This is my 2003 interview with actor/director L.Q. Jones for the DVD release of his cult classic "A Boy and His Dog."
L.Q. Jones caught my eye the first time I saw Sam Peckinpah’s classic Western “The Wild Bunch.” The lanky Texas actor played TC, a scraggly, scurvy member of the posse of cutthroats tracking down the Bunch. I have been a fan of Mr. Jones’ work ever since. Mr. Jones’ film career began in 1955 with a top-supporting role in the all-star war film “Battle Cry.” He has never looked back. He has appeared in nearly 200 films and TV shows. He has worked with many of the top directors in Hollywood. Mr. Jones worked with Sam Peckinpah on five films. He also had a long working relationship with the great Raoul Walsh.
I had the great fortune of spending a couple of hours talking with Mr. Jones. In addition to his great work as a character actor, L.Q. Jones directed one of the great Cult Classics of all time. Jones adapted (for which he won a Hugo Award) and directed Harlen Elison’s novella “A Boy and His Dog.” The film made a star out of Don Johnson and became one of the sleeper hits of the 1970s. I must have seen the film 20 times back in high school. Mr. Jones talked with me while promoting the DVD release of “A Boy and His Dog” by First Run Features. For those lucky enough to live near New York, there will be a special holiday screening at New York's Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center on December 26 and 27th, 2003. This is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen. I wanted to ask Mr. Jones about working with Sam Peckinpah. I got more than I ever expected on the subject. But first, I wanted to hear about "A Boy and His Dog" and find out why Mr. Jones did not direct again after “A Boy and His Dog.” He let me know.
Rusty White: “A Boy and His Dog” was a favorite of mine back in high school. I must have seen it 20 times. Seeing it again, I have to say it is still fresh.
L.Q. Jones: Well thank you Rusty. I’ve gotten to where I call it an Evergreen Picture, because I think it kind of stays that way.
RW: A good as that movie was, I wonder why you didn’t treat us to another film with you behind the camera. As director?
LQJ: Two reasons, really. One is, I’m a lazy devil. If you left me alone, I’d act, because God happened to give me that. It’s very fun and it’s easy. I just do what I do and go about my business. Directing is another bag. I’m a nut. It took me 5 years to do “Boy.” One because I didn’t have that much money and another I didn’t have that much talent for God’s sake. You have to do a little more work. But directing, to me is really hard because I end up doing everybody’s job. That’s all you are. As a director, you’re pretty much an observer and that’s it. You try to stretch things so they will go the way you think they ought to go. If you’re creative, that’s really what you have to do. Because if I’m acting, my job is to play for Sam Peckinpah, or Raoul Walsh or John Ford. As a director and a producer I damn well do what I please. But the real part about it is, I was spoiled because I first directed a little picture called “The Devil’s Bedroom.”
RW: Right, we saw part of that in “A Boy and His Dog.”
LQJ: Right. I made that picture for $20,000.00 lock stock and barrel. It may be one of the worst pictures ever made, but isn’t it weird that that film ends up on a whole bunch “Ten Best of the Year” lists. That ought to tell you something sports fans. The people are not paying attention for Christ sakes! I think the picture is so bad, the critics think it’s a documentary and so…they say “No body could make a film this bad on purpose, so they think it’s a documentary and it’s OK with them. But the other part of the problem is, after that, I did “A Boy and His Dog.” Well sports fans, everybody in the world ought to build a house, plant a tree and direct “A Boy and His Dog.” Because it is one of the great experiences of my lifetime. The picture is total imagination. That’s all it’s built on. Your imagination can just run wild. I did that, and now, what do I do next? For Christ sakes. I keep a company to make picture when I get mad enough for making the junk I make as an actor. I read, I don’t as much now, but back then, I would read 2,000 scripts and books a year, just finding thing to do, but I couldn’t find anything. I finally found one, it was like “A Boy and His Dog,” it was just so different….
RW: “The Brotherhood of Satan”?
LQJ: No, no, no. That was just a horror picture. I like horror. I could get into the business without much money. I even sub-divided that problem. I went out and studied witchcraft, and made a couple of witchcraft pictures. That was fun and imaginative. But back to the question. Once I finished “Boy,” I was stuck. What do you do? People have sent me stuff and would offer me more money to direct it than I had for the entire budget of “A Boy and His Dog.” I’d read it and I’d say “Thank you very much, I appreciate the thought, but no thanks.” So then they come back and offer more money thinking I was pulling a ploy. I didn’t want the extra money; I just didn’t want to waste my time and effort.
RW: They didn’t touch your soul like “A Boy and His Dog.”
LQJ: Right. It was easier for me to go act, so I’d go act. The years just piled up. Eventually I guess I’ll go out and do another picture. When I get mad enough.
RW: There’s a lot to get mad at out there. There are a lot of folks wasting money and talent it seems.
LQJ: Well. They’re doing their own thing and that’s their business. Most of the stuff now…I’m lucky, they send me scripts. They don’t send as many as they used to for Christ sakes, but that’s OK. They send me scripts, and again I say “Thank you for the thought, but I’d rather stay home and sulk!” There’s nothing there to do. We don’t seem to have any heart anymore. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m missing it.
RW: I agree. Life is cheap these days and it is reflected in the arts. Things are reduced to the lowest common denominator.
LQJ: In our business especially. We’re cannibalistic and we react to the common denominator. I can understand.
RW: Right, you have to make the money if you want to make the movies.
LQJ: Right. I did a little thing called “The Mask of Zorro.” It is hard to pin it down but it cost somewhere between 84 and 91 Million dollars. If I’m going to put 91 Million dollars into a piece of real estate that I can put into two cans, I damn sure want my money back. So, I’m going to take fewer chances. In “Boy,” I put, listen, if “Boy” didn’t work, I’m bankrupt. That’s OK. I’d done what I’d wanted to do. I wouldn’t have been happy with it, but I’d be happy with the picture. Even with it’s mistakes. I just don’t like the stuff we are making today. Not that we don’t have talented people. There are a lot of talented people out there. I guess, when I got into the business I was lucky. I trained with people who made motion pictures. They know how to make them. They made them everyday. They knew what worked and what didn’t work. I’m not saying me made art for Christ sakes; we’re making sausage.
RW: Some of it was art.
LQJ: Well, there’s no reason a sausage can’t be artful. So, that’s the premise I worked on. But we had people around. When I first got in the business, the first picture was “Battle Cry.” I had 127 directors.
LQJ: The cameraman would say “Is that where you’re going to stand? Yeah, good, then we don’t need you in this picture because you’re not going to be seen, If you want to be seen, get your fanny over here.” Then I’d do that and the lighting man, the gaffer would say, “Is that the way you’re going to stand?” “Yeah.” “You want to look like Stephen Fetchet, cause that’s exactly what you’re going to look like.” The make-up would say do this and the grip would say do that. Of course I’m a collectic and sponge because I knew I wanted to direct someday so I listened and learned. But the kids today are taking their craft, not from pictures but from television. Television is a pretty sorry medium, and that’s a shame because it could be absolutely marvelous, but we don’t allow it to be.
RW: The ironic thing about Made for TV movies is the fact that they usually deal with interesting topics and stories, but the static style leaves you dry.
LQJ: Well, it does me. How old are you?
LQJ: OK, Well, you’re in trouble. I’ve ceased being in trouble, because I’ve passed way beyond it. But if you’re not around 27 or younger, pictures are not made for you. If you’re not a splinter group, even more. Pictures are not made for you. Look at it. It used to be, this is back in the 1930s, certainly in the 40s, 1000,000,000 people a week, a 120,000,000, a 140,000,000 a week went to the pictures. That’s not bad!
RW: They didn’t have the idiot box, but they had radio.
LQJ: They had radio, then came television. The problem is now we have groups of 1/100th of that or 1/50th of that who are calling the shots because they go to motion pictures. Do you go to motion pictures?
LQJ: You do? When. How often.
RW: Maybe 20 times a year.
LQJ: How about when you were in college, or when you got out of college?
RW: A lot more.
LQJ: You bet. You probably went 5 or 6 times a month. In that time you controlled. But in that time, we made pictures for families. We made pictures for people from 5 years on up to 105. Some pleased everybody, most didn’t. But they pleased enough of them, so it was OK. That audience is now missing. We are dealing with younger people who may or may not have that much education, who don’t have much of an attention span. They want you to get to the problem immediately. You can look at some of John Ford’s stuff. It took you 154 minutes before you found out what the story was about, but you didn’t care because you were enjoying what you were watching. Now, if you don’t do it in 30 seconds, they’ve gone up to the popcorn stand or gone home!
LQJ: That’s right, they won’t do it. You can not…true story. A motion picture, as most people think today is 10,000 feet of butt, splice and film. Well that’s not true. That’s what people who make television think it is, but it’s not what a motion picture is. If you doubt that, go watch “The Grapes of Wrath,” go watch “How Green was My Valley,” go watch “The Little Foxes.” Put your ass down in a seat and watch “Paths of Glory.” Lighting, cameras, actors, grips, writers…everybody contributed their piece of work and it was marvelous to behold. There was enough to keep you interested and watch what people do. They dealt with little people. Now we deal with little nations and that’s about the size of it. If I want to watch a car wreck or fist fights, I’ll go up to the freeway here. See it everyday. So I don’t have to go pay money to watch that. And that’s not interesting to me anyway. It’s interesting to do. I love to do stunts, but I don’t care to sit and watch it.
RW: The problem with stunts is that filmmakers have done away with realism for the sake of a big bang. In “Die Hard 3” Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson fall 50 feet onto concrete and then jump off a boat as it explodes with as the shock wave from the blast goes over them. No way. What made great movies great was the fact that the director had his finger on the pulse of human nature. That’s what made Peckinpah great.
LQJ: But we don’t care about that anymore. That’s not true. They do care about it, but they are petrified to try it. Because if you make that kind of a picture you are up for grabs folks. You either work or you don’t work. You don’t work; your money is gone. You may work, but people may not see that it is working and you are still screwed. We did “The Mask of Zorro,” we figured 91 million dollars. If I had $91,000,00.00 would I put it into a picture? Probably not, but if I did I sure wouldn’t put it into “The Little Foxes.” I’d lose my ass! So, I protect my money. There is so much money out there it is worth taking the risk. “Mask” could have dropped dead. We took a chance. When it was done I think it made $400,000,000.00 or $500,000,000.00. That’s great. Things worked. But you also have to remember, and this I know because I’m in the business side of our business, less than, slightly less than 80% of all pictures are failures. Of the 20% that are successful, success means you get $1.00 back plus your cost. So, look how few pictures make it. Now we’ve cut way down on the number of pictures made. We used to do 400 or 500 pictures a year. Now it’s between 80 and 120 a year.
RW: It seems the budget for “The Mask of Zorro” would have covered the entire operating budget for a studio back in 30s.
LQJ: It would have been the annual budget for the whole town! Literally. When we did “Battle Cry,” I think “Battle Cry” was expensive, probably $3,000,000.00. It was a big picture.
RW: “Battle Cry” was Richard Widmark?
RW: No, that was “Halls of Montezuma.”
LQJ: We had Van Heflin, James Whitmore, we had everybody in Hollywood. Raymond Massey was in it, Tab Hunter, Aldo Ray, Dorothy Malone.
RW: Right. That was about the marines in the South Pacific. I had the right movie, wrong actor. Wasn’t that the movie Oswald saw before they caught him? That and “War is Hell.”
LQJ: May have been. There’s a case in point. Raoul Walsh directed “Battle Cry.” I have seen “Battle Cry” maybe 12 or 15 times in theaters. Never have I seen the movie in a theater where the audience didn’t stand up and applaud when it was over. That was what Raoul was able to do. How this man did it, I don’t know. He got me started in the business, so I studied him as much as I could. Raoul cranked pictures out like you and I have breakfast. He was the man who saved Warner Brothers. He and…the one who couldn’t speak English…
RW: Wilder, no. Curtiz.
LQJ: Thank you! Michael! Michael and Raoul kept Warner Brothers afloat. Because the pictures they made. But again, their pictures were for whole groups, families, people in general. And if you will also notice, almost invariably it was about a person. A small person, who wasn’t big, who wasn’t successful, who had a whole bunch of problems. But now we don’t deal with that. Now we deal with, as you pointed out, How far can a person drop out of a helicopter and not get smashed? We are stunt oriented. But hey, I love stunts. I was one of the few actors in the business who did their own stunts. I enjoyed it. Wherever they would let me, as long as they would pay my stuntman to sit, I’d do them. I’d go home with scrapes and breaks, but I loved them. But I get tired of them very quickly if I’m sitting there trying to watch a story. I belong to the director’s guild and we have one of the finest theaters in town. They practically save me a seat on the back row because I am determined to find pictures that I like. I go over, and I last normally 3 minutes or 4 minutes and then I’m gone home. I don’t want to waste my time. They want to make a lot of money. But I’m not in the business for money. Don’t get me wrong. I like money, but I’m not money driven.
RW: I understand. That’s why I appreciate the release of “A Boy and His Dog” on DVD. One of the reasons I don’t go to the theater so much is that I review DVDs on the website. I get about 50 or 60 DVDs a month to review. And there is so much crap that this is a breath of fresh air. Some movies you put in and ask, “Do I want to waste 2 hours that I can never get back?”
LQJ: And a lot of times, the answer is No! But see, I almost, I think I out-foxed myself. You’ve seen the picture how many times?
RW: About 20.
LQJ: Now this is going to be a very tough question. How many times did you have to see the picture before you understood most in the picture? If you can recall.
RW: Maybe I’m being lame, but I think I got it right away. As far as the relationship between the boy and the dog and the ending. I think, as far as the Topeka sequence, there were things I didn’t understand due to the fact that I was young and inexperienced at the time.
LQJ: That’s my point. I have found. I’ve gone out with the pictures many times. I have been with an audience as small as one and a s large as 8,000. When the picture is done, I like to ask questions. Talk with the audience. What did you see here? What did you like? What didn’t you like? On average I have found that people need to see it about 4 times before they realize. Because everything in “A Boy and His Dog” is new. You don’t think so, but look at it. You see a Police Captain and you know what a police captain does. You know what a detective does. You know what a typist does. But look at “A Boy and His Dog” and everything is scrunched around. There’s a dog. Everyone knows what a dog does. But wait a minute. This Dog talks. Not only does he talk, he’s a general, and a father, and a professor, and a friend. So everything is coming at you from a different angle. When you are downstairs (in Topeka) the stuff coming over the loud speakers.
RW: From the arrogant Human point of view, the dog is handicapped in that he has four legs instead of two. He’d rule the world if he was human.
LQJ: That’s right. You’re now to a point, because. People ask me “Are you proud of the picture?” “You bet.” “Would you do anything different?” “You bet.” Someone asked me a few minutes ago, “How would you place (what genre) the picture?” It’s very hard to do. Of course it is my picture, so you have to take everything I say with a grain of salt. But I would say it is a picture totally by itself. Am I saying it is the best picture ever made? Don’t be ridiculous. But, “A Boy and His Dog” is a one of a kind picture that will probably never ever be duplicated because there are several things in it. First it is the only picture I have ever seen where a dog is the only human being and everyone else is an animal. Now, am I wrong or am I right?
RW: I’ve never thought of it in those terms, but you’re correct. Blood (the dog) had more humanity than anybody did.
LQJ: He’s the only one concerned about other people, or who thinks about other people.
RW: Right, everyone else is concerned with “Feed me, and have sex with me.”
LQJ: It doesn’t make them bad, it’s just means he’s the one who cares. He’s different. The rhythm of the picture is different. I ask you to think, which our business does not like to do.
RW: That’s what I miss. I miss the pictures of the 70s where you would leave the theater and talk about it. Everything wasn’t tied up in a nice bow, not like a pill you take and then it wears off.
LQJ: That’s right. They were active pictures. You see, we’ve stopped making that. What has influenced that a great deal is television because of its passivity. Do you watch sports on television?
RW: Mostly movies. My son’s a jock, so I watch some with him.
LQJ: If you notice when the program comes on, they tell you what you are going to watch. Who’s going to win. Who’s going to make what catch. Then they show you the game. Then when it is over they go back and recap everything again to tell you what you’ve just seen. And what you’re supposed to think about it. So, we have moved from an active involvement in stories to a passive. They pour everything in us. They tell you what you’re going to see, what you saw and what you are to think about it. I think I went to far, because I think people enjoy watching and thinking. I went to far, because I gave people too much. The first time around, we were successful, but not nearly as successful as the re-release. I made the picture for people to see, not to make money. Of course I wanted to make money, but I wanted people to see the picture. You and 5 million other people. We did alright the first time around. Then we went out seven years later and did much better the second time around. I’m going to go back out again. In fact, I’m working on it right now.
RW: Are you working on restoring the print?
LQJ: Oh yeah. Because its about to slide off of the negative. We are going to have to go back in and digitize some of it to save it.
RW: It’s worth saving.
LQJ: For me it is. It will be expensive. The DVD should make us some money for the restoration. This picture belongs on the big screen. It is the most complete use of scope that I have ever seen. Notice, even in the opening, we are doing things, we are a half a mile from our subject. You have to watch. At the same time I doing that, I’m slipping something in on the left frame. And I’ve also got something in the right frame. I may also have something going right in front of the camera. So, it takes a while to slice all of this stuff and deal it out like a deck of cards. But I may have gone too far.
RW: It is beautiful use of the widescreen. The above ground scenes reminded me of Sergio Leone’s use of the widescreen. In the opening scene, Don Johnson comes into frame in a way you don’t expect. Also, the scene in which you first show the committee members. It looks like one person, but the camera turns to reveal three people. It’s pleasing to the eye, and as a filmgoer, it gets my heart going.
LQJ: But see, unfortunately a lot of the kids today will not see “A Boy and His Dog.” I’m not saying its unfortunate because of “Boy,” but there will be many pictures won’t see because they won’t take the time to devote the first two or three minutes to learn about what they are watching. And it’s a shame, because I really wish everyone in the dang world would see the thing. It doesn’t mean you are going to like it, but I’d like you to take a look at it. A DVD should make it available to more people.
RW: One of the reasons I like the films of the 70s is the fact that the filmmakers didn’t insult the intelligence of the audience. There was ambiguity. The filmmakers took you on a ride. They assumed you would get it and enjoy it and be challenged by it.
LQJ: We don’t do that any more. We don’t want to take that chance. People are afraid to do it. I can understand it, but the rewards are so great. I think we did between $00,000,000 and $500,000,000.00 on “Mask of Zorro.” That’s a lot of money. I don’t think there’s that much money in the world, but we did it. And a lot of the pictures today are doing that much today. Do you know how much “The Lion King” is going to do, they project? About 3 Billion. Now, they took a chance with it. They were going for the really wide audience and if they don’t get it, they are in really deep Ca Ca. But they tried it and it worked. And that is what I think we ought to do. I thought we were going to do that type of business with “Mask of Zorro.” I was interested in it because I helped change things around. When I did the stuff with Peckinpah, I mean “The Wild Bunch.” That in its time was the most brutal thing put on film. Today you see more violence on Saturday morning in the kid’s shows. So, we changed the way people made motion pictures. But we bottomed out. The people who are making pictures today don’t realize what Sam realized. You may do all of this crap but you still tell your story with people.
RW: Exactly. Any moderately talented director can copy Sam Peckinpah’s style, but if you don’t have the characters you miss the point.
LQJ: Right. So we up and changed the business at that point. I was hoping and it was looking like, the way Martin was directing “The Mask of Zorro” that it was going to start changing things back. Because if you notice, there’s no violence in “Mask.” There’s a lot of action. Now I say violence, of course it is violence whenever you kill a person, but …
RW: It was old school violence.
LQJ: Right. There’s no nudity, no curse words. People actually care about each other. So, hey! If this thing would go out and do huge business then maybe we’d start making this kind of picture again. It kind of helped, but it didn’t do what I thought it was going to do. At least we took a shot at it. We started the ball rolling the other way, a little bit.
RW: How did you get together with Sam Peckinpah? How did you meet? “Ride the High Country” was your first job working with him.
LQJ: Yeah. We met on “The Annapolis Story.” Don Siegel was directing it. He had Sam around as a dialogue director. So I met Sam on that picture. Or course, he was a great friend of Don Siegel's. Then I didn’t see him again, and I got a call to go do “Ride the High Country.”
RW: That’s a wonderful movie.
LQJ: Isn’t it amazing. Sam did about 14 pictures and three of them are total classics.
RW: And you were in all three of them!
LQJ: To me, “Ride the High Country” is the best Saturday afternoon, hold the girl’s hand, eat popcorn Western ever made. It is marvelous to watch it unfold. “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” is one of the funniest films and “The Wild Bunch” is a happening. It doesn’t fit anyplace else. But, I love “Ride the High Country.” I picked things up from Sam and I watched. The thing that gets you about Sam was his attention to details. That’s what moved Sam from everybody else. But he carried it to ridiculous lengths. We were doing “The Wild Bunch” and there was a scene, it’s a long shot of Bob (Robert Ryan), Strother and myself where we are watching the Bunch. As it turned out, we did it on an afternoon, we had a little time and Sam said, let’s do it. So we did the long shot. Two months later, we are doing the close up. They Bob’s close-up, they did Strother’s and mine was the last. When we got through, Sam said “OK, Cut.” Then we realized it was about to hit the fan. Sam said “What did you think Q? How’d you like it?” I said “Listen Sam, even now I’m writing my acceptance speech!” “OK, How about you Lucien (Lucien Ballard, the great DP)?” Lucien said “Sam it’s fine. I could change this or adapt that, but it is fine. No problem.” And Sam went all the way though the cast and crew.
RW: But he already knew what was wrong?
LQJ: He knew, and we knew something was wrong. But we didn’t know what. Finally he turned to Tony, and Tony’s the prop man. “Tony said “Hell Sam, watch the frame. Everything’s there. We talked it over. You looked at it, you approved it. It’s all there.” And Sam said “Yeah. Tell me Tony, how many beans did LQ have on his plate?”
RW: Oh man!
LQJ: How many beans did he have on his plate! Tony said “How the hell do I know or even care!” Sam said “He had thirteen beans. When we shot the long shot, he had eight! You’re fired!” So, he fired the prop master. You don’t fire the prop master after you’ve been filming for a month and a half. So, it took the producer and God to get Tony back on the picture. He was going home. Meaning he was taking all the props with him! So they worked out something they both could live with. Tony said “I’ll stay in the trailer. I’ll send my helpers out. They’ll dress the set. I’ll never set foot on the set again. And if Peckinpah steps in my wagon again, I quit.” And that’s how we finished the second half of the picture.
RW: That is definitely attention to detail.
LQJ: Well, that’s what he did. That’s the way Sam was. Sam was a nut. When we did “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” we fired 63% of the crew. It got so bad that we kept a limousine on the set so that when you were fired it could pick you up and take you to the hotel to get your clothes. And anther at the airport to pick up incoming replacement crewmembers. He fired me three times in one day and I quit four, in the same day. So I was off the picture seven times in one day. That’s the way he was. If Sam were alive today and directed, he would probably be committed. He was crazy. He was very talentedly crazy, but he was crazy.
RW: I was curious about “Major Dundee.” Did he assemble a director’s cut and if so, did you see it.
LQJ: Yeah to both. It didn’t last long because Jerry (producer Jerry Bresler) took it away from him.
RW: How different was it from what we see today?
LQJ: Were there mistakes? Sure. Anytime you do what Sam did, which was take chances you’re going to have mistakes. But that’s what cutting is for folks. To remedy it or make it work. Jerry Bresler, on the other hand, was…I’m sure a nice person. I’m sure his family loved him but he had no talent. He was up there doing something he shouldn’t be doing. For some reason people always came to me about trouble with Sam. I guess because I made so many pictures with him they figured we were friends. No body was friends with Sam. I was just used to him. When I heard Bresler’s story I said “You’re problem is you’re an ass. You don’t know what you’re doing. Why did you hire Sam? Only a blithering idiot would hire Sam thinking he could run him, and do the picture the way you want it. All you had to do was call a few places and ask ‘What do you think of Peckinpah as a director?’ And they would tell you. He’s going to do what he wants to do if it harelips the governor. He doesn’t give a damn. That’s what he’s going to do, so why would you be idiotic enough to hire Sam and then try to change him?” It ain’t gonna work. But the differences. There were shots…What you have to remember about Sam, he was like most directors I know of. He was never happy with the film. He would have cut it till he fell over dead. Like me, he’s a nitpicker. If you leave me alone, I’ll work on a scene for twelve years just till I can get it where I think it’s right. OK. So that’s the way he was. He would not let go of it. Going back to your thing about Sam and his cut. There is for instance a scene in it. I was there when they shot the damn thing. It is right at the beginning. It opens on and you are on a little boy and a little girl. She’s probably five and he’s probably three. There are bits and pieces of it in the regular cut, but that’s all you see. The camera is shooting down at them. Snot is running out of his nose. He's eating part of it. Both of them are filthy. Two poor Mexican kids. Sam just holds on them, and he holds on them. You think you’re through with it. If you watch closely, you’ll see little bitty eruptions of dust, and they pop up all over the ground. They just pop up, maybe an inch, but you see them. Then as you watch the ground begins to shake. And you think ‘Aha! What have we got here?” Is it volcano? Are we having an earthquake? And then the kids start to shake and the camera whips up and here comes the cavalry charge right by them. There were like 400 of us. They are dragging us in on the end of ropes because we tried to escape. That never made the picture. That one shot is nearly an Academy Award picture. And Jerry took it out. He put and tripe and crap that he was used to. It was so bad that when they went to the screening, I didn’t go, but I heard about it. Jerry went with the head of Columbia. I forget his name. And they went to the screening. When the screening was over, they got out. The limo was there. They got in the limo. They went around the corner. The head of Columbia kicked Bresler out and he fired him on the spot and made him walk home. That’s how bad he thought it was. But, they could not put it together, because, not only had Bresler cut it, he cut the negative. And once you cut negative, as you know, that’s it.
RW: That’s why we’ll never see a restored version.
LQJ: If you do see it, it will really be butchered, because that’s the only way they could put it back together. My guess is that they’ve thrown it all away.
RW: I was so happy that Ted Turner restored “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” I enjoyed the movie anyway, faults and all, but it was nice to see it as Sam intended.
LQJ: There’s the thing… The thing that people don’t understand about Sam is…pay attention to detail. Sam had…Sam was crazy, as we have talked about. His way of working was, you’d go to work on one of pictures and by the end of the first day no actors would speak to another actor, the actors wouldn’t speak to the crew, the crew wouldn’t talk to the actors. No body would speak to anybody. Everybody was just about ready to break into a fight. I mean it was that way on every picture I did with Sam. He would let that ride for the second day. On the third day, he would start putting the pieces back together. With Peckinpah as the father figure. That’s the way he worked.
RW: Sounds like Marine boot camp.
LQJ: That’s exactly the same way, because, see, he was a Marine. He had learned that there. But you have to remember we are dealing with egos here folks. Not only egos, but egos that were earned. These were people…Lucien Ballard! He was one of the best cameramen in the business. At the end of “Ride the High Country,” I was standing there talking with him. Lucien said “Sam, don’t ever call me again. I don’t ever want to hear from you as long as I fucking live! You have no talent. You’re a pain in the ass and you don’t know what you’re doing.” And he left. It took Sam five years, six years to ever talk Lucien back to coming to work for him. But that was the way Sam worked. But that takes strength, a great deal of strength. That was why he was able to do it in “Ride the High Country.” In “Dundee” he did it, but they didn’t let him get away with it. He didn’t do it on “The Deadly Companions,” I don’t think. But it worked on “The Wild Bunch.” It worked on “The Ballad of Cable Hogue.” But it didn’t work in “Pat Garrett,” because he’s now ill. Sam was very ill when we did it. He could take it apart, but he couldn’t put it back together. It was hell to watch him. As you notice, in “Pat Garrett” there are marvelous moments.
RW: That’s what it is. A collection of great moments, but it doesn’t cohere.
LQJ: No it doesn’t. Half of the time it is pure tripe. To me, I was lucky. I was in the best scene in the picture.
RW: I think so. Katy Jarado and Slim Pickens were wonderful.
LQJ: And Slim. He was fantastic.
RW: The scene where Slim Pickens dies and she is sitting by him is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in any film.
LQJ: Oh yeah. Tears flowed like wine.
RW: I loved your line about “Us old boys are getting too old to be shooting each other like this,” and all the while you were just ponying for a better shot.
LQJ: You bet. I wanted to do him in the back. In the end, you see it was Katy and Slim. I sat there while they were shooting it. Tears just poured watching it. You say Sam can’t do that kind of scene, but there it is! So, he was able to pull that off as long as he had the strength. But he never again had enough strength. I think it started going bad on, the one with Dustin Hoffman.
RW: “Straw Dogs.”
LQJ: Right. It started to get away from him there. I think it was that way from what I heard. It was certainly that way on “Convoy.” It was certainly that way on “Cross of Iron.”
RW: That’s an underrated film. I think it is a great war movie.
LQJ: It’s like “Pat Garrett.” Same thing. He could hold it for a while and then he’d lose it. It got so bad, Sam and I had a run in because I wanted to do the part in “Pat Garrett” that Dick did.
RW: Richard Jaeckel?
LQJ: Yes. I wanted to do his part. Sam wanted me to do Black Harris. I wanted to the other. We got a feud going and finally we worked it out. But, the way it should have worked… And I told Sam no three or four times. I should have gotten on the plane, got off the plane. Had the wardrobe in the limo. Changed in the limo. Gone to the location. Shot it with Coburn. Got back in the limo and gone home. Because they were paying me a ton of money. Instead, I was there for ten days before I ever saw Sam. He called me up on the third or fourth day and said “Listen Q, will you help me with the wardrobe?” I said sure, and I worked on wardrobe for four or five days and made enough money to make my own picture! He just wanted me to get a lot of money is all! When he finally called, when it was time to go to work I went out there. He met me at the car. You know how you have a good friend, and you see him in the afternoon and that night someone calls and says that he just dropped dead and it's not a shock to you? That's the way Sam looked. He looked like he was at death's door. About three or four weeks later, they had to shut everything down to let him go to the hospital. He wouldn’t stay. He was in there for a week. He should have been there for a month. He got up and started shooting again.
RW: Sounds like he had a lot in common with Roy Scheider’s character in “All That Jazz.”
LQJ: Yeah. Same thing. Same thing. The producer produced “Cool Hand Luke.” One of the sweetest men in the world. Sam nearly drove him to drink. But that’s Sam. I down shooting, and I finish. Slim and I go home. I should have been there one day and I was there two weeks. I went back about three weeks later to do the sequence at the opening of the picture. In the meantime Sam has decided that I wasn’t dead. This means that I was going to have to go back and shoot the whole picture again! Well, Gordon, the producer about passed water when he told him, but he didn’t know how to handle Sam. So finally they found a guy who would say “Enough of this crap. Jones is dead. Black Harris is dead, let’s finish this picture!” Which we finally did. Sam was not able to maintain his control. He did weird things.
RW: It’s a shame they didn’t have the psychotropic drugs back then. Maybe Sam could have maintained.
LQJ: He was that way. I remember I was talking to Fern Lee, his sister. Sam was down in Mexico where he liked to be when he got really ill. They flew him in so he could go to Cedars. When he landed at LAX the doctor who came with him said he was too ill to move very far. So they put him in a hospital close to LAX. They called Fern Lee. So Fern Lee and Walter the friendly Bear went to see Sam. As soon as they got there, the doctor said “You are his sister, right?” She said yes. The doctor said “We’ve got to have an understanding. Who’s going to run the sick room? Me or Sam. I told the nurse to do something and Sam would tell her to do it someway else. So we have to have an understanding. Who’s running this damn thing!”
RW: I’m the director on this set!
LQJ: He was that way till the moment he died. When we were doing his funeral service I told them “God’s going to be sorry. He got Sam up there, Sam’s probably going to try and take over!” That was Peckinpah. What can I tell you.
RW: I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of friends of yours. Katie West and Jon Locke. They were at the Memphis Film Festival a few years ago. Very nice people. They were great with my kids.
LQJ: They’ve invited me to go with them a couple of times but I’ve never been able to fit it into the schedule. But there are a lot of nice people in the business. Sam was nice, but he was nuts. Raoul Walsh wasn’t that way too much. He was a bit. John Ford was a nut for Christ sakes! David Lean I understand would do weird things. I worked with Eddie Dmytryk. Eddie was liable to do anything. So none of use are real normal.
RW: I imagine the freedom of acting is great. I just did a small role in a local indie film. When it was over, I was bummed out. I didn’t want it to end.
LQJ: As you work as an actor you find that you begin to lose that freedom a tad. When I go to work, my job is to have fun. But for me…you have to find where you fit. You look around. Jason (Jason Robards) will work this way. Another will work that way. Tony Hopkins will do this. Brando will do that. I’ve worked with the best in the business. Chuck (Charlton Heston) will do one thing. So the trick is…and I like to do character work as opposed to leads. The trick is to find out what you can add to the picture. Where is that portion of the tapestry that is incomplete. So you begin to lose a little freedom because there are some things you might want to do but you say “No. If I do that then so and so can’t do that. Or Brando wants to do this. Or Montgomery Cliff wants to do this. So, I’ll do this instead.” Because I can change easier than they can. So you begin to lose it a bit. People keep asking my, “Why don’t you direct more?” I don’t direct because it’s a pain in the ass and hard work. When I act, I like to hit my mark, say my lines, pick up my money and go home. It’s just fun for me. But directing, you have to keep your nose at it 24 hours a day.
I do a lot of things with colleges to give back a little. Invariably they ask “What is the most important thing for a director?” I’ve gotten to the point that I use a trick question. I ask them “What do you think it is?” Some say it is talent, some say foresight. Others say it’s an understanding of the medium. What to do with this or that. The main thing is that you are strong enough to get through the damn day! If you can get to work and not collapse and die before the work is done then you’ll do great!
Ford, I consider the best our business has ever seen. For what he could do, cause he did everything. David Lean was marvelous, Raoul was marvelous, but Ford just did so much. I was watching an interview with him and they asked “How do you do all these things. How can people do what you do?” He would give a flip answers because he was a flip person. They kept crowding him and finally he said “Okay. What I do is get the best material I can find. I get the best actors I can get hold of and hire and then I get the hell out of the way and let them work.” And he’s right. Just stay the hell out of everybody’s way and let them work. But to many directors today won’t give you the chance. Nothing last for more than 16 seconds. There’s no reason for the shots they make. It’s just that they want to do it that way. It has nothing to do with the story. There’s no input other than ‘blood and guts’ or ‘tits and violence.’ Not that it’s not good in and of itself, but how long does that last?
RW: You took your stage name from your character in “Battle Cry.” This maybe a strange question but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go through life with a ‘stage name.’ It just seems a bizarre thing to deal with in life.
LQJ: I know from what you call me, where I knew you from. If it’s one thing it’s High School. If it’s another it was one college, another it’s another college. If it’s another it’s from the business. First off, you have to be crazy to change your name from Justis McQueen to L.Q. Jones. That’s not real bright. Justis is a great stage name. I had done the picture. Warner Brothers asked to change my name. I didn’t care, as long as they got it on the check correctly. I thought about it for a while and I called Leon Uris. Leon was the man who wrote “Battle Cry.” He wasn’t doing that well at the time. So I said “I tell you what Leon. I’ll change my name, and then you sue us for changing it to your character’s name and then you’ll get a lot of publicity. We’ll both get a lot of publicity!” He said “That’s a great idea.” Then he went off and wrote “Exodus” and I never heard from him again. It didn’t do much for him, but its been OK for me. I came along at a time when they were changing names. I didn’t mind what they called me.
RW: As long as they kept calling you!
LQJ: Yep! I was eating real good. I was lucky. I started out high up the food chain in the business and I kept working. A lot of the people I started with have long since stopped, but I’ve been able to keep squeezing them out and it’s been a lot of fun.
RW: Do you have a favorite film from an acting point of view?
LQJ: You bet. The next one I’m going to do! I just like to work. Some one asked me if there was a particular film I would have liked to been in. I thought about it. I’d loved to have been in every picture ever made! There’s always something you’d like to do. Of course you can’t do that. I’ve been very, very lucky. I started doing leads. I found out this wasn’t fun. If you want to rape the girl and kick the dog you have to character work. So I went with that. I’ve been fortunate.
RW: Well, so have we. You have given us some memorable characters. TC from “The Wild Bunch” was a small part, but he one of the more memorable scoundrels on film. The scene between yourself and Strother Martin fighting over who killed who is a classic.
LQJ: I’ve been lucky with good parts and been able to have fun with them.
RW: Do you have anything coming up now?
LQJ: Other than breakfast or bankruptcy, I can’t think of anything. They don’t offer as much as they used to in out business because age shifts to the very young. They still send things over. Unfortunately I usually just send them back.
RW: Waiting for the right thing to come along.
LQJ: Right. They think I’m just trying to get more money so they offer more money. I tell them thanks for the thought. It’s fun to think about it, but I’d rather stay at home and sulk. So, I hurt people’s feeling occasionally, but I’m independently poor, so I can do what I damn well please. Of course, everybody starts out doing what you can do to make a buck. I was lucky because I started out with a better part than most people will ever get in the business. Matter of fact it got to be a real problem. Raoul took parts from three actors and put them in my character. You can imagine how popular I was. Here was a guy who had never seen a motion picture set until a day before yesterday and they are taking things away from actors who are professionals and giving it to me. That was just the way Raoul was. He wanted to put me under personal contract. The only other one he had done that to was Rock Hudson. I already had an agent, so he said “Alright kid. We’ll still work together.” And we did. He was so special to me. He was a funny man. Hard working.
RW: Nice to have a mentor like that.
LQJ: I was laughing… Do you know who Richard Schickel is?
LQJ: Richard did a series on five or six directors. My cameraman on “Dog” shot them. I was watching the one on Raoul. Raoul said he was working on the lot at Warner Brothers and bumped into this guy one day who said “Listen Raoul, I have this very sensitive love story and I’d like you to direct it. Would you do that?” Raoul said “I guess so if I don’t have anything else to do I’ll do it.” They man told Raoul he was going to talk to Mr. Warner to get permission. So he talked to Jack Warner and Jack said “Let me tell you something. You know Raoul’s idea of a warm love story is to set fire to a whorehouse!” Raoul said that was the end of his big sensitive picture. What a kick in the head he was!
RW: He went back a ways. Didn’t he play John Wilkes Booth in “Birth of a Nation”?
LQJ: Yeah. Raoul was a big star until he lost his eye. Then he said to heck with acting. Do you like to read?
RW: Yes. When I get the time. Most of what I get to read is law related because of work.
LQJ: I know what you mean. My daughter is an attorney also. Raoul wrote an autobiography called “Each Man in His Time.” Check it out. It’s going to be hard to find, because he did it back in the 80s. Raoul was such a free thinker. He came from a very wealthy family. A very influential family who had presidents by and Mark Twain visited with them. Raoul turned into a cowboy, a pirate, a sailor, a huckster. He was everything.
RW: A man’s man.
LQJ: You bet. I told him when we were doing “Battle Cry,” that once I learned what he was like, I wouldn’t jump on that old devil in a dark alley with a stick in each hand. I think at that point, he was like 72. He was a tough human being.
RW: I had a step uncle who was in his 70s when two 18-year-old kids tried to mug him. He beat the crap out of both of them. Tough old guy.
LQJ: Raoul was not a big man, in fact he was very small. I’d say five foot eight, but he was one tough mother. We had a lot of fun, but he really caught me out. When I took the screen test, they had already tested 200 people for my part. I showed up and told him how lucky he was to have me to play the part. Burt Kennedy was a friend of Fess Parker. Fess and I were roommates in college. So Burt took me out and rewrote my test scene.
RW: Had you any acting experience before that?
LQJ: Hell no. I was a stand-up comic. Nothing professional. Hell, actors are born, not made. So Burt wrote the scene and then told me what he would do with it. He said, “Don’t tell anybody because I’ll get in trouble for doing this.” So I said OK. When I went in to do the test, I asked Raoul if I could change the scene. He said fine. I did the scene. It was funny because I saw the scene later and I wouldn’t have hired me. We got ready to go. We were going to shoot it in the Azores. It’s where the Marines had their summer war games. We were a long way from LA. So they went through the casting and they came to my part. They said “Who do you want here?” and Raoul said “I want this kid.” Steve Trilling, who was a fan of mine later, said “Look Raoul. Let’s look at this thing like we’ve got some sense. You are going to be a day and a half, probably two days away from a replacement. You’ve only seen one thing the kid’s done. You get down there and he can’t do the job you’re screwed. It’s going to cast a lot of money and a lot of time to replace him. He said why not be smart. Let him sit here. Go down and shoot the picture. When you come back, you’re still got six weeks here. Hire him for a little part. That way, if he screws up, it won’t hurt the picture. Raoul said “Look. Either the kid does the picture or you can get another director.”
LQJ: That was the end of that.
RW: That had to be a humbling experience, having someone stand up to bat for you like that.
LQJ: Yeah. But I didn’t know that! That’s the way Raoul was. The first day he had me sit on the set. He wouldn’t let me work. He’s letting me see how the business works. When the day was over he called me over. Unfortunately, because he thought I had written my screen test,,, He said “Listen Kid, I don’t like how that scene we’ve got tomorrow. “Oh right” I said. It was the scene with Jimmy Whitmore and Aldo. The whole cast. It’s where we’re coming in on landing barges. I think I had maybe a line. Four or five lines. He said rewrite it and give yourself a bunch of things to do. Well shit! Now what do I do? Because we’re down there, I can’t get to a telephone. We don’t have one. I can’t call Burt and say “What do I do?” So I had to rewrite it. So I rewrote it and the next morning gave it to him. He said “Fine, take this to the office and have them crank it out.” So they did. Now we are getting ready to do the scene and they are giving it to Van Heflin, who has only been a star for 20 years! Jimmy Whitmore. He gives them all the scene and said “This is what we are going to do.” We did the scene. After that, whereever we worked, I’m sitting around on the set, or at home. He would call and say, I don’t like that scene we’re doing to morrow. Write me a new one.” So I ended up writing 10 or 15% of the movie! Raoul was just a very special man. Everyone should have someone like him when they are starting out.
Postscript: I got caught up in my conversation with Mr. Jones and let my tape run out. We finished up talking a while longer about Raoul Walsh and our families. He also told me a great story about Charles Laughton, Raoul Walsh and the film "The Naked and the Dead." However, as I am losing my memory along with my hair, I don't want to paraphrase what I remember. It was a good story though. I promise! Maybe I'll use this as an excuse to give Mr. Jones another call. There aren't many better ways to spend an afternoon. He's a very open, no bull shit kind of guy. The kind of guy you’d like to hang out and drink a beer with. Or talk movies with. Here’s hoping he gets mad enough to make another movie real soon.