How did you get cast as a Tusken Raider in Star Wars?
In the early 1970’s, I worked at Marine World Africa/USA. Peter Gros hired me as a night keeper for his department: land animals. I sometimes worked both swing and graveyard shifts. I checked on the animals hourly, hence they were very familiar with me. I moved on to becoming a handler and trainer. My duties included being a Grand Marshall when the park opened in the morning and wrestling tigers on Tiger Island. I did special events with tigers, elephants, camels and a number of other animals. My job was head of the rides department. Rides included elephants and camels. Mr. Lucas wanted an elephant to play a Bantha and two trainers to play the part of Sandmen. Off I went to Death Valley, along with Mardji, Bob (Spiker, the other trainer/Tusken Raider) and Mac, the tractor trailer driver.
There are several Tusken Raiders in A New Hope. If I’m correct you’re the one pointing the gun at the landspeeder and the second one to ride the Bantha. Is this correct and are there other scenes in which we can see you?
Yes there were several Tusken Raiders in A New Hope. Mardji was the only Bantha and three Tusken Raiders that went down to Death Valley. Thanks to the Magic of Lucasfilm, the film editors were able to duplicate the Bantha and the Tusken Raiders. It was just Star Wars and filmed in 1976, the Premiere was in 1977, today it is called A New Hope. There were just two riders, or trainers, on the Bantha. There were several shots of a solo rider, either Bob or me. Toward the end of filming, you will see two riders, I was the TR riding up front on the Bantha because, Mr. Lucas asked me to stay seated on Mardji as he did not want me running any more, due to the blood from the bridge of my nose caused by the helmet bouncing on my nose. Behind the scenes you can spot me in Bell Bottom blue jeans, a green shirt and jeans vest and another with Mardji and I, looking eye to eye, assuring her that all was ok.
What do you recall of the shooting of your scenes?
I had to look at the terrain through telescope eye tubes, memorize the placement of rocks, look straight ahead and run! In a scene you will see me holding my mask as I ran for a jump onto Mardji. I fell a few times and in another scene you will see me looking down as I walk!
How did working with Mardji go?
Mardji was a Matriarch Elephant, from the time I was a night keeper, she and I worked well together. At feeding time, I would bring into the barn a bale of hay, place it in front of Mardji, she would then put her front feet on the bale to snap the wires. While I pulled the wires free, she would pass the hay to the other Elephants. If there a calf in her charge, she would feed the little one first. If I stood between her and the calf, Mardji would wrap her trunk around me to assure the calf I was no threat. She would scoop up the fallen oats as a treat for a job well done. Mardji was a very patient, peaceful, kind and loving Pachyderm. Is it any wonder with simple eye contact with me, she would remain calm while being fitted as a Bantha and having guys walk on her back?
What would you regard as your best memory from Star Wars: A New Hope?
Everytime I think of this, it brings a smile to my face. When Mardji was finally out of costume, for the last time, she was soaked in sweat. We let her run up to a ridge where a light breeze cooled her. On the ridge, she kept an eye on the Semi, as that was her current home. The Semi below the ridge, out of sight of the highway, 190, I think. People driving on the highway could see Mardji on the ridge, not one car slowed down! I imagine this “Honey did you see that Elephant?” “How much did you drink at the last cantina?” Another memory, as I mentioned in the YouTube “Interview with a Tusken Raider”. was the Semi going downhill into the Valley. The brakes would not hold. We threw rocks under the rear wheels to slow the Semi.
What were your expectations at the time your scenes were filmed? And how did you react when Star Wars was the biggest success of all time. I can imagine you telling everyone you were in it.
I had done two movies already, one was Arabian Nights, I escorted Iris, a camel to the private filming. The second was Pool Party, this time Peter Gros and I took Naji, a Bengal tiger to another filming. Both were one evening trips. But because of the time in the preparation Mardji costume took about eight months, and the trip back and forth was eight days, I realized this was no private film! Star Wars opened in just 32 theaters on May 25, 1977. With 70mm print capability and six track stereo Dolby sound, the Coronet was arguably the best theater in San Francisco. I had my then girlfriend drive my ‘74 Gold Cadillac Sedan Deville by the Coronet. I sat in the back seat, mirror sunglasses, waving at the moviegoers. The line was around the block! People heard that I was in the original Star Wars by word of mouth. It was only in 2017 when Steve DeMaderios ‘discovered’ a Tusken Raider recovering at a Post-Acute in Santa Rosa. Then the fun began! Steve grew up with Casey Langfelder, a sound editor with Skywalker Sound. In early September, Casey took Steve and me to Skywalker Ranch where I met Randy Thom, director of sound design. I also ran into Ron Howard while he was putting finishing touches on Solo: a Star Wars Story.
You have been in the convention circuit. What do you like the most about being a guest and what is the most remarkable or craziest thing that happened at a show?
The first two conventions I was accompanied by C. Andrew Nelson, who plays Darth Vader. Andrew showed me the workings of an event, he would direct fans over to me. There was one time in Modesto, hometown of Mr. Lucas a young fan was walking by, spotted a life size cut-out of Darth Vader. Andrew asked “Want to come over to the Dark Side?” She was jumping and screaming before she finally got his signature! In the London Film Con, we were treated like royalty. Everywhere I went, I was accompanied by a Handler. On the day that was the busiest. I had two handlers. A few of the fans that brought items to sign really impressed me. Posters were rolled into carrying tubes with shoulder straps. Posters that had to be flat were in wood cases on wheels! On the three days I was in attendance, I signed close to a thousand items.
A New Hope is your only Star Wars film. Why didn’t you return for the sequels?
For the longest time, word went around that I was dead, well that is true. In 2010 I had an accident and I was dead for two or three minutes. I was put in a Medically Induced Coma for nine days. Steve said to me “Do you know that you are a Celebrity?” I answered “like hell.” It was only after he took me to the Ranch and I asked him “Why is everybody looking at me?” His answer: “Now do you believe me?”
What are you doing these days? Are you still in the movie business?
I am enjoying the Convention Circuit, cities that I have visited on business in a past career, but now, I always meet new people who turned out to become new friends! In my visit to San Antonio, Jessie saw that I was wearing a Texas belt buckle, the next day he gave me a Silver buckle he had won Wild Hog Catching – World Champion. A few nights ago I made contact with Peter Gros. Peter is an award winning Wildlife Expert. On behalf of Mutual of Omaha he is involved in a nationwide program on captive wildlife. I am thinking, Peter and I should as a team once again! Meanwhile, I will continue writing my book.
What kind of book is that?
I am working with Andrew at Dorrance Publishing. It is a three part book. First part is about growing up in East Africa, second part growing up in London and France and Spain. Part three is my life in the USA. My lady is on me to finish writing! Talk about Fifty shades of Grey!