Exploiting the Archives: Billy Jack Edition
Delores Taylor recently died at eighty-five following a long battle with Alzheimer’s. If that name does not ring a bell even for readers of a site as niche-oriented as this one, don’t worry: despite being a writer, producer and star on one of the most influential shock hits of all-time, the actress with the trembling, heart wrenching vulnerability was forgotten long before she “dropped the body” as Scientologists like to say.
I should know. I wrote about not one but two of Taylor’s magnum opuses for my Forgotbusters column over at The Dissolve. Of course, these movies are known not for Taylor’s presence (even if she somehow got nominated for a Golden Globe despite seeming poignantly like an amateur pushed into the camera by fate, which unsurprisingly happened to be the case.
The role of the female lead in the game-changing, utterly insane 1971 martial arts drama was supposed to be played by sexy starlet Elizabeth James, the star of 1967’s The Born Losers, the surprise hit that first introduced the character of Billy Jack, a half Native American ass-kicker and savior of children and indigenous people played by Taylor’s real-life husband and co-writer and producer.
That did not work out, however, so Laughlin cast his wife as Jean, the leader of a progressive school menaced by hoodlums and ne’er do wells of all stripes. This time around the movie wasn’t just a hit: it was a zeitgeist-capturing smash that forever changed the way that movies were marketed and distributed.
Billy Jack helped popularize wide releases and television advertising, and became one of the biggest, most surprising hits of the 1970s in the process. This emboldened Laughlin and Taylor to really go nuts with shameless sermonizing and surreal self-mythologizing, as I wrote in the Forgotbuster piece on Billy Jack and its sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack, which made a vast fortune despite being an insane three hour long vanity trip that plays like the craziest cinematic acid trip of all time.
Earlier, I’d written about Laughlin’s unreleased remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, entitled, of course, Billy Jack Goes to Washington. Was Laughlin’s film better than Frank Capra’s? No. No it is not.
I still wasn’t done writing about Billy Jack. Last year I wrote a Billy Jack themed list for Cracked and when I read Stinker Lets Loose, Mike Sacks’ homage/parody of the monkey trucker movies of the late 1970s, I thought that if I were to write a similar tome, it’d probably be based on Billy Jack.
Hell, Steven Seagal’s terrible Alt-Right thriller references Billy Jack extensively, so maybe Billy Jack hasn’t been forgotten entirely. Maybe he’s just been remembered by giant fucking weirdoes, myself included.
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