It hardly seems fair. An actor with 364 movie and television roles to his credit becomes linked only indirectly to an action film staple through the name of a minor character he played associated with that effect. But a football player with only nine acting credits gets his real name (and often both his first and last names) attached to a similar movie phenomenon he's connected with on an equally tenuous basis.
The "Wilhelm scream" sound effect discussed in my previous column gets its popular named from the hapless Pvt. Wilhelm, who produces it when an arrow pierces his leg in the 1953 western "The Charge at Feather River."
Pvt. Wilhelm was played by Ralph Brooks. His career spanned 42 years (1926-68), but most characters he played did not have proper names. Instead, as is the case with most bit players and extras, his name usually did not even appear in the end credits.
The Internet Movie Database lists about 95 percent of his performances as "uncredited" — in roles such as reporter, bank guard, waiter, agent at briefing, dancer, detective, party guest, or (how generic can you get?) citizen.
Someone with a lot of time and determination — I'm guessing a relative — expended considerable effort to track down all 364!
But the Wilhelm scream has a younger rival, which has come to be known as "the Howie scream" or sometimes "the Howie Long scream," after former NFL defensive end Howie Long. Long played Kelly, a muscular minion of terrorist John Travolta, in John Woo's 1996 "Broken Arrow," and Kelly produces the scream when hero Riley Hale (Christian Slater) kicks him through the side of a boxcar while the train they're on is crossing a bridge over a very deep gorge.
Just as the Wilhelm scream shows up in the Warner Bros. sound effects library as "man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams," the Howie scream's official name appears in The Hollywood Edge Sound Effects Library as "Screams 3: Man, Gut-wrenching Scream And Fall Into Distance," which pretty much describes Kelly's fate in "Broken Arrow."
And just as the Wilhelm scream did not originate with Pvt. Wilhelm or Brooks, neither did the Howie scream first appear in 1996 uttered by Long or his character. Internet sound effects enthusiasts (more people with lots of time and determination) have tracked it to the 1980 film written and directed by "The Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty, "The Ninth Configuration" (also known as — seriously! — "Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane").
In any event, neither Brooks nor Long actually produced the howl their characters emit. Although actor-singer Sheb Wooley seems certain to have been the source of the Wilhelm scream, no one has been able to identify the vocal artist who orignated the Howie scream.
Both screams show up not only in the movies and on TV, but also in video games. If you had children watching TV during the period from 1994 to 2006 or were a child then, you heard the Howie scream ending the title sequence in "Aaahh!! Real Monsters" on Nickelodeon.
So the popular names the screams have acquired may not exactly be "fair" but they are somewhat ironic. I'd be willing to bet that Long, who now serves as a studio analyst for the Fox network's NFL coverage and has written a book on understanding football ("Football for Dummies") , probably is less than elated about being identified with a shriek of mingled pain, fear, and anguish.
He'd probably prefer people used its other popular name — "the TIE Fighter scream" (fans have noticed it sounds like those space vehicles in the first Star Wars film). Meanwhile, Brooks' claim to fame gets obscured by one of the very few characters he played that actually had a name.
If you would like to hear the Howie scream in its pure form so you can recognize it in this summer's crop of action films, you can find it online at http://bit.ly/17Bxfwa.
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.