25 April, 2009
Toshiyuki "Harold" Sakata was a Japanese American professional wrestler and film actor most famous for his role as the villain "Oddjob" in the James Bond film Goldfinger.
Toshiyuki Sakata was born on July 1, 1920 in Holualoa, Hawaii, of Japanese descent; when he moved to mainland America he began to go by the more Western name "Harold." At the age of eighteen, he only weighed 113 lb (51 kg) at a height of 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m). Wanting to "look as good as the other guys", he started lifting weights. He spent his early life training as a weightlifter and won a silver medal for the United States at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, lifting a total of 410 kg in the Heavyweight division. He also did a stint as a professional wrestler under the name Tosh Togo from the early 1950s until the early 1960s, becoming Canadian Tag Team Champion.
Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli took notice of Sakata because his heavy build--he stood 5 ft 9 in and weighed 284 lb (129 kg)--which when coupled with his intimidating gaze, made him the perfect choice for the part of Oddjob. He had no acting background at all besides pro wrestling, but the film character was mute and required little theatrical skill. Before Sakata had secured the role of Oddjob, another former wrestler, British actor Milton Reid had auditioned for the role. In 1964 Reid challenged Sakata to a wrestling contest and whomever was the winner would be the deciding factor for who would get the role. But since Reid had been in Dr. No and his character killed off, the producers decided to go with Sakata and the wrestling match didn't take place.
As Oddjob, he was bodyguard to Bond villain Auric Goldfinger and his sharpened, steel-brimmed bowler hat became a famous and much-parodied trademark of the Bond series. He appeared in several other movies in similar roles and took on "Oddjob" as an informal middle name.
With time, Sakata's acting skills improved. He co-starred opposite William Shatner in the movie Impulse, in which he played the character Karate Pete. He also guest starred on a Gilligan's Island episode as Rory Calhoun's henchman.
He also appeared in a series of TV commercials for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup in the 1970s. The ad showed Sakata demolishing his house and frightening his family as his cough spasms grow worse and worse. The ad premise was that a spoonful of Formula 44 would quiet the worst coughs. At the end of the commercial the house is in shambles but everyone is politely (and quietly) bowing to each other. He made an appearance on the Tonight Show on which he parodied the commercial by destroying Johnny Carson's set.
Sakata died on July 29, 1982 in Honolulu, Hawaii, of cancer.