Andrew V. McLaglen (he is quite insistent on retaining the “V” in his name, as part of his authorial signature) is without a doubt one of the last of the classical Hollywood filmmakers who worked during the Golden Age of the studio system. Coming of age when his father, the gifted actor Victor McLaglen, won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in John Ford’s The Informer (1935; Ford himself also won as Best Director that year, as did Max Steiner for his music score, and Dudley Nichols for the screenplay), young Andrew worked and lived with the cream of Hollywood’s most original and idiosyncratic artists. In addition to John Ford, he knew and/or worked with John “Duke” Wayne, William Wellman, Budd Boetticher and Cary Grant, and later carved out a career for himself as a director in the Western genre that few can equal. Even now, he is still going strong, directing stage productions of such classics as Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman, and keeps an interested eye on the business.
In all his work, Andrew V. McLaglen is a genuine artist, but one who also kept an eye on the bottom line, and kept his projects moving. And, as you will see, although he is best known for his work as a director of Westerns, he feels that he did some of his best work in other genres. At 89, McLaglen is still as sharp as a tack, his memory is clear and strong, and his personal history is pretty much a history of the medium itself. Most telling, he is generous to others in telling his story, and eager to acknowledge the talents of the many actors and directors whom he worked with. But let him tell his story to you directly, as he did to me in February 2009.
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You were born on 28 July 1920 in London and your father was the actor Victor McLaglen, which makes you roughly 15 years old when he won the Academy Award for The Informer. What can you tell me about your early childhood, your early growing-up years and your education?
As a young child, I was schooled conventionally, then I went to Black Fox Military in the fifth grade. From the fifth grade through the eighth grade, I went to a school on Beverly Boulevard called The Carl Curtis School [now called simply The Curtis School]. It was an academic school, along with a strong emphasis on physical education. All the kids at the school were doing gym exercises every single day, special exercises to, you know, to keep you in good shape, everything you could think of. It was a very thorough education. And, through my life, I’ve known what the names of all the bones in the human body and everything just through my basic grade school education there.
When was the first time that you realized that your father was doing something other than ordinary work, so to speak?
Well, I think it was when he starred in Josef von Sternberg’s Dishonored  with Marlene Dietrich, which made quite a splash. But he had been in the business a long time before, of course, going back to his first film, A. E. Coleby’s The Call of the Road , which was made the year I was born. Then, of course, he moved over to the States. He and Edmund Lowe were giant stars in the late ’20s, starting with Raoul Walsh’s What Price Glory , which was their first movie together. They worked together doing six or seven movies, way up into the ’30s somewhere, and became a very well known team. His pictures did a lot of business. I remember receiving a watch my dad gave me years ago, a platinum watch that they gave him at the Roxy Theatre in New York, as the biggest box-office star of that of time. It was when he made a personal appearance, and it was about that time I realized he was working in a different sort of profession, something the public noticed.
Did you hang around on the set when he worked? What was your relationship like with your father?
I can remember going as a sub-teenager to the set, but not that often. I went to boarding school, so I didn’t do much of it then, except when I graduated from high school in 1938, and I spent two weeks on the set of George Stevens’ Gunga Din . Then I got to see George Stevens, Cary Grant, my father and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in action, which was quite an experience! I just kept out of the way, because they were working hard; they had a picture to make! I had another school buddy with me at the time, we were 18 and 19 years old, and we had a terrific time. We got to know Cary and Doug, Jr. and Joan Fontaine; what a great group of people they were! And George Stevens – in years to come, whenever I bumped into him, we would always talk about those Gunga Din days, because I think that was one of his favourite projects.
It’s a fantastic film. Now, at this point, did you get the idea that maybe you were interested in making movies?
Yeah, I got the idea when I was in high school at Cates School in Santa Barbara [now the Cate School]. I got a 16mm camera, and I got together with my friends and I made little movies there. This was in the late 1930s. That’s when I first really got really interested in it, from the ninth grade onwards.
Did you ever try to convince your father to be in any of your films at that point?
I never did, no. These were school things that we did as a bunch of friends, and we didn’t get any adults involved. Well, this is very early on, you know, for people to be making movies.
Then, right after I graduated, I went to the University of Virginia. I was on the freshman boxing team. I only stayed there one year, because, if you really wanna know the truth, I fell in love with a gal from Stanford. One interesting thing: when I was a freshman there, [future director] Robert Aldrich was a senior.
Did you meet him?
Oh, yeah, he knew me, and he even tried to get me into his fraternity. He was on the Virginia football team. Then I went home and World War II was just about getting started. My parents were very close friends of Robert E. Gross, who was the chairman of the board of Lockheed Aircraft. And he said, “Do you think Andrew would like to come and work here?” Which was funny, because I was drafted right away, so it looked like that wouldn’t happen, but everything turned out fine. I was as good as in the Army, you know, except when it came to my height. I stood on a scale during the induction physical and the little guy who was taking my height had a stool he had to stand on, because the ruler came out of his hands. I was six feet seven. That’s where I got my nickname, Big A, which stuck from that point on.
Anyway, the little guy didn’t know what to do. I’ll always remember that he didn’t say a word. He just got down and took a little yellow pad, and he wrote “4F” (unfit for military service because of a physical handicap) on it and gave it to me.
4F! Just because of your height!
Yeah, 4F. So, I wasn’t in the Army. But instead of being in the Army, I spent four years chasing ring corrugations for the P38 all over the factory at Lockheed. I didn’t wanna do that for my whole life! So, by the time the War was over, the question was “What am I gonna do?”
When I got out of Lockheed, my father said, “The one thing I’m gonna advise you is don’t go in the picture business. It’s disappointing, it’s hard work, it’s full of ups and downs, and I just suggest that you skip that.” Well, I didn’t take his suggestion. Instead, I wrote a letter to Herbert J. Yates, the head of Republic Pictures. I told him who I was, and I said, “I really wanna get into the motion picture business” and so on. He wrote me a letter back and said, “Come to work.”
Why did you pick Republic, and not one of the major studios?
Well, the only reason I picked Republic is ’cause, at that particular moment, my father was about to make a movie there.
The first credit I have on you, and maybe this is wrong, is as an assistant director is on Albert Rogell’s 1945 film, Love, Honor and Goodbye?
You’re exactly right.
So, what was your baptism of fire like as an assistant director?
Well, I didn’t start as an A.D. On Love, Honor and Goodbye, I was what we call a company clerk.
I had to make the call-sheet and check up on the weather to see if it was okay to go on location. So, yeah, you’re right: a gofer.
Then I have a gap from you between ’45 and ’51 when you worked with Budd Boetticher on Bullfighter and the Lady (1951). What happened?
After two years at Republic or so, I decided I wanted to be a second assistant director. I remember I said, “Now how in the hell am I gonna do it?” Every morning, Herbert Yates would drive in in his big limousine, get out and walk along this long path to go into his office. I hid in the bushes one morning and met him halfway. I kind of jumped out of the bushes at him. I said, “Mr. Yates, I really feel like I’m ready to become a second assistant.”
And he said, “Oh, I remember you, son. I’ll look into it.” And that was it, believe it or not. I became a second assistant, but it was when the war was just over, and all the guys are coming back. So, I didn’t have much job security. Then the studio said, “Sorry, Andrew, we’re gonna have to lay you off now, because the fellas are coming back from the War.” That’s when they took away my permit from The Directors Guild, because, until I’d done a sixth picture, I was riding on a permit, and not a full Guild membership.
So, they took my permit away, but I happened to read the bylaws of The Guild and it said, “After six pictures, you’re automatically a member.” So I wrote to Yates again. I said, “If you read your bylaws, I’m automatically a member of the Guild, because [I had done six pictures and] I’ll have to sue you.” He didn’t want that, so in ’46 or ’47 I became a member of The Director’s Guild.
I don’t have any credits for you between ’45 and ’51.
Oh, I did a whole bunch of movies. But in those days, it wasn’t a Guild rule that 2nd assistant be given credit. I know I worked on some films with Budd Boetticher at Monogram with Roddy McDowall, who was just a kid then.
Yes, that was called Killer Shark (1950).
That’s it! You got it. My God Almighty, yeah.
When I interviewed Boetticher shortly before his death, he called Monogram “really second rate”.
Absolutely. But it was a good thing being on that picture with Budd. I was only a second assistant, but we became friends. And Budd said, “You know, I’ve written this script” and I said, “Listen, let me see it. Maybe I can do something with it.” So I took the script, and, because I’d worked with Duke [John Wayne], you know, in my very first picture as a 2nd assistant, Dakota  …
Joseph Kane, who directed literally hundreds of westerns, directed that. You were the 2nd assistant on that?
Uh-huh. With John Wayne and Vera Hruba Ralston. And Wayne took a liking to me. He’d already known my father for a long time, all the way up through my years at Republic.
So, when I took Budd’s script to him in 1950, I was still a 2nd. I said, “Take a look at this, Duke, and see what you think.” I told Budd, “If by some miracle Duke can get Mr. Yates to make this movie, I want you to make me the associate producer.” He says, “You got it.” So, Yates liked it and we went down to Mexico and did Bullfighter and the Lady. That was when I became a 1st assistant.
And you actually got credit on it as “Andy McLaglen”.
Yeah. Whether Budd tried or didn’t try, I didn’t get my associate producer credit, but at least I became a 1st assistant. I was a 1st from then on. But then Mr. Yates had decided to make [John Ford’s] The Quiet Man (1952). They knew that I knew Duke well, and that I had known John Ford since I was about 13 years old.
But you were the 2nd assistant on that film.
You’re right, and here’s why. Yates said, “Look, we can’t make you the 1st on that, because Wingate Smith is John Ford’s brother-in-law, and he’s his 1st.”
“Would you go over as the 2nd?” “On that picture?”, I said. “You bet I will.”
A wise decision … and a free trip to Ireland, to boot.
Absolutely. Except when I got over there, Wingate was my roommate and we got along fine. But he was an old guy by that time, so I actually was the 1st assistant on The Quiet Man for the entire movie and old Wingate stood aside and let me do it. I really stepped up to the plate and I’ll never forget it. I worked my ass off for John Ford.
What was your impression of Ford? I’ve heard so many different stories about him, and about John Wayne, with lots of different opinions. Give me your take.
My take on Ford was that he was kind of a mysterious character, a very unusual personality. You’d have to almost meet him to understand something about him. Unpredictable.
Practically blind, right?
Blind in one eye and he sometimes wore an eye patch.
And used to chew on a handkerchief while he was shooting.
You’re absolutely right. It was a nervous habit. He used to chew on his handkerchief all the time.
And he shot to the cut, didn’t he?
He would shoot to the cut. In other words, he would pretty much shoot only what he needed. Totally economical. I mean pictures like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon  and Fort Apache , he made those in like six weeks!
I know. It’s just amazing.
And when he made The Informer with my dad, he shot that in 27 days.
I know. That was supposed to be a “B” picture and it broke through to an “A” status, won a bunch of Oscars and everybody was very surprised.
Oh, yeah, yeah. It was a real victory for my father, ’cause to win the Best Actor Oscar he had to knock off Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone for [Frank Lloyd’s] Mutiny on the Bounty .
Tough competition. And, as we’re talking, I’m looking at my father’s Academy Award that he won that night, because I had an Academy Award party last night [the previous day, 22 February 2009, had been the 81st Academy Awards] and I had some friends over.
I thought the Awards went off very well last night.
I thought it was the best I’ve ever seen. I thought the idea of having the five former best actors, and the five former best actresses come out and give the awards was a nice touch — it was something new. I’m disappointed at the papers, USA Today and my local paper, the Seattle Post. They didn’t praise it enough. I thought Hugh Jackman did a fantastic job as master of ceremonies.
They ought to sign him up for next year.
I agree. Picking up your career, what happened after you did The Quiet Man?
I became almost a contract 1st assistant for Batjac with John Wayne.
John Wayne’s company.
And that was another great experience, because, though I didn’t get to work with Ford anymore, I did four or five movies with William A. Wellman.
“Wild Bill” Wellman.
That’s right. We went through The High and the Mighty , Island in the Sky , Track of the Cat  and Blood Alley . That was one of my best experiences I’ve ever had, because Bill Wellman was fantastic. And, boy, when you’re his assistant, you’re not just a production assistant. You were his assistant. He would call me up at 5:30 in the morning and say, “Hey, Andrew, good morning, what are you doing?” I’d say, “Sleeping.” And he’d say, “Well, how about breakfast?” I’d say, “Okay, what time?” “How’s 6:30?” So, I’d run over to his house. It was his seven kids and his wife, and we’d all sit around the table and have breakfast with him. I really loved working with Bill Wellman. He just loved making movies, and knew exactly what he was doing. But Blood Alley was my last movie as a first assistant because Bob Morrison and I found a little script and Duke knew that I wanted to be a director. So, one day he said, “I’ll tell you what. If you guys can put it together, I’ll guarantee the budget at the bank.”
Wow, that’s a real vote of confidence.
Not many people knew that.
That’s a hell of a kind gesture.
That’s how I became a director, with a little film called Man in the Vault . The funny thing was, it wasn’t a Western. It was a crime picture, almost a noir film, with William Campbell, Anita Ekberg and Mike Mazurki.
But the thing is, when you move up to being a director, and you just do a little picture, how are you gonna keep on being a director?
So, Bob Morrison and I found another script, which became my next picture, Gun the Man Down . When I was working as 1st on this, the picture we made in Hawaii in the early 50s …
Edward Ludwig’s Big Jim McLain (1952).
… yeah, Big Jim McLain … I’d gotten to know Jim Arness very well. And Jim Arness happened to be under contract to Duke. And, all of a sudden, Jim became a big star with the TV series, Gunsmoke.
Which made him totally bankable.
Yeah. So, I went and saw the vice president of United Artists and said, “What if I give you Jim Arness and Angie Dickinson in this script, and shoot it in ten days?”
Ten days? That’s a very tight schedule.
I put Harry Carey, Jr. into that also, and Bill Clothier was the cameraman. That was my second one.
What was the budget on that, if I may ask?
Oh, my gosh. You know, the budgets were so small then …
A hundred grand, something like that?
Yeah, a little more than that. I know I was making $2,500 a week back then, which today is like nothing. But in 1956 dollars, it was quite a lot. So, after I finished Gun the Man Down, my next thought was, “What am I gonna do next?” You can’t stop; you’ve gotta keep looking for that next project. We found another script, and what do you think that was? Budd Boetticher’s Seven Men from Now .
But you didn’t wind up directing that film.
No, I didn’t. I just took it for granted that, if we made the picture, I would direct it. But Bob Fellows, who was Duke’s partner, for some reason told Warners that he’d much rather have Budd Boetticher direct it. So, Budd directed it and that was that. I did get a producer credit out of it, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to keep on directing.
In the meantime, Arness had done a year of Gunsmoke. And he said to CBS, “Why don’t you try McLaglen on a couple of Gunsmoke episodes? I just did a movie, Gun the Man Down, with him, and that worked out well.” So I signed up for a couple of Gunsmokes. And, to cut it real short, I hold the record for the number of episodes of Gunsmoke directed: 96, between 1956 and 1965. Each of those episodes was done in six days; that’s it. You couldn’t go over.
Anyway, during that period they made a pilot for Have Gun – Will Travel. They took me off Gunsmoke for a little bit, and put me on Have Gun – Will Travel and, the next thing you know, I had directed 116 hundred episodes on that!
Tell me about Richard Boone [star of Have Gun – Will Travel].
He became a very close friend of mine. We worked together for six solid years. But, during that time, I also did five movies. I went to CBS and said, “Look, will you let me off for three or four weeks, I wanna do a little movie.” And they said, “Okay.” That’s when I did The Abductors  and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come .
What was it like directing your father in The Abductors? This was an odd little period crime drama about two men trying to hold Abraham Lincoln’s body for ransom. Your father was joined by George Macready, Fay Spain and some often talented actors in this little film.
Yeah, I loved it. I made the picture in ten days. He just did it as a favour for me.
Then back on television, you directed a bunch of Perry Masons, and seven episodes of Rawhide with Clint Eastwood. What was Eastwood like at that point in his career, which is very early on?
He was great; he was just starting out. You know, it’s funny, on that show, Eric Fleming [an actor who appeared in the series] was sort of the boss. He was kind of a grumpy guy. I remember Clint as being a good guy, easy to work with, always on time, always knew his lines. It’s a kick when I think back. If then you were gonna tell me that Clint was gonna become one of the biggest icons that’s ever hit the screen, I wouldn’t have believed you. But he’s done some incredible work in his career.
Well, the next picture I have you directing is a big-budget western, McLintock! (1963).
Oh, McLintock! was my big break – with Duke and Maureen O’Hara. Big box-office hit, big picture. And that put me in the big time.
That film was tied up in some rights problems for years and years, and you couldn’t see it anywhere. Now it’s come out on DVD in the past couple of years. You know anything about that or not?
Well, it might have been because Duke’s family owned it. When Michael Wayne, Duke’s oldest son died, his widow took over all the pictures. And she went over to Paramount and struck a DVD deal. That was on all the pictures that I did with Duke. I think he owned Chisum , too.
But after McLintock!, you actually went over and did an episode of The Virginian, which was the first 90-minute television series.
One episode. That’s it. No more. It was okay, but I didn’t wanna slip back to TV when I was doing so well as a feature director.
I got another feature off the ground fast, Shenandoah (1965), and then The Rare Breed (1966). That came right after Shenandoah.
What was it like working with Jimmy Stewart?
I loved it. He was a great actor, always professional, knew what he wanted, a real solid actor. I did four pictures with him.
You worked a lot with Maureen O’Hara too.
I did two with Maureen and with Jimmy, including Bandolero! , and my favourite of all, Fools’ Parade .
How would you describe the way that you approached directing actors? When you have somebody like Jimmy Stewart, who knows what he’s doing, or John Wayne, would you just run through it and then just shoot it? What’s your approach to working with actors?
Well, by the time I was directing Duke and Jimmy, I had done 200-plus TV pictures. And, you know, there’s one thing about doing television: you’re taught to, without sacrificing anything in the way of production values, to keep things on time and move forward. You find yourself doing things on budget, on schedule, no problems. And Duke and I got along fine. That’s the only reason, after McLintock!, I did five more movies with Duke. He knew what he was doing, and so did I. He had a lot of faith in me.
I understand what you’re saying, because directing television is great practice for getting things done on time and under budget.
You can’t beat it. You either get it done or they find someone else.
How many setups [a complete change of camera position and lighting] did you have to do a day on Gunsmoke?
Oh, my, I don’t remember it. But I remember my first day on The Man in the Vault vividly. I did 51 setups. Don’t ask me how. It was crazy, but that’s what you had to do. That’s what you gotta do. I was well prepared. That’s one important thing: you have to know the next setup and exactly what you’re doing.
Do you storyboard?
I never used a storyboard very much. I didn’t like those too much. If I did my homework, I knew what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have to hunt around until noon to get my first shot.
Would you more or less set up the master, and then go in for the close-ups, and do it that way?
Well, yeah. It depends on what the scene is, but that’s usually how I’d do it.
How did you get then involved with The Ballad of Josie (1967) with Doris Day?
Oh, that was because I had a multiple-picture contract at Universal. My time came up to do a movie and they said, “Would you do a picture with Doris Day?” I said, “You bet.” She was another complete professional. That was a lot of fun to shoot.
And then, after that, you went over to Disney to make Monkeys, Go Home (1967).
That’s Maurice Chevalier’s last movie.
I know, with Dean Jones and Yvette Mimieux.
I gotta tell you, I loved working with Maurice Chevalier. That’s the main reason I took on the picture: just to get a chance to work with him. He was a terrific guy, just a terrific guy. Total pro, knew his lines. Everything was good about him, you know. As a matter of fact, that picture was kind of fun because I had those damn chimpanzees to work with. [Laughs]
Your next film was The Way West (1967).
The Way West was, to me, one of the things I dream about today, because I thought it was a terrific picture. I had Richard Widmark, Kirk Douglas, Bob Mitchum and Sally Field, in her first movie. She was incredible; you could tell, even then that she’d be a big name in the business. It was fun to shoot, and UA thought it was great. I was really happy with it. But then, after the whole thing was shot, they called me up and said we’re releasing the picture, but we want to cut 22 minutes off the beginning. I thought it was just perfect as it was. But they thought it was too long, and we had to bring it back in, which cost a fortune, because we had to cut it after we released it. I mean, how dumb can you get? It’s stupid. So, I had to go over to the Goldwyn Studio and sit with my producer, Harold Hecht, and try and nip and tuck here and there, to cut some footage out. And I think I hurt the picture, because in that movie I showed you the beginning of each character and their whole story, and how the whole thing developed.
It was a great novel [by A.B. Guthrie Jr.] and it was a great screenplay. Ben Maddow wrote the screenplay and Bob Mitchum was very tickled doing the movie ’cause he loved the novel.
You shot that on location in Bend, Oregon, didn’t you?
Bend, Oregon, and Eugene.
After this, we go to The Devil’s Brigade (1968), a war picture with William Holden and Cliff Robertson.
The Devil’s Brigade took me all over the map and finally to Italy. Originally, they sent me up to Salt Lake City to do the picture. And the art director was hunting all over the side of a mountain, trying to find the right place to build a village here. The producer was David L. Wolper, who did a lot of stuff for TV, and I said, “Jesus, you’re gonna spend all that money to build a set? It’s gonna be a lot cheaper for us to go to Italy and find a little town.” He said, “Well, maybe you’re right.” So they went to the studio and guess what? They agreed with me; it was cheaper. That’s when we went to Italy.
Now, I showed the finished cut to United Artists and they just loved The Devil’s Brigade. They said, “Well, we never try to tell you what to do artistically, but I wouldn’t touch anything, and especially the stuff with Bill Holden.” But the producer had a big projection room in his house, and he showed the movie for a solid week to a hundred people, and I think a hundred people had ideas of what we should do with the movie.
And without me having any input – I didn’t have the last say – they cut the movie and, in the end, it was not nearly as good as it could have been.
I had a great ending, and a lot of good stuff in there, and he didn’t know what he was doing. I still worry about that.
Your first directorial credit was a crime film, Man in the Vault, but you rapidly became the “go-to” guy for Westerns.
I know it.
Do you have a real love for the Western genre?
No, that was really by mistake.
It was totally by mistake because first I did Man in the Vault. Then I got a Western, Gun the Man Down, because I knew Jim Arness. Then, as I told you, I wound up doing a whole bunch of Gunsmoke episodes. I then became the “Western Director”, the star over at CBS. Then everybody thinks, “Jesus, that’s his big specialty.”
How did you feel about being typed as a western director?
Not good, not good.
That’s interesting, ’cause I always thought that you had a real affection for it.
No, I didn’t. It was what happened. It’s the way my course was laid for me.
So what other kind of films would you have liked to have done?
Well, that’s a big question.
There are probably a lot of would-haves. But, as it is, I consider myself very fortunate having had a career and having worked with so many great people. I now that that time has gone by now. I’ve had more calls [for interviews] lately than I’ve ever had. Maybe ’cause I’m the only one around.
Did you enjoy making Hellfighters (1968), which was a “non-Western” project?
Hellfighters was fun because it was a story about “Red” Adair, the guy who made a living putting out oil well fires all around the world. Duke was in it, of course, and Red was my technical advisor on the film. We shot that down in Houston, Texas, and Casper, Wyoming, and, of course, it had one of my favourite people to work with, Katharine Ross. I put her in her first movie. That was Shenandoah. Before that, I had her in television.
And now we come to Chisum (1970), one of the last classic Westerns, with John Wayne and Forrest Tucker.
Duke owned the negative on that baby. Warner Brothers released it; it was originally made for Fox, and then Fox sold it over to Warner Brothers. That’s got a really amazing cast. In addition to Duke and Forrest Tucker, it had Christopher George, who was a damned good actor, and his wife, Lynda Day George, to say nothing of old-timers like Bruce Cabot and Patrick Knowles, who both go way, way back.
Patrick Knowles had a big, big part because Chisum was a true story about “Billy The Kid”. The Englishman [J. Henry Tunstall in the film] was a real character who befriended “Billy The Kid”, who was played in the film by a guy named Geoffrey Deuel. Knowles’ character eventually got killed by the bad guys for his trouble.
Then you did One More Train to Rob (1971).
One More Train to Rob was one of my Universal pictures that I did with George Peppard, which was just an okay movie. It’s played an awful lot on TV, but it isn’t my favourite by a long shot.
After that, I did Cahill U.S. Marshal in 1973, which was a good picture, and another chance to work with the Duke. Then I had a little bit of a lapse. I did a couple of family pictures for Disney on television and then I got called back to Twentieth Century Fox to do a picture with Charlton Heston and James Coburn, The Last Hard Men, which was shot in 1975 and released in 1976.
But then you did a big picture, The Wild Geese (1978), which is emphatically not a Western.
Oh, man, that was fabulous! That was a whole new start for my career, man, are you kidding? That was great. A really solid action war picture, with a superb cast: Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Stewart Granger – just incredible. This producer called me up. I’d only met him once before, Euan Lloyd, an English producer. And he said, “You know, I was talking to John Ford one day just before he died [in 1973]”, and Ford asked him who was gonna direct The Wild Geese and he said they hadn’t thought of a director yet. So Ford said, “Well, you ought to try that young McLaglen, ’cause he really knows how to make pictures.”
Well, I never knew that, except when he told me that Ford had really helped me there. But he was like that; he would sort of help you behind your back. And, so I did the film.
Hell, I loved that movie. It had a great script by Reginald Rose, who’s a damn, damn good writer. I thought, “I’m back in the big time, thank God”, because I had a little slump there.
After that, I did The Sea Wolves , which was another big war picture, and, again, I was working with a top shelf cast: Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Trevor Howard and David Niven. I was back on top.
I then did another film in Berlin with Richard Burton and Rod Steiger, which came out here as Breakthrough , which was a good film.
But then in ’81 I got what I really enjoyed doing, seven hours of The Blue and the Gray [released in 1982]. It was for television, but it had a first-class budget and a great script. It was nominated for four Emmys. Again, an incredible cast: Stacy Keach, Lloyd Bridges, Rory Calhoun, Coleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, Robert Vaughn, Sterling Hayden, Paul Winfield and Gregory Peck. How can you go wrong?
You did all seven hours of that?
That’s a hell of an accomplishment.
That was a big, big thing on TV. And it’s out on DVD now too, you know.
And then the last picture I have for you is Return from the River Kwai.
Return from the River Kwai, yes. A good picture, a sort of sequel to the David Lean film. That was shot in ’88; it came out in ’89. And then I did another picture in Europe. Took me all over Europe: Eye of the Widow . That is one we don’t even wanna go into. It had a Corsican producer.
I came home at Christmas, then was going back to finish cutting it. But he just stole the whole movie and took it to Paris. That was the last I heard or saw of it. I know it was released all over Europe. I’m still getting slight, little returns on it, but it drives you nuts to have something like that happen.
I figured that was enough. So I just retired from making movies in ’90. Then, in ’97, I moved up here on this island and I’ve got a beautiful spot here. You wouldn’t even believe it.
This is on San Juan Island in Washington State. I understand that you’re still directing plays for the San Juan Island Community Theater.
Absolutely right. We have a 300-seat, state-of-the-art legitimate theatre here.
So, you’re still directing.
Well, I’ve just finished my seventeenth play in 17 years.
What kind of stuff do you do?
Death of a Salesman. All of the first-rate stuff, everything you can think of. Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, things like that. We do a lot of Neil Simon’s plays.
I understand that your son, Josh, is an assistant director and works in a lot of big pictures.
Well, Josh is to, to me … Okay, I’m bragging now.
I think he’s probably one of the three top 1st assistant directors in the whole business. And, of course, what really got him off in that he was 1st assistant on [James Cameron’s] Titanic . That was a big production and he’s been doing nothing but big pictures ever since.
And your daughter, Mary, is an executive producer and a unit production manager.
Yes, she’s doing a lot of good stuff.
I also have another daughter, Sharon, who for 20 years was a script analyst at Warner Brothers, and after that was a script analyst for ten years at MGM. And She’s my oldest daughter and she lives up here now, where I live. Mary has a house right next door to me here.
What do you think about some of the recent Westerns, like George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone (1993).
Oh, I love Tombstone.
What do you think of Clint Eastwood’s movies as a director?
I have nothing but admiration for Clint. I just think he’s great. I love his Westerns, and also his newer stuff, like Gran Torino , which is a damn good film. The thing I like about Gran Torino is that he shot the film in about 30 days on location, no nonsense, “Get in and get out”, you know?
Do you remember when Clint got the Oscar for directing Million Dollar Baby ? He thanked everybody, and started to walk away from the microphone. Suddenly, he jumped back in and said, “And I shot it in 37 days, too.” I always got a kick out of Clint for that. I love it when someone can do something very economically.
At this point, he can do anything he wants to do, and I also love Changeling (2008).
I agree. I’m really happy to hear that you’re keeping up on all this stuff.
I do. You have to. That’s what life’s about.