? You knew it wouldn’t go well. We had gotten lucky early on by offering a series lead role to J.T. Walsh to play Frank Bach and he said yes. We tried again with Spradlin, wondering if he would find the part too small or, given the alien angle, too silly. But he said yes, too. We were thrilled. As it turned out, Dark Skies was the last television he ever did and the second to last acting job (he also appeared in the feature film, Dick). He was a complete professional whose presence on the set made everyone bring their A-game, including our director Tobe Hooper.

A native Oklahoman, Gervase Duan Spradlin died July 24 at his ranch in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He was 90. Everyone always called him “G.D.” We did.

He’d appeared in more than 70 films and television shows. But he wasn’t just an actor. He drew upon real-life experience as an attorney, oilman and rancher. We cast him as a farmer, Elliot P. Grantham, who is quietly going mad as the alien parasite grows inside his head.

Besides Senator Geary, the other role that made him famous was playing the general who assigns Martin Sheen to the search mission in Apocalypse Now. Watch that scene again if you get the chance.

Besides Dark Skies, G.D. Spradlin appeared in TV shows like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; Mannix; It Takes a Thief; Dragnet; and Adam 12. He directed two films, The Only Way Home and Outside In, both released in 1972.

I’ve just pulled out the clip from Dark Skies where the main character John Loengard (played by Eric Close) first encounters Grantham and is taken out to see his crop circle. And I’ve included the autopsy scene that follows because, in order to do it, G.D. had to let us make a plaster cast of his face which he did, patiently. Brent remembers that when we were filming the scene where the ganglion breaks out of his head, G.D. smiles and said, “I can’t believe I came out of retirement for this.”

You’ll notice in the scene that we actually required him to act and not just play dead. As the ganglion is pulled out of his brain matter, it causes involuntary facial twitches despite the victim being clinically flat-lined. G.D. was a good sport!

He also lived a long life, leaving some fine moments in film for us to continue to remember him.


About Bryce Zabel 196 Articles
Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, creator of five produced primetime network TV series, and fast-food frycook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of "Movie Smackdown." While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. That, plus the fact that he has a new StudioCanal produced feature film, “The Last Battle,” shooting this summer in Europe about the end of World War II. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and a past enthusiast of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. His new what-if book series, “Breakpoint,” just won the prestigious Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and has so far tackled JFK not being assassinated and The Beatles staying together.
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