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Peckinpah

Looking Back at a Film Legend


09/05/12
BY PAT HILL
Blood and guts aptly describes the films of the late screen-writer and
director Sam Peckinpah, who set the stage for movie violence during his
career.
Peckinpah earned the nickname Bloody Sam after production of the highbody-count western The Wild Bunch in 1969, and westerns are among his
best films. Peckinpah was born in Fresno, California, in 1925, when it was still
a typical western town, and that influence helped shape his career. Later,
Livingston became one of his favorite haunts.
After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Peckinpah began
graduate studies in theatre at the University of Southern California. By
1954, he was working in Hollywood as a production assistant and dialogue
director, breaking into westerns the following year as a television
scriptwriter and director for shows like Gunsmoke, Broken Arrow, Have Gun,
Will Travel, and also The Westerner and The Riflemanshows he created.
Peckinpah directed his first film, a non-western called The Deadly
Companions, in 1961. The following year he wrote and directed the classic
western Ride the High Country, which firmly established his reputation in
Hollywood.
Peckinpah was also developing a reputation as a hothead, druggie, and drunk
by the time his 1965 film Major Dundee was produced, and his career lagged
until The Wild Bunch hit the big screen. His burgeoning reputation for
savage, in-your-face violence was bolstered with films like Straw Dogs
(1971), Junior Bonner (1972), Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (1973), and the
cult classic Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), which bear
trademark Peckinpah slow-motion action scenes and bloody climaxes. He
wrote three of the post-1965 screenplays (excepting Junior Bonner and Pat
Garrett ), and directed all five films.
Peckinpah first came to Livingston in 1973 after former Montana Governor

Tom Judge paid a visit to Hollywood in an effort to entice the movie industry
to Big Sky Country.
Peck met the governor at a (Hollywood) party, and came to Montana, said
Pat Miller of Liv-ingston, former co-owner of the Murray Hotel. We had a
business partner, Bill Amsk, who played poker with him at the Mint, and
thats how we met him. Miller said Peckinpah was looking for a place to live
permanently in Livingston, and railroad magnate James J. Hills luxurious
third-floor suite (circa 1900) in the Murray soon became Pecks Place.
Peckinpah even had a stand-up bar installed in the 700-square-foot suite so
he could arm wrestle with friends.
Miller said that she didnt know anything about Peckinpahs career or
reputation when she met the film legend.
That was the best thing, she said. I got to know him as a person. I got to
know a lot of him that was out of sight because we all lived together. He was
a good friend. She said that Peckinpah was a consummate gentlemen who
loved women.
He had incredible blue eyes, and he spoke very softly, she said. Everybody
listened because we were never sure what would happen next. That was
because Peckinpah was still living life full and hard.
He had a wild reputation in Livingston, said Miller. They drank so much
but he always paid his bills.
Like professional film critics, Miller agreed that Peckinpah was probably the
father of violence in movies.
He did that to make his nameI know that, she said. He did things no one
else had ever done. He was a genius and a maverickthe studios couldnt boss
him around.
After moving to Livingston, Peckinpah directed The Killer Elite (1975), Cross
of Iron (1977), and Convoy (1978), not a classic Peckinpah movie by any
means, followed by Jinxed (1982) and The Osterman Weekend (1983). His
last completed work as a director was a music video for John Lennons son

Julian. Bloody Sam was hoping to produce a Stephen King script, The
Shotgunners, when he died of heart failure in December of 1984. Peckinpah
was only 59 years old.
Peckinpahs good friend, actor Warren Oates, also made the journey to
Livingston. Oates first worked with Peckinpah in Ride the High Country, and
the two men developed a camaraderie that was both personal and
professional (Oates was a featured actor in Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch,
and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia). Once they arrived in Montana,
Peckinpah and Oates purchased property together in the Paradise Valley.
They sure had some wild times up there! Miller said.
Warren Oates son Tim talked about his father and Peckinpah in a (2004)
interview with the Pioneer.
Sam had a way about him, Tim said. He was a small man but he commanded
large respect. He liked to keep the people he loved close to him, like my
dad. The friendship that grew out of their professional relationship was
unfalteringwhen Oates died, Peckinpah told Rolling Stone magazine that
Warren was always there for me. I wish I could have been there for him.
Sam, as a director, expected a lot out of his actors, said Tim. My dad
liked being an actor, and Sam liked his professionalism and good-old-boy
nature. He said the two men could party as hard as they worked, and that
partying, including cocaine with liberal doses of alcohol, led to both mens
early deaths.
I think the drugs took over, Tim said, explaining that while Livingston was
supposed to be the place for Peckinpah to get away from the fast life
(doctors orders), it didnt always work out that way, like the time Peckinpah
screeched into the driveway and ran into the house for some Southern
moonshine.
Hey, Warren! Tim remembered Peckinpah hollering. I hear you have some
of the good stuff! Peckinpah then reached behind the 18-year-old Tim
Oates, who was sitting at the dining room table with three of his friends,
grabbed a Mason jar filled with golden-colored liquid off the shelf, and took
a stiff drink.

Then he said, Thanks, Warren! and screeched away, Tim said. He liked
getting away from the skeletons in the closet like that, but I dont think he
could.
All of them have quit drinking or died by now, Miller said. He was already
burned out when we met him, but we liked him at the Murray and looked
after him. He was trying for the last big hurrah before he died, but there
were too many demons at the door, and it didnt happen.
Tim Oates was in Livingston with his sister to scatter his fathers ashes at
the family ranch (now owned by Dennis Quaid, though Quaid placed the
property on the market in July, 2012, for $14 million) the last time he saw
Peckinpah. They were at the Murray in Pecks Place, reminiscing about
Warren at the stand-up bar, when Peckinpah suddenly looked at the dice he
was rolling around in his hand.
What would you think if I rolled five sixes? he asked, and rolled the dice.
They came up five sixes.
Sam traced the positions of those dice on the bar, Tim said. I wonder
whatever happened to those drawings?
This article by Pat Hill first appeared in the Montana Pioneer in August
2004. Interviews included were also conducted at that time.

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