The Actors who played Jason Voorhees (Part I)

Early on in the beginning of our website, I posted my Top Ten Favorite Horror Movies list, where I discussed why Friday the 13th (1980) is my #1 Favorite Horror Movie, and that almost all of it has nothing to do with the actual movie. Yet, it still holds a sacred place in my heart for all of the reasons previously stated, and for the conceit that although Jason is supposed to be dead, there is never an explanation as to why Jason continues to stalk the Camp Crystal Lake area. Even though Jason is actually not physically present in the first movie for very long: his shadow casts a pall over everything that occurs, including the motivations of the killer; and the iconic, final jump scare of the movie. “Are they all dead? . . What about the boy? . . The boy that grabbed me and pulled me underneath the lake. . . Jason. . . Is he dead, too? . . . Then he’s still out there. . .

Jason Voorhees is the iconic monster of the Friday the 13th franchise. Ari Lehman is the first actor to have the privilege to be imbued in Tom Savini’s Jason makeup. He had auditioned for Manny’s Orphans, a movie about a group of inner-city kids who play soccer, directed by Sean S. Cunningham. When Cunningham got tasked to direct Friday the 13th, he remembered Ari Lehman. The audition involved one question. “Can you swim?” Lehman has several uncredited appearances in Friday the 13th: Part II, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. As the franchise widened, archival footage was sometimes used to fill the increasingly large cuts made by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Consequently, these cuts would leave large plot holes that needed to be filled by footage from other movies. Hence, the credit for which actor appears in each movie gets hazy, and so the actors went uncredited except for the person who was “mostly” Jason.

Ari Lehman the First Jason

Friday the 13th: Part II was the directorial debut of Steve Miner, who would also be tasked to do the sequel, Friday the 13th: Part III (3D). It is a fascinating movie for numerous reasons, not the least of which is because it became the prototype for most of the subsequent sequels. Jason Voorhees is stalking camp counselors, and all sorts of ne’er-do-wells. He is emotionless, and just kills. In this movie, Warrington Gillette, dons the Jason mask. One of the things that makes this movie special is the lack of the iconic mask. It’s not a hockey mask that Jason wears. He wears a sack that is conveniently removed just before the final jump scare. Here, Jason moves quickly, and seems to be a more svelte figure, closer to Lehman’s body type. In later movies, Jason’s body type and behaviors change from movie-to-movie, and again, there is never any explanation about the inconsistencies. (Let’s be honest, we were a lot less discriminating about our horror back then.) Gillette is mostly credited for the dramatic movements of Jason, the “acting” part, but the reality is that most of the heavy lifting was done by stuntman Steve Dash, who unfortunately is no longer with us.

Warrington Gillette is supposed to be Jason #2, but Stuntman Steve Dash deserves that credit.
Rest in Peace, Steve and thank you for your fine work

Friday the 13th: Part III in 3D transpires immediately after the events of Part II. Jason has been wounded and has taken refuge in a house where a teenage girl and her friends have come to stay for the weekend. They are unaware of the current situation, and find themselves ill-informed and ill-prepared for the surprise they will encounter. One of the teenagers is a special effects geek who pranks his fellow teenagers with a hockey mask and a speargun that Jason takes, killing the youth, putting the mask on, and using the speargun as a weapon. The 3D is mostly used as a silly gag, although some of the kills were neat. Shelly is the special effects geek that plays one too many gags, and I really think this movie could have used just a little more character development for Shelly. Richard Brooker plays Jason in this movie. The original Detroit Redwings hockey mask couldn’t fit his head so they used a VacuForm mold to create a much larger mask. With subsequent actors, the mask would be altered to fit the different sizes of the actors.

Richard Brooker is another Jason actor that is no longer with us. Rest in Peace.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was directed by Joseph Zito, the fourth in the series, it follows directly the aftermath of Part III. Jason is presumed dead. His body is removed from the grisly murder scene and transported to the morgue. There he revives, escapes, and returns to the Crystal Lake area to continue his killing spree. Frank Mancuso, Jr., the producer of the series, by this time decided that this movie should be the final chapter because he wanted to pursue other projects. He also felt that the slasher movement was ebbing and there would be diminishing returns. Already, he felt that people were disrespecting him for his association with the franchise, so he truly believed that this would be the end. That’s his story, but I call BS on that. Jason was more popular than ever and had been assimilated as part of the 1980’s zeitgeist. To hear Mancuso, Jr. speak about his intentions with Final Chapter sounds disingenuous, to say the least. In any case, special effects wizard, Tom Savini, returned to “kill off Jason,” a character he helped create.

Ted White, a hulking stuntman, plays Jason in this movie and is considered one of the best Jason’s because he is an imposing force that slowly lumbers throughout the Final Chapter. He had played a stunt double for John Wayne, Clark Gable, and numerous others. He has the most on-camera experience of any other Jason, having started his career as an actor in 1949, a career spanning over 60 years.

Even now, as an older gentleman, Ted White still looks like an imposing figure of 6’4″

There are 5 more actors that have played Jason Voorhees and I will continue this post next week.

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