Michael Ansara, the busy and recognizable character actor who was best known for portraying American Indians and later a Klingon in three different Star Trek series, died last Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Calabasas, California. He was 91. Born in Syria, Ansara played mostly ethnic roles, and became a star in the 1950s on the ABC television show Broken Arrow, a fictionalized account of the friendship between the Apache chief Cochise and the Indian agent Tom Jeffords. That show was on the air from 1956 to 1958, and a year later Ansara was cast playing an Apache United States marshal with a Harvard degree on the brief NBC series Law of the Plainsman. Although the Indian roles kept coming, he also inhabited characters who were Italian, Hispanic, and even some of no specific ethnicity. He appeared on the TV shows Wagon Train and Gunsmoke and in a number of significant movies. He was in Texas Across the River in 1966, he played an Egyptian taskmaster in the Cecil B DeMille epic The Ten Commandments in 1956, and was Judas Iscariot in that other midcentury religious blockbuster, 1953’s The Robe. On a lighter note, he was the Arabian prince who kidnaps Elvis Presley in 1965’s Harum Scarum. But he is probably most known by fanboys for his role as the evil Klingon leader Kang on the original Star Trek television series in 1968, a role he reprised for two later series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. He was one of a handful of actors to play the same part on three different Star Trek series.
Ansara studied at Los Angeles City College and originally planned to become a doctor, but changed his mind after he began studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in an effort to overcome shyness. He began his career onstage and made his screen debut in the 1944 thriller Action in Arabia. He was married three times. His first marriage, to the actress Jean Byron, lasted from 1949 to 1956. After their divorce, the publicity department at 20th Century-Fox set him up on a date with the actress Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame, and they were married in 1958. He appeared as different characters on a number of Jeannie episodes; the two were divorced in 1973. Their one son, Matthew, died of an accidental overdose in 2001. At the time of his death, Ansara had been married to his third wife, actress Beverly Kushida, for 36 years.
Said Ansara of his defining role as Cochise on Broken Arrow: “Cochise could do one of two things, stand with his arms folded, looking noble, or stand with his arms at his sides, looking noble.”