THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA With the death of film director, producer and actor, Tom Laughlin, who is best known to Indian country as Billy Jack, last Thursday, December 12, many American Indians and others fondly remembered the first time they saw “Billy Jack.”
An original flop, “Billy Jack” became a very successful box office hit
Here are nine “Billy Jack” trivia facts:
- Laughlin wrote the original screenplay for “Billy Jack” in 1954 after seeing the racial animosity towards and mistreatment of American Indians in Delores’ hometown, Winner, South Dakota.
- Billy Jack, the character, was introduced in the 1967 movie, “Born Losers.” Laughlin played Billy Jack.
- When it first hit theaters in 1971, “Billy Jack” was a flop. Laughlin sued Warner Brothers to win the rights to the film and won. During this time, the American Indian Movement was growing across Indian country and occupied Wounded Knee during the first part of 1973. This occupation gained tremendous national attention. By the time, “Billy Jack” was released that same year, the popularity of the film surged. “Billy Jack” became a blockbuster hit.
- When adjusted for inflation, “Billy Jack” is 53rd on the independent film’s list of top 100 highest-grossing movies of all-time.
- Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar at the 1973 Academy Awards for his role as Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.” Brando did not accept the award. Instead he sent American Indian actress Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Pueblo) on the recommendation of American Indian Movement leaders, Dennis Banks and Russell Means. Littlefeather appeared in the 1974 “The Trial of Billy Jack.”
- It is rumored Elvis Presley watched “Billy Jack” nine times.
- The theme song for “Billy Jack” is “One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack).” The song sung by Coven became a Top 40 hit in 1971.
- Laughlin’s wife of 60 years, Delores Taylor, played Jean, who ran the Freedom School in “Billy Jack.” She appeared all three “Billy Jack” themed films during the 1970s.
- In all there were four films with the Billy Jack character. Laughlin starred in and directed four films—over the course of a decade—in a series about the iconic character Billy Jack. They included: “The Born Losers,” a 1967 biker movie; “Billy Jack” in 1971; and “The Trial of Billy Jack” in 1974. A fourth film, “Billy Jack Goes to Washington,” had only a limited release after its production in 1977.
At his family’s request, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Friends of Pine Ridge in Tom Laughlin’s honor or the Alzheimer’s Foundation.
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