Friday, March 05, 2010
Today marks the second anniversary of the death of tough-guy actor Steve Oliver. I happened to call him for an interview, for the Jack Starrett bio that my pal Chris Poggiali and I are working on, in February of 2008, just as he got the devastating news that his body was riddled with cancer and he had weeks to live. I was stunned to hear it and wanted to let him go back to his business but he insisted on talking. Below are some of his comments, from probably the last interview he gave in his life.
The first time I met Steve McQueen he ran my foot over in a gas station. He was a young actor doing that bounty hunter series [Wanted: Dead or Alive], and I was working jobs in downtown L.A., a young kid around 21 years old. He was in a race car, and I walked over and asked for an apology. He was very insulting, so I hit him about six times in the head, pulled him out of the car and kicked his ass. So when I went up on TOM HORN it was very strange. He came out of his trailer (he was dying of cancer at the time), and he took one look at me and said, I know you from somewhere. I told him, Yeah, I've been on television about a thousand times, I met you up at James Coburn's house. He said, Yeah, I remember that but I knew that I knew you then also. I told him right in front of Fred Weintraub and Linda Evans that when I was young you ran my foot over, and when you refused me an apology I pulled you right out your car and whooped your ass. He looked over at Weintraub with a big smile and said, Trim his beard, he's perfect for the part. He was a pretty cool dude.
I just found out yesterday that I have five weeks to live myself. I have cancer. Not a thing I can do about it, but hey, it was a good ride. I'm gone, I'm history, there's nothing I can do.
[On SAVAGE ABDUCTION:] Oh, god. That was done for John Lawrence. His photographer weighted about 390 pounds and just sat on his camera and wouldn't move it. I fired him, and he said, You can't fire me, you're only an actor on the show. I said, You're fired or I quit, and I'm the lead, so let's see who weighs out in the balance here, you fat ass, you won't move your camera, you won't clean your lenses, why don't you just shoot stills? The guy was just horrible, what a horrible experience that film was.
I met Robert Tessier on that set. He was living on the other side of the mountains where we were shooting. He walked up and introduced himself; he had never done anything at that point. He was as goofy as they come, I tell you. He had a kid with some lady that lived in Philly. When you walked in the house you couldn't stand the odor because she had 150 dirty diapers in the bathtub. They were crazy people. I saw the kid years later and he was completely retarded.
They used to call us The Shooters, man, that was the name they gave us. We all hung out at the Brazarie (?) and whoever had the biggest check would pay for the drinks that night. Warren Oates, Billy Smith, myself, Jack, Leslie Kovacs, a lot of interesting people. We'd slop down the whiskey, and Bill Smith would ride his Hells Angels chopper Harley Davidson with the kicked-out springing front end right through the restaurant; we were crazy guys. And we got away with it, too. All the gunfights...
I was on a bounty hunt with a buddy of mine and I ended up in a shootout with four black guys and I had a .25 automatic with one in the chamber and four in the clip and they had .45s and .44s and it was an unequal contest. They chased us up Sunset Boulevard and I rounded a corner and I didn't realize it was a dead end, and they trapped me. I got into a dumpster, realized I only had one shot left, but they didn't find me. I jumped a retainer wall, and as I did Bill Smith and some director friend of his came barging out of a restaurant into a Cadillac convertible, and I hadn't realized I had been shot in the leg and was bleeding all over the place. I took off running, and as they pulled out of the driveway I dove into the back seat, and Bill Smith, who was supposed to be the toughest guy in the world, almost peed in his panty hose. Back in those days Hollywood was wild and wooly, man.
[On MOTOR PSYCHO:] Russ Meyer was a photographer in the military. He was such a lecher (laughs), he had those big eyebrows that curled up, he was just disgusting. A woman walked by him and saliva would come out his eyeballs, the guy was a real luster, boy. I liked him because he was a very good director, he really knew how to work with his cast and crew, made them feel special, but he was such a character. He would look at a woman with that glint in his eye, like looking at a steak after not eating for five days.
MOTOR PSYCHO was my first shot as an actor, and it's what got me Peyton Place. Alex Rocco had his agent put up a piece of that film at 20th Century Fox for the part of Lee but they liked me. His loss, my gain.
Funny you're calling me today, you're talking to a dead man. It's really interesting, I haven't felt the full impact, I just got out of the hospital this morning. I'm going to do the best I can to fight it, because I'm not going to go through all the chemo, I've seen what happens to my friends who went through that. I'm going to fast for maybe 25 or 30 days and drink a lot of water and take lots of vitamins and herbs and see if the body can reverse the problem.
I just finished a screenplay and was going to call Paul Lewis. I got a pre-distribution agreement through Shoreline. They just finished a picture called LA LINEA with Andy Garcia. I just connected with their company in the last five days, and they want to shoot it.
Warren Oates was an interesting study. Warren Oates and Vic Morrow were the two best guys on the planet. Great actor. Paul Lewis is the best of the best, there's never been a nicer guy.
You know, the bedside manner of this little Japanese doctor, he was a pistol. He came in around four o'clock in the morning and said, You know, you don't seem to understand what's going on here. I kind of looked at him and I went, Well, I've got this infection from where my gall bladder was removed. He said, An infection? You have cancer throughout every square inch of your body. Wow, why don't you hit me with a good left hook? He said, You need to know that because you need to become proactive and start fighting it. That came out of nowhere. He said I was misdiagnosed and they told me I had cancer was I was in that hospital three months ago. So I knew there was like a cover-up, because I'm a very bright guy, I don't smoke or drink; haven't even taken an aspirin in probably 35 years I've been sober. I looked him dead in the eye and said, Nobody ever told me I have cancer. He said he talked to Dr. Sernick and he told him you had cancer throughout the whole region where your gall bladder was. I said he never told that to me.