Every now and again I get the chance to meet someone, that totally re-invents my perception of greatness, and my visit to Bob Anderson on Thursday, was just such an occasion.
I had been trying to arrange a meeting with Mr Anderson for some time and due to his frailness at the moment, its been very much a case of wait and see. Bobs’ wife, Pearl is an amazing lady and really pulled out all the stops to help me to get some time with Bob, for which I will be eternally in her debt.
For those of you unfamiliar with the name Bob Anderson, he’s regarded by many Star Wars fans as the real “Darth Vader“. Whilst Dave Prowse was responsible for many of the body shots and scenes where we see Vader walking, Bob was the genius behind all the intricate sword play scenes, involving Darth Vader throughout all three original trilogy films, but mainly the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
But to leave it there would be to do the amazing man such an injustice. I got to speak to both Bob and Pearl throughout the day and soon came to realise the magnitude of what this humble man has achieved in his life. It is nothing short of breath-taking.
Bob, as we speak is is approaching his Eighty Ninth Birthday. He still carries such a presence and an enthusiasm about the things that he has done in his life and this in itself is very infectious to anyone lucky enough to spend time with him.
Bobs’ early years saw him take up a career in the Marines, but the real love of his life was always fencing, so much so that his sport was to be the level to which his entire working life would revolve. Bob flourished with a blade in his hand and went from strength to strength. Like most things Bob ever did, he simply excelled to the point that he went on to represent Great Britain at the Olympic games in 1952, and the World championships in 1950 and 1953.
Bob took great delight in showing me his collection of swords and sabres, which he has amassed over the years and I couldn’t help but notice a gleam in his eye as he lovingly brandished a sabre used in one of his early films.
To see Bobs study is to take a walk into history itself. The walls are adorned with photographic treasures that encompass a life time of dedication to the sword. There are photos dedicated to Bob from every corner of the room, from names me and you can only dream of.
There’s an image of Bob with Johnny Depp from Pirates that thanks Bob for making him real Pirate. The same can be seen on every wall from names such as Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Antonio Banderas, the list goes on and on.
Bobs first foray into the world of film was stunt work on the Master of Ballantrae with none other than Eroll Flynn in 1953. He went on to do stunt and fight arranging work on many films including The Guns of Navarone, From Russia with Love and Superman 2. He progressed to Sword master and was very much sought after for films such as Highlander, The Princess Bride and First Knight to name but a few.
Bob spoke with a great fondness for his sadly deceased friend and Stunt Guru “Peter Diamond” whom he started out in the business with. He recalled them both signing up to do Star Wars together, and it was a friendship that would last a life time and see them work together many times.
Bob was called on to bring a level of sword play to the character of Darth Vader that went beyond the basic strokes performed by Dave Prowse in A New Hope.
Bob did not receive much recognition for his role in Empire and Jedi for years after their release. It wasn’t until an interview with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) in 1983 in which Hamill said ” Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vaders fighting, it was supposed to be kept a big secret, but I finally told George Lucas that it wasn’t fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition, its ridiculous to preserve the myth that its all done by one man”.
I love this Photo, it shows Bob totally exhausted after filming fight scenes on the set of Empire Strikes Back. It has so much atmosphere and presence it shows just how much effort went into making Vaders fight scenes realistic.
Bob spoke with so much fondness of Mark Hamill. I think most people that Bob has worked with seem to hold him in such high esteem. I loved hearing how he and Pearl spent three years in New Zealand as Bob was Sword master on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Bob told me of lasting friendships that he struck up with everybody who picked up a sword in those films, not just the those hold names like Mortensen and Bloom but the other guys like Sala Baker and a lot of the stunt guys that genuinely seemed to have worshipped him.
Pearl made me laugh as she said Bob was in trouble with Peter Jackson the director as he was always off chatting somewhere with Christopher Lee as they were in Cahoots.
I was lucky enough to have time to look through some of Bobs private photo albums and seeing him at work and with friends really brought home just how big his contribution to some of the biggest blockbusters we all love, has been. The level of respect and adulation from household names of the film industry this man attracts has to be seen to be believed. I was made to feel very welcome by both Bob and his family and to be honest it was with great sadness that I dragged myself away for the short journey home.
I’m including one last photo. Its an image that should have been around many years before it was finally released. I can’t help feeling that the powers that be never really gave Bob the credit he deserved for his role in making Star Wars and Darth Vader the phenomenal success that it has become. It shows Bob without the Vader mask and with Mark Hamill. I sort of feel it brings home the contribution he made and serves as a lasting memory of a man that has achieved so much without getting half the recognition he deserves.
I will keep the fondest memories of Bob and Pearl for the rest of my life and feel myself totally blessed that they allowed me to to Spend a little time in the presence of such a great man. Sometimes this hobby really is the best thing in the world.