We’re a little late to the party/funeral, but Rick Dalton isn’t real so we hope you can forgive the tardiness. The 90-year-old veteran Hollywood star apparently died, peacefully in his sleep in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is survived by his mutually non-existent Italian glam-queen wife, Francesca (once Francesca Capucci).
This sad news comes courtesy of Quentin Tarantino, inventor of both characters, and once prodigious clerk of the mouthiest Video Archives in history. All these years later, Tarantino runs the Video Archives Podcast with Roger Avery, a close friend and co-writer of Pulp Fiction.
It was during a recent episode of the pod, typically reserved for drawn-out debates concerning anything film-related (extra points for the obscure), that the duo announced the death of beloved second-rate actor Rick Dalton. Though he’s known to many, as noted above, he is not real. We know of a few films in the apparently lengthy career of Rick Dalton, since they made appearances in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, including Tanner, Nebraska Jim and hit TV-western Bounty Law, followed by a spate of Spaghetti Westerns, among them Red Blood, Red Skin, Comanche Uprising and Uccidumi Subito Ringo, Disse Il Gringo. There was also Operazione DYN-O-MITE! and, most important to the plot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The 14 Fists of McCluskey, where Rick picked up his all-important flame thrower. Supposedly he may have also played “as the older cop who’s the boss of the younger cop that sends them out on the missions” on a late ’70s procedural, and the Mission Impossible TV series (this last one may have been a joke). He would return to Italy for Operation Nam, Blastfighter, and of course, Jungle Raiders. Beyond this, audiences are encouraged to invent their own canon of Dalton turns.
“We are saddened by the news of the passing of actor Rick Dalton, best known for his roles in the hit TV series ‘Bounty Law’ and ‘The Fireman’ trilogy.” they announced on Twitter.
Our only insights into the character of Rick are found in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; the film and novel. Neither paint a portrait of a stand-up guy. The character of Rick is flawed beyond belief, but in spite of this and more than likely as a result of this, his bumbling weaknesses reached out and connected with the public.
So, they reached out back. Twitter was set alight with tributes, false memories and even a few playful callouts and cancellations concerning Dalton. Can you think of another character in recent memory that the film community would gather to mourn the death of? The community itself, not a fanbase. We’re not talking “if the Mandalorian died, how many nerds would cry out in anger”, we’re talking pure love for a character who you may have spent less than 2 hours with. And an alcoholic, narcissistic, petty, less-than-stable failure at that.
The love for Dalton seems to have plenty to do with the vulnerability with which the character is presented, you see what his work means to him, how little he thinks of himself and how much he has expected of himself. Also, he’s got a genuinely desirable bromance going on with his gopher; Cliff Booth.
It’s a character worth more examination than most. This sort of effect doesn’t happen every day, and it probably starts with the fact that Tarantino could simply supplant Rick from a movie set over about 3 days into a book with unencumbered access to his thoughts like nobody’s business. He is a character, not a prop.