John Phillip Law

John Phillip Law (September 7, 1937 – May 13, 2008) was an American film actor.[1]

John Phillip Law
John Phillip Law (Death Rides a Horse).jpg
John Philip Law in Death Rides a Horse (1967)
Born(1937-09-07)September 7, 1937
DiedMay 13, 2008(2008-05-13) (aged 70)
OccupationFilm, television actor
Years active1950–2008
Spouse(s)Shawn Ryan (divorced)

Following a breakthrough role as a Russian sailor in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), Law became best known for his roles as gunfighter Bill Meceita in the Spaghetti Western Death Rides a Horse (1967) with Lee Van Cleef, the blind angel Pygar in the cult science fiction film Barbarella (1968) with Jane Fonda,[1] the title character in the cult action film Danger: Diabolik (1968), Manfred von Richthofen in Von Richthofen and Brown (1971), and news anchor Robin Stone in The Love Machine (1971). The latter reteamed him with Alexandra Hay, his co-star from the 1968 "acid comedy" Skidoo.[1]

Early yearsEdit

Law was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff John Law and actress Phyllis Sallee. He was the brother of actor Thomas Augustus Law (also known as Tom Law). He graduated from Hollywood High School.[1]

His mother got him work as a film extra as a child, and had a non-speaking role as a courtroom page in The Magnificent Yankee (1950),[2] directed by John Sturges.

He attended an engineering college in California then switched to the University of Hawaii where he studied psychology and appeared in several university stage productions. This caused him to decide to become an actor professionally.[1][3]


Lincoln Center and ItalyEdit

After graduation, Law moved to New York, where he studied acting and he signed a seven-year contract with Fox. He realised it was a mistake and got out of it, then returned to New York. He had a small role in Garson Kanin's unsuccessful Broadway comedy, Come On Strong (1962).[4][2]

He auditioned for the Repertory Theater at the Lincoln Center, and was one of 12 picked out of 30,000. He stayed there for three years.[3] Law was announced as part of the company in January 1964.[5] He was in their productions of Marco's Millions,[6] The Changeling directed by Elia Kazan with Faye Dunaway,[7] and Tartuffe (1965).[8]

He left the Lincoln Center company and traveled to Europe where he acted in High Infidelity (1964) and 3 notti d'amore (1964).[3]

Early Hollywood FilmsEdit

One of Law's Italian films was seen by the director Norman Jewison, who thought Law perfect for the role of a young Soviet sailor in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966).[1][9] The film was a big success and Law was launched in Hollywood. He followed this with a co-star role in Otto Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1967), a drama about race relations in the south. It co-starred Dunaway and Jane Fonda. Dunaway played his wife.


Fonda was going to star in Barbarella and recommended Law for the film. Production was delayed so Law played the lead in a Spaghetti Western, Death Rides a Horse (1967) with Lee Van Cleef, then the title role of Danger: Diabolik (1968), directed by Mario Bava and produced by Dino De Laurentiis.[1][10][11]

Law eventually played the angel in Barbarella (1968), co starring with Jane Fonda and produced by De Laurentiis. He followed this with a small role in Preminger's Skidoo (1968), then had the lead in The Sergeant (1968), starring Rod Steiger as a soldier who lusts after Law.[1][12] He turned down roles in Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider and was replaced when filming The Gypsy Moths.[13]

Law went back to Europe to support Claudia Cardinale in a comedy, Diary of a Telephone Operator (1969). He had a key role in Hollywood's The Hawaiians (1970) with Charlton Heston and played the title role in the Italian Strogoff (1970), based on the novel by Jules Verne, Michael Strogoff.

Law in Von Richthofen and Brown

Law co-starred in Roger Corman's film Von Richthofen and Brown (1971), playing Manfred von Richthofen opposite Don Stroud's Roy Brown. Corman used Lynn Garrison's Irish aviation facility, complete with replica World War I aircraft. Garrison taught Law the basics of flying so that he could take off and land, making some of the footage more realistic.[1]

Law was top billed in The Love Machine (1971), based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann, replacing Brian Kelly at the last moment. He was one of many actors to have a cameo in The Last Movie (1970). He supported Monica Vitti and Alberto Sordi in Polvere di stelle (1973) then had the title role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973). He co-starred with Peter Fonda in Open Season (1974) and was in the TV remake of The Spiral Staircase (1975).[14]

European StardomEdit

Law could still command star roles in Europe: he was in Doctor Justice (1975), A Whisper in the Dark (1976) and Tu dios y mi infierno (1976). He had a support role in The Cassandra Crossing (1977) and supported Anthony Quinn in Target of an Assassin (1977), filmed in South Africa.

Law was top-billed in Eyes Behind the Wall (1977), Der Schimmelreiter (1978), and The Devil's Bed (1978). He returned to Hollywood to play a supporting role in The Best Place to Be and Ring of Darkness (both 1979).

1980s onwardEdit

Law went to Taiwan to make two films, Yuan (1980) and Attack Force Z (1981). He appeared in Tarzan the Ape Man (1981), and made guest appearances on the TV shows The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.

Law remained in demand, albeit mostly now in low budget films, including Tin Man (1983), Night Train to Terror (1985), American Commandos (1985), Moon in Scorpio (1987), Thunder III (1987), Striker (1987), Una grande storia d'amore (1988), Space Mutiny (1988), Blood Delirium (1988), A Case of Honor (1989), and Cold Heat (1989).

Law appeared in Alienator (1990), Shining Blood (1992), Il giorno del porco (1993), The Mountain of the Lord (1993), Hindsight (1996), My Ghost Dog (1997), Wanted (1999), and Bad Guys (2000). In 2001, he appeared in Roman Coppola's directorial debut CQ, an homage to the Italian spy/sci-fi B-movies in which Law often starred during the 1960s.[1] His final roles included Curse of the Forty-Niner (2002) (which he also associate produced), The Three Faces of Terror (2004), and Ray of Sunshine (2006). His last credited film role was in 2008's Chinaman's Chance [it].

Personal lifeEdit

He was married to and divorced from actress Shawn Ryan, with whom he had a daughter.[15]


On December 13, 2007, his doctors diagnosed Law with pancreatic cancer.[16] He died five months later on May 13, 2008, at his home in Los Angeles.[17]

Selected filmographyEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Vallance, Tom (May 17, 2008). "John Phillip Law: Actor best known for 'Barbarella'". The Independent. London.
  2. ^ a b Alpert, Don (August 21, 1966). "New Discovery Is Law Unto Himself". The Washington Post, Times Herald: G3.
  3. ^ a b c Clifford, Terry (August 7,1966). "Actor in 'The Russians Are Coming' Arrives Big with U.S. Teen-Agers". Chicago Tribune: H11.
  4. ^ "John Phillip Law, 70, Film Actor, Is Dead". The New York Times. Associated Press. May 16, 2008. p. B8.
  5. ^ Estrow, Milton (January 24, 1964). "LINCOLN THEATER BEGINS REPERTORY: ' After the Fall' by Miller Opens in Temporary Home". The New York Times. p. 19.
  6. ^ Taubman, Howard (February 21, 1964). "Theater: O'Neill Revival: ' Marco Millions' Given by Repertory Troupe". The New York Times. p. 33.
  7. ^ Taubman, Howard (October 30, 1964). "Theater: 'The Changeling' Is Revived: Lincoln Center Troupe Opens 2d Season". The New York Times. p. 32.
  8. ^ Taubman, Howard (January 15, 1965). "The Theater: 'Tartuffe': Moliere's Play Staged by Lincoln Theater". The New York Times. p. 23.
  9. ^ Martin, Betty (September 27, 1965). "Hudson Up for 'Prix' Lead". Los Angeles Times. p. C19.
  10. ^ Aguilar, Carlos; Haas, Anita (June 1, 2008). John Phillip Law - Diabolik Angel. Scifiworld/Quatermass. ISBN 978-8461245017.
  11. ^ Martin, Betty (April 22, 1967). "Senta to Play Secret Agent". Los Angeles Times. p. 19.
  12. ^ Martin, Betty (October 21, 1967). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Law Given 'Sergeant' Role". Los Angeles Times. p. 18.
  13. ^ "John Exchaw Reviews A New Book About John Phillip Law". Cinema Retro. January 16, 2009.
  14. ^ Thomas, Kevin (September 25, 1974). "Inhumanity Is the Name of Game". Los Angeles Times. p. G11.
  15. ^ "Obituary for John Phillip Law (Aged 70)". The Boston Globe. May 17, 2008.
  16. ^ "Career, looks didn't define actor". Daily Breeze. Hermosa Beach, CA. 21 May 2008. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  17. ^ Bergan, Ronald (16 May 2008). "John Phillip Law". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 July 2020.

External linksEdit

  Media related to John Phillip Law at Wikimedia Commons