- "Strickland considered himself a student of human nature, a master of detecting the deceitful maneuver. Though over sixty and nearing the end of his long career in education, he relished each day's mental combat with the selfish young men and women who regarded him as an evil obstacle to their willfulness. Strickland knew they laughed at him behind his back, chuckled at his wearing a bow tie every day, and considered him a tyrant. But, by God, they didn't laugh when he was looking at them. No smart remarks emanated from their lips when he was interrogating them. They knew he had the power to make their lives temporarily miserable and they respected him for this."
- —From Back to the Future by George Gipe (quote, pages 5 and 6)
- " Just as George McFly was about to be kicked by another student, a familiar figure suddenly appeared on the scene, snatching the [Kick Me] sign from his shirt and showing it to him. / "Good God!" Marty gasped. "It's Mr. Strickland." / It was true. Hill Valley High's avenging angel, still wearing a bow tie, was there in the form of Gerald Strickland. He looked younger, a bit tauter, but basically the same. His presence caused the other students to go quickly about ctheir business. / "McFly! Shape up, man!" Strickland shouted. / George regarded him like a prisoner about to be sentenced. / "You're a slacker!" Strickland charged. "These things happen because you're not paying attention. Your head must be off on Mars or something. Do you want to be a slacker for the rest of your life?" / George shook his head unconvincingly. / "Then wake up and join the human race," Strickland continued. "That's all." / Thrusting the sign into George's hand, he stalked down the corridor towards his office. "
- —From Back to the Future by George Gipe (quote, pages 142 and 143)
- —Mr. Strickland's famous insult
He was a strict authoritarian with a strong disdain for slackers (particularly those of the McFly family). He had been shown to be stiff, uncompromising, pedantic and humorless. In this respect he took after his grandfather Chief Marshal James Strickland of Hill Valley 1885, who was constantly at odds with local outlaw Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. He had an older sister, Edna Strickland, who served as a columnist for the Hill Valley Herald, and an older brother, Robert Strickland.
When Strickland was a baby, he had no hair, as evidenced by a photograph of him in Edna's apartment. She noted that she would always find him dressing up in their mother's clothes, also depicted in the photograph.
In adulthood, Mr. Strickland became a teacher at Hill Valley Elementary School. On May 15, 1946, he saw Gilda at the Essex Theatre to celebrate his 21st birthday. The following day, he saved Biff Tannen from being shipped off to military school in Idaho after the more senior teacher, Miss Hodges, found out he was bullying George McFly. Since the incident, Mr. Strickland became primarily responsible for looking after Biff at school, and was a contributing factor to his change in teaching styles, as he would become a strict disciplinarian.
Strickland worked at Hill Valley High School in a long span from (at least) 1955 to 1985, and is known to have worn a bow tie in each of these years. On November 7, 1955, he was lecturing young George McFly, demanding "Do you want to be a slacker for the rest of your life?" Later that day, as Biff Tannen and "Calvin Klein" prepared to fight in the lunchroom, he walked over and, without saying a word, stopped the altercation. Strickland was about to interrogate the "new student" (Marty, who may or may not have been enrolled by Dr. Emmett Brown), but the sudden appearance of a paper airplane caused Strickland to march off in the direction of another slacker.
Strickland was chaperone at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, where he was not impressed with "Calvin Klein's" (in reality, Marty's) music.
When Doc and Marty returned to 1955 to restore history by taking the Grays Sports Almanac away from Biff Tannen, Strickland confiscated what Marty believed to be the almanac from Biff, but in reality was a pornographic magazine entitled Oh LàLà (pronounced by Marty as "Ooh La La"), and labeled Biff a slacker. Shortly after, Strickland unknowingly trapped the hand of his future adversary Marty McFly between his chair and desk as Marty attempted to re-acquire the almanac. Strickland, showing rare hint of amusement at Biff's audacity, threw the magazine in the trash. After appropriating it, Marty discovered that it was not the almanac, but merely Oh LàLà inside the almanac's dust jacket, and the chase was on again.
- "Now let me give you a nickel's worth of free advice, young man."
- —Mr. Strickland to Marty McFly in 1985.
In 1985, Strickland was just the same as he was in 1955 — right down to his complete lack of hair. In the morning of October 25, 1985, he caught Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker sneaking into school late and gave them both tardy slips. After finding out this was because Marty was at Doc's house, he warned Marty not to hang around with Doc because he believed Emmett Brown was a "nutcase" (suggesting that Strickland and Doc may have met in the past, or else Strickland just thought that Doc was a nutcase for no real reason). Then he noted that Marty's band, The Pinheads, were auditioning for the dance after school. Strickland informed Marty not to waste his time, telling him that "no McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley." Marty responded by saying that history was going to change. It's possible that Strickland (after Marty's trip to 1955) was now nice with Marty, because he hated him because of his father George: in the original timeline: he was a slacker, and after he punched Biff Tannen, he became a courageous guy (in a BD, Strickland said to Marty to tell his father that he liked the book that George had written).
- " There was a sound right behind him [Marty] — like somebody pumping a shotgun. Marty felt something cold and hard pressed against the side of his head — something like the barrel of a shotgun. / A voice spoke behind him: / "So you're the son of a bitch who's been stealing my newspapers!" / Marty knew that voice, sure to strike terror into the hearts of teenagers throughout Hill Valley. He turned, slowly and carefully. / "Mr. Strickland!" / The bald vice-principal in charge of discipline tipped his gun down slightly and frowned back at Marty. He looked even more fierce than the teenager remembered. Maybe it was because Mr. Strickland had somehow gotten a long and livid scar across his face that made him look like he was going to kill Marty at any minute. Or maybe it was that flak jacket Mr. Strickland was wearing over his bathrobe. Whatever it was, he looked twice as mean as he ever had before. "
- —From Back to the Future Part II by Craig Shaw Gardner (quote, page 105)
- "Eat lead, slackers!"
- —Mr. Strickland
In the alternate timeline created after the elderly Biff Tannen traveled from 2015 to 1955 with the sports almanac to make himself rich, Mr. Strickland expelled Biff Tannen after Biff tried to bribe him with money he stole from Uncle Lou, preventing him from graduating. This resulted in a grudge match between Biff and Strickland, which started when Biff and his gang dumped a bucket of water on his head during his speech to the Hill Valley High School graduating class of 1956.
By 1971, Mr. Strickland became a member of the Hill Valley City Council. By this point, Biff had made a fortune gambling on sporting events, and wanted to build a mansion. He barged into the city council meeting, and demanded that the council give him an exemption from the rules of the zoning commission, who claimed the planned mansion was too big. The council required a unanimous vote to overturn the zoning commission ruling. Strickland immediately opposed it, and told the police officers to escort Biff and his first wife out of the meeting.
Biff tried to bribe Mr. Strickland, by telling him that he'd build a gym for the high school, and would name it the Gertrude Tannen Memorial Gym, after his grandmother, who was murdered by Uncle Lou in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1955. Strickland refused, telling him that the Tannen name would never be displayed at the school while he was principal.
Biff decided to get back at Strickland by sending a box of cigars with a note that made it seem like it was from a person who was congratulating him for standing up to Biff. These were novelty exploding cigars, which blew up in Strickland's face, and set light to the papers on his desk. The fire soon became out of control, as Biff had replaced the fire extinguisher fluid with an accelerant.
Biff took a picture of Mr. Strickland lighting the cigar, and sent it to the Hill Valley Telegraph. Mr. Strickland was suspended pending the investigation, and without him there to stop it, Biff was able to get his mansion plans approved by the city.
In 1972, Biff was contacted by a member of the Richard Nixon administration, who made a deal with Biff to shift some of their shady business deals to a corporation that would be created by Biff, in order to create plausible deniability. In return, Biff would not have to pay his taxes, and he would become the most powerful man in Hill Valley.
Biff agreed, and began buying up most of the land in Hill Valley under his new company, BiffCo. This caused the Hill Valley Civic Committee to become a secret committee in 1973, with the sole purpose of stopping BiffCo. Mr. Strickland was one of the founding members, along with George McFly, Goldie Wilson, Mrs. Blumberg (the editor of the Hill Valley Telegraph), and Mark Dixon. The group was receiving information from an anonymous informant, who ended up being Biff Tannen himself, using the information to lure George into an alley. Biff shot George, took his wallet, and framed Red by having a police officer that he bought plant it on the bum.
Without George, the committee didn't have enough sway to stop Biff, so he continued buying property in the city, converting them to toxic waste dumps and other nefarious enterprises. Biff's actions led to chaos in Hill Valley, resulting in vandals burning down the high school in 1979. It wasn't rebuilt, so Mr. Strickland took a job at another school.
In 1983, things seemed to look up for the Hill Valley Civic Committee when they got a new member, Dave McFly. Dave revealed that his stepfather, Biff, kept a safe in his office. Dave turned off the security alarms to allow Terry to enter to break into the safe. However, Biff witnessed the attempt to break into the safe, and had the Hill Valley Police Department, which he controlled, beat him to death. Biff then had them kidnap Dave, and since he promised his wife, Lorraine Baines McFly, that he wouldn't hurt her children, he had them tell Dave to leave Hill Valley and never return.
At that point, things looked bleak, however Emmett Brown revealed that he was their silent benefactor. He let them know that he had let the rumors that surrounded him since his time on the Manhattan Project continue so that he could work on his project in peace, even from BiffCo. He revealed to them that the project that he was in the process of constructing was a time machine.
Doc's time travel chamber would only allow a person to travel back in time for four hours, due to it only using half of the necessary 1.21 gigawatts needed to properly travel through time. After the four hours was up, the time bubble protecting the time traveler would burst, and that person would fade out in the past and return to the chamber in the present.
Strickland recalled the time that Biff was going to be sent to a military academy in Idaho after assaulting other students at Hill Valley Elementary School for the third or fourth time. He remembered the exact date, May 16, 1946, as it was the day after he celebrated his birthday.
Doc connected the chamber to the power grid, and used his JVC camcorder to capture the moment. Stanford S. Strickland, wearing a suit that his father owned, stepped into the chamber and disappeared into the past. The remaining members of the Hill Valley Civic Committee unhooked the chamber and put it in a truck to get away before Biff realized where the blackout occurred.
Mr. Strickland arrived in the past. He walked to the school, and witnessed Biff picking on a smaller child. George McFly stuck up for the child, and Biff punched George, causing his nose to bleed. Lorraine Baines informed the senior teacher, Miss Hodges, about the bullying, just as the younger Strickland apprehended Biff, after calling him a slacker.
The elder Strickland tried to stop Miss Hodges from intervening, but he was surprised to find out that she was the one who wanted to ship Biff to Idaho, and his younger self stopped her as he believed that Biff could become a good student with the proper guidance.
The elder Strickland couldn't do anything else to change things, as he was accused of being a "sex herbert" by the young Biff, and Miss Hodges thought that might be true, as he did touch her when he tried to stop her from interfering.
Devastated that he had changed his own memory as he didn't want to admit to himself that he was the reason why Biff remained in Hill Valley, Strickland walked to an alley, so he wouldn't be seen disappearing by any bystanders, and sat in a crouched position with his head in his lap until time ran out. When he returned to 1983, he was still in that position, and wouldn't respond to anyone. After his trip to the past, Mr. Strickland was never the same. He became a recluse, and never left his house, not even showing up for work at the school.
When Marty arrived in 1985 in this timeline, he was mistakenly identified as the person responsible for stealing Strickland’s newspapers (although correctly identified as a slacker, a judgement reinforced by Marty’s own admission) and threatened with the loss of his prospects of ever fathering children by Jennifer forever by the business end of a pump-action shotgun. Strickland was, by this point, even more grim and hard edged, now more than willing to shoot at anyone he perceived to be a threat. Here he wore a bulletproof vest — even with his nightshirt — and had a scar on his face. He angrily explained to Marty, who he did not recognize in this alternate reality, about how the high school was burned down by vandals six years before. Fortunately, at least for Marty, Strickland was promptly distracted by firefight with a drive-by shooting gang of gun-toting slackers, during which Marty eagerly made his escape towards downtown.
Even in this reality, Strickland had no trouble making enemies as he struggled vainly to keep order in a world gone mad.
Behind the scenes
- In a single line of dialogue from Mr. Strickland ("Doc? Am I to understand you're still hanging around with Dr. Emmett Brown, McFly?"), the movie audience learns Marty's last name, as well as Doc's first and last names.
- In a scene deleted from the movie, Strickland found George McFly trapped in a payphone booth by bullies. Instead of letting him out, he called George a "slacker" and left him inside.
- His first name had been unclear for some time. The Back to the Future novelization refers to him as "Gerald", but his office door in Part II says S.S. STRICKLAND. His full name was confirmed in the first episode of Back to the Future: The Game.
- In the Back to the Future novelization, Strickland starts quizzing the new student, who claims that his name is "Marty Brown". The book also describes events in 1985, where Strickland has Marty in detention. While his Walkman is being crushed in a woodworking vise, Marty sets off a fire alarm through a complicated series of events, getting away to go to the Battle of the Bands. The 1985 scene was filmed with Eric Stoltz, but not with Michael J. Fox. Like the "Marty Brown" scene, it does not appear in the film.
- A fan theory suggests that Strickland asked the judges to fail the Pinheads due to Marty's "attitude problem", although there is no mention of this in the scripts or movies. Despite Strickland's hardnosed attitude toward the McFlys, this would seem to be excessively petty and harsh, even for him.
- Strickland seems more content to simply discipline his targets swiftly and directly the moment he witnesses a transgression, rather than act pre-emptively.
- Strickland is the only character in Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II (except for Marty) who miraculously does not age between 1955 and 1985 — though he does lose the remaining fringe of brown hair that he had in 1955, becoming completely bald over thirty years.
- In 1946, Strickland is shown to have a head of luxurious brown hair. This was likely a reference to Marty's questioning in Back to the Future on whether or not Strickland ever had hair.
- Strickland appeared in the Back to the Future: The Animated Series episode "Marty McFly PFC", in which James Tolkan reprised his role.
- Back to the Future as Mr. Strickland
- Back to the Future novelization as Gerald Strickland
- Back to the Future Part II as S. S. Strickland
- Back to the Future: The Story
- Back to the Future: The Animated Series
- Back to the Future: The Game as Stanford Strickland
- Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 1: It's About Time (Photograph)
- Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 4: Double Visions (Photograph)
- Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 5: OUTATIME (Mentioned only)
- Back to the Future (IDW Publishing)
- Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History (Refers to Stanford S. Strickland in tardy slip insert)
Notes and references
- Back to the Future: Biff to the Future #5
- Supplements with Back to the Future: The Game that show Strickland to be age three in 1928.
- Back to the Future Part II
- Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 1: It's About Time
- Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History (tardy slip insert)
- Back to the Future novelization
- Marty makes this speculation if the cursor is clicked on the photo.
- Back to the Future: Biff to the Future #5
- Back to the Future: The Animated Series