He's Been Big, Bad And Now, Beautiful Jack O'halloran, Last Seen As A Nasty In 'Dragnet,' Is Changing His Image

Posted: July 02, 1987

If you've seen the Dan Aykroyd-Tom Hanks "Dragnet," the fellow who plays Emil Muzz, the big and bad enforcer of the P.A.G.A.N.S. ("People Against Goodness and Niceness"), might look familiar. If you read the credits, you'll see that his name is Jack O'Halloran, and if you're an action-movie buff, you'll probably remember that O'Halloran played the big and bad Non in a couple of "Superman" flicks, big and bad Moose Malloy in the Robert Mitchum ''Farewell, My Lovely" and characters in a half dozen movies and a string of TV shows that were - you got it - big and bad.

But something will seem different. Where O'Halloran had always had a grotesque look about him - protruding jaw, distended brow, flattened brow - in ''Dragnet" he looks big and bad, to be sure, but he also looks normal. How the change took place is quite a story. And it's a story that started in Philadelphia.

Florence and 53rd in Southwest Philly, to be exact. Born there 44 years ago, O'Halloran attended Most Blessed Sacrament Grammar School and West Catholic High, and went on to Western Kentucky University on a football scholarship. (He goes 6 feet 6 inches, 230 pounds.) He played semi-pro football in Tinicum for two years, after which he was slated to join the Eagles. But then the club hired Joe Kuharich as coach.

Don't get O'Halloran started on Kuharich. "The guy traded away a dynasty in a month," O'Halloran said the other day from his home in Los Angeles.

He refused to play for Kuharich, and didn't report to camp. For his new career, he turned to another sport - boxing. Some local fight handlers had noticed him, thought he had potential and signed him to a contract as a heavyweight. He didn't do too badly, beating contenders Cleveland Williams and Manuel Ramos, losing a split decision to Ken Norton and winning the California state championship on his way to a career record of 60-14-2.

It was while he was training for the Norton fight, in 1972, that a San Diego doctor saw a publicity photo of O'Halloran and recognized something familiar. O'Halloran - and everyone else - had always assumed that his looks were the result of the batterings he had gotten in the ring or, at worst, were simply a matter of heredity. The doctor correctly guessed that O'Halloran had acromegaly, an extremely rare (and usually fatal) disease of the pituitary gland that causes a grotesque enlarging of the features and a hardening and swelling of the bone structure. It wouldn't be until 1979 that O'Halloran would begin the tortuous six year process of treatment - laser surgery to remove the tumor in his pituitary, followed by reconstructive facial surgery.

By that time, he was a movie star, landing the role of Moose in "Farewell, My Lovely." "Lovely" led to a slew of offers to play grotesque villains. O'Halloran wasn't thrilled. He turned down most of them, including the parts in James Bond pictures that eventually went to Richard Kiel. "My agent said that what I really seemed to want were the kind of roles that Victor McLaglen used to do," he said. "I wasn't familiar with him, so I got ahold of a copy of 'The Informer' (the film for which the large, likeable McLaglen won an Academy Award). Right then I decided I wanted to make a new version."

O'Halloran sat down with a copy of the Liam O'Flaherty novel that John Ford's classic was based on, wrote a screenplay and looked for backers. This fall, 10 years later, shooting will start in Ireland. The cast includes Robert Mitchum, ("He taught me everything I know - he was my acting professor," said O'Halloran), Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie, Harry Dean Stanton and O'Halloran as Gypo Nolan, the part originally played by McLaglen. The producer is Jack O'Halloran.

But this highbrow success has not ruined O'Halloran for action pics. He enjoyed making "Dragnet," he says, so much so that he did his own stunts. ''There was a great scene that got cut out of the picture," he said. ''Tom Hanks was trying to get me to talk, so he took me by one foot and hung me off the freeway. Then I slipped out of my shoe and landed in a banana truck.

"I could have had a stunt man do it," Jack O'Halloran said, "but being a ballsy kind of guy, I figured it'd be a lot of fun to do it myself."

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