Tom Laughlin died last week…at the age of 82. He was an actor, writer, director, political activist, and an indie film pioneer. He is best known for his “Billy Jack” series of vigilante movies.
He got the idea and wrote the screenplay for the original “Billy Jack” movie after seeing the way the Indians (Native Americans) were treated in his future wife’s hometown of Winner, South Dakota. At the time he was a student at the University of South Dakota.
Although he went to Hollywood and followed the traditional path of beginning actors, his rebellious streak remained and he had various run-ins with the powers that be. He was the ultimate rebel and free-thinker. He would have fit right in with The Snake Alley Festival of Film film-making crowd.
He made “Billy Jack” in 1971. Although several major studios agreed to distribute it, he didn’t like the way they were marketing it and sued to get it back. He then handled the marketing and distribution himself. It became a cult hit with the youth of America and is (as of 2007) the highest grossing independent film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
It was one of the earliest films to use martial arts, and also mixed in some made-up Indian religious ceremonies that resonated with the counter-culture movement of the day.
So…as an indie film maker this Christmas, give thanks for this indie pioneer who fought the good fight—and paved the way for all future indie film makers.
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas—give thanks for people like him.
So…go with God, “Billy Jack” (AKA Robert “Tom” Laughlin…August 10, 1931—December 12, 2013)
And from The Snake Alley Festival of Film family to all of you…”Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!