Hollywood lost a legend yesterday when it was announced that renowned sword master and Olympian Bob Anderson died at a hospital in England early on New Years’ Day.
The name may not be familiar, but his work surely is. If you’ve ever been awed by a sword fighting scene in a movie then you have Bob Anderson to thank. With a career spanning over 55 years, Anderson has contributed his skills as a swordsman, stuntman and fight coordinator to some of the best well known films in Hollywood.
Robert James Gilbert Anderson was born in Hampshire, southern England in 1922. He joined the Royal Marines before World War II and served in the Mediterranean during the war. He would teach fencing aboard the warships he served on and won several combined services titles in the sport of Fencing. He represented Britain in fencing at the 1952 Olympics and at the 1950 and 1953 World Championships. In the 1950’s, he became the coach of Britain’s national fencing team which he held until the late 1970’s. Afterwards, he served as the technical director of the Canadian Fencing Association.
Anderson’s first film work was in 1952 when he choreographed stage fights and coaching Errol Flynn on the swashbuckler film ‘The Master of Ballantrae.’ From there he went on to become one of the industry’s most sought after sword masters and has worked on several well-known movies as ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, ‘The Princess Bride’, ‘The Mask of Zorro’, ‘Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl’, ‘The Three Musketeers’, and ‘Highlander’ (both the series and original movie).
An expert in medieval arms, Anderson developed a sword fighting technique and sparring methods based on Tolkien’s description of each culture after reading ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Although not initially publicized, he even donned Darth Vader’s black helmet during key fight scenes in the ‘Star Wars’ movies, episodes 5 and 6.
“David Prowse wasn’t very good with a sword and Bob couldn’t get him to do the moves,” said Anderson’s former assistant, Leon Hill. “Fortunately Bob could just don the costume and do it himself.” Although David Prowse was taller than Anderson by several inches, it didn’t seem to make a difference as the light saber action took center stage. Anderson was near 60 years old when that scene was filmed.
No one would have known about the stunt doubling Anderson did for Prowse if it weren’t for Mark Hamill. In a 1983 interview with Starlog magazine, he revealed all:
“Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vader’s fighting… It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told (director) George (Lucas) I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.”
In an interview for the 2009 documentary, ‘Reclaiming the Blade’, Anderson would say, “I never took up the sword. I think the sword took me up.”
Given the amount of memorable movies that Anderson has been involved in, his death is a deep loss in the movie making community as well as in the sport of Fencing. Anderson was a true genius and his contribution to the film industry will not be soon forgotten.
We at ScienceFiction.com offer our deep condolences to his friends, family and fans.
Anderson has choreographed so many memorable sword scenes it was hard to choose one that I wanted to share, so I leave you with one that I think you would enjoy: Luke vs. Darth Vader in ‘Return of the Jedi.’