When you talk of big men, none come bigger than Clint Walker. Big in life, big in legend and even more so as a person. No actor epitomises our sense of the Old West more than the strong silent hero type so well portrayed by Clint Walker. Nor the gravitas his roles brought to films like None but the Brave and The Dirty Dozen. Perhaps the man best remembered as Cheyenne Bodie was fashioned from a childhood borne of the Great Depression or the empathy which often accompanies a life as a twin. When you mix this childhood with a life hammered strong by the university of hard knocks then is it any surprise that we discover in the actor a quiet intense integrity.
Like many actors from the 1950-60s period, Clint came to film after experiencing much of life. By the age of twenty-seven Clint had held dozens of jobs ranging from labouring on those wonderful old riverboats on the majestic Mississippi River to working for the Newton Detective Agency in Long Beach. While men were playing hardboiled Lew Archer types on the screen Clint was doing the hard yards in real life working as a bouncer in night clubs, security guard on the water-front, escorting payrolls, escorting divorcees too afraid to go home by themselves, escorting illegal stowaways back to their ships or planes where they would be shipped back to wherever they came from. Perhaps his experiences at the “university of hard knocks” was why we never saw him playing the role a detective on screen. While it’s hard to picture Clint clad in a trench coat, I’m sure the bad guys were chuffed by his absence from this genre.
Throughout his forty-five year career, Clint worked just as hard off-screen to control his own career. Clint would not be pushed around by the Studios (especially Warner Bros) even if it meant sitting on the sidelines from time to time, if it meant standing up for what he believed were the right choices for his future. Again this is so totally consistent with the man we see on the screen and I’ve often wondered whether this affected the quality of the roles he was offered later in his career.
At this stage, TV western series were beginning to disappear from the small screen. The popularity of great series like Cheyenne, Wyatt Earp, Daniel Boone and Rawhide were (I believe) changed by the Vietnam War as well as by the advent of the new style of westerns coming from directors like Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. The psychology and mores of our society had changed and the ruthlessness of politics and war were devaluing the simple morality which these westerns had brought to the previous generation. Besides, the Studio version of the Old West had never been kind to those living outside the middle-class white demographic. The Seventies would be a watershed in our history when the world would finally notice that everyone was not black or white, but very much different shades of grey.
However, now that our world has progressed another thirty years, I believe that many of these grand old westerns like Cheyenne, Have Gun Will Travel and Maverick will finally come full circle. The Clint Walker my generation so admired in those classic 50s episodes which were often repeated throughout the 60s and 70s are being gradually reborn in this new era of cable TV, DVD and individual viewer control. While tastes in TV and film may be cyclical the need for heroes remains constant and more often than not when people become bored with the pyrotechnic heroics of $200 million plus films they are often ready return to the quiet dignity of what makes a real hero. This is why the great actors like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda never go out of style. And certainly why there is always room for the screen’s big men like Clint Walker.
You can find Clint Walker embracing the Web with his own great site, full of great pictures and many of you may be pleasantly surprised to find that Clint is also a talented writer and was recently inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City (2004) Very soon you will be able to read his autobiography and a new novel. You can also score yourself one of his brilliant signed 10x8 photos, books or other great memorabilia at:
Clint, and his lovely wife Susan, were kind enough to spare me some time from their hectic schedule to answer my questions and here is what the big fella had to say.
David: Can you recall when you were first asked for your autograph and the circumstances involved?
Clint: Yes, I was coming out of Paramount studios and I had been on an interview. Some people asked me for my autograph when I came out, and I said "I am not a celebrity" but they insisted on having my autograph anyway, so I gave it to them.
David: What was the funniest thing that happened on the set of Cheyenne? And what was the most dangerous moment for you or the crew?
Clint: One of the first Cheyenne's that I did I had to leap from a running horse and take an Indian off a horse to the ground where we then proceeded to have a fight. We had rehearsed the fight but contrary to the rehearsal I never let the camera see my backside. We did it in one take but the Indian wanted to know why I didn't do it as rehearsed with my backside to the camera. I then showed him that when we hit the ground I split my pants wide opened on the backside.
One of the most dangerous moments was during a fight scene with three bad guys inside a jail cell with huge arch- lamps attached to the top of the jail cell walls out of camera. There were four of us and we hit the jail cell wall so hard we broke the 2 x 4 framing. The wall collapsed and the big arch-lights came down with the wall. Fortunately no one got hurt.
David: What is the funniest or strangest moment you’ve encountered with an autograph collector?
Clint: Lots of funny, strange things happen with autograph collectors. After retiring to my bed late one night after doing a rodeo, I woke up to find three women removing the screen to my window and preparing to climb into my room. I had to call the motel manager.....just no sense of humor, I guess.
David: Do you have any unusual or strange stories from working on a film set?
Clint: I have many, most of which will end up in my autobiography.
David: Do you do many memorabilia shows and if so what are your favourites?
Clint: I do many memorabilia shows, my favorites are the ones that I make money at. Actually, "The Ray Courts Hollywood Collector Show" is one of the best.
David: You have been married to your lovely wife Susan for more than 5 years and I wondered if Susan might share her favourite story about your career with our readers?
Susan: I am Clint's third wife. He went through a divorce with his first wife. His second wife died of cancer in 1994, and Clint and I married in 1997. I am always amazed when women tell Clint that he can put his shoes under their bed anytime with their husbands standing right there and it always embarrasses Clint. Or, when a gal comes up to me and says "You don't know how lucky you are to be married to Clint". How would she possible know?
David: Do you collect autographs yourself and if so what are some of your favourite treasures?
Clint: The only autograph I ever asked for was from Bob Hope and it was for my mother.
David: If you could ask any person in history to sign their photo for you, who would you ask and what would you have them say in their dedication?
Clint: Hard question.......maybe George Washington the father of our country.
David: In the course of a year how many photos would you sign for fans? And have you seen many forgeries over the years? What do you do if you do see forgeries being sold in a shop or on eBay?
Clint: I couldn't tell you how many photos I sign in a year, but it would be quite a few. Yes, there are many forgeries out there. I have seen them at some of the shows that I attend.
David: Do you have any other stories or messages you would enjoy sharing with your thousands of fans across the world?
Clint: I have many, which again will be in my autobiography. But mainly: dare to be different, to be yourself, and to believe in your creator.
(C) David Priol 2007