THE FIENDISHLY FINE ACTOR FROM FRESNO
(C) David Priol 2008
Sid Haig. The very name conjures up so many strong images. From James Bond to The Devil’s Rejects, Sid has cast his menacing shadow across many a darkened cinema. He’s made women scream and men flinch and heroes run for cover both on and off the screen. And yet the man who has spent a career monstering people on TV sets and theatres may never have been an actor at all, except for one simple fact; he was your typically uncoordinated kid. The one who often got teased, but who usually ended up with the last laugh when you stopped growing and he didn’t!!!!
So the man who has made over 100 film and TV appearances since 1960 took up dancing as a youngster to overcome the clumsiness of childhood. Dancing led to music and a love of drumming, which then led to a band, which also included acting at his local high school, a high school, which just happened to have employed the former Broadway actress Alice Merrill on its staff. Merrill’s intervention led to yet another of those clichéd twists of fate, which would eventually lead Sid to a career in acting. At her instigation, one of the first people to see Sid act, and who actually chose Sid for the final cast, was none other than the multi-talented 40s actor and singer, Dennis Morgan. Who would imagine that you could link 40s matinee crooner, Dennis Morgan to Halloween director, Rob Zombie in less than 6 degrees of separation? And let’s not even mention, Mr Pink!!!!
However, for the fans of horror films today, who chiefly recognise Sid from his work with directors like Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino (the man who resurrected the careers of not only Sid, but Pam Grier and Robert Forster in that classic modern crime yarn, Jackie Brown) may not realize that last year was the Fiftieth Anniversary of Sid recording the single, Full House with the T-Birds on the Keen Records; a label which also boasted Sam Cooke and Milton Grayson.
Bedecked in silver rings and bracelets and an imposing 6’4” two hundred plus pound frame, which age has barely eroded, Sid Haig towers not only over his fellow actors, but also the hundreds of autograph collectors who attend the many movie and memorabilia shows across North America. However, it isn’t just the physicality of the man, which grows which each new film, but the fact that in the re-release of cult director Jack Hill’s films onto DVD that Sid’s debut acting role in the short, The Host in 1960 was chosen as a companion piece to Hill’s, 1975 release, Switchblade Sisters, which Tarantino recently helped fund for transfer to DVD. Sid appeared in nine of Jack’s films over fourteen years which culminated in the all time classic, Foxy Brown.
The importance of the early work of actors like Sid Haig as well as the film making of the 60-70s in general is also finally being properly appreciated in its historical context. Just as the work of Sid in films like Black Mama, White Mama, Coffy and, of course, Foxy Brown with Pam Grier are to the 70s, as the B sci fi films were to the 50s, or like Russ Meyer’s and Roger Corman’s films remain unique in confronting the social mores and taboos of the 60s. Not one of these period films could be made today and still possess the essential ingredients which allowed them to become the voices of their respective generations.
However, you cannot say the same about Sid Haig. The man, and the actor, continues to evolve and grow as he reaches his eighth decade on planet earth. Sid is totally comfortable in his own skin and at home acting in any genre. And with his lovely wife Suzy, Sid has fully embraced techno-culture and can reach out and speak to his fans while still continuing to offer his boundless energy to his work, to those many animal and environmental issues which have become dear to him and to his many fans across the globe.
In fact, like actors such as Anne Francis, Sid tithes a percentage of his autograph signings to support the work he does for groups like Habitat for Humanity International and the North Shore Animal League of America as well as Community Theatre, through the Haig Group, which he runs with Suzy. So check out his many signed treasures and tell him, David downunda sent you. You can learn a lot more about Sid and his excellent works through his great website:
Which includes links to his MySpace page, a marvelous Rim-O-Rama, Conventions appearances, a lovely tribute to the late Matt McGrory and lots of great photos, autographs and links. With the help of Suzy, I was able to pin Sid down for a little while to answer my questions and here is what the big man had to say for himself….
David: Many films buffs would not think of Sid Haig in the same breath as 40s crooner Dennis Morgan, when, in fact your childhood was based on music, ranging from playing the drums to dancing to overcome poor co-ordination. Did you sign your first autograph as a child or playing with the T-Birds?
Sid: My first autograph came as the whacked-out drummer for the T-Birds. As a matter of fact it was at The Garden of Allah in Redwood City, California. It was affectionately known as “The Bucket of Blood“. “The Bucket of Blood” was the blueprint for the Country-Western bar that the Blues Brothers played in (in the film, of course), complete with a chain link fence separating the band from the audience.
David: Looking at your career, you have also had an incredible range of roles from James Bond to Blaxploitation to mainstream horror films. What film roles have given you the most joy, and what do you think was your most memorable role and your best work?
Sid: That's tough to say. Because I work organically, everything comes from within so my characters are like my children. How can you pick your favorite child? Of course, Captain Spaulding was the character that got everything moving for me.
David: Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is an amazing film on many levels, but not least because Quentin resurrected the careers of Robert Forster and the wonderful Pam Grier. But could you explain to our readers what this film also meant for you at the time?
Sid: It meant that I had finally gotten the respect of a well known and respected director. He called me at home - I still don't know how he got my number - and said that he understood that I was tired of playing run of the mill heavies. However, the role of the judge was something that he wrote especially for me, and I would play it no if ands or buts! It was a good feeling.
David: No doubt, there are hundreds of very funny stories from working on so many film and TV sets, but could share another one with us here?
Sid: OK, here goes. I was doing an episode of Star Trek in it's first season. All of the regulars were trying to quit smoking so there was a lot of gum chewing going on. The director was having a fit, because every time he would say action he had to cut because someone was chewing gum. Well, one day we were on location with about eighty extras. After lunch we had this huge set up with everyone involved. Without the director’s knowledge, William Shatner passed out bubble gum to all the cast and crew. So, on the first shot after lunch, when the director said action, about 150 people turned to the camera and blew a bubble. The director cracked up and everything after that was smooth sailing.
David: Coupled with the latter you have also attended a lot of autograph and horror conventions in Europe and North America, and I wondered if you have any strange stories relating to a fan or autograph hunter, or an unusual request?
Sid: Well, at a convention in Fort Lauderdale, I was asked by a girl in her mid-twenties if she could lick my balls. Is that strange enough?
David: Do you collect any movie or autograph memorabilia, and if so what are some of your favourite treasures?
Sid: I'm not a big collector. My wife Suzie has a huge collection of films and books, but I just collect old "Piggy Banks". Cast iron antique, mostly.
David: If any person in history could sign their photo for you, which person would you ask and what would you like them to say in their dedication?
Sid: That person would have to be Socrates. And the dedication would say "He taught well."
David: You’re one of the great signers, however I wondered if you’ve had any problems with people selling faked signed photos of you, and if so how did you deal with the problem?
Sid: That does happen, mostly on eBay. Suzie does a great job of reporting those jerks to the admins of what ever site they creep up on.
David: What things bring the most joy to your life, apart from throwing the naked and voluptuous Lana Wood out of a hotel window?
Sid: Spending quality time with my wife, my children, my grandchild, friends and doing the best work I can.
David: What are the main projects on the horizon for you in the coming year or so?
Sid: Well, I would be busy every day if all the fledgling producers that want me to act in or direct their films would take the time to learn how to raise the money to get them done. Until then, I have a lot of contracts but no film sets to show up to.
David: Is there a particular story or incident from your life, that sums up Sid Haig, the person?
Sid: Ok, you’re going to love this one, I think...
We were shooting some scenes for The Big Bird Cage in a small town in northern Luzon, Philippines called Banaue. Banaue is known for it's rice terraces which are at least two thousand years old. It's also know as one of the last head-hunter regions in the Pacific Rim. That practice is limited to about two weeks out of the year, when all “contracts” are made and resolved. Basically, if you don't pay up you might just start to feel like Ichabod Crane getting chased by a certain horseman...
Our guide told us (Jack Hill and myself) of a small village over the rim of a nearby mountain. He also said we didn't really want to go there, which of course made us want to go even more. Upon entering the village, we saw several huts, one of which was rather large and positioned right in the center of the compound. We were told to wait there while our guide got permission for us to enter. To make a long story short, we were motioned to come forward into the hut.
The huts were cone shaped so you had to duck down under the eaves to enter. When I did, I came face to face with the leader of the tribe. A smiley-faced guy with one tooth and no cartilage in his nose. He handed me a wooden bowl with something that looked very much like blood with little bean shaped things floating around. I asked our guide what that was and what I should do with it. He said it was chicken blood with beetle nuts (which are a hallucinogen like peyote), and that I was to drink it. I asked if I had to and he said, “you’d better“. So, in the middle of a head hunter village in the jungle, I had my first psychedelic experience.
I guess that shows that I'm not only out of my mind, but fearless, trusting and able to adapt to any situation. I can fit in almost anywhere…..