Malachi Throne, the character actor who became one of the more ubiquitous faces on television from the “Golden Age” of the 1950s through the 21st Century, was born in New York City on December 1, 1928, the son of Samuel and Rebecca Throne, who had emigrated to American from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He began performing at an early age, remembering, “I was a boy soprano in Tom Sawyer which we performed at the New York World’s Fair” which opened in 1939 and closed after the 1940 season.
During World War Two, the young Throne Malachi – too young to serve in the military — quit school to work in theater, though he later returned and got his high school diploma. He then set out upon a life as a “wandering player”, as he describes it, playing in summer and winter stock companies while matriculating at Brooklyn College and Long Island University. Though he loved acting, he believed he’d eventually wind up as an English teacher, which is why he doggedly kept at his studies between tours.
In 1950, the Korean War broke out and Throne wound up in the infantry attached to an armored unit. When he returned to the New York theatrical scene after being demobilized, he found out that the Method Acting revolution that Marlon Brando had started in 1947 playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway was now the status quo.
“Marlon Brando’s influence had changed everything,” Throne recalled with some amusement. “The actors who mumbled got the lead roles.”
Possessed of a deep, classically trained voice, Throne was cast in the parts of characters much older than his actual age. His clear enunciation also made him a natural for live television, and he went to work on the now-defunct DuMont network. He continued his acting studies in New York, tutored by such teachers as Uta Hagen and William Hickey.
He resisted pressure to change his name in order to “ethnical cleanse” his Jewish heritage, in order to get parts in a time in which anti-Semitism was still rife.
“My first agent told me to change my name or I’d only play Jewish parts or Indians,” he recalled. “Of course I refused to change it. Shortly thereafter she came up to me and told me I had to keep it, because her numerologist said it was very, very good.”
Such are the vicissitudes of the actor’s life!
In addition to television, he continued to work on the stage, appearing in the landmark Off-Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, in support of Jason Robards. The original 1946 production of Iceman on Broadway had been a failure, and O’Neill – the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for Literature — was considered passé. The 1956 revival, staged three years after O’Neil’s death, re-established the playwright’s reputation as a titan of American drama.
Malachi Throne also played in the famous Off-Broadway revivals of The Threepenny Opera (the show whose monster success is credited with establishing “Off-Broadway” as a legitimate venue) and Clifford Odets’s Rocket To The Moon. He also acted on Broadway in such top shows as Jean Anouilh’s “Becket” in support of Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn.
In 1958-59, Malachi Throne found himself in California, playing a season at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. After his stint with the Globe was over, he went north, to Hollywood, and established himself as a major character actor in guest spots on series television during the 1960s. As television switched from live production to film and videotape, the center of TV production had shifted from New York to California. Throne was in the right place at the right time.
Throne made a memorable appearance as Falseface on the original Batman TV series, a campy, pop art-influenced show that was a smash hit in the mid-1960s. It made his name, which is ironic, as – at first – he did not allow the producers to use his name in the two-part episode.
“I was playing the villain Falseface on Batman,” Throne later reminisced, “and I got wind that they were going to pay a young starlet $25,000 to be in the same episode. Well, I wasn’t getting anywhere near that amount of money, so I refused to let them put my name in the credits. With all the make-up I had on nobody could tell who I was, and since the show had a reputation of attracting big-name actors, everyone wanted to know who played Falseface. It was a two-part episode, so after the first week the papers were a buzz. Eventually, I cooled down and let them put my name at the end of the second episode. It was the best press I ever got in my life.”
It might be his appearance on the original Star Trek TV series for which he is best remembered. Ironically, he turned down the part of Dr. Leonard McCoy (which made DeForest Kelley immortal) as the 5’7″ Throne wanted to play Dr. Spock.
“Gene Roddenberry called me in for Star Trek and asked me what part I wanted,” Malachi said. “I told him Spock, but he said he already had Leonard Nimoy for that.” (The 6’1″ Nimoy had the striking looks – a think face and sharp features — that Roddenberry thought were just right for the half-Vulcan, half-human, all-rational first officer/science officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise.) “I thought, ‘Well, back to the unemployment line,’ but then he offered me the part of Dr. McCoy. I was tempted, but I turned it down. There’s an old saying among actors: ‘Never be the third man through the door,’ and I felt I would always be the third man in that role.”
Roddenberry cast Malachi in the pilot episode of Star Trek, “The Cage,” in which he provided the voice of The Keeper. The series was picked up, but the commanding officer of the Enterprise in the pilot, Jeffrey Hunter, was replaced by William Shatner, so the elements of the pilot were recycled into a two-part episode called “The Menagerie.”
Throne was cast by Roddenberry in the part of Commodore Mendez in “The Menagerie”, which necessitated that the voice of The Keeper be dubbed by another actor. According to Throne, “What most people don’t know is that I not only played Commodore Mendez in ‘The Menagerie,’ but I also did the voices of the Talosian women. And I did them without special effects.”
His connection with Star Trek would span three decades. He played Senator Pardac in the Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode in which Leonard Nimoy also appeared as Spock, in 1987.
In 1968, Throne was cast as Robert Wagner’s boss on the TV show It Takes a Thief while continuing to guest on other TV shows. When the shooting of the show was shifted to Italy, the producers refused to allow Throne to accompany the cast and crew, intending him to phone in his instructions to Wagner’s character. He quit.
“They had this idea of shooting the whole season in Italy,” he explained of his decision, “but they wanted me to stay behind and give Wagner’s character, Alexander Monday, orders over the phone. I told them if I didn’t go I’d quit, and I did. The show didn’t last another half a season.”
Throne has remained committed to the stage, appearing as a resident actor with a variety of regional theaters, including the San Francisco Actors’ Workshop, the Los Angeles Inner City Repertory Co., the MarkTaper Forum and the Louisville Free Theatre.
Malachi Throne lives in southern California, where he appears in local theater in Los Angeles, most notably the Fountain Theatre and and Theatre West. When not acting, he writes historical novels. His two sons are also in show business: Zachary Throne is an actor/musician while Joshua Throne is a Producer/Unit Production Manager.