Dick Bakalyan, Character Actor Who Appeared in ‘Chinatown,’ Dies at 84

Richard Bakalyan Dead
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Character actor Richard (Dick) Bakalyan, who famously appeared in “Chinatown” as Loach, the partner of Jake Gittes’ former partner, who plays a key role in the movie’s climax, among many other films and TV shows, died in his sleep in Elmira, N.Y. on February 27 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 84.

Bakalyan was known for his broken nose and a streetwise twist of a phrase. Some fans might not remember the name, but everyone knew the face; they’d wave and call to him from cars or on the street. He said, “You have to the ride the horse you’re given” — a dedication to authenticity and subtlety that ensured his portrayal was always appropriate to the role and the scene.

In his mid-20s, Bakalyan appeared as an antisocial teen in “The Delinquents,” “The Delicate Delinquent,” “Juvenile Jungle” and “Hot Car Girl,” among others. By 30, he graduated to gangster parts in six episodes of “The Untouchables,” and was cast by Aaron Spelling in the Western series Johnny Ringo. He got top billing in 1959’s “Paratroop Command” and played the villainous Verdigris in the original Batman series. In 1963, Bakalyan was cast in the first of his three Frank Sinatra films, “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” “None but the Brave” and “Von Ryan’s Express” followed, cementing a long friendship with Sinatra and his family. Upon wrapping “Von Ryan,” Sinatra took Bakalyan to Monaco to dine with Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier on the royal yacht.

He worked with the greats in Hollywood: Jack Nicholson, Robert Altman, George Stevens, Faye Dunaway and numerous others, including Jerry Lewis in Lewis’ first solo film after splitting from Dean Martin.

In 1974, he filmed the part for which he became most famous—Loach, the partner of Jake’s former partner—in “Chinatown.”

Among his favorite roles were animation voiceovers for Walt Disney Productions that skewed closer to his off-screen intelligence and quick wit. He voiced Dinky, the smarter, caterpillar-chasing bird in 1981’s “The Fox and the Hound.” The legendary animator Ward Kimball personally cast Bakalyan as the educated narrator with a Runyonesque accent, who schools viewers on the dicey interaction between birds and humans, in Kimball’s 1969 “It’s Tough to Be a Bird” (for Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color”). Another part close to his heart was Carmine from the block opposite his dear friend Bobby Darin in Darin’s eponymous TV variety show — a spot that Darin fought for Bakalyan to get in a gesture that Bakalyan cherished and never forgot.

His jam-packed career continued for three-plus decades after “Chinatown,” including countless guest roles in film and television.

Richard Bakalyan was born in Watertown, Massachusetts. He was a former boxer and Korean war veteran discovered and mentored by Anthony Quinn in the 1950s, after Quinn spotted him chasing down a deadbeat in Beverly Hills where Bakalyan parked cars. Quinn liked Dick Bakalyan’s spirit and invited him to the acting classes Quinn held above the old Coronet Theater. Bakalyan worked diligently to learn his craft.

He was a decades-long member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA.

Despite growing up tough, Dick Bakalyan was a voracious reader, as well as an artist, poet, writer and Shakespeare aficionado, which is the reason he relished playing against type.

His beloved wife Betty preceded him in death in 1967. He is survived by his elder brother; two nephews; two nieces; as well great- and great-great nephews and nieces.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Bakalyan’s name to the Actors Fund Los Angeles.

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  1. Harold Sysner says:

    It’s a shocker. It’s a real shocker that this man (the man who played Cookie, originally Chillie, on The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man In The World and other Disney films) is dead. I wish he had lived longer. Just now, I’m thinking to myself, “If this is how YOU feel, how do you think HE feels?” It would’ve given me more hope that the world of entertainment has not gone to hell in a hand basket.

  2. Colleen Langmeyer says:

    Our “Uncle” Dickie…..you will always be in our hearts. You and your family grew up together in my grandmother’s house. We were all family and will always be. You have many arms waiting to greet you. As much as all will miss you I will always remember you telling me…” keep smili’n kid”! Love, Colleen Malone Langmeyer and Family

  3. Robert DeLucia says:

    One of my favorite character actors of all time. I was just thinking about him the other day too. He was the “bad guy” in so many of my favorite movies as a kid in the 70s. Now I know why the voice of the bird in It’s Tough To Be A Bird sounded so familiar. Rest in peace Dick and thanks for the memories.

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