There are many things you can say to define Clu Gulager - cowboy, actor, teacher. But spend some time with the man and an overriding sense of humor permeates everything he says and does. His "Aw shucks" delivery coupled with a sense of devilry is impossible to ignore. Add that to a lifetime of stories and some book learnin' smarts, and you are in for the entire conversation. This time around we feature some of the quiet humor of Clu Gualager. Pay attention as the wisdom is sprinkled throughout. That's Clu's way.
One of the last things you did as a performer was in your son’s (John) film series of Feast?
Yeah. Literally I don't act anymore. My son has made four pictures for the Weinsteins, Bob Weinstein in particular. I've been in all of them in more or less minor roles because he wanted me to be. I didn't want to be. I don't act anymore. But he said "No Pop, you're in them." And I said "Okay". Because you do what your children say or they'll put you in an old people's home.
You have run an entire lifetime through films - westerns, dramas, horror. Anything you regret doing in film?
One time I was put in prison. I escaped from prison in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents and went to see an old lady who had more or less been my pen-pal. She just wanted to talk from afar. She didn't want to be right next to me when she was talking with me and relating to me. So she called the police on me. They captured me and I went back to prison. I didn't like that at all.
So if they accuse you of being a Pepper Pot they're not too far off.
They're right on the button. Oh man!
Had you been born 100 years earlier what would you be doing?
What I used to be as a child. I used to be a cowboy. I used to ride horses. I was thinking about The Virginian the other day. He was a city slicker, Jim Drury, a real nice guy but a city slicker. He sat a horse fairly well and I was just wondering if he'd ever thrown a rope at a steer. Some of those old ponies were really trained to stop on a dime when you threw that rope. If you weren't ready for it you'd (raises his voice to a high pitch) end up talking like this. I think maybe Jim would have played The Virginian like this.
But you would have probably just worked a ranch and that's that?
Maybe I would have taken over.
You were happy with that life. You would have liked that life?
Yes. Sheriff Ryker was an outlaw and then he became a good guy. My pilot (on the television series The Virginian ,1963) where I became Deputy Sheriff Ryker was with a real good actor Leslie Nielsen. You can't top Leslie. There's no way you can go over him because he's so good. He's so strong as an actor. So you have to go under him. So by the time we finished the show, the pilot, we were both kind of whispering. We were trying to go under and be low key so we would be noticed.
Is there anything you have wanted to have done at this point and haven't?
Yeah, I'd like to be able to make it rain in June when the crops need it. That's what I'd really like.
Any roles that you turned down that you wish you hadn't?
Oh yeah, a million. There was this script that was sent to me, this guy's dead now I can say this, it was called MASH. It was the motion picture. The guy who had created it worked at Universal with me for a long time. I was working under contract there and he was working as a director and so forth. We knew each other. He liked my work and he wanted me to be in MASH so he sent me a script. It was the worst piece of shit, I thought, I'd ever read in my life. As it turned out I learned something. I told my agents to tell him I'm not available, I'm working on something. I found out later that you can't go by the script all the time. You have to go by the director plus the script. Because out of that crap he made one of the best American films ever made. I realized that the director had a lot to do with literature. He has a lot to do with what stays in and what stays on the cutting room floor and what's not even filmed in a script. I learned it the hard way. Just do it. I was too protective. You can be too protective.
You mean of your career?
Young people can be too protective of themselves. When you get older and mellow out you begin to realize that you can take care of yourself and you learn how to do it. But in the beginning you're very protective. Over-protective. You don't know what's going on. You think you know everything and you don't know anything.
How many agents have you been through?
About 800. So many. See, what happened was that I was with the biggest agency in the world, in the history of show business, Music Corporation of America - MCA. They were ordered to disband, for certain reasons. I had to find other agents. So from then on I just went from agent to agent. It just worked out that way. After a certain point I'd worked so much, Del, I became disinterested in acting. I had to work so fast with such product that ... it's hard to exp ... we didn't get a chance to prepare, to plan, to think about it and to develop relationships with the character and so forth. It was just memorizing the lines and saying them the best we could remember them. Well that's not really acting. That has to do with brain power. I don't have much of that to begin with. My skill was acting in front of the camera in television. It became very difficult to do that because it went so fast. Most had one show a week but I had so many shows a week because I was in series all the time. It was an unending ordeal of memorizing and saying lines.
Clu can be found roaming the Hollywood Hills or eating a Pink's chili dog.
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com.