Michael Pate: Actor, writer and director whose film 'Tim' launched Mel Gibson

The Australian actor, writer, producer and director Michael Pate had an enormously prolific career – he was in such demand in 1953 that Columbia Pictures wrote to the director of the film El Alamein, in which he was appearing, asking him to "Please kill Michael Pate before noon". But he is possibly best remembered as the writer, producer and director of the popular film Tim (1979) which gave Mel Gibson, who played a handsome but backward young man who is nurtured by a middle-aged woman (Piper Laurie), his first major opportunity.

Pate was also the first actor to portray James Bond's CIA counterpart Felix Leiter (transformed into an MI6 agent) in a live 1954 television version of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as "Jimmy" Bond, with Peter Lorre a formidable villain. In a long-running television series, Matlock Police (1971-75), Pate played a country detective, and he won several awards for his productions of both dramatic and variety shows for Australian television. In 1990 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the performing arts.

Born Edward John Pate in Sydney in 1920, he performed in pantomimes and in the school choir as a boy, and on graduation from Fort Street Boys High he joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission as an actor and writer, as well as writing a volume of short stories. He made his professional stage debut in 1938 in Elizabeth and Essex at Sydney's Minerva Theatre.

After serving in the Army's entertainment unit during the Second World War, during which he served as compere for the touring performances of Gracie Fields, he began to act in films, and in 1950 he supported Tommy Trinder and Chips Rafferty in Bitter Springs. Telling of the conflict between settlers and Aborigines, it was the last (and least successful) of the three films made in Australia by Ealing Studios after the war.

Pate also acted in a stage version of Charlotte Hastings' thriller, Bonaventure (1950), and he made his Hollywood debut when Universal asked him to repeat his role in Douglas Sirk's enjoyably melodramatic screen version of the play, retitled Thunder on the Hill (1951) and starring Claudette Colbert as a nun turned sleuth, proving the innocence of convicted murderer Ann Blyth. Pate remained in the USA for several years, appearing in more than 200 films and TV shows. He was Flavius to Marlon Brando's Marc Antony in Julius Caesar (1953), played a droll Sir Locksley in Danny Kaye's funniest comedy, The Court Jester (1955), and was frequently cast as a Native American in such films as Hondo (1953) and The Great Sioux Massacre (1965) and countless television westerns including Maverick, Laramie, Have Gun – Will Travel, Gunsmoke and a memorable episode of Rawhide in which he saved the stars, Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood, from being flogged while tied to tree trunks.

Pate had had a short-lived wartime marriage, but, after his divorce he wed the actress Felippa Rock, daughter of the film producer Joe Rock, in 1951, and with her brother, Philip Rock, Pate wrote the screenplay for the Western Escape from Fort Bravo (1953). In 1959 he returned to the stage with Judith Anderson in Medea, and in the same year he was a priest in Green Mansions, starring Audrey Hepburn. In 1968 he returned to Australia, where he produced Age of Consent, starring James Mason and a then little-known Helen Mirren, whose nude scenes boosted the film's takings in Australia, but were edited out by British censors.

Mel Gibson was also little known when Pate cast him in Tim (1979), based on a book by Colleen McCullough. Pate gave the tricky subject – a middle-aged woman teaching a youth with learning difficulties and ultimately marrying him – delicate handling, which resulted in a tasteful and touching tale. Pate won a Best Screenplay award from the Australian Writers' Guild, and Gibson won the Australian Film Academy award as best actor for his performance – later the same year he gained international fame with Mad Max.

In 1982-84 Pate toured Australia co-starring with his son Christopher Pate in Mass Appeal, ending with a season at the Sydney Opera House. Though he retired in 2001, Pate was working on a script at the time of his death.

Tom Vallance

Michael Pate, actor, director and writer: born Drummoyne, New South Wales, Australia 26 February 1920; married twice (one son); died Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1 September 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor