Hoke Howell - the name has a sort of ring to it, doesn't it? Fans of American television (from the 1950s onwards) and US-made movies have seen his face many times, but seldom recognise the name or are aware of the prolific career of this largely unsung gem of an actor.
Who was Hoke Howell?
From his television acting beginnings on three episodes of The Jack Benny Show in 1950 to his appearance in the film Vice Girls (2000), his talent helped him to create memorable moments, whether in major roles or bit parts. Born in Georgia, USA, on 27 August, 1929, his five-decade career ended only with his death in 1997. His appearances continued in movies that had been filmed but not released until 2000.
His Georgian accent made him perfect for roles in small, southern, United States towns, but he played sheriffs, businessmen and military men with equal aplomb.
A Brief Filmography
A list of shows in which he appeared reads like a television history. Among them are The Andy Griffith Show, McHale's Navy, The Virginian, The Munsters, Bonanza, Green Acres, Gunsmoke, Lost in Space, The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Kung Fu, McCloud, CHiPS, Quincy, The Dukes of Hazzard, Happy Days, Fantasy Island, The Greatest American Hero, Fame, The Fall Guy, Remington Steele, and JAG.
His movie appearances ran from A-list films such as The Hustler (1961), Grand Theft Auto (1977) and Another 48 Hours (1990) to possibly below 'B-grade' movies like The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966), The Glove (1978), and Bikini Hoe-Down (1997).
Despite the questionable quality of some of his credits, he imbued each character with a complexity and depth that made many very small parts come alive as something special. As an example, take his characterisation of a simple Bum Number One, in a short scene opposite Marc Singer in the 1995 film Droid Gunner1. Hoke stands in an alleyway with Bum Number Two, cooking something that looks like it might have once been a six-legged, mutant rat over an oil-barrel fire. Marc Singer's character comes through, seeking information related to stolen 'droids'. Very little needs to be done here to move the story along, but the finesse with which Howell handled the scene made it memorable - a funny as well as sympathetic character. He gave Singer something to really interact with, and you could almost smell the alcohol on his breath and the scorched fur and flesh when Howell offered some of his meagre meal to Singer.
Hoke became one of those respected, recognisable, but often ignored character actors that make films such a treat. He was an exemplary 'working' actor. They rarely get a lead role, but without them you have no movie. You seldom know the name, and perhaps they only stir a vague memory. You may not realise that you've seen them before until they have gradually made their way into your consciousness.
Hoke Howell died on 9 May, 1997, of heart failure.
A Veritable Who's Who
Here is a list of 75 notable celebrities who worked on the same projects as Hoke Howell: it comprises fewer than half of those with whom he eventually appeared.
Debbie Allen - James Arness - David Arquette - Karen Black - Joan Blondell - Ernest Borgnine - Charles Bronson - Pierce Brosnan - Jim Brown - Richard Burton - Art Carney - David Carradine - Jack Cassidy - Dabney Coleman - Courteney Cox - Peter Coyote - Tom Cruise - Robert Culp - Matt Damon - Ossie Davis - Yvonne De Carlo - Brian Dennehy - Charles Dutton - Robert Duvall - Buddy Ebsen - Linda Evans - Peter Falk - Norman Fell - James Garner - Hugh Grant - Peter Graves - Lorne Greene - Andy Griffith - Fred Gwynne - Gene Hackman - Ron Howard - David Huddleston - Kate Jackson - William Katt - George Kennedy - Nicole Kidman - Jack Klugman - Don Knotts - Nancy Kwan - Christopher Lambert - Michael Landon - Al Lewis - June Lockhart - Gavin MacLeod - Lee Majors - Lee Marvin - Mercedes McCambridge - Roddy McDowall - Donna Mills - Ricardo Montalban - Elizabeth Montgomery - Vic Morrow - Eddie Murphy - Charles Napier - Julie Newmar - Nick Nolte - Betsy Russell - John Saxon - William Shatner - OJ Simpson - Stella Stevens - Julie Strain - Russ Tamblyn - Vic Tayback - Dennis Weaver - Guy Williams - Paul Winfield - Jo Anne Worley - Michael York - Stephanie Zimbalist