Actor. He is best remembered for his movie role of 'Emperor Ming the Merciless' as Buster Crabbe's nemesis in the 1930s "Flash Gordon" serials (1936 to 1940), and in the two movies, "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars" (1938) and "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" (1940). He also appeared in at least two of the Laurel and Hardy movies: the 1932 movie "Pack Up Your Troubles" and "The Flying Deuces" in 1939. Born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, he worked in carnivals, circuses, vaudeville, and on the stage before trying his luck with movies. He began his movie career in 1928, with a small role in "The Farmer's Daughter" (1928), after two earlier movie bit roles failed to spark an interest in him as an actor. Tall, thin, with a deeply lined and cruel face and a rich theatrical voice, he made an excellent "heavy" (villain) and quickly found success on the screen in these types of roles, making over 200 movies during his lifetime. Two of his best villainous parts was as the lawyer in "Safe in Hell" (1931), and as the criminal mastermind 'Harry Crowell' (also known as Prisoner 39013) in "Daredevils of the Red Circle" (1939). Yet he could also play positive, sympathetic roles, in such films as "Duck Soup" (1933), "Hop-a-long Cassidy" (1935), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), and "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (1940). He achieved film immortality as 'Emperor Ming the Merciless', the evil enemy of Buster Crabbe's 'Flash Gordon' serials, in which Ming, reminiscent of an evil Chinese warlord, would either put down freedom revolts among his own people or try to conquer (or destroy) earth, only to be stopped by Flash Gordon and his friends in just the nick of time. Homage was paid to him in the television series, "Star Trek: Voyager" (1995 to 2001), when a Ming-like character was added to the plot. Following the end of the Flash Gordon serials, Middleton continued to work small parts in movies, sometimes positive roles, but more frequently playing the bad guy (or one of the bad guys). His last film, "The Last Bandit" (1949), but he continued over the years to show up in clips salvaged from his earlier films, especially those of the 'Emperor Ming' roles. He died suddenly in Los Angeles, California, of a sudden heart attack.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
1888–1945 (m. 1908)