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About David Samuel "Sam" Peckinpah
David Samuel "Sam" Peckinpah (/ˈpɛkɪnˌpɑː/; February 21, 1925 – December 28, 1984) was an American film director and screenwriter who achieved prominence following the release of the Western epic The Wild Bunch (1969). He was known for the innovative and explicit depiction of action and violence, as well as his revisionist approach to the Western genre.
Peckinpah's films generally deal with the conflict between values and ideals, and the corruption of violence in human society. He was given the nickname "Bloody Sam" owing to the violence in his films. His characters are often loners or losers who desire to be honorable, but are forced to compromise in order to survive in a world of nihilism and brutality.
Peckinpah's combative personality, marked by years of alcohol and drug abuse, affected his professional legacy. Many of his films were noted for behind-the-scenes battles with producers and crew members, damaging his reputation and career during his lifetime. Some of his films, including Straw Dogs (1971), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), remain controversial.
The Peckinpahs originated from the Frisian Islands in the northwest of Europe. Both sides of Peckinpah's family migrated to the American West by covered wagon in the mid-nineteenth century. Peckinpah and several relatives often claimed Native American ancestry, but this has been denied by surviving family members. Peckinpah's great-grandfather, Rice Peckinpaugh, a merchant and farmer in Indiana, moved to Humboldt County California in the 1850s, working in the logging business, and changed the spelling of the family name to "Peckinpah." Peckinpah Meadow and Peckinpah Creek, where the family ran a lumber mill on a mountain in the High Sierra north of Coarsegold, California, have been officially named on U.S. geographical maps. Peckinpah's maternal grandfather was Denver Church, a cattle rancher, Superior Court judge and United States Congressman of a California district including Fresno County. Sam Peckinpah's nephew is David Peckinpah, who was a television producer and director, as well as a screenplay writer. Peckinpah's parents were David Edward Peckinpah and Fern Louise Church, and he is a cousin of former New York Yankees shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh.
David Samuel "Sam" Peckinpah was born February 21, 1925, in Fresno, California, where he attended both grammar school and high school. He spent much time skipping classes with his brother to engage in cowboy activities on their grandfather Denver Church's ranch, including trapping, branding, and shooting. During the 1930s and 1940s, Coarsegold and Bass Lake were still populated with descendants of the miners and ranchers of the 19th century. Many of these descendants worked on Church's ranch. At that time, it was a rural area undergoing extreme change, and this exposure is believed to have affected Peckinpah's Western films later in life.
He played on the junior varsity football team while at Fresno High School, but frequent fighting and discipline problems caused his parents to enroll him in the San Rafael Military Academy for his senior year. In 1943, he joined the United States Marine Corps. Within two years, his battalion was sent to China with the task of disarming Japanese soldiers and repatriating them following World War II. While his duty did not include combat, he claims to have witnessed acts of war between Chinese and Japanese soldiers. According to friends, these included several acts of torture and the murder of a laborer by sniper fire. The American Marines were not permitted to intervene. Peckinpah also claimed he was shot during an attack by Communist forces. Also during his final weeks as a Marine, he applied for discharge in Peking, so he could marry a local woman, but was refused. His experiences in China reportedly deeply affected Peckinpah, and may have influenced his depictions of violence in his films.
After being discharged in Los Angeles, he attended California State University, Fresno, where he studied history. While a student, he met and married his first wife, Marie Selland, in 1947. A drama major, Selland introduced Peckinpah to the theater department and he became interested in directing for the first time. During his senior year, he adapted and directed a one-hour version of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. After graduation in 1948, Peckinpah enrolled in graduate studies in drama at University of Southern California. He spent two seasons as the director in residence at Huntington Park Civic Theatre near Los Angeles before obtaining his master's degree. He was asked to stay another year, but Peckinpah began working as a stagehand at KLAC-TV in the belief that television experience would eventually lead to work in films. Even during this early stage of his career, Peckinpah was developing a combative streak. Reportedly, he was kicked off the set of The Liberace Show for not wearing a tie, and he refused to cue a car salesman during a live feed because of his attitude towards stagehands.
In 1954, Peckinpah was hired as a dialogue coach for the film Riot in Cell Block 11. His job entailed acting as an assistant for the movie's director, Don Siegel. The film was shot on location at Folsom Prison. Reportedly, the warden was reluctant to allow the filmmakers to work at the prison until he was introduced to Peckinpah. The warden knew his family from Fresno and was immediately cooperative. Siegel's location work and his use of actual prisoners as extras in the film made a lasting impression on Peckinpah. He worked as a dialogue coach on four additional Siegel films: Private Hell 36 (1954), An Annapolis Story, (1955, and co-starring L. Q. Jones), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Crime in the Streets (1956). Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which Peckinpah appeared in a cameo as Charlie the meter reader, starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. It became one of the most critically praised science fiction films of the 1950s. Peckinpah claimed to have done an extensive rewrite on the film's screenplay, a statement which remains controversial. Nevertheless, Peckinpah's association with Siegel established him as an emerging screenwriter and potential director.
Throughout much of his adult life, Peckinpah was affected by alcoholism, and, later, drug addiction. According to some accounts, he also suffered from mental illness, possibly manic depression or paranoia. It is believed his drinking problems began during his service in the military while stationed in China, when he would frequent the saloons of Tientsin and Peking. After divorcing Selland, the mother of his first four children, in 1960, he married the Mexican actress Begoña Palacios in 1965. A stormy relationship developed, and over the years they married on three separate occasions. They had one daughter together. His personality reportedly often swung between a sweet, soft-spoken, artistic disposition, and bouts of rage and violence during which he verbally and physically abused himself and others. An experienced hunter, Peckinpah was fascinated with firearms and was known to shoot the mirrors in his house while abusing alcohol, an image which occurs several times in his films. Peckinpah's reputation as a hard-living brute with a taste for violence, inspired by the content in his most popular films and in many ways perpetuated by himself, affected his artistic legacy. His friends and family have claimed this does a disservice to a man who was actually more complex than generally credited. Throughout his career, Peckinpah seems to have inspired extraordinary loyalty in certain friends and employees. He used the same actors (Warren Oates, L. Q. Jones, R. G. Armstrong, James Coburn, Ben Johnson, and Kris Kristofferson), and collaborators (Jerry Fielding, Lucien Ballard, Gordon Dawson, and Martin Baum) in many of his films, and several of his friends and assistants stuck by him to the end of his life.
Peckinpah spent a great deal of his life in Mexico after his marriage to Palacios, eventually buying property in the country. He was reportedly fascinated by the Mexican lifestyle and culture, and he often portrayed it with an unusual sentimentality and romanticism in his films. Four of his films, Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), were filmed entirely on location within Mexico, while The Getaway (1972) concludes with a couple escaping to freedom there.
Peckinpah was seriously ill during his final years, as a lifetime of hard living caught up with him. Regardless, he continued to work until his last months. He died of heart failure on December 28, 1984. At the time, he was in preparation for shooting an original script by Stephen King entitled The Shotgunners, which later became a book called The Regulators. He lived at The Murray Hotel in Livingston, Montana from 1979 until his death in 1984.
On the recommendation of Don Siegel, Peckinpah established himself during the late 1950s as a scriptwriter of Western series of the era, selling scripts to Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel, The Rifleman, Broken Arrow, Klondike, and Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. He also wrote a screenplay from the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, a draft that evolved into the 1961 Marlon Brando film One-Eyed Jacks. His writing led to directing, and he directed a 1958 episode of Broken Arrow (generally credited as his first official directing job) and several 1960 episodes of Klondike, (co-starring James Coburn, L. Q. Jones, Ralph Taeger, Joi Lansing, and Mari Blanchard). He also directed the CBS sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve, starring Howard Duff and Ida Lupino.
In 1958, Peckinpah wrote a script for Gunsmoke that was rejected due to content. He reworked the screenplay, titled The Sharpshooter, and sold it to Zane Grey Theater. The episode received popular response and became the television series The Rifleman, starring Chuck Connors. Peckinpah directed four episodes of the series (with guest stars R. G. Armstrong and Warren Oates), but left after the first year. The Rifleman ran for five seasons and achieved enduring popularity in syndication.
During this time, he also created the television series The Westerner, starring Brian Keith and in some episodes John Dehner. Peckinpah wrote and directed a pilot called Trouble at Tres Cruzes, which was aired in March 1959 before the actual series was made in 1960. Peckinpah acted as producer of the series, having a hand in the writing of each episode and directing five of them. Critically praised, the show ran for only 13 episodes before cancellation mainly due to its gritty content detailing the drifting, laconic cowboy Dave Blassingame (Brian Keith). Especially the episodes Jeff and Hand on the Gun are in their depiction of violence and with their imaginative directing remarkable forerunners of his later feature films. Despite its short run, The Westerner and Peckinpah were nominated by the Producers Guild of America for Best Filmed Series. An episode of the series eventually served as the basis for Tom Gries' 1968 film Will Penny. The Westerner, which has since achieved cult status, further established Peckinpah as a talent to be reckoned with.
In 1962 Peckinpah direct two hour-long episodes for The Dick Powell Theater. In the second of these, The Losers, he mixed slow motion, fast motion and stills together to capture violence, a technique famously put to more sophisticated use in 1969s The Wild Bunch.
Early film career
Filmography and Television credits