A behind-the-scenes look at shooting stars and the price they've paid to be actors who hunt
IN 1991, ONLY TWO YEARS after Simon and Simon had gone off the air followin an eight-year run on CBS, I was offered a role hosting a reality-based television program for one of the Big Three networks. After the ritual negotiating dances I got a telephone call from the producer. She was delighted I was going to be working with-them, etc., etc. The were going to start filming next Monday so could I come in on Friday for a wardrobe fitting and to sign the contracts?
That Thursday, however, she called again. No, there was no problem, it was just that the head of the network only knew my work from Simon and Simon and he wanted to see some footage of me as a host. Had I ever hosted anything and did I have a tape they could see?
It was an unusual request and warning bells went off in my head. like a fool I ignored them. I was hosting an ESPN hunting show for the NRA at that time called American Hunter, so I told her, somewhat euphemistically, that I was hosting an "outdoor" show and that yes, indeed, I had tapes. It never occurred to me to think in terms of "political correctness." Fine, she would send a messenger right over, the head of the network would watch the tape over the weekend, we would do the wardrobe fitting and contracts on Monday, and push the start of filming back to Tuesday.
I pulled out an innocuous-I thought-tape of a dove hunt on Maryland's Eastern Shore and spent the weekend wondering which shot-- gun I should buy with my new salary. On Monday morning I received a call from my agent. My services would not be needed. They were going to hire another actor.
Can I prove that I lost the job because of my hunting or my support of the Second Amendment, or both? No. Do I know damn well that that is the case? You betcha.
The entertainment industry is motivated, like any other business, by profit. It provides what the public wants to see and what the public wants to see is, judging by box-office success, carnage. The total body count of the high-grossing films of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Seagal, et al. is equivalent to what you would expect in a significant military engagement. Violence, particularly with a gun, is glorified as the solution to all disputes. And yet, ironically, Hollywood is run by people who are liberal and left wing in their politics, people who overwhelmingly support the anti-gun movement.
Incredibly, the irony is lost on much -- of Hollywood. We can get rich glorifying the wholesale slaughter of people on screen, but in real life we support Handgun Control, Inc. Rosie O'Donnell can excoriate Tom Selleck publicly for his support of the NRA, but gets paid enormous sums of money to promote Kmart, one of the nation's largest retailers of guns.
Today in Hollywood, hunting isn't even something that bears discussing. From Bambi to The Horse Whisperer, hunters have been portrayed in the most negative possible light. Even in the only movie I am aware of in recent history to have hunters as heroes, The Ghost and the Darkness, where the heroes hunt down and kill a pair of man-eating lions, the lions are demonized, given almost supernatural powers of evil.
This attitude toward hunting is relatively new. In the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, hunting was still considered an acceptable activity both on screen and off. American Sportsman was a top-rated television show for ABC. But we are today an increasingly urbanized society, removed from the reality that something must die that we may live-be it cow or carrot, pig or potato-and Hollywood just gives us what we pay to see. As James Swan points out in his book In Defense of Hunting: "... today we almost never see animals killed on screen. We need to ask ourselves why we feel it is OK to blast humans to pieces using methods that would not be condoned in real life."
Is there an industrywide conspiracy to weed out conservative voices, politically incorrect thought and activity? To try to get a feel for the influence that the industry has on stars' private lives, I interviewed some people as famous for their hunting and/or support of shooting as they are for their on-screen exploits.
Pauline Kael, the frequently provocative film critic for The New Yorker, once described director and writer John Milius as "a barbarian" and "a threat to Western Civilization." Shortly thereafter, to her horror, they were both invited to a Beverly Hills party. Milius, seeing her discomfort and trying not to alarm her, turned to someone nearby.
"Tell Pauline I'd like to talk to her."
The go-between dutifully walked over to Ms. Kael and leaned down to speak to her. John saw a pair of fearful eyes turn toward him and then heard Pauline Kael's quivering voice. "Is he armed?"
"Only with a razor wit!" Milius roared. John Milius is the creator of Dirty Harry, Jeremiah Johnson, Magnum Force, Dillinger, Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn, Extreme Prejudice, Clear and Present Danger, among others. The titles alone make you realize that political correctness is not part of Milius' makeup. He is bigger than life, in his size, his passions, his appetites, his humor, his love of shooting and hunting, and, yes, his razor wit.
"I agreed to do an interview with some magazine. This gal comes into my office with her eyes all wide and the first question out of her mouth was: `Is it really true that you're a board member of the NRA?' I said, `Honey, I'm a Grand Kliegle in the NRA and I'm running for Imperial Dragon!"'
I asked the Threat to Western Civilization if he felt his career had ever been negatively affected by his outspoken love of hunting and guns.
"Hell, yes! I've been blacklisted all over Hollywood! They try to stop me, but I just bulldoze through."
Surprised, I started listing some of the more than 20 movies Milius has written or directed since 1969.
"Yeah, but that was all 15, 20 years ago. I'm talking about the last 10 years, ever since political correctness came in. Hell, that Brit that ran Columbia-what was his name, the guy who was so hip, back when I was doing Farewell to the King?-he went on record as saying he would never work with a man with my politics. I have to push a lot harder to get a movie made now. There are going be a lot of happy people in this town when I retire. When I write my retirement letter, `Goodbye, Hollywood! It hasn't been real pleasant so #! * # all of you!' there'll be parties all over town. Of course, when I die, they'll shower me with awards. I'll be recognized as the greatest screenwriter of our time. After I'm dead."
Gerald McRaney, my co-star on Simon and Simon, also starred in Major Dad and Promised Land. Mackie, as his friends know him, called as he was getting ready to leave on safari, excited as a kid on Christmas Eve.
"I'll be in South Africa for 10 days. I'm going after kudu, eland, springbok, warthog, and zebra. I wanted to go after leopard, but my outfitter told me not to, that you could hunt for 10 days and not even see a leopard. J.P, I've wanted to do this ever since I was a kid. I always promised myself that I would do this and now, by God, I'm going to do it while I still can. I want to take my time and..."
I interrupted his exuberance long enough to ask him if his career had ever been negatively influenced by his support of hunting and shooting.
There was a long pause. I could almost hear the pages of his mental scrapbook turning. "No."
This surprised me. Mackie received a lot of unfavorable publicity from a Hard Copy piece that purported to show him and fellow actor Marshall Teague (Roadhouse, The Rock, Armageddon) hunting boar on a so-called "canned hunt."
"I never even saw the damn thing, but people that I trust told me it was clearly doctored. All I know is that they claimed we were killing pigs in a pen. Well, that must have been the biggest pen in the world, 'cause I remember how far we hiked. My feet are still hurting."
Marshall Teague, the landowner on whose property the hunt took place, and a man who had permission to film the hunt all sued Hard Copy. They received a substantial out-of-court settlement that they are not allowed to discuss. However, when I asked Marshall about the "canned hunt," he snorted. "Yeah sure, they were in a pen. It was a 10,000-acre pen consisting of a three-strand barbed-wire fence."
Marshall also told me that his name had recently been submitted for a role in a movie and that the casting director's response was, "Marshall Teague is a hunter and he will never work on anything that I am casting."
"So Mackie, you've never had any negative reaction to your hunting?"
"Well, once when I was filming Promised Land, Stacy Keach and I shot a scene where we were supposed to be bird hunting. The scene was actually about how we were both unemployed, that's what we were talking about. The writer could have written it with us fishing or playing golf or anything, but he happened to be from Utah and he didn't understand political correctness, so he wrote it in the context of a bird hunt. Anyway, CBS refused to let us film it and I got stubborn and said, `OK, who are you going to get to star in the show this week?' Eventually we compromised. You see us out hunting, but you never see us take a shot. But no, I never felt my career was compromised by my hunting or shooting."
Rick Schroeder, currently starring on NYPD Blue, was laconic and to the point on the subject of Hollywood and hunting.
"No. It's never had any effect on my career. But I don't talk about it either."
"Is that because you're afraid it will have a negative effect on your career," I asked.
"No. It's just that for me hunting is a very private thing. It's not something I want to talk about. I'm a believer in Second Amendment rights too. Chuck Heston has asked me to be part of the NRAs campaign, but I won't do it." "Why?"
"Because these are such incredibly divisive issues, like abortion or religion. People have their beliefs and you can't change their minds. To me, hunting is as normal as breathing, but some people just don't understand it."
He then went on to succinctly pinpoint a key issue.
"The sad thing is that humanity has become so homogenized. We're losing all the differences that once made us great."
Charlton Heston called me from backstage in Seattle just before he was to appear in the play Love Letters. When I told him what I was writing about, he laughed.
"You'd be amazed by the names-- and the number-of liberal, left-wing people in Hollywood who keep guns, either for personal protection or for sport. No, I'm not going to tell you who they are; they deserve their privacy. I don't know if they hunt, but a lot of them shoot sporting clays and skeet."
"Have you ever experienced any negative impact on your career because of your enjoyment and support of hunting and shooting?" I actually asked this of an Academy Award winner, an internationally known star, a man whose list of credits is longer than this article, whose name is synonymous with such classic films as The Ten Commandments, Touch of Evil, Ben Hur, The Agony and the Ecstasy, El Cid, Will Penny, Planet of the Apes, The Three Musketeers, a man whose career couldn't have been any bigger or better. Mr. Heston considered it as politely as he would have if it weren't preposterously silly.
"No, I honestly can't say it has. There have been roles I wanted that I didn't get, but that happens to everyone."
"Is that because of your stature as a star and because hunting was more accepted back when you were making movies like Ben Hur and El Cid?"
"Possibly, but I don't think so. I really don't believe there is any industrywide conspiracy to stifle or influence people because of their beliefs."
He laughed. "But I'll tell you, during the L.A. riots a lot of my liberal friends, people who had voted for a waiting period, a lot of them called me. They'd say, `Where can I buy a gun?' I'd recommend a gun store and then I'd say, `But remember, there's a waiting period. You voted for it.' `Oh, well, do you have any guns in your house?' `Yes.' `Shotguns?' `Yes.' `Can I borrow one? Things are getting real bad here.' And I'd have to ask, `Have you ever been trained to use one?' Then I'd tell them not to worry-the Marines were coming up from Pendleton, everything would be okay."
He laughed again, but there was a different quality to it this time, something tired and ironic. "You know, Rosie O'Donnell's bodyguard just got a permit to carry a concealed weapon. It's all right for her bodyguard, but the rest of us . . . "
And then he went off to get ready for the night's show, a 77-year-old man trying to juggle the demands of a beloved family, a dazzling career, and the defense of the right of all of us to keep the guns we cherish. Lee Horsley (Matt Houston, Guns of Paradise) and I first met on a celebrity quail hunt in Georgia. Since such events normally get a good deal of publicity, it is safe to say that Lee doesn't hide his hunting.
"Oh, sure, I talk about it. It would probably be better if I kept my mouth shut, but I believe almost anything can be resolved if people are willing to talk. You may not respect my opinion, but at least be willing to look at the other side. And, of course, I grew up hunting. Hell, in college, I majored in flyfishing."
"Has your career suffered because of your hunting?"
"No. I honestly can't say it has. Of course, I've been much more vocal and outspoken in my support of ranching and the logging industry because that's where my sympathies lie. People don't have any understanding of the role logging plays in keeping forests healthy, just as hunting is a vital form of game management.
"I was on that celebrity elk hunt that Kurt Russell sponsored to feed the poor and I got my picture in Variety along with all the others. You know, `Famous Actors Slaughtering Innocent Animals,' along with a picture of some Bubba dragging a fawn by the tongue or something, but it didn't affect my career any.
Another actor who attended Kurt Russell's celebrity hunt and got caught up in the negative publicity was Bruce Boxleitner. The star of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Bring Them Back Alive, Babylon Five, as well as numerous feature films, Boxleitner had a slightly different take on the event.
"I think for a time there was a negative effect, not in any major way but it branded me as a gun-toting hunter and, of course, that automatically means you're a wife-beater and God knows what else.
"To be honest, I've probably been hurt more by being a Republican. This is a liberal, Democratic town, so I don't get invited to a lot of the functions you need to go to in order to stay current."
I asked Box, as he is known, if he thought there was an industrywide policy of anti-hunting, anti-gun discrimination.
"I don't think it's an industrywide kind of thing. I just think there are a lot of them [anti-gunners, anti-hunters) out there and if you happen to run up against one . . " Kurt Russell sent a polite message back through his agent saying that he had had a bellyful of publicity about his attempt to do something for the homeless and hungry and that he didn't wish to talk about it. Since I recall various self-appointed celebrity animalrights "spokespeople" giving interviews on the evening news where they portrayed Russell's celebrity hunt as cruelty on a par with the Bataan death march, it came as no surprise that he didn't want to discuss it.
It is an interesting comment on our times and our society that actions and behavior which would have ended careers in Hollywood during the '30s, '40s, and '50s are condoned or ignored while donating elk meat to feed the homeless provoked such an outcry that Kurt Russell felt compelled to cancel the event.
Clearly, there does not appear to be any "industrywide conspiracy to stifle or influence," as Heston put it, but equally clearly, there are individuals in Hollywood-Just as there are throughout society-who try to impose their vision of the world on others. And, just as clearly, Hollywood and our society have embraced a skewed attitude toward guns and hunting. You can buy your child a video game where he conducts virtual acts of unspeakable violence against both men and women. Yet every movie, even one as benign as A River Runs Through It, which portrayed scenes of fishing, must carry the American Humane Association's seal of approval: "No animals were harmed in making this film." The AHA is the organization that runs animal shelters and should not be confused with the Humane Society of the United States, which is, as author James Swan has characterized, solely an animal-rights propaganda machine. Hunters are Portrayed as degenerate villains (The Bear), but drug dealers are portrayed as sympathetic heroes (Tequila Sunrise). The evening news routinely introduces stories about crime or violence with an insert of a handgun, yet the movies that generate the greatest profits are the ones that show people being blown to smithereens.
The demonization of guns by the media and certain politicians can be dismissed as laxness; it is so much easier to babble on about banning guns than it is to deal with the complex social, economic, environmental, and cultural causes of crime. But Hollywood's attitude toward hunting is more subtly insidious.
The entertainment industry is motivated by profit. It provides what the public wants to see. So until the public can come to grips with reality instead of virtual reality, with nature instead of the Disney-fled version of nature, it is highly unlikely that we will see any substantial change in Hollywood's approach to hunting. Unless, of course, someone writes an incredibly sexy, blockbuster action/adventure script, with a lot of heart, about a handsome, charismatic young hunter and his crusty-but-loveable sidekick who ... But no, I'm not going to give that idea away.