Mike Mazurki (December 25, 1907 – December 9, 1990), was an American actor and professional wrestler who appeared in over 100 films. His towering 6' 5" presence and intimidating face usually got him roles playing tough guys, thugs, strong men and gangsters.
Life and career
He was born Markiyan (Mykhailo) Mazurkevych in Kupchyntsi, Kozova Raion, near what was then Tarnopol, Galicia, Austria-Hungary (now Ternopil, Ukraine). He was from an ethnic Ukrainian family. He emigrated with his family to the United States at the age of six, living in Cohoes, New York, just outside Albany, in old mill housing on Olmstead Street with his mother. He attended LaSalle Institute in Troy, for high school. Upon finishing school, he changed his name to "Mike." He later graduated from Manhattan College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1930. He became a professional athlete in three sports, primarily wrestling but also American football and basketball.
He was discovered by Josef von Sternberg and given a bit part in his film The Shanghai Gesture (1941). This led to a long film and television career. Possibly his most memorable role was that of slow-witted thug Moose Malloy in the film noir Murder, My Sweet (1944), opposite Dick Powell. He portrayed the psychotic, knife wielding murderer, Splitface, in the original Dick Tracy (1945).
He played a wrestler nicknamed "The Strangler" in Night and the City (1950) and a role imitating the manner of a George Raft henchman in the Billy Wilder comedy, Some Like it Hot (1959).
He continued to wrestle during his acting career. His slurred speech was reportedly due to a wrestling injury to his Adam's apple.
Mazurki made guest appearances on many well-known television shows, among them My Friend Flicka (as a wrestler facing Gene Evans's character of Rob McLaughlin), The Untouchables, Bachelor Father, Daniel Boone, Gilligan's Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Bonanza and Gunsmoke, to name just a few.
He played Cully Barstow, a yacht hand, in an episode of Perry Mason titled, "The Case of the Missing Button" (1964), in which he threatened Mason and Paul Drake with a set of brass knuckles. He also played Arthur Jacks in the episode, "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" (1963). He was a regular on a short-lived sitcom, The Chicago Teddy Bears.
Along with his film and television works, Mazurki starred in the hit Rod Stewart music video "Infatuation," playing the bodyguard protecting a woman from a stalker (played by Stewart). In the end, he succeeds, punching Stewart out. Later, Mazurki said that he met more famous people in the making of that video than in any of the feature films or TV shows in which he had starred. In 1966-67 he starred as the caveman Clon in It's About Time.
In 1965, he co-founded and became the first president of the Cauliflower Alley Club, an association of professional wrestlers. A photograph of his cauliflower ear forms the logo of the organization. In 2005, he was posthumously awarded the New York State Award by the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum for founding the club.
In 1975, he landed his only starring role as Trapper in 1975's "Challenge to be Free." The film went largely unnoticed, but Mazurki drew praise for his convincing performance as a mountain man loner accused of manslaughter and the ensuing chase from lawmen tracking him down in the mountains.
Worked slowed down for him in the 1970s and '80s, but he continued working until his death in 1990. Mike Mazurki is interred at Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery.