Clu Gulager

Interview by David Del Valle

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(with James Karen)

part, just about knocked Lee and me, Angie Dickinson, and John Cassavetes off the screen because he damn well knew what he was doing - in that role. Lee, in my estimation, was probably wrong there. You don't do too much ensemble work when you have ten or fifteen minutes to rehearse. It's every man for himself and god help the king. That's the way it is in American filmmaking. Not many ideas left when you have ten minutes to rehearse a scene. You just do it. Reagan did it that way and he was really good. When we were doing a show one time, Nancy said that he really hadn't been interested in acting for years. He was still making his money acting, but she told me that his interest politics. She wasn't kidding. KINGS ROW (42) was frightening. Charles Coburn, my idol, cut off the president's legs. Old nice Charles Coburn cut off his legs."

Clu joined the cast of TV's first 90-minute western series, THE VIRGINIAN, in the fall of '64. James Drury was the star of the title, Lee J. Cobb was Judge Garth, and Clu's friend Doug McClure played Trampas. Clu was Deputy Emmett Ryker until '66, was away for a while, and then returned for the '67/68 season. The popular Wednesday night NBC series continued until '71.

Clu was in two Universal theatrical releases (probably filmed during his VIRGINIAN hiatus) that were both shot for TV. AND NOW MIGUEL (66), filmed at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, stars Pat Cardi as a ten year old son of a Mexican shepherd (Michael Ansara). Guy Stockwell and Clu co-starred. In SULLIVAN'S EMPIRE (67) three sons (Martin Milner was the top billed one) search for their wealthy father in a South American jungle. They discover that revolutionary guerrilla leader Juan Clemente (Clu) is holding him hostage and rescue a boy from Indian headhunters. Clu played a senator in THE SURVIVORS, an ABC series based on Harold Robbins' novel. Movie star Lana Turner was the main attraction, but it only lasted a few months. More successful was WINNING, a racecar movie starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The Universal release was rated M.

Near the end of his days on THE VIRGINIAN, Clu, with backing from a Universal executive, was the producer, director and screenwriter of the short A DAY WITH THE BOYS (69). In it, a group of pre teen boys meet a businessman, then bury him in a pit. There was no dialog and the kids (including his son John) were unknowns. The late (black) actor William Elliott co-starred and Laszlo Kovacs (EASY RIDER) was the cinematographer. DAYS was screened at Cannes. That same year, the Manson murders changed Hollywood. Victim Jay Sebring had been Clu's hairdresser.


directed by Jerry Thorpe, starred John Saxon and a cast including Ray Milland, Van Johnson, Fritz Weaver, and Clu. "My favorite actor's director is a man you don't know and probably never heard of, Jerry Thorpe. He's the greatest acting director I believe I have ever worked with." Thorpe, the son of director Richard Thorpe, worked mostly on TV. He was the executive producer and a director of THE UNTOUCHABLES, KUNG FU, and HARRY-O, all shows Clu appeared on.

NBC started a short-lived "Four In One" program with four alternating series. SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (70-71) starred Lloyd Bridges with Clu as the chief of security. Roy Thinnes starred as THE PSYCHIATRIST, which only lasted for five months. Clu was a guest on one episode and was impressed by the director. "I worked with one young guy, about a 19 year old kid, doing a one hour show on death on American television. This kid knew all about death. And he knew all about every aspect of the technical part of filmmaking. This kid's name was Steven Spielberg and it was called Par For The Course. I have never forgotten that - nor has he ever hired me since, but I was so taken with this guy. He made the loveliest film I've ever seen, for American television, about death. I've seen television by Bergman that I liked a lot, about death, but never by an American. He's gone directly from that and he won't touch it. He won't touch what he's best at I've noticed. He plays games with his little youthful parodies of entertainment. He won't touch what's inside of him for some reason. Someday it'll come out, and when it does, watch out." Spielberg directed for TV from 69-72.

The classic THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (Columbia, 71), based on Larry McMurtry's novel, was set in an Oklahoma town, just like the one Clu grew up in. Clu considers this multiple Oscar winner his first real feature. Everyone in the cast was perfect including Clu as Abilene. "My first film was THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Peter Bogdanovich made a little picture in Texas called THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. I seduced two leading American actresses with great glee. One was Cybill Shepherd and one was a large breasted actress, who was so fine, Ellen Burstyn." The pool scene with Shepherd and Gulager was restored and expanded for the 1990 Special Edition re-release and laser disc version.

Clu received more good reviews for TRUMAN CAPOTE'S "THE GLASS HOUSE" (CBS, 72). He starred as the new prison guard with Vic Morrow, Alan Alda, and Billy Dee Williams. Also in '72 were MOLLY AND LAWLESS JOHN, considered a feminist western, with Vera Miles as a sheriff's wife, FOOTSTEPS (CBS), a college football story starring James Woods, and MYSTERY