After a couple of grisly shootouts early-on in the action, Doc and Carol flee across the Texas plains with the money, hotly pursued by the politicians henchmen and separately by RudyAl Lettieriwho, because hes wounded and unable to drive, abducts a terror-stricken veterinarian and his hot-to-get-it-on wife, who obligingly balls the gangster in a succession of motel rooms while her bound-and-gagged husband looks helplessly on. Eventually, all the surviving thieves converge on the seedy Laughlin Hotel in downtown El Paso for an apocalyptic, gut-spattering showdown. When the smoke clears, Doc and Carol hightail it for Mexico with the loot, in the clear for the present, but their future clearly tense.
On the whole, the characters in
The Getaway, including the principals, are depicted as sordid, grubby, essentially conscienceless psychopaths, pretty much lacking in either basic human scruples or redeeming social value. But far and away the most repellentand fascinatingcharacter in the script is Fran, the veterinarians distinctly polymorphous-perverse wife. The production credit sheet lists Fran as being played by Sally Struthers.
Sally Struthers can youse believe it? She plays Gloria, Archie Bunkers 19-year-old clean-machine daughter, the plump WASP dish married to that Styrofoam hippie on the TV show
All in the Family.
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Late that afternoon, a big Sony stereo cassette machine is brassily booming out behind her when Sally Struthers greets the writer in the foyer of her comfortably cluttered ninth-floor suite. Suppressing a girlish titter and executing a saucy little two-step, she rolls her eyes mock-coquettishly and sings falsetto accompaniment to her own home-recorded rendition of Me and Bobby McGee as she leads her visitor toward a sling chair near the sundeck.
great? Dont you just love it? Sally squeals, clapping her hands in childlike glee. Thats what I do to entertain myself when I have to sit here for four or five hours on a Will Notify call. Would you like anything to drink or anything? Snapping off the tape machine, she orders beer and orange juice from room service and plops down in the center of the bed, her legs drawn up under her lotus-fashion, gesticulating extravagantly as she talks and chain-smokes Winstons. A big-busted woman with electric-blue eyes, shes wearing light blue sailor pants that bell completely over her feet, an orange waist, and a Buster Brown wristwatch that ticks as loud as a dollar alarm clock.
Everybody thinks Im stoned all the time, ducks dear, she whispers confidentially, but Im not reallylm just crazy. Im a Leo. Pealing with laughter, she twines and untwines a lock of honey-colored hair around a finger. Well, everybody and everythings crazy, you know? Like this part I play in the picturea really far-out, loose Texas lady. Thats quite a switch, you know, from being Archie Bunkers cute, sweet daughterLittle Miss Do-Goody Two-Shoesto playing a
lewd woman. I think itll shock my family and itll shock America. But sometimes youve got to do that to be remembered. In Five Easy Pieces, for instance, I was on screen forListen, would you be horribly offended if I took off my shoes?
With a smile that accentuates her sensual overbite, Sally slips off her peach-colored wedgie espadrilles and drops them to the floor, massaging the soles of her feet with ecstatic oos and ahs.
Theyre not dirty or anythingmy feet, I mean, she giggles. Uh where was !? Oh, yeah. In
Five Easy Pieces, I was on screen for less than five minutes. But because I played such a different sort of person from myself, I was noticed more on the street, even though Id been on TV for a year already The Smothers Brothers Summer Show, The Tim Conway Show, various talk shows, and so forth. Well, not that I was exactly dying to be noticed, but as soon as Five Easy Pieces came out, everybody recognized me.
At a knock, Sally bounces up to admit a bellman with the refreshments from room service. After hes deposited the tray and gone, she takes a long, thirsty swallow of orange juice and tumbles backward onto the bed, bicycling her legs with furious energy. When she sits up, erect again, she grasps her ankles and leans forward intently:
The Getaway is, let me think my fourth film, I guess. Three years ago, I did a hot-cha $2 million Warner Brothers extravaganza which you may recall from all the hot-air advance hype in the trades. It was called The Phynx, and it had a bunch of over-forty stars in it like Desi Arnaz, Butterfly McQueen, and Johnny Weissmuller in cameo roles. The guy who directed itI didnt get along with him too well, so Ive got a cast-iron block against remembering his namehed never done a big musical before, only television. When the film finally opened, it played for one day only in Milwaukee, and it grossed like $17 and they hid it away in a can someplace and there it sits. Thats show biz, huh?
Draining off whats left of her orange juice, she pouts prettily for a minute, then snaps her fingers,
pop: Katzin! Thats the guy who directed The PhynxLee H. Katzin. I never knew what the H stood for. Hopeless? Help? Ho-ho-ho?
Nah, Im only kidding. Katzin was probably a fabulous director in his own right, but we didnt see eye-to-eye, and he was about 180 degrees turned around from someone like Sam Peckinpah. Sam is well, I dont even like to call him Sam. Somehow, it doesnt seem respectful to a man as great as he is, you know? So I always call him Mr. Peckinpah. And if I go up to him with an idea, which Ive done often in the last few weeks, he listens, he usually likes the idea, and he always at least lets me try it out. He lets the actors invent, and he spurs you on to think of bits of business to add, and he never puts a damper on that which is great. It really helps you build a part when you can feel free to add a word here or a prop there that wasnt specified in the original script. Like, Mr. Peckinpahs let me do some really weird thingswearing earphones so I dont have to listen to my wimpy husband whining. Lots of funny stuff like that.
Of course, he teases me a lot, toome and Ali McGraw both. When we were shooting in San Marcos, I had to do a scene with AI Lettieri. He plays a gangster, you know, and hes sitting there with a gruesome bullet hole in his shoulder, and Im making eyes at him because I find him more attractive than my husbandSally springs to her feet to pantomime the sceneso the situation turns into a kind of strange,
blech triangle. Since the scene takes place in a veterinary hospital, this adorable little black kitten is playing around on Als lap. Well, the kitten starts to screech a little and scratches AI a couple of times. So Mr. Peckinpah, acting real mad, yells: Goddamnit, somebody get a pair of pliers and pull that cats goddamn claws out. So one of the grips dashes off to get some pliers, and I panic and run off the set crying before I snap that its all just a rib to spook me.
Well, thats pretty typical of the kind of fun-and-games that goes on. Yesterday and the day before that, I had to do a scene sitting in a hallway at the Laughlin Hotel screaming my lungs out and leaping up and running like crazy when I heard gunshots. Oh, my God, I cant tell you! Sally rocks back and forth on the balls of her feet, holding her head piteously. They shot those blankety-blank guns off so close to my ears that I shook for hours afterward. Mr. Peckinpah has the guys in the cast pull little stuff like that on Ali and me just to get our reactions on film, I guess, but its sort of hard to take, cause neither of us is violence-oriented at all.
Steve McQueen did a scene with me a few days ago where he hit me right smack in the middle of the face and knocked me cold in that same hallway at the hotel. I didnt want a stunt girlyou can always tell when theres a stand-in. Right now, if I lowered my pants or pulled up my blouse, you could see how many bruises Ive got all over my body from that scene, because Steve went straight for my face. He didnt do the other actor snaps his head to the side and just pretends to be hit. Steve did a shot that hasnt been seen in the movies in a long timestraight to my jaw so my head had to snap straight back. And every time my head snapped back, it hit the wall, and I had to drop like a sack of potatoes to the floor. My whole right hip is still bruised black and blue, and Ive got little knots all over the back of my skull from slammin against that darned wall so many times.
Perching on the edge of the bed, Sally rests her deep-dimpled chin against her drawn-up knees. Violence, she sniffs with a cross toss of her hair. There was some off-camera violence in the production office at the Laughlin todaywell, almost. This crazy young guy crashed the set last week and said some outrageous things to AliI mean, horrible things, not even repeatable. So, when he wouldnt leave her alone, the police came and carted him off to jail. But he showed up again today right after lunch and started talking to Roy Jenson about meabout all the creepy-crawly things he wanted to do to me if he got me alone. Have you met Roy Jenson? Hes a very groovy guy, very fatherly and gentle to me.
Well, Roy didnt belt the guy or throw him across the room or anything. He just did like a sudden cobra squeeze on his throat, and the warped little dude sank down to his knees, gasping for breath, and then the police came and carted him away again.
Sally reflects a minute, then expels a pained sigh: Im grateful for one thing, though. Im glad Mr. Peckinpah wasnt around when that happened, because theres no telling what he wouldve done to the poor simp. Mr. Peckinpah is like King Tut, you know? A truly awesome figure. Hes not all that big, reallyhes sort of slight physically. I dont really know how to explain it, but he gives off such powerful vibes that you have to well, fear and love him, I guess, just like little kids learn to fear and love God in Sunday school.
Sally swings her legs off the bed and hugs her arms to her breasts as if she feels a sudden chill. Outside, the suns last purpling light is streaking across the slopes of the shadow-washed mountains to the west. No matter how simple or foolish you are, Sally snorts wryly, you learn real fast not to futz around with Mr. Peckinpah. That, ducks dear, is a distinct no-nono how, no way.
Since hes done little more than hang out in the hotel bar watching daytime TV for the better part of two days, ducks dear, who, after all, is on assignment, would like nothing better than a chance to futz around with Mr. Peckinpah for a while. But the following morning when Mack Hamilton, the unit publicist, escorts him out to the
Getaway location sitea two-lane farm road fifteen miles north of town that traverses a lush grid of irrigated strawberry fieldstheres no how, no way. Several city blocks short of the camera setup, a bare-chested grip with tattooed biceps and a gravelly voice waves Hamiltons rented sedan off on the dirt shoulder. Stooping down to the window, the grip motions toward a generator truck up ahead and rasps: Dont walk or drive past that point, you read me? You fuck up Sams frame, itll be the hair outta both our asses.
Shrugging helplessly to the writer, Hamilton kills the cars engine and steps out on the blacktop to survey the flotilla of vehicles strung out along the road ahead for perhaps a quarter of a mile. Lots of local gawkers out today, he grunts. Overhead, a high cloud cover is drifting in from the mountains, and theres a metallic edge to the choppy breeze soughing through the geometrically spaced rows of strawberry plants. Squinting narrowly ahead, then jabbing his pipe stem toward three tiny stick-figures in the distance, Hamilton laughs shortly: Theres Steve and Ali and Sam up there nowcan you make em out? No, not thereover by that old pickup truck, see? And that young guy with the beard whos walking up to them? Thats Gordon Dawson, the associate producer. Standing storklike on one leg, Hamilton tamps out his pipe on the heel of his shoe, then packs the bowl with fresh tobacco. I once asked an associate producer at Metro what his duties were, he ruminates with a lopsided grin. He said he was the only guy on the lot who could stand to associate with the producer.
Over by the generator truck, one of the film units minor functionaries, a faggy, forked-tongued Lotus Land yenta, stops the writer to cadge a cigarette. Thanks and thanks, my man, he clucks, drooping one eyelid shut in what can only be intended as a wink, though the effect is more like a neurological tic. Oh hey, wow, you smoke Players, huh?
Far out. Fan-fucking-tastic. Im gonna carve your face on the Mount Rushmore of my heart, my man!
Darting his eyes around to check whos within earshot, the man lowers his voice to a conspiratorial hush: Have you noticed how uptight everybody is today? Take a close glom at Steve McQueen, my friend, and youll snap to what I mean. But then, Steves always uptight, isnt he? The poor sonofabitch doesnt have any friends, you knownot a single one. Hes always neck deep in greed-heads, thoughbike buddies and creeps like that, all of them sucking up to his ass for favors. As of this instant, Im not ah, you know
absolutely certain whats going down between him and Ali McGrawagain, he flashes that Mondo Twisto parody of a winkbut I bet I could guess. Did you hear that Bob Evans flew in from L.A. last night? Bob Evans, in addition to being vice-president in charge of worldwide production for Paramount Pictures, is Ali McGraws husband and the father of her year-old son. Yeah, Evans showed up out of the blue, so to speak, heh-heh. Oh, he was expected, of course, but still and all Anyway, pick up on the vibe for yourself, my manits heavy. Say, listen, you havent by any chance seen AI Lettieri out here anywhere today, have you? Als a weird one, too, if you can dig what I mean. I guess its no secret that he used to be a mainline armbangerdid you know that? Yeah, but he hung up the gun, or so they claim, anyway
The writer couldnt care less whos sticking what into who or where, and hes relieved to hear his name called from behind. Forty-odd yards away down the row of cars banked along the opposite side of the road, his massive head and shoulders bulging out the window of a Hertz station wagon, Slim Pickens is flailing the air with his grime-encrusted Stetson sombrero and whooping like a hermit line-rider ripped to the tits on vanilla extract:
Yee-hah! Gah-dang, son, cmon over here and climb in this ol hoopy with me! I aint seen you in a dawggone dawgs age!
Grinning toothily and swinging the car door wide, Pickens extends a meaty paw to the writer in greeting, then bellies over under the steering wheel to make room on the seat. Sonofagun, its been a few years, you know it? he wheezes, mopping his brushy mustache on the sleeve of his frayed work shirt. I recollect that time real well, thoughI was out per-motin
Dr. Strangelove, I guess it was, and I took and drunk ever awnery one of you citified Fort Worth boys under the table up there at that Press Club. Hah! Thatus some toot, one for the durned books.
Whinnying at the recollection, Pickens hikes up his pants legs to display the cracked, discolored, and run-over-at-the-heel ruins of what once must have been a pair of ordinarily sorry cowboy boots. Aint that a foul spectacle, though? he muses fondly. Thems my workin boots. In the pitcher I play Slim Kanfield, the old feller which he helps Steve and Ali ex-scape across the border.
Clasping his hands behind his neck, Pickens lolls back comfortably in the seat, his hat slanted forward at an angle over his eyes. Aw, shore, you bet, he bobs his head vigorously at a question, I purely love workin for ol Sam Peckinpah. This herell be my third feature with him, was you aware of that? Yesser, I done
Major Dundee, and then a right smart later on, The Ballad of Cable Hogue. I also played in a coupla his TV shows years and years back. They was episodes of a series called The Westerner, which was real good, I thought, and years and gone ahead of its time. You recollect that show with Brian Keith and that big ol gawky dog?
Funny thingIve knowed Sam and his family most alla my life. Him and me was raised up in the same country, right up around Fresno and thereabouts in the San Joaquin Valley. I knowed Sams granddada long time back, he was a congressman and a superior court judge there in Madera County. Later on, Sams dad set on the same bench, and now his brother, Denny, hes a superior court judge over in Fresno County. Shoot, Sams dad, in fact, was my lawyer when I was just a kid of a boy.
When we was growin up, my brother used to hunt with Sam out around Peckinpah Mountain, and Id go huntin with Denny, Sams bud. Sam and me wasnt all that close back then. But, heckfire, by now I know him well enough that we get along just like a million. Sams a real hard-workin feller, and he never has no problems with people whore workin as hard as he is. The only kind of folks that he wont put up with are the ones thatre goofin off. Boy hidy, Iemme tell you, Im a hunnerd percent behind him on that. Theres too many damn problems in the pitcher business today to have to jack around with people who aint innersted in it.
The movies, God bless em, has been real good to meand japin around in front of a camera sure beats rodeoin all to hell. Pickens slaps his leg and guffaws explosively. Ridin the rodeo circuit is hard on the ol bones, you savvy me? I rodeoed, all told, oh, about thirty years, I reckonridin broncs, doin a little bulldoggin, all such stuff as that. I worked as a clown, too, and I done a right smart of bloodless bullfightin in them years.
Pickens takes off his Stetson, an ancient, almost napless beaver, and affectionately dusts off the crown with the heel of his hand.
Yesser, he nods, looking reflective as he settles the hat back into place over his bald spot, the movies has been as good to me as a man could hope to ask for. Last year, I done four features and three or four guest shots on TV, and Ill be doin about the same again this year. Workin along at a pace like that keeps me about as busy as I wannabe, tell you the truth. Shoot, you make any more money than that, you got to give it to the dadgum government anyhow. And me, well, I like to hunt and fish a heap better than I like actin, though I aint knockin it, you understand. Like this
comin fall, I got me two hunts planned awready. Im gonna stalk elk and deer up in Wyomin, and then later on, Ill track me some bear over in Utah
Leaning forward, Pickens peers through the windshield at the gravel-voiced grip, whos motioning to him from
up the road that hes needed at the camera setup. Waving in return, Pickens gets out of the car, yawning and stretching. Looks like its my time outta the chute, he calls out over his shoulder as he saunters away. Wish me luck, hear? Maybe Ill win me the day money.
Back at the Holiday InnDowntown just before the noon lunch rush, John Bryson sits slope-shouldered across from the writer in a deserted corner of the first-floor coffee shop, absently trailing a spoon through a cup of coagulating coffee. Although he plays a substantial role in
The Getawaysecond-in-command to Ben Johnsons lead heavyBryson isnt an actor by profession, but a top-caliber freelance photographer and former picture editor of Life magazine. A jowly, complex, likable man who retains only faint vestiges of his native Texas accent, he is clearly bewildered, perhaps even a little troubled, about his role in the film, as well as his relationship to Sam Peckinpah. Jutting his head forward, placing his large, well-manicured hands palms down on the table, he speaks in a low, resonant voice, and his urgency to make himself understood comes across at times as an almost physical force:
Christ, its been incredible, man, all of it. Ive never done anything like this, you knowhell, Im a journalist. But Ive known Sam for oh, for years, I guess, weve been drinking companions in Malibu. Sams very tight with Jason Robards, whos one of my closest friends. That helped us get acquainted. Then, too, they did
Cable Hogue together, and I hung around with them while that was in the works.
Anyway, I guess Sam saw something or other in me he figured he could put to usemy big shambling walk or something. One thing Im certain of, thoughhe didnt cast me in the film out of friendship or anything like that. Bryson dismisses the notion with a knife-slicing gesture of his hand. No sir, none of that bullshit. Sams such a perfectionist, he wouldnt cast Jesus to play Christ if Jesus didnt look right for the part.
No, the way it happened, I was hanging around one night while Sam was auditioning actors to play the young soldier, a bit part, three or four lines in the picture, you know? While I was there, Sam mustve tried out fifteen or twenty guys. Then he looked over at me and laughed and said, Howd you like to be in the picture? I said sure, great, but I thought he was kidding. Next thing I knew, though, the casting people sent me a script and I was being fitted for wardrobe. They bought me four Brooks Brothers suits, all exactly alike, in case I spilled something on myself or got run over by a truck or something.
Thenwhooshthe company came to Texas. Meanwhile, Sam hadnt said much of anything to me, and I was a little puzzled by that. The first day of shooting, I was supposed to drive up to the prison at Huntsville in a chauffeured Cadillac and lay a message on McQueen, who was playing a convict getting out. By now, I was damned edgy and nervousnobody had said do it this way or that way, nothing. Finally, McQueen, whos a very strange guy I dont like too much, he stuck his head in the window of the car and said, Just relax, man. Remember, in your role youre a rich, influential member of the Establishment and Im just a little pissant convict that you couldnt care less about. Hang on to that and itll go great. The only thing Peckinpah had ever said to me, like two weeks earlier, was something like Dont act. Just react.
So Im sitting there trying to think how to go about reacting when Sam walks over to the car, and the sonofabitch is wearing these mirrored glasses so that nobody can ever tell if hes really looking at them or not, and he just stands there and looks at me for about a minute and then shakes his head like, Jesus Christ, what have I done, and turns and walks away without a word. Im telling you, I couldve wet my pants.
Half-rising, Bryson signals for a waiter to bring some fresh coffee. Spooning a generous portion of sugar into his cup, he grins wryly:
Well, they shot that scene in one takethe car pulled up, I laid the line on McQueen, and that was it. And that got to be more or less the routine in the next few days. Then Bob Visciglia, the property master, a guy whos worked with Sam on a bunch of pictures, he came up to me one afternoon and said, Jesus, man, you know what youre doing? I didnt get what he meant. Youre wrapping your scenes in one take, he said, sort of impressed. I told him I figured that since I wasnt much more than a bit player, Sam obviously wasnt going to spend as much time on my part as he would on, say, McQueens. You dumb cocksucker, Visciglia said, if Sam didnt like what you were doing, youd be doing it sixty-four times in a row.
Around that time, I began to realize for certain that things were OK, because my part in the script was enlarged. I started getting lines from other actors, which made me pretty unpopular with a few of them. With an iodine grimace, Bryson tilts his chair back on two legs and laughs shortly.
Then, just a few days ago, I wasnt moving right in a scene we were shooting. That was the big climactic shootout at the Laughlin Hotel. I was moving fast, but Sam wanted me to move slow, and I just couldnt seem to do it. My inclination, in the midst of all those shotguns blasting off, was to get the fuck out of the way. Sam said, John, move slow, very slow. Youre in charge, youre the big honcho in this outfit. Well, I understood, but I didnt understand. So he rode my ass all that day, and I was about ready to cut my throat by nightfall, because I wanted to do it right for him, because I really love the sonofabitch.
The next day, I diedgot my neck broken in a elevator crash. Again, Sam didnt tell me how to do it or anything. He just said, You bounce up and you bounce down and you crash and your neck is broken. Well, I did it the best way I knew how, and when I got back to my hotel room that night, there was a big bunch of roses and a note that said: Dear John, I loved your death scene. Your Silent Admirer. Then, later, after Samd seen the rushes, I guess, up came an even larger bunch of rosesgiganticand this time the note said, Now what? Now what? Isnt that weird?
Sam is hell, I dont really know how to put it in words. Hes a monster and a saint. Hes the meanest, kindest, toughest, softest I think he runs the whole gamut from Ying to Yang. Hes all that. Good, bad, soft, hard, evil, sweetthe whole range of human emotion is at work in him, and it seems to move back and forth in his case with less complications than it does for most people. You know what I mean? He can shift his range.
See, Sams had some truly hard times. He was standing tall after his first two features,
The Deadly Companions and Ride the High Country, but when Major Dundee was taken away from him and reedited in 64, he went on the skids for a while. He was fired off The Cincinnati Kid. He was physically barred from several studios, broke, boozing hard, shedding wivesI dont know what all. Maybe he went bankrupt, too, Im not sure.
But he snapped back after doing
Noon Wine for TV in 67 and then The Wild Bunch, and now hes mellowed out a lot. I mean, its apparent hes no longer the dreaded, booze-swilling wildman of yesteryear. Only a couple of people, for instance, have been fired from this production. One of them happened to be his daughter, Sharon, who was the script girl. I asked him about it, and he just grinned and said, She wasnt doing her job. By comparison, he fired so many people off Cable Hogue, the trade unions took out ads in the Hollywood papers attacking him.
Sam doesnt socialize with the company in the evenings much nowadaysfor one thing, he just got married again a couple of weeks ago to a girl named Joie, one of his former secretariesbut somehow he still manages to keep up with everything thats going on. Its uncannyI dont know how he does it. He always knows whos having troubles, whos sleeping with who, the whole ball of wax. It gets downright eerie. Like, in my case not long back, there was something that had to do with my personal life that nobody in the world couldve known about, but then Sam said to me one evening, John, dont do such-and-such. I nearly fell over dead. I said, Holy shit, this scares me beyond belief. How could you know anything about that? And Sam just smiled that Jesus-like smile of his and said, I always know everything that happens in my company.
Braying out Brysons nameJawhn! Hey, Jawhn!Roy Jenson and Tom Runyon come loping tipsily across the now-crowded dining room to bid him their good-byes. With their parts in the picture completed, the two bad-guy actors announce in a babble of mutual interruptions, theyre setting off that afternoon for Southern California in Runyons private plane. Awkwardly, the three men exchange handshakes and promises to keep in touch. Bryson studies Jenson and Runyon with a look of mock distaste: God, but you assholes look bed-raggled. Well, its been a hard days night, Runyon drawls with a sly grin. You shouldnt of went to bed so early, Jawhn, and maybe thataway you wouldnt of had to go alone. As far as Im concerned, Jenson sneers in a slap-bass growl, this has been one of the most unpleasant relationships on record. Personally, Ill be glad to get shut of both you fuckers. Turning to go, Jenson glances quickly from Bryson to the writer and makes a pistol with his thumb and forefinger. Dont forget what I told you, baw-uh, he grunts, cocking the gun and carefully squeezing off a round. Dont forget what I said about ol Sam overlearnin you.
Around sundown that afternoon, David Foster, one of the producers of
The Getaway, is seated at the cluttered desk in his makeshift office cubicle at the ramshackle old Laughlin Hotel a few paces down the hall from the creaky, mesh-grilled elevator in which John Bryson simulated breaking his neck a few days previously. A paunchy, sleepy-eyed man in his early forties, wearing straight-legged jeans and a Getaway T-shirt, Foster is sipping Chivas Regal from a Styrofoam cup and studiedly ignoring the battery of winking lights on his console telephone.
Oh, boy, let me tell you, weve had a sweet ride on this picture, he says to the writer, planting a red canvas tennis shoe in a wallow of papers atop the desk. You dont have to be terrifically sharp as a producer, you know, if youve got, say, just McQueen. Or just McGraw. Or, for that matter, just Peckinpah. Somebody or other will finance a picture if youve got any one of those. But when youve got all three anda strong propertyFoster rolls his eyes in a parody of ecstasy and enunciates each succeeding syllable distinctly the-stam-pede-is-not-to-be-be-lieved. Listen, you wanna little more Chivas? Lowering his leg, Foster leans across the desk and splashes a good three inches of scotch in the writers cup, then plops back down in his swivel chair and hoists his foot back onto the morass of papers.
So my partner and I, Mitchell Grower, we studied all the various offersit was like a stampedeand we decided to go with First Artists. Theres one guy at First ArtistsPat Kellyand hes literally the whole outfit. Kelly said, You people wanna make a picture, and you dont want any interference, you got it. And thats the way its been. No hassles. In three months, weve seen Kelly a total of three times. Sam got every cent of budget he asked for, upwards of $2 million. McQueen took a percentagethats the only way he works anymore. Yeah, well, sure, Steve owns a piece of First Artists, thats righthe and Streisand and Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier are the major stockholders in the company. But there wasnt any namby-pamby, believe me. We went where the best deal was. You reach a certain point, art has to connect with business. Its art, but its business. Business-art. Art-business. Whatever.
Swirling the scotch in his cup, Foster grins and traces a finger along the slope of his broad, waxen nose.
Have you talked to Steve any? Hes all right, a very physical guy. He and I go back a long way together. When he was first breaking into the business, I was his publicist. He was doing a TV series,
WantedDead or Alive. I remember one time the first year that was shooting, he punched a horse right in the nose. No shit. It was a Western series, and this horse was getting pretty nervous under the lights and all, so the poor dumb beast balked and stepped on Steves foot. So Steve balled up his fist and punched the fucker right in the snoot. His wispy mustache twitching, Foster rocks back and forth with laughter, stirring up alarming waves in his Styrofoam cup.
Steve, though, physical dude that he may be, was pretty much the key to putting the
Getaway package together. What happened was well, I bought the book. An agent gave me a copy of ita yellowing out-of-print twenty-five-cent Signet paperback original by a guy named Jim Thompson, published one time only in 1959. I thought it was dynamite, so I sent it to Steve from Vancouver, where I was producing McCabe and Mrs. Miller at the time. For years, Id been bugging Steve to play an out-and-out gangsteryou know, a ruthless, cold, but ultimately redeeming baddie. So within days, Steve sent word back for me to lock it up.
We hired a sharp young screenwriter named Walter Hill to do the script, and when he was finished, Steve and Walter and I sat around speculating about who we should try to get to direct it. Steve had just finished doing
Junior Bonner with Peckinpah, and was very excited about it, so Sams name naturally came up. Well, I went to pitch Sam on the idea with my heart in my throat, prepared to hype him till Kingdom Come, if necessary. Right away, he said, I know the story cold, for Christs sake. Ill do it. Turned out, hed read the book when it first came out, and had even talked to Jim Thompson about the possibility of filming it back when Sam couldnt get arrested, much less get a job at a major studio.
Foster finishes off the scotch in his cup and purses his lips thoughtfully before reaching across the desk for the half-empty bottle.
Sams a bloody fuckin genius, thats all that makes sense to say about him. In my mind, hes one of todays four or five truly original American filmmakers. Kubrick would have to rank along in there somewhere hell, I cant even think who else. Sams gut-level, you understandtotally instinctive. He does his homework at night, but he doesnt sweat it, at least not openly. Im sure theres a lot going on inside with him, though, that nobodys conscious of
Leaning forward across the desk again, Foster smiles and poises the bottle over the writers cup: A little more scotch? Or maybe we could go have dinner someplace. With a little
nachtmusick, or something. You suppose theres any nachtmusick in El Paso?
Mack Hamilton, the films publicist, is a lanky, contemplative, white-haired man who gives the impression of aristocratically failed health. Driving east from El Paso to the
Getaway location the next morning under a lowering sky, he whiles away the miles fussing with his pipe and reminiscing about the various directors hes worked around, beginning with C. B. DeMille. George Stevens was a singular man, he muses as the car glides through the dreary little farming hamlet of Fabens, Texas. He despised the whole breed of studio executivescalled them money men. Once, on the set of A Place in the Sun, he peeked through a viewfinder all morning, waiting for a bunch of visiting moguls to go away. Wouldnt even call the actors while the brass was around.
Half-listening, the writer is toying with a vaguely formed notion. Something in the eye-stabbing green of the irrigated fields and orchards stretching ahead reminds him of the landscape in Peckinpahs
Straw Dogs. He is wondering who the actual villains of the film are supposed to bethe brutish workmen who attack the farmhouse or maybe the besieged couple themselves? Out the window, a road sign flashes past: PORT OF ENTRY 6 MILES.
Frowning, Peckinpah summons Visciglia and gestures toward the swelling crowd of spectators, mostly chattering kids kept in semirebellious queues by a couple of gruff Mexican cops: Get some ice cream. Get all the goddamn ice cream in the world. Tell the nios they can have it if theyll keep quiet till we finish shooting. Visciglia makes the announcement to lusty cheers from the kids, and scurries off in search of a well-stocked ice cream cart.
Standing ramrod-stiff on the sagging wooden porch of the Oficina de Poblacin, eyeing the writers cassette machine with a dour grimace, Peckinpah responds tersely to a few questions. Taking quick, intense puffs on a Delicado, he talks like somebody hunting-and-pecking very fast on an electric typewriter.
Hmm, youre right. Thats very interesting.
Straw Dogs is the story of a bad marriage going wrong. The married couple are the heavies. They precipitate everything. They incite and invite every single piece of action in the picture. Its a good picture, I think. But then I think all my pictures are good pictures. A lot of people dont agree. I would say that I always expect to fail with certain people and succeed with others.
Yeah, Im very pleased with the progress on this one. Weve had ten good weeks of shooting, some extraordinary performances. If you really want to learn about acting for the screen, watch McQueens eyes. John Bryson? Hes been doing his job, hitting his mark, doing very well
Ive got three projects planned for the future. Two of them are Westerns and one is contemporary. Ones for 20th, ones for MGM, and ones for United Artists. Its not certain whichll go first, so I dont want to discuss them. Ive got the rights to Max Evans book
My Pardner. One of the three screenplays is my own Im happy to say.
Who do I like to work with? Thats a stupid question. This crew I have right here. And I like to work with any talented actor whos professional. Everybody Ive worked with more than once obviously is a favorite. I look forward to doing other pictures with Bill Holden. I certainly want to work with Bob Ryan again, and Brian Keith. This is the second picture Ive had with Steve
Junior Bonner will be out this summer, and then this one around Christmasand were already talking about doing a third. Ben Johnsons been in most of my pictures. After this, I cant afford him, though. Thanks to his Oscar, his price has gone too high. I got him this time around, the last dying quiver.
Major Dundee was my absolute best film until the producer, Jerry Wexler, edited it into a piece of worthless trash. Then I got involved with a character named Martin Ransohoff, another producer, and got fired off The Cincinnati Kid. Why? I wouldnt let Ransohoff on the set, for one reason. He had no idea of what filming is all about, or the story, or anything else. He was involved in his own ego problems, and I cant waste time with people like that. Im not sure what hes up to nowpeddling garments, maybe.
Yeah, Ive had my share of headaches with producers. Phil Feldman was another one. I had great difficulties bringing in
The Wild Bunchit took 81 days of shootingand then Feldman let those rotten sonsofbitches at Warners chop out twenty minutes so they could hustle more popcorn. Im suing them on three separate counts. Uh-huh, a guy named Walon Green wrote the script for The Wild Bunch about five years before the picture was made, and I rewrote it . Walons OK. Hes a tough motherfucker .
I havent seen many films for a while. The last year and a half, the only thing Ive had time for was my own dailies. I did catch
Two-Lane Blacktop, and loved it. I thought The Last Picture Show was a piece of shit, except for Ben Johnson. Apparently, Im in a minority on both opinions .
Thats correct. I did fire my daughter off the production. Her attitude was punk. She wasnt doing her work. So I canned her and she went off to Acapulco with some longhaired guy.
Hearing his name called, Peckinpah strides off briskly toward the customs shed, where the next setup is ready. Within minutes, the shot is secured, and everybody concerned looks pleased. Then the first quarter-sized patters of rain begin to streak the dust. Jesus God, Peckinpah groans and heads off for the cantina across the street, trailed by Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Slim Pickens, the writer, and Kathy Blondell, Alis hairdresser.
A typically dingy border-town bar, the Gardea has Formica-topped booths ringing a dance floor, a fading mural showing an Indian maiden paddling a canoe, and a jukebox that features accordion and trumpet music. Peckinpah looks the place over, then bellies up to the long wooden bar and orders tequila neat. The others ask for the same, except for Pickens. Make mine a
cerveza, will ya, hon? he asks the dark, pretty woman tending bar. A Dose Ekkis, if you please. Shoot, its too durned early in the day for me to be drinkin hard liquor. Down the bar, Kathy Blondell kibbitzes with one of the companys drivers, and McQueen and Ali touch hands and smile at each other a lot.
Peckinpah barks out a laugh and lifts his glass to the writer in a sardonic toast: Well, cheers, doctor. This is the way to make a Peckinpah movie, right? The genuine articlebelting back tequila in some fuckin dive in Mexico. Hah! Laughing, the writer returns the toast and rummages around in his shoulder bag for a newspaper clipping. The AP story, datelined New York, announces that Peckinpah has recently been voted one of the Pussycat Leagues annual Sourpuss Awardsthe Kinky Machismo Trophy for making films which instruct men to prove their masculinity by killing instead of kissing.
Peckinpah squints at the article, then whacks his palm on the bar and guffaws: Shit, I showed a guy eating pussy in
Straw Dogswhat do they think about that? What in hell is the Pussycat League, anyway? Sounds to me like some bunch of dumb cunts. Ill bet Judith Crist belongs to that outfit. Hah! Well, believe me, Im not gonna get weepy or despondent or anything. Who could ruin a day like this? Im stuck in the middle of a dust and rain storm, Im lost somewhere in Mexico, Im all fucked up, if I dont get the next shot, my ass is deadI ask you, who could fuck up a day like that?
Grinning ruefully, Peckinpah nudges his glass forward.
Otra, por favor, mi alma, he says pleasantly to the woman behind the bar. When she refills the glass, he drains it off in one swallow and contemplates Slim Pickens, who grins and raises his bottle of Dos Equis in salute. Good ol boy, Slim is, Peckinpah muses. Gentlest soul in the world. You dont want to ever cross him, though. You get out of line, Slimll set you straight right quick. Tough as a boot full of bobwire.
Standing up, Peckinpah hitches up his baggy corduroy pants and leers at Kathy Blondell. Hey, cmere, girl, he growls, I want to play with your privates, I want to gobble your box. A fetching, willowy young woman, Kathy grins crookedly. Up yours, Peckinpah, she says.
Peckinpah lights a Delicado and cocks his head at the writer with an appraising look. I dont much go for reporters, ordinarily, he murmurs softly. They havent been too kind to me, and I dont trust them as a breed. Rex Reed, for example, published a byline piece about the making of
The Getaway, but he never even showed up down herehe sent some woman who works for him instead. And there was that dreary dame from Esquire .
With a shrug, Peckinpah wheels and strides away, and the writer, feeling maybe a shade overlearned, moves over to one of the booths to scribble some notes.
Outside, the blacktop street is slick with rain, but the downpour has ceased for the moment. Swarms of mosquitoes buzz around the gaffers and grips as they roll the massive camera equipment, shrouded under huge green umbrellas now, along the street to the front of the Cine Estrella, the next setup. An ugly blue wooden structure with rusty signs on the front that read Tome Coca-Cola-Bien Frla, the theater looks near collapse. Man, thats the Last Picture Show if there ever was one, Stacy Newton cackles, popping the joints of his fingers. Peckinpahs personal driver, Newton is a lean, knobby-faced cowboy wearing boots sharp-toed enough to open a beer can.
Hands jammed in his coat pockets, looking red-eyed, McQueen comes out of the bar and stands a little unsteadily alongside the writer while Peckinpah sets up the next shot. Sam is straight, McQueen says with a slight slur. Thats a rare quality out in my town, you know? People in Hollywood will hem and haw and fuck around playing all kinds of cute little games, and then youll finally realize they want something from you. And eventually youll have to ask, You want something from me, dont you? But Sams not like that. Hes straight as they come. McQueen grins and shakes his head woozily. Whew, that fuckin tequila, I tell you. Im bombed, man. I think maybe everybodys bombed. From behind the camera, Peckinpah motions for McQueen to get in the pickup truck with Ali and Pickens. Well, McQueen mutters, moving away with a funny little wave, another shitty day in Paradise, I guess.
A light patter of rain resumes, causing a slight delay. Ali and McQueen both quickly doze off in the truck, but Pickens climbs out of the cab to search for a restroom. That danged Dose Ekkis runs right through a feller, he grumbles. Not meaning to, a couple of shirtless boys stray into camera range.
Al otro lado, andale, andale! one of the cops screeches, flailing his arms and shooing them to the other side of the street. I never even knew this town was out here before today, one of the extras from Texas remarks to Peckinpah. The folks who live here probably didnt, either, Peckinpah sniffs. Turning, he gazes off toward the mountains to the south. When I was a lot of years younger and considerably more foolish, he muses to no one in particular, I was married to a Mexican woman. I asked her one time to tell me all about Mexico. Dont be silly, she said. Nobody knows all about Mexico. She was right, of course.
When the rain dies away, Peckinpah wraps the shot, the last of the day, in one quick take. Then Bob Visciglia wheels out a homemade pushcart with bicycle tires.
Helado! Ice cream for everybody! he bawls, and hes virtually trampled in the human assault wave of kids who race to surround him, laughing and snatching Popsicles and howling with glee. One of the swiftest kids, a scabby-kneed boy with enormous eyes, clambers with his chocolate bar to the top of a stunted tree. Standing close by, about eye-to-eye with him, Peckinpah laughs and tells the kid he looks just like Emiliano Zapata, the national folk hero every kid in Mexico wants to look just like. The boy in the tree ducks his head. Who are you? he asks shyly. Squaring his shoulders, Peckinpah strikes a haughty stance like a matador. Who am I? he asks sternly. You inquire of my identity, viejo? Slowly, Peckinpah plays out an imaginary cape in a flawless veronica. I am el jefe! he thunders. I am the chief!
The weather clears that evening, and the next days shooting sitea barren, sunstruck stretch of highway in the desert near Anapra, Texaslooks as if it hasnt seen rain this century and maybe the last. By mid-morning, Peckinpah is wearing his shirt tied around his waist, and theres sweat glistening in the thatch of wiry gray hair on his chest. The dizzying heat mounts as the hours pass, but the cast and crew stay in high spirits. With luck, they might be able to wrap the picture by nightfall, and it looks to be a good film. Between takes, Ali playfully dabs patchouli oil on anybody in reach, and McQueen follows Peckinpah around with an umbrella, claiming that its part of his job. Yeah, its in my contract, he complains with a droll grimace. I got to hold this fuckin umbrella over Sam all day long. Aint that the shits? Aint it terrible what you gotta do to put together a few nickels and dimes these days? Peckinpah grins thinly at McQueens clowning, but hes busy talking to the first assistant director. Thats right, Newt, he agrees, nodding his head rapidly, blood on the handkerchief, blood on the shirt, goddamn right, lots of blood.
The scene, which is tight and funny and well-written, plays well enough to stir heated applause from the crew at the conclusion. Peckinpahs voice carries over the clamor: Very good, everybody, excellent. Print it. Well get to the angles and close-ups after lunch.
Pickens eases a leg up on the pickups fender, looking pleased with himself. Gahdamn, he beams, it aint ever day you get a good scene. Looks like theyll be tyin the ol can to my tail right quick, though. Ive went and worked my way out of another good job, I reckon. Over the bullhorn, the assistant director announces the location of the commissary setup. With their arms twined around each others waists, Ali and McQueen stroll off along the apron of the highway in that direction, McQueen trilling a James Taylor lick:
Highway, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Eyes to the ground, cradling his script in the crook of an elbow, Peckinpah strides away alone, but in a few minutes he relays an unexpected invitation to the writer to have a drink with him. Crouched over the overflowing sink in his air-conditioned live-in trailer, stirring together an unholy mixture of gin and wine favored in the vilest Mexican whorehouses, Peckinpah motions his visitor to a seat on the carpeted floor and sinks down on the sheet-tangled bunk with an expiring sigh. I remembered another movie I liked, he mumbles.
The French Connection, a good movie-movie.
Raising up on one elbow, Peckinpah fixes the writer with a chilly, probing stare: What do you want to know, anyway? You must have all the poop on my pictures or you wouldnt be here in the first place. Scowling darkly, he takes a long swallow of his drink and lies back on the bunk, his arms crossed behind his head.
Well, my grandfolks pioneered up around Fresno, to begin with, he mutters in a faint, ruminative voice. I grew up hunting and fishing on Peckinpah Mountain with guys like Slim Pickens. Most of the men on my fathers side of the family were lawyers, and I was supposed to be one, too, but I had no stomach for it, so I joined the Marines when I was still a kid. I served for twenty-eight months around the end of World War II. No, I never saw any combat, but I was ready to. I was pretty gung-ho.
After the shooting was over, I served some time in China, and eventually I tried to get mustered out there. Why? Are you kidding? Thats a dumb question. the Marine Corps shipped me back to the States for discharge, and I began to spend a lot of time in Mexico.
Went to Fresno State College, started directing plays. Got a masters in drama at USC. Worked for the Huntington Park Theater, did a season of summer stock in Albuquerque, then joined the crew at KLAC-TV in Los Angeles as an actor-director.
It was around then that I started writing. One of my first film jobs was a rewrite of
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Then, a lot of TV Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Klondike, Zane Grey Theater, I dont remember what alland the rest is common history.
What do I like to do besides making films? What do you mean by that? You mean like smoking dope and fucking upside down? Who doesnt? Who doesnt? That was a dumb question.
Hearing a commotion outside, Peckinpah draws back the curtains and peers out at Steve McQueen, whos whizzing hell-for-leather through the sagebrush on a sleek Japanese motorbike. Grinning, Peckinpah stands up, scratching the hair on his belly. Something in the set of his shoulders reminds the writer of the character Pike in
The Wild Bunch. Lets go, Peckinpah growls. Ive got a fuckin movie to make.