Ralph B. Faulkner, who crossed swords with some of Hollywood's biggest box office attractions, died Wednesday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
Fencing's grand old man was 95 and until three weeks ago was continuing to thrust and lunge at his students at Faulkner's Falcon Studio on Hollywood Boulevard.
He was considered the world's oldest surviving Olympian, having participated in both the 1928 Games at Amsterdam and the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. Although he was considered one of the finest individual swordsmen of his day, he was allowed to compete only in Olympic team events.
In those days, he said in a 1983 interview, American fencing was organized and controlled by members of the Eastern Establishment who "didn't feel a savage from out West could be superior."
After the 1928 Games, however, he won the saber world championship, one of a handful of Americans to break European domination of that sport.
Faulkner had both a local and an international reputation. He was known around the world for his swordplay, and in Hollywood as the actor who in five roles was killed five times in a single motion picture.
After his triumphant victories in Europe he opened his Hollywood studio (he had been an actor in silent pictures before the 1928 Games) and taught fencing to such stars as Errol Flynn ("he could memorize every movement in a sword script and remember them six weeks later"); Ronald Colman ("not the athlete Flynn was"); Basil Rathbone, an accomplished swordsman, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ("he got into fights because he tended to be a little mouthy.")
At his death he had coached for or appeared in more than 100 films, among them "Captain Blood," "The Prisoner of Zenda," "The Sea Hawk" and "The Clash of the Titans," his last and filmed in 1981 when he was 90.
Falcon Studios also offered drama and dance, taught by Faulkner's late wife, Edith, and between the two of them they taught such modern stars as John and Bo Derek, Anthony Quinn, Alexis Smith, Cornel Wilde and Tony Curtis.
Those weren't the only names he could and did drop from his long and productive life. In his childhood he had been a business partner of Dwight D. Eisenhower in their native Abilene, Kan., where he and the future five-star general and President fished the nearby waters and "sold carp for 20 cents apiece."
He moved to California and into acting in the 1920s and took up fencing to strengthen a knee he severely injured while acting on location in Canada.
To the day of his death Faulkner was known for his decorous posture and the time-honored courtly and stern visage of the fencing master. His students knew him as a disciplinarian who brooked no nonsense, whether they were famous or not.