LONDON >> Olympic fencer and movie sword master Bob Anderson appeared in some of film’s most famous dueling scenes — though few viewers knew it.
Anderson, who has died at age 89, donned Darth Vader’s black helmet and fought light saber battles in two of the three original “Star Wars” films, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
Anderson, who worked with actors from Errol Flynn to Antonio Banderas during five decades as a sword master, fight director and stunt performer, died early New Year’s Day at an English hospital, the British Academy of Fencing said Monday.
Vader, “Star Wars'” intergalactic arch-villain, was voiced by James Earl Jones and played by six foot six former weightlifter David Prowse, but Anderson stepped in during the key fight scenes.
“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.”
The scenes worked beautifully, although Anderson, then nearing 60, was several inches shorter than Prowse.
Few knew of Anderson’s role until Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, said in a 1983 interview that “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,” Hamill told Starlog magazine. “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.”
Robert James Gilbert Anderson was born in Hampshire, southern England, in 1922, and was drawn to fencing from an early age.
“I never took up the sword,” he said in an interview for the 2009 documentary “Reclaiming the Blade.” ”I think the sword took me up.”
Anderson joined the Royal Marines before World War II, teaching fencing aboard warships and winning several combined services titles in the sport.
He served in the Mediterranean during the war, later trained as a fencing coach and represented Britain at the 1952 Olympics and the 1950 and 1953 world championships.
In the 1950s, Anderson became coach of Britain’s national fencing team, a post he held until the late 1970s. He later served as technical director of the Canadian Fencing Association.
His first film work was staging fights and coaching Flynn on swashbuckler “The Master of Ballantrae” in 1952.
He went on to become one of the industry’s most sought after stunt performers, fight choreographers and sword masters, working on movies including the James Bond adventures “From Russia With Love” and “Die Another Day”; fantasy “The Princess Bride”; Banderas action romps “The Mask of Zorro” and “The Legend of Zorro”; and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Fencing academy president Philip Bruce said Anderson was “truly one of our greatest fencing masters and a world-class film fight director and choreographer.”
Hill remembered him as “a splendid man, a great man who gave so much to fencing that can never be repaid.”
Anderson is survived by his wife Pearl and three children. Funeral details were not immediately available.