Legendary American film director and screenwriter David Samuel Peckinpah Sadly died of heart failure on December 28, 1984 after a life time of hard living eventually caught up with him. He 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 and was sent to China with the task of disarming Japanese soldiers and repatriating them following World War II. Although He did not see combat, he witnessed acts of war between Chinese and Japanese soldiers including 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. He also applied for discharge in Peking, so he could marry a local woman, but was refused. His experiences in China reportedly deeply affected him.
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. Peckinpah then began working as a stagehand at KLAC-TV in the belief that television experience would eventually lead to work in films.
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, An Annapolis Story, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Crime in the Streets. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynton and became one of the most critically praised science fiction films of the 1950s and features a cameo by Peckinpah as Charlie the meter reader.
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 Theatre. He wrote one episode “The Town” (December 13, 1957) for the CBS series, Trackdown, starring Robert Culp as the Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, this concerns a cowardly town afraid to resist the clutches of an outlaw gang. Peckinpah wrote a screenplay from the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, which became the 1961 Marlon Brando film One-Eyed Jack. His writing led to directing, and he directed a 1958 episode of Broken Arrow 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 has since achieved enduring popularity. In 1962, Peckinpah directed two hour-long episodes for The Dick Powell Theater. In the second of these, The Losers, an updated remake of The Westerner set in the present day with Lee Marvin as Dave Blassingame and Keenan Wynn as Dehner’s character Bergundy Smith, 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.
He also created the television series The Westerner, starring Brian Keith and in three episodes also featuring John Dehner. Peckinpah wrote and directed a pilot called Trouble at Tres Cruzes Which ran for only 13 episodes before cancellation mainly due to its gritty content detailing the drifting, laconic cowboy Dave Blassingame (Brian Keith). However 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 starring Charlton Heston and The Westerner has since achieved cult status,
Throughout much of his adult life, Peckinpah was affected by alcoholism, and, later, other forms of drug addiction. He may have had a mental issue, possibly manic depression or paranoia.It is believed his drinking problems began during his service in the military while stationed in China, when he frequented the saloons of Tianjin and Beijing.Peckinpah divorced Selland, the mother of his first four children, and in 1960, hemarried 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 swung between a sweet, softly-spoken, artistic disposition, and bouts of rage and violence As An experienced hunter, Peckinpah was fascinated with firearms and was known to shoot the mirrors in his house while drunk. Peckinpah’s reputation as a hard-living brute with a taste for violence, inspired the content in his most popular films and affected his artistic legacy. 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).
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. His best known films include The Wild Bunch, Major Dundee, Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Cross of Iron, The Deadly Companions, Ride the High Country, The Cincinnati Kid, Noon Wine, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Junior Bonner, The Killer Elite, Cross of Iron, Convoy and The Osterman Weekend. Four of these films, Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), Pat Garrett and 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. During his final years Peckinpah was seriously ill. Regardless, he continued to work until his last months and was working on the script for On the Rocks, which was due to be filmed in San Francisco. Peckinpah lived at the Murray Hotel in Livingston, Montana, from 1979 until his death in 1984.