Sam Peckinpah (1925–1984)Writer | Director | Producer
Date of Birth 21 February 1925, Fresno, California, USA
Date of Death 28 December 1984, Inglewood, California, USA (heart failure)
Birth Name David Edward Samuel Ernest Peckinpah Jr.
Nicknames Bloody Sam
Height 5' 9" (1.75 m)
"If they move", commands stern-eyed William Holden, "kill 'em". So begins The Wild Bunch (1969), Sam Peckinpah's bloody, high-body-count eulogy to the mythologized Old West. "Pouring new wine into the bottle of the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle", observed critic Pauline Kael. That exploding bottle also christened the director with the nickname that would forever define his films and reputation: "Bloody Sam".
David Samuel Peckinpah was born and grew up in Fresno, California, when it was still a sleepy town. Young Sam was a loner. The child's greatest influence was grandfather Denver Church, a judge, congressman and one of the best shots in the Sierra Nevadas. Sam served in the US Marine Corps during World War II but - to his disappointment - did not see combat. Upon returning to the US he enrolled in Fresno State College, graduating in 1948 with a B.A. in Drama. He married Marie Selland in Las Vegas in 1947 and they moved to Los Angeles, where he enrolled in the graduate Theater Department of the University of Southern California the next year. He eventually took his Masters in 1952.
After drifting through several jobs -- including a stint as a floor-sweeper on The Liberace Show (1952) -- Sam got a job as Dialogue Director on Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) for director Don Siegel. He worked for Siegel on several films, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), in which Sam played Charlie Buckholtz, the town meter reader. Peckinpah eventually became a scriptwriter for such TV programs as Gunsmoke (1955) and The Rifleman (1958) (which he created as an episode of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater (1956) titled "The Sharpshooter' in 1958). In 1961, as his marriage to Selland was coming to an end, he directed his first feature film, a western titled The Deadly Companions (1961) starring \Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara. However, it was with his second feature, Ride the High Country (1962), that Peckinpah really began to establish his reputation. Featuring Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott (in his final screen performance), its story about two aging gunfighters anticipated several of the themes Peckinpah would explore in future films, including the controversial "The Wild Bunch". Following "Ride the High Country" he was hired by producer Jerry Bresler to direct Major Dundee (1965), a cavalry-vs.-Indians western starring Charlton Heston. It turned out to be a film that brought to light Peckinpah's volatile reputation. During hot, on-location work in Mexico, his abrasive manner, exacerbated by booze and marijuana, provoked usually even-keeled Heston to threaten to run him through with a cavalry saber. However, when the studio later considered replacing Peckinpah, it was Heston who came to Sam's defense, going so far as to offer to return his salary to help offset any overages. Ironically, the studio accepted and Heston wound up doing the film for free.
Post-production conflicts led to Sam engaging in a bitter and ultimately losing battle with Bresler and Columbia Pictures over the final cut and, as a result, the disjointed effort fizzled at the box office. It was during this period that Peckinpah met and married his second wife, Mexican actress Begoña Palacios. However, the reputation he earned because of the conflicts on "Major Dundee" contributed to Peckinpah being replaced as director on his next film, the Steve McQueen film The Cincinnati Kid (1965), by Norman Jewison.
His second marriage now failing, Peckinpah did not get another feature project for two years. However, he did direct a powerful adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's 'Noon Wine" for ABC Stage 67: Noon Wine (1966)). This, in turn, helped relaunch his feature career. He was hired by Warner Bros. to direct the film for which he is, justifiably, best remembered. The success of "The Wild Bunch" rejuvenated his career and propelled him through highs and lows in the 1970s. Between 1970-1978 he directed The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), Straw Dogs (1971), Junior Bonner (1972), The Getaway (1972), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Killer Elite (1975), Cross of Iron (1977) and Convoy (1978). Throughout this period controversy followed him. He provoked more rancor over his use of violence in "Straw Dogs", introduced Ali MacGraw to Steve McQueen in "The Getaway", fought with MGM's chief James T. Aubrey over his vision for "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" that included the casting of Bob Dylan in an unscripted role as a character called "Alias." His last solid effort was the WW II anti-war epic "Cross of Iron", about a German unit fighting on the Russian front, with Maximilian Schell and James Coburn, bringing the picture in successfully despite severe financial problems.
Peckinpah lived life to its fullest. He drank hard and abused drugs, producers and collaborators. At the end of his life he was considering a number of projects including the Stephen King-scripted "The Shotgunners". He was returning from Mexico in December 1984 when he died from heart failure in a hospital in Inglewood, California, at age 59. At a standing-room-only gathering that held at the Directors Guild the following month, Coburn remembered the director as a man "who pushed me over the abyss and then jumped in after me. He took me on some great adventures". To which Robert Culp added that what is surprising is not that Sam only made fourteen pictures, but that given the way he went about it, he managed to make any at all.
Begoña Palacios (1974 - 28 December 1984) (his death)
Joey Gould (1972 - 1973) (divorced)
Begoña Palacios (5 August 1965 - 7 July 1967) (divorced) (1 child)
Begoña Palacios (13 June 1964 - 1965) (divorced)
Marie Selland (1947 - 1960) (divorced) (4 children)
The films he directed were notorious for their extremely violent and bloody action sequences and climaxes.
Balletic, slow-motion action sequences, edited so that the deaths of two or more characters are shown simultaneously.
The lead character (or characters) in most of his films live by a code of conduct or honor that proves to be obsolete in the face of changing times.
Frequently cast Jason Robards, James Coburn, Emilio Fernández, Warren Oates, Kris Kristofferson, Ben Johnson, David Warner, Slim Pickens and L.Q. Jones.
Often collaborated with Jerry Fielding and Lucien Ballard
His characters often die graphic and emotionally agonizing deaths.
At the time of his death, Peckinpah was in pre-production on an original script by Stephen King entitled "The Shotgunners." (Source: Cinefantastique magazine, 2/91)
The last project he directed was a music video for John Lennon's son Julian Lennon.
Ida Lupino hired him to work on her series Mr. Adams and Eve (1957) after she found him living in a shack behind her property. He paid her back by casting her in Junior Bonner (1972) some years later.
He wrote his scripts by hand in his nearly illegible scribble. Only two women were ever employed as his secretaries because they were the only ones who could transcribe his terrible handwriting.
Was voted the 32nd Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
In 1976 he signed a contract to film "Cukoo's Progress", a novel by Swedish author Sture Dahlström. The novel is about Xerxes Sonson Pickelhaupt, whose life's ambition is to impregnate every women on the face of the earth. He died before the movie was made, but Dahlstrom still got paid.
Served in the US Marine Corps during World War II, but did not see combat.
In his January 1972 Playboy interview, Peckinpah was asked to comment about critic Pauline Kael's assertion that in Straw Dogs (1971), he endorsed rape by having the protagonist's wife seemingly enjoy being violated by her ex-boyfriend. Pointing out that the scene in question was actually the first stage of a gangbang and that the wife clearly did not enjoy being taken by the second man, he went on to gently criticize Kael, who was a great admirer and supporter of his. Noting that he had shared a drink with Kael and liked her personally, Peckiinpah said that on the subject of his movie endorsing rape, "she's cracking walnuts with her ass."
Was hired by Marlon Brando to adopt Charles Neider's novella about Billy the Kid, "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones," that served as the basis for Brando's directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks (1961) (the only film Brando ever directed). While Stanley Kubrick was still slated to be the project's director, Peckinpah wrote what he believed was a good script; subsequently, he was devastated when he was let go after turning it in. Later, some of the thematic elements and scenes that survived and were showcased in "Jacks" also became part of Peckinpah's own take on the legendary outlaw, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973).
Producer Martin Ransohoff felt compelled to fire Peckinpah after the beginning of principal shooting on The Cincinnati Kid (1965) due to disagreements over the conception of the film. The incident led to a physical altercation between the two. In the early 1970s, remarking on their fight, Peckinpah claimed Ransofhoff got the worst of it: "I stripped him as naked as one of his badly told lies", claimed the director known as "Bloody Sam" for the violence in his films. Peckinpah was replaced with Norman Jewison, a relative newcomer to feature film directing at the time, whose long and successful career as a journeyman filmmaker and producer brought him three Oscar nominations as best director and the Irving Thalberg Award in 1999 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Peckinpah, a master before he was discombobulated by substance abuse, received only one Academy Award nomination in his career, for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Wild Bunch (1969).
In 1954 director Don Siegel and producer Walter Wanger had been desperately trying to persuade the warden of San Quentin Prison to allow the use of the facility to film Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), but the warden had adamantly refused. After the final meeting in the prison, when the warden had said there was nothing Siegel or Wanger could do to persuade him to allow filming there, Siegel turned to speak to Peckinpah, who at the time was his assistant. When the warden heard Peckinpah's name, he asked, "Are you related to Denver Peckinpah?". Sam replied that Denver was his brother. Denver Peckinpah was a well-known judge in northern California who had a reputation as a "hanging judge" and the warden had long been an admirer of his. He immediately granted the company permission to shoot the movie in San Quentin.
Father of Sharon Peckinpah, Kristen Peckinpah and Matthew Peckinpah with first wife Marie Selland, and father of Lupita Peckinpah with second wife Begoña Palacios.
His nephew was television writer and producer David E. Peckinpah.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 631-633. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Was offered the chance to direct King Kong (1976) but turned it down.
In an interview with Jim Silke, Peckinpah listed the following as his favorite films: Rashomon (1950); The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), which he called "possibly the finest motion picture ever made"; La Strada (1954), a film that he named as one he would have liked to have made; Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959); Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951); Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947); Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948); La Dolce Vita (1960); On the Waterfront (1954); Last Year at Marienbad (1961); Pather Panchali (1955), the first film in Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy; John Ford's Tobacco Road (1941); A Place in the Sun (1951); My Darling Clementine (1946); Viva Zapata! (1952); Shane (1953); Jirí Sequens' Forbidden Games (1959); High Noon (1952); The Great Armored Car Swindle (1961), Howard Hawks' adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not (1944); and Ingmar Bergman's The Magician (1958).
Was to have worked with Joan Didion on Play It As It Lays (1972), but it never materialized.
According to an interview with L.Q. Jones available on YouTube, one time Slim Pickens proposed to loan $5000 to his friend Sam, who was broke at this time. The offer resulted in Peckinpah never speaking to Pickens again.
Worked for 12 days as second-unit director in Jinxed! (1982) while director Don Siegel was recovering from a heart-attack while shooting the movie. Though Peckinpah wasn't popular--or even liked very much--in Hollywood in the late 1970s due to his many troubled productions, Siegel insisted on hiring him (as he had been a mentor to the future director many years earlier) and he wanted to help his friend. Though working uncredited in Siegel's film, their collaboration was noted in the movie industry, and that resulted in Peckinpah returning to directing with The Osterman Weekend (1983), which would be his final film.
The character Roger the Alien from American Dad! (2005) has a pet parrot called Lady Peckinpah in one episode.
Drank up to four bottles of whisky or vodka a day.
Was originally scheduled to direct 'Triumphs of a man called horse' (1983) at the behest of star Richard Harris (both had previously worked together on 'Major Dundee'). Due to Peckinpah's unofficial blacklist after his erratic behavior whilst directing 'Convoy'; he was later replaced by John Hough.