John Phillip Law

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

John Phillip Law
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) 1 child

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 years

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 John Sturges's The Magnificent Yankee (1950).[2]

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 Italy

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 Broadway comedy Come On Strong (1962) which was a flop.[4][2]

He then 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] then The Changeling directed by Elia Kazan with Faye Dunaway;[7] and Tartuffe (1965).[8]

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

Early Hollywood Films

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) in September 1965.[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 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).

Law 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 Star

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) shot 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 support role in the TV movie The Best Place to Be (1979). He also supported in Ring of Darkness (1979).


Law went to Taiwan to make two films, Yuan (1980) and Attack Force Z (1981); the latter had a long life on video due to the presence in the cast of Mel Gibson and Sam Neill.

He supported Bo Derek and Richard Harris in Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) (playing Harry Holt), and guest starred on The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.

Law remained in demand, albeit mostly now in low budget films: Tin Man (1983) with Timothy Bottoms, Hijacked to Hell (1984), Night Train to Terror (1985), American Commandos (1985), Rainy Day Friends (1985), Johann Strauss: The King Without a Crown (1985), Moon in Scorpio (1987) with Britt Ekland directed by Gary Graver, The Overthrow (1987), Gila and Rik (1987), Thunder III (1987), Striker (1988), Una grande storia d'amore (1988), Space Mutiny (1988), Blood Delirium (1988), A Case of Honor (1989) for Eddie Romero, Cold Heat (1989) with Britt Ekland, and Quattro piccole donne (1989).


Law did Alienator (1990) for Fred Olen Ray, Shining Blood (1992), Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992), Il giorno del porco (1993), Angel Eyes (1993) for Gary Graver, The Mountain of the Lord (1993), Brennendes Herz (1996), Hindsight (1996), My Ghost Dog (1997), Wanted (1999), and Bad Guys (2000).

Later career

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).

Law's final credited film role was in 2008's Chinaman's Chance.

Personal life

He was at one time married to actress Shawn Ryan, with whom he had a daughter.


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

Selected filmography


  1. Vallance, Tom (May 17, 2008). "John Phillip Law: Actor best known for 'Barbarella'". The Independent.
  2. New Discovery Is Law Unto Himself By Don Alpert. The Washington Post, Times Herald 21 Aug 1966: G3.
  3. Actor in 'The Russians Are Coming' Arrives Big with U.S. Teen-Agers Clifford, Terry. Chicago Tribune 7 Aug 1966: h11.
  4. John Phillip Law, 70, Film Actor New York Times 16 May 2008: B8.
  5. LINCOLN THEATER BEGINS REPERTORY: ' After the Fall' by Miller Opens in Temporary Home By MILTON ESTEROW. New York Times 24 Jan 1964: 19.
  6. Theater: O'Neill Revival: ' Marco Millions' Given by Repertory Troupe By HOWARD TAUBMAN. New York Times 21 Feb 1964: 33.
  7. Theater: 'The Changeling' Is Revived: Lincoln Center Troupe Opens 2d Season By HOWARD TAUBMAN. New York Times 30 Oct 1964: 32.
  8. The Theater: 'Tartuffe': Moliere's Play Staged by Lincoln Theater By HOWARD TAUBMAN. New York Times 15 Jan 1965: 23.
  9. Hudson Up for 'Prix' Lead Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 27 Sep 1965: C19.
  10. Aguilar, Carlos y otro & Haas, Anita John Phillip Law - Diabolik Angel Scifiworld/Quatermass (2008)
  11. Senta to Play Secret Agent Betty. Los Angeles Times22 Apr 1967: 19.
  12. MOVIE CALL SHEET: Law Given 'Sergeant' Role Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times21 Oct 1967: 18.
  14. Inhumanity Is the Name of Game Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 25 Sep 1974: g11.
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