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Phil Brown; blacklisted actor had 'Star Wars' cameo role

LOS ANGELES -- Phil Brown, the veteran actor best known for his brief role as Luke Skywalker's Uncle Owen in the 1977 hit film ''Star Wars," died of pneumonia Thursday at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital, said his wife, Ginny. He was 89.

Although he had worked in stage and film for more than 30 years, his availability to play Luke's protective guardian came through unusual circumstances.

Mr. Brown had been blacklisted during the McCarthy period and moved to London with his family in the early 1950s to continue his acting career. A longtime progressive, Mr. Brown always denied being a Communist.

In London, he found work on stage and in such films as ''Tropic of Cancer" (1970) and ''Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977).

In the mid-1970s, George Lucas was filming interior scenes for ''Star Wars" at a London sound stage when he needed an actor with a strong American accent.

After getting the role, Mr. Brown spent a month or so in Tunisia filming fewer than a handful of scenes.

It was, Mr. Brown would later tell The Baltimore Sun of his role as Owen, ''a very small part by comparison to the roles I had previously played. To be quite frank, I never gave it a thought again."

The son of a doctor, Mr. Brown was born in Cambridge, Mass., graduated from Stanford University, and was accepted in the Group Theatre in New York in 1938. His first job on Broadway was as a dancer in the play ''Everywhere I Roam."

Despite its critical success, the Group Theatre folded in 1941, and Mr. Brown moved to Los Angeles to seek work in film.

Along with other former Group Theatre members, he formed the Actor's Laboratory, which produced critically acclaimed works in Hollywood. In 1949, he found work as a director, and two years later finished his first feature film, ''The Harlem Globetrotters."

But that promising start ended quickly with the Red Scare and the government focus on some members of the Actor's Lab. Mr. Brown and his wife left for London and stayed for 40 years.

When he returned to California in the early 1990s, Mr. Brown discovered his small ''Star Wars" role had made him a celebrity. He became a popular figure at science fiction conventions.

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