Bruce Glover has had a varied career throughout the decades. He has appeared on Broadway in The Night of the Iguana with Bette Davis and Mother Courage and Her Children with Anne Bancroft. His television appearances include such shows as My Favorite Martian , Perry Mason, The Mod Squad, Gunsmoke, Barney Miller, The Dukes of Hazzard , and The A Team to name to a few. He is likely most well known for his work in the films Walking Tall and the sequels Part 2 and The Final Chapter, as well as the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, Chinatown, and It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. which was directed by his son Crispin.
A man possessing many talents Bruce began teaching acting in the 1950’s and still continues to do so to this day in Los Angeles. He is also an avid painter.
Can you tell us a little about your earliest days? What are some of your most fond memories from your childhood?
Having a very loving mother. Fond, just being alive I suppose. I was always very curious about things. She used to take me to see movies which my father was against because he was very religious and you weren’t supposed to go to movie theaters, evil places. Which is pretty weird, anyway. I remember her taking me to movies and I saw a newsreel of F.D.R struggling to get to a microphone. And I remember showing my mother, I used to show my mother stuff because I would try to amuse her constantly, I remember showing her F.D.R and I was trying to understand why he would be walking like that by putting my body into his polio-afflicted body. So that in a way was my first discovery of the approach I’ve always taken to acting.
And what I teach as an actor is that you have to get into the body and by that into the mind of the character that you are playing.
I remember my mother watching me doing that and going, “Do you love your president?” And I didn’t know who the president was I was just rehearsing that person walking.
So I guess that is a fond memory and another one was my father’s church had pageants. It was a little tiny Methodist church. I was put in a pageant and the scene was Joseph and Mary trying to find a place to stay so she could give birth to Jesus. I was the third kid in a row. I had one line, and my line was, “No room at the inn.” When they got to me, I was three years old and had this booming little voice and I went, “NO ROOM AT THE INN!” (laughs) and the whole church burst into laughter. And I remember going, “Wow I can make people laugh.” So I said the line again and they laughed more, and I said it again and they laughed more. And then the minister came running up the aisle trying to catch me and I was running around behind the altar and through the section of the church and he’s trying to catch me and I’m yelling out “No Room at the Inn.” It was hilarious. Finally, he catches me and carries me downstairs.
So I knew I had a gift for laughter I used to amuse my mother and I always had a sense of that, but I never thought of it as acting. If you said you were going to be an actor back in those days… because I was in a tough working class neighborhood and I had to learn very quickly how to be a tough kid where you could take care of yourself and not be pushed around. I was kind of an inner nerd with the muscles of an athlete and I would protect other nerds who didn’t have the muscles.
So I was a tough working class kid in Chicago in those days you had to talk with a tough, deep dems and dos accent if you didn’t talk like that you were considered a sissy. I was a kid that liked nature and you could go down the railroad tracks and get to a forest and run around in trees and there was an abandoned factory before you get to the forest it was like a variety of environments. I was a natural athlete. I didn’t know how good I was but I was good I learned it very quickly. But I had to learn how to be pretty tough very quickly.
What was it like to have your first job delivering groceries at the age of 6? Are you thankful that you had the chance to develop a strong work ethic at such an early age?
Yeah actually. I guess this woman had a store. She thought it was cute and decided to offer me a job. Ten cents a day delivering groceries after school and Saturday mornings so I made sixty cents a week. Sometimes I’d get a tip from whoever I was delivering to, but that was the beginning of the seeking of work. I remember selling magazines door to door, Saturday Evening Post finally. There was always a job. I mowed grass, I worked with my Grandfather who was a carpenter, I worked construction, I dug graves, I got a job in Chicago working at a newsstand starting at the age of 8 it went on til 13, every day after school and all day Saturday, and my pay raise had gone up and I was making a dollar a day. $6.00 a week.
If you don’t mind my asking, what was it like being drafted into the Army from 1953-1955 and in later days serving in Korea? What do you think is the most valuable thing you learned from that experience?
Well, Korea I was playing football and I was on a city championship team in Chicago and I was offered football scholarships and there was a weird thing that I had, and they discovered it when I was like 6 years old, it is an affliction, something that nobody knew much about, or anything about back in those days, but it caused me to not get my scholarship because I had to go to another college. So I went to a college in Chicago, a junior college, and played football there. The scholarship that was offered was to a Colorado college, they had a good art school. So the two ways I was finding out of the working class was football and art. I was selling paintings even as a little kid.
The odd thing was I was playing football at Wright Junior College in Chicago and I was all-conference both years. I had passed the test to stay out of the draft with high score, because I have a very high I.Q. All that was good and I passed all that stuff, but I flunked English three times, and the English flunking got me drafted into the Korean War.
I arrived there the last six months of that war. Now when the war finished and I was still in Korea, I was in an engineering company, the University of California sent over teachers. I picked up nine hours of college credits in Korea. The army was very good about that, they transported you to Seoul, Korea for your classes. I decided I’d better take English so I could pass it and get my full football scholarship again. This teacher, a very kind man, very smart, pulled me aside at the end of the sessions and he said, “ You know I don’t know what it is with you, but there is something odd going on. If I were to go by your scores on your grammar test I’d have to flunk you again. I know you’ve flunked before, but you write terrifically.”
He’d given out writing assignments and I’d written three good short stories. He said, “You have unique abilities as a writer and I am going to pass you. I don’t know what it is, but I am going to pass you just to get you past this so you can forget about it.” And I went, “Thank you very much.”
So, this affliction that I had I didn’t discover it until a lot of other people discovered it. There is a thing called Dyslexia. Dyslexics I think, there are probably dumb dyslexics and smart dyslexics. I am one of the smart dyslexics. I think Einstein was considered a Dyslexic he was also very bad in school, but he zoomed way ahead. I think what a Dyslexic does is they don’t want to learn the rules. They just want to do it and they see something and they just do it and that is what I believe with me as an actor, I had no idea of being an actor.
So one of the things I learned in Korea, well I loved the Koreans, they are great people and I came back with another gift. And the gift was I had caught Malaria. When I came back with Malaria I couldn’t pick up that football scholarship so I had to go back to that junior college where I’d played football and pick up some more college credits. I saw a play being advertised that I went and tried out for. The teacher/director of the play said, “Come back for the callbacks.” Well, I didn’t go back …
I am skipping something weird that had happened, back in the days when I was playing football and working out with weights, a buddy of mine who was also an artist, we used to do art projects and work out and he said to me, “Bruce you ought to go down there and pose at the art institute for the art classes.” So, I pose at the art institute and a beautiful naked woman was posing across the room.
She came up to me at the break and said, “Bruce how would you like to…” She paused and my mind was racing, you know I’m a guy and I’d seen her naked and then she said, “…be a gorilla.” I thought what the Hell was she talking about? Well it turned out she was a stripper and she needed a guy strong enough to wear a hundred-pound ape suit and toss her around for fifteen minutes. (laughs). So I thought, well that sounds like a very dignified thing to do and I did it. I went down to the zoo and studied Bushman, the famous gorilla, which the guy who owned the act told me to do. But, Bushman gave me my first acting lesson. And he said, “Think my thoughts and do my moves.” Which is simply in a way the thing I’d done at three years old trying to imitate F.D.R. Trying to understand what he was going through by putting my body into each experience.
Well I did the thing as the ape and we were down in Florida, doing the act in Tampa Bay, Florida and we had an eight week gig we were making really good money. Much better than I’d made at the job before that, I’d worked at a glass factory, ladling hot glass when I was fourteen and fifteen years old. Back in those days, you could work, and you had to work anyway because we were poor. At fifteen I remember my father calling a family meeting because his business was not doing well and he asked if me I would quit school for him to help support the family and I was just starting to like school and playing football, and I thought, “Oh my God. I’ll quit school for a while and hopefully, he’ll get on his feet and I’ll stay out of school for six months and then go back again.” And my mother jumped in and saved me. She said, “ No you won’t quit school. I’ll get a job.”
I was faced with a lot of realities but there was always a sense of I don’t know…love, even though my father so brainy and he was weirdly Christian and had all of that religious stuff he still was a loving man and she was a loving woman.
I was given responsibility very early. I had two sisters and I had to protect them from everything. I remember my mother was pregnant with my second sister and she was irritated and told me to get out of the house with my sister because I was annoying her. I took her out into Chicago, sidewalks on a hot Summer day and she was about three years old. A car came down the street, nobody on the street but she and I. The car stopped and the guy got out wearing a three piece suit like salesmen back in those days would wear. He stood by his car with the engine still running, and he yelled out, “Little girl come over here.” And my little sister she stood up and started to walk towards him and I jumped up and said, “Lois no!” and he yelled again, “I said get over here.” I saw him coming around the car and I grabbed her and ran her up the steps of a neighbor. I put her behind me pounding on the door ringing the bell and he came to the bottom of the steps reaching out to me, and I was going to bite him. I was eight years old. I was already having to protect my little sister.
Suddenly around the side of the house, a little old man came around that I had seen him working in the yard and that was why I ran to that house.
And he said, “What is going on here?”
I said, “This guy is after my sister.”
And the guy says, “ Oh these kids are crazy. I was just asking them for directions.”
I said, “That is not true.”
And the old man went, “Shush.”
So I shushed, and the guy took the phony directions.
He drove away and I said to the old man, “You know he was really after my sister.”
And he said, “Get off my property. You kids are a pain. Don’t bother me. Don’t come over here again. ”
Then I went back to the house to tell my mother and she said, “ I told you kids to stay out of the house.”
So I took her out of the house again and I knew from then on I was on my own. Not because of any meanness or lack of love it was just I had to take responsibility very early on. I was eight years old, so there I was. It is a sense of what I’ve always felt, that I knew from then on that I was going to have to do it on my own. I was going to have to build everything, do everything, and make everything happen without depending on help from anyone.
Then when I was doing the ape act down in Florida a magician came up to me and tapped me with his magic wand playfully and said, “Bruce you are an actor.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “You make that gorilla so believable you ought to try acting.”
I went, “What?”
There was a guy from New York singing, strip clubs were kind of classier, and this guy said, “Yeah you ought to go to acting classes in New York.” He was from New York.”
I said, “Acting classes? There are acting classes?”
To this day I don’t believe you can teach anything. I believe it is all instinct and teaching it usually gets in the way of the instincts. I do teach acting classes, but it’s very small and they are slowly disappearing because I don’t advertise. There are so many terrible teachers out there with terrible schools that never had any experience. I’ve done a hundred plays, Broadway, Off Broadway, I did summer stock, I did repertoire, I did classical. I finally went to Northwestern University when I came back.
I did not go back to the call back of that first play at the community college. I guess something about me I got a little afraid of this idea of trying this acting thing, so I was like whoa…and I did go back.
I was walking down a flight of stairs at that college, and I see the teacher/director coming up the stairs, and he says, “Where were you?”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “You didn’t come back for the callbacks.”
I said, “Yeah I’m a little busy.”
I was actually trying to set my job back up. The ape Strip Club job with the GI Bill got me thru expensive Northwestern University. So, it was Shakespeare in the day and the ape suit at night at the Mafia run strip club, two kinds of education.
He said, “You should have came back.”
And I said, “Well, I am sorry.”
And he said, “I want you to the play the lead”
And I went, “Oh. Okay.”
It was a Tennessee Williams play Camino Real and I played Kilroy in it.
I picked up a Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech, so I haven’t been able to stop talking since and have a minor in Psychology. It is good for the study of people which is what acting is about. I am still learning. It never stops.
Who were some of the people you looked up too when you were just starting out? What led you to teach acting? What do you think is the most important thing for an actor to learn?
I didn’t think it was teaching. I had scenes with people. I’d never seen a play before. I’d never even read a book on acting. I had never had any acting classes or instruction. I just knew. I knew there were real things and there were movies. There were real actors and the real ones were very simple. Like Humphrey Bogart. He was there constantly and all those other actors from those days.
I didn’t look up to anybody. Do you know what I am saying? I just looked at what I had to do. Like I said Bogart, people like that who were real that was it. I love movies. I went to movies constantly. So all of the movies that I saw affected me but I’d never seen a play. But here I was playing the lead in a Tennessee Williams play at this college with a nice big old auditorium that sat 500 people. I had scenes to do. I had a girlfriend who was a dancer and I had her teach me a dance section. I had scenes with a lot of people. Some of them were simple and real like me. I was real, and here is how it goes with real…the ape, the gorilla Bushman back in the zoo said, “Think my thoughts and do my moves.” Well, that is the beginning of real. Being like F.D.R and putting yourself into that body, that being real.
Now there was an actor who was overacting. He’d maybe taken some acting classes, so he was acting. I don’t believe in that. I believe you just have to live. So I said to him, I hadn’t read any books or anything, I pulled him aside, and I said, “Hey have you ever thought of like talking to me?”
He said, “What do you mean?”
I said, “You know when you talk to me I’ll look at you and listen and when I talk to you you’ll look at me and listen.”
And he said, “How do you do that?”
The next thing you know I was coaching about seven people so I guess I was teaching people acting but what I was really teaching was to stop acting. I believe people that are good at anything, like you’re a painter, well if you are a painter it is because you are just good at it. You didn’t go to school to learn how to paint. You might have learned what materials to use and you might have looked at great painters and great drawings and appreciated the works, just as I appreciate good actors in movies and later in theatre. My philosophy is that. You have to live, let life in, and let life in when you are doing art. I mean if you are doing art, it is because something has caught your eye and there is something about it, you want to do…something.
I am the kind of person I can be walking down the street and see something lying on the sidewalk and go, “Oh that is interesting.” I’ll pick it up and figure out how I can include it in a piece of art.
So anyways, I did that play and got good reviews. Then I started looking around as to what else I could do. I was healing up from my Malaria, still thinking of going back to the Colorado College that had an art school. I started doing plays in Chicago with little theatre company groups who were more Hollywood than anybody. Nutty people trying to have more affairs with everybody else. And then somebody said there is a summer stock company up in Wisconsin. So I lived out of my car, slept on the porch at the theatre, and tried out for a play every week and got one of the leads. They only had three paid actors and I wasn’t one of them so I starved and did acting all Summer long. (laughs) I was getting great reviews and really enjoying it. And I went, “This is it. To Hell with football. I want to be an actor.” I went to Northwestern University and what they did for me was they cleared up my Dese, Dems, and Dose accent.
I did a lot of Shakespeare. I don’t think I ever learned anything in an acting class although I read Stanislavsky who was a great artist. The stuff he wrote was exploratory and continuing, where too many teachers or people who call themselves teachers are people who know all the truth. Well anyone who knows all the truth is full of it. Full of lies. There is no final truth. It is a constant exploration, as you know with your art there is no final thing, you have to keep on moving forward. And that to me is what life is about. That there is a constant moving forward that is important.
How is your art book coming along? I also understand you work together onscreen with Crispin for the first time in an upcoming film that is not part of the “It” Trilogy. What was it like to be able to share the screen in such a manner with someone who is also family?
I do realistic paintings. I do abstracts. I do structural things and I’ve got a book that I kind of have to get together. My son wants me to, my son Crispin, who is, of course, a terrific actor and book writer. We just finished a film where he wrote a script. So the script is his script with some of my added writing and he directed it. He is still editing it right now.
He is back in the Czech Republic, which is where we shot the film. In the last five years, I must have made I don’t know maybe fourteen trips to Poland and the Czech Republic. I did a Polish film were I acted in Polish about four years ago but I also went to the Czech Republic where Crispin has an estate that is 20 acres. He has two stables that were turned into film studios, where he builds sets. There are a lot of Czech’s working on the estate I guess they are trying to get away from Russians.
He is back there right now in fact. He’s been in that series American Gods and he’s terrific in it. Of course, you know he is a terrific actor. He was in Back to the Future and River’s Edge.
Crispin as Brutus in Grand Room 1888 from “An Untitled Crispin Hellion Glover Project.”
Bruce as Brutus in Grand Room 1918 from “An Untitled Crispin Hellion Glover Project.”
Well you know, we are not family when we are acting. I am in the character and the scenes we were in together we are both in character so we are not Crispin and we are not Bruce. We are the characters. It is like good and talented actors become the characters and it has nothing to do with father and son. But when he was directing me in a scene with somebody else I might jump in and say something to the other actor about if there is stunt involved, or how to do a fall, or if I have knowledge of something I will just jump in and say something. Or he might also ask me questions of what do I think of this or that so there is an exchange. And it is not an exchange that has to do with competition of any sort. It has to do with different appreciations of each other. Enjoyment in doing the job. Not particularly thinking that this is my son…but you are, you know you are aware of it.
The art book, I’ve got so many projects going right now and I am still dealing with a lot of things that have to do with the loss of my wife you know and straightening out things. Crispin wants to work with me on the art book. And he wants me to take photographs of some of the paintings I have. He says I should do about twenty-five of them. I am a person that has so many projects going that I have to grab myself by the back of my head and say, “Okay, do this one now.” And, “Finish that one now and stop trying to do sixteen of them partially.” Right now I am still dealing with filing taxes which I am going to have to do late anyway. (laughs)
What was it like to share the stage with the likes of Bette Davis and Anne Bancroft?
Anne Bancroft and Bette Davis. Well, I did Night of the Iguana on Broadway. That was my first Broadway show. A Tennessee Williams play. Tennessee was always around, very kind, he was kind of like a kindly old aunt. I did that play for a year.
Bette Davis when she came into the play you know, she was a great film actor and the worst stage actor I’ve ever seen. (laughs) She was acting, acting, acting, acting… She was very aware of her stardom. We were warned not to approach her and we were supposed to stand in awe of her constantly. She at times would reach out and try to be a human being.
I remember my character, I played a German and I ran around with a lovely girl in a bikini and I did cartwheels on stage. I had to do cartwheel between Bette Davis and the edge of the stage and I rehearsed it all on a flat floor and then when the first set we had was up in New York in Bette Davis’ old hometown the stage was jutting out over an orchestra pit. When I saw the stage the first time I was on it, for our first performance, I thought it is going be bad tonight. I had to do between the edge of that orchestra pit and Bette Davis a cartwheel. (laughs) And I am like, I rehearsed that on a flat floor and now I have to go out there and slowly go through it myself to get past the fear of falling. What were the two dangers? Kicking Bette Davis or falling into the orchestra pit. (laughs)
Bette Davis, I admired her. As a film actress, she was great. I ran into her briefly I went over to her table at Pinewood Restaurant when I was doing the Bond film I went over and talked and she was very haughty as always. But I wanted to come over and pay my respects. I hadn’t gone to her goodbye party, because it was on a Monday night when the whole cast went to it. I didn’t go because I couldn’t bring my wife and it was my only night alone with her so I didn’t go. I think she always took it as an insult. But again, she was overacting on Broadway but in film, she was a great actress, but she got huge applause when we had Actor’s Fun Night and all of that. Everyone was still in awe of her, but I saw her realistically.
Now Annie Bancroft was a terrific actress and a terrific person. We were in Mother Courage. It was going to be directed by the choreographer Jerome Robbins. He was a great choreographer. My wife was a ballet dancer. I was always attracted to women who were dancers. He was a great genius, a ballet master who created wonderful work. I was a fan of his, but he had done an Off Broadway play which was brilliant and directing usually, now he was going to do Mother Courage. Somehow he got intimidated and he went over to Berlin and studied Brechtian Theory on how to do a Brechtian play. Well, Bertolt Brecht wrote great plays but he wrote all of those incredibly stupid rules about how acting should be done. There is a school of acting, that has hopefully disappeared by now, which went by all of his principles in which all actors were supposed to be duplicates of each other. There was no such thing as individuality. So you would learn these things where you would be robots. The weird thing is he wrote all of these rules but he didn’t live by the rules. The actors that he cast were Peter Lorre. Who else is like Peter Lorre? Peter was unique and special. Thanks to him I did a commercial for Bubble Yum Bubble Gum where I got the commercial because I did a Peter Lorre imitation. He demanded blowing big bubbles. (laughs) So, Bertolt Brecht, he didn’t live by his own rules. And the rules were we were supposed to be deciphers.
Bruce in a Bubble Yum commercial.
So I didn’t meet Bancroft for two weeks of rehearsal and we were supposed to go down in the basement in groups. Whichever character we were playing would be discussed by the second and third players of the play. The rule was going to be that the roles would be changed so you had some characters you were given that were supposed to be your first character to play and then another, but you were supposed to sit in a group and discuss what it all was about.
Well, that is disgusting. I am sorry I am not going to do what anyone else does. And if I am anything as an actor it is that I will never the usual. I will be the unusual and I intend to continue that whatever I am doing, whether it be acting, or I’m writing, or I am going to be painting or whatever I am going to be doing. It is uniquely my own. Every character I play is an entirely different character.
So here we are in this discussion group and I had gotten the part, back in those days in New York you’d go to an audition wearing a suit and a tie. So I went for the audition with Jerome Robbins and the audience up there. I came in and the character I was going to be playing was the paymaster I think. I came in and kicked off my shoes and spit on my feet and took my socks and started cleaning my toes while I was doing the dialogue of this character. I turned him into this is all about the seven years of war out there in the field, living like animals with nothing but filth.
The when Jerome Robbins was letting us rehearse for each of our characters they threw a pile of stuff on the stage and let you pick out your own costume. So you’d get all of these amazing pieces of stuff and it’d turn out to be a German Expressionist kind of crazy outfit. So your individuality would take up in there but you were supposed to be discussing all of this stuff in the basement of this theatre…Bancroft was upstairs rehearsing pulling around a wagon, which Mother Courage was pulling around a wagon in the play.
I remember watching this great stage designer and I stood in the wings watching over from the side of the stages that were showing mockups of all the sets that he was going to build. And they were all built and we all had our costumes and then because Robbins was believing in the Brechtian way he took away all of our costumes. And he put us all in black tights. No one was to look like an individual. The sets that had been designed by this brilliant set designer were gone. They just had black walls, black curtains, black floors. And when I came out after two weeks to do my first scene with Anne Bancroft, I sat down on the floor, pulled off my shoes, spit on my feet, and Jerome says, “No, no, don’t sit down.”
I stood up and I took off my shoes standing and I spit on my foot and he says, “No, no, don’t take off the shoe.”
Then next thing I know he is giving me lines. Saying, “No, no, no.”
And he looks at me and comes up to me and says, “No, no, no.”
Then he walked away and I said, “Don’t walk away from me you little shit.” (laughs)
Because he had destroyed everything I was doing. That was my relationship with Annie Bancroft who was befuddled but the whole thing. There were talented actors and if they came up with something that was interesting Robbins would take it away from them because he was believing in those Brechtian Rules. So we were all going to be robots and the play, of course, failed on Broadway. Annie Bancroft was a brilliant actress and a brilliant person who never got to be…the play it just didn’t work.
Are there any certain moments from over the course of your career that stand out most in your mind looking back today?
You know the fact is, certainly you can look artistically at different films. I’ve done over two hundred films and television shows over the years. I was in one hundred plays. Every one is unique and different. So if I say outstanding it is the fact that I did so many and everything was another opportunity to grow.
For an actor sometimes and rarely you are given an opportunity by the writers, by the director that was a wide open door and sometimes, the majority of the time you are given something that was not that good. And you’d try to improve it. And I would. I would go in and improvise and throw in lines that weren’t in the script. That is one of the reasons you make a lot of bad films better by just being unique and doing what you got to do.
So when you get a rare opportunity like working with my son, the film that we’ve done in the Czech Republic which is being edited now currently called An Untitled Crispin Hellion Glover Project. We will see what the title is eventually. Crispin, people like him and Guy Hamilton who did Diamonds Are Forever, the Bond film, and Roman Polanski are people who take somebody who has never acted before and put them in a major role in a movie. Because they see that they are alive and real.
Acting isn’t important, what is important is being a real entity. Brilliant directors see that and they don’t over direct. They look at what you are doing. And if you are a really good actor when you get into film and television you never get any comments because the poor director is rushing to the problem areas and you are not one of them. You start to wonder, “Why aren’t I getting any comments?” Well, you aren’t getting any comments because you are too good to waste the time on. Whatever you come up with if you have a good director you can discuss with him what you want to do. Like Guy Hamilton was wide open to every idea I had and a lot of the success of the humor of that film was me. Those were all my ideas. The final moment in the film where Sean Connery does that rude thing pushing the hooha up my yaha and giving that character his final great sexual moment is the biggest laugh in the movie. I remember getting a few compliments on that from the Saint, Sir Roger Moore saying it was the funniest Bond moment of all which I appreciate. I never met Roger Moore but I used to see him come into the big restaurant at Pinewood when I was shooting the Bond film. That was a six month job, three of the months were in England.
Roger Moore would come in like a Golden God. But for me, the Bond will always be Sean Connery. He is the real thing.
How long were you in Tennessee during the time you were working on the Walking Tall films? What was your impression of the state?
I watched the state change over a period of time. The first film is a good film. I mean it is a terrific film. The second two were…you know there were different writers, different directors, different cast. The first film we had Joe Don Baker, Felton Perry, and me playing the cops. And we were great together we had good relationships and the script was well written. Buford Pusser was around constantly and we became friends.
The sense of Tennessee in that first place it had more to do with Buford being a man who protected people, his family and law rather than being a guy who liked pounding people with a club. The second and third films became more about the club and less about Buford.
The first film we were in Jackson, Tennessee in a hotel and we had a swimming pool and Felton Perry who was the black deputy and I am the white deputy, we are both two guys from Chicago. We like to play chess together. And we would play chess at the side of the pool and there’d be quite often a bunch of red-necked salesmen types running around playing high school grab ass games in the swimming pool and hating the fact that there was a white guy and black guy daring to sit at the side of their pool playing chess. Which of course they wouldn’t play anyway.
I didn’t know it until later, Felton and I had stayed in contact for years, we are still a little, but he doesn’t go to the Academy anymore so…anyway, Felton told me later that he didn’t do the second film because he had been getting abuse. People standing outside of his door and saying rude things and the n word. I didn’t know about it, and I said, “Why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t you say anything about it?”
So let us say that my first impression of Tennessee was there was that racial kind of overhang there, but there is another strange thing about it, because being from Chicago, Chicago was divided up a lot so there was like a black neighborhood and a white neighborhood. I remember my high school there was one brother sister, young black people that she and he were both attractive and confident and they became very popular in this mostly white school. She was a cheerleader, he was on the football team. He wasn’t a typical great athlete he was like fifteenth string or something. But they were both very popular and I remember a couple of black people would like whiz through and disappear and they were like under inspection.
Now I understood it because as a kid making deliveries in Chicago when I was seven or eight years old going into the all black neighborhoods the hatred that would come at you from you being the only white person in a black neighborhood it made me understand how being a black person in a white environment was…so there was that separation strangely in Chicago days.
He told me in Chicago it wasn’t quite that bad for him. But, one of the things I noticed in spite of the sense of there being an overall racial thing in Tennessee there was also kind of more…mingling. In other words, there were more encounters in day to day and if that happens people start to get to know each other as people rather than just a color.
After Joe Don Baker and Felton either weren’t offered the second film or they decided not to, Buford was going to play himself in the second film. It was an excellent opportunity, there were good scenes in it, there was good writing, a good director, and a good producer and that makes a big difference. So the first film was different producer, different writer, different director, and a different time.
You said the impression of Tennessee, it changed. I watched it over a period of time. So the first film I don’t know we were there six weeks or something maybe eight weeks I am not sure. He (Buford) would be driven back and forth from the studio from the film set of the environment out in Tennessee to the hotel. Now the second film Buford was going to play himself and I ended up doing the screen test with him and they had built four sets in Paramount studios with the full crew to do this screen test with some dude who was like one of those old-time directors who would say “Roll them” and then, “Cut” and that was about it. There were lots of directors and they were just there and you knew not to worry about them and just do your own thing. Don’t listen to anything they say except this is where you stand, this is the line you know whatever…
Buford and I had good times. I remember me taking his club and he grabbing the gun out of my holster playing games and stuff like that. You can see it on my Facebook. There is this whole thing where they turned it into all about the club not knowing what Buford was really like. He was a man who was protective of people, women especially. He had a great sense of family and women.
But he was also a playful dude. I remember getting into a car with him one time.
He said, “Hey can I drive you back to the hotel.”
I said, “Yeah Buford.”
And I got in the car with him and suddenly he is going 125 mph on a country road and he says, “I’m sorry I don’t seem to be able to get my speed out of this.”
And I am like, “Yeah Buford”
I know he was trying to scare the Hell out of me. (laughs) And he was, but I wouldn’t let on, but I never got into a car with him again that he was driving unless there was a woman present because he was very protective and respectful of women.
When the first film was going to be promoted they had done a stupid thing with the ads and they had this stupid ad that they were having a party after the screening of the thing and the screening was they had invited all the Sheriff’s department to see the screening. All of these producers thought they had a big hit in their hands, well they didn’t know what they had done was wrong.
And they had this party after and the President of Bing Crosby Productions who had only been president of a perfume company before that, a nice man, called me over and said, “Come on out and greet the releaser of the film. He just saw the film tonight.”
And I said, “Oh really.”
And here is this little dude standing next to me. He said, “He did the artwork for the ad and he is going to see the film tomorrow.”
And I am looking at these other producers all drinking, they feel like they have a big success on their hands. “So you are going to release the film and you just saw it tonight? And dinky dong over here did the artwork for the ads? And he is going to see the film tomorrow?”
I said, “Gentleman, this is exactly why your film is going to go down the tubes.” These guys are looking at me like I am ruining their party. I said, “You’re running an ad that doesn’t sell the film that we’ve got.”
They had a picture of Joe Don Baker standing there with a big club sticking out of his fly like a you know what. I think the same guy must have done the Shaft in Africa ad that was done the year before. He is standing here with this big club sticking out from his groin, again club, club, club sticking out and where dumb guys start to misunderstand what a movie is about. And behind Buford over his left shoulder, where Joe Don Baker is Buford, there are two women with their see-through blouses showing their all. All of which was in the movie. These lovely women showing their all and then over the other shoulder there is a car flying through the air with machine guns shooting out of the window, well that is in the movie too. And at the bottom of the thing with the big club underneath it says, “The Story of a REAL Man.” Like ugh God.
And I said, “Gentlemen, the ad that you are running doesn’t sell our film that we did. It is going to be in the drive-in theater for about two weeks and then it is going to disappear and it is going to go down the tubes.”
And they are looking at me and I’m ruining their party, but one of the producers, a smarter guy, pulls me aside and he says, “Will you come and have lunch with me tomorrow at the Brown Derby?”
And I said, “Sure.”
He says, “Now tell me your ideas.”And I did.
And then he asked me to come over to Bing Crosby Productions the next day and give him more ideas. And I redid their ad, but it was too late for L.A, that was the ad and it did exactly what I said. It’d be in the drive-in for two weeks and then down the tubes, but they redid the ad for Chicago and the ad I did, which I had Joe Don Baker hugging his wife and two kids, and the club was just leaning against a wall behind him. And it said, “A Man Must Protect his Family and his Territory.” And then at the bottom it said: “Based on a true story.” And that is the ad that sold it in Chicago and it became the hit structure of the Walking Tall. Now, nobody is going to say that Bruce Glover saved Walking Tall, but I did. (laughs)
You have said for anyone to be their best at their craft whatever it is they have to stop worrying what anyone else thinks of them. Do you think that is important in most aspects of life?
Yeah, absolutely. Of course, being a football player you are being an athlete. I am still an athlete even at my age. I can’t play soccer anymore. I played for thirty years. I created two teams…so anyway when you play sports you just have to look at the ball. Where is it? Who is that other player? What is going on? What do you do? You just keep moving with life. I mean you have to let life come in and affect you. And not have it so controlled. The same with art.
It was the same thing with Buford when he and I sat in front of this corny old director and did a read through. Buford read through with me. He was terrible. And then the director just stood on one foot and then the other and he wobbled out there and said, “Tell me when it is lighted.”
Buford said, “I was terrible.”
I said, “Yeah you were.”
He said, “What am I going to do?”
And I said, “This is what you’re going to do.”, and again this is how I teach acting, I said, “Buford when you should be sitting in your car and you see a car whizzing by and you decide to follow them, you’d look at their license plate and call it in and wait for any information on the license plate, then you watch how he was driving, and then you turn on your lights to make them stop, you watch how he is reacting, and then when he stops you park your car and be out a couple of feet so you wouldn’t get hit by car coming from behind, and when you approach the back of his car, you’d look to make sure there was nobody in the back seat. And in the driver’s seat, you’d look over his shoulder to make sure he didn’t have any weapons. And when he got out of the car you’d watch his hands and watch him and make sure, that he was not holding a weapon and you’d be looking at his eyes, and when he talked to you, you’d be watching how he is talking. You’d watch how he responded to what you were saying.”
He said, “Yeah I do all of those things.”
I said, “Well that is how you act.”
And he went, “Oh. Okay.”
And he was terrific. He got it. And that was my acting lesson to him, just do the real things. And he was going to be terrific.
When I had my boys, Crispin was up at a Boy Scout camp and Buford just had one little piece of dialogue and I was already out of costume. I was going to go up and meet Crispin at this Boy Scouts camp. And Buford was always all about family.
And I said, “Buford, you don’t need me for this.”
And he said, “No I’ll see you in Tennessee.”
I reached up and goosed him and he said, “I’ll get you in Tennessee.” and we both walked out laughing. And then he was murdered of course. What a loss it was. So anyway I watched Tennessee change, to continue that thing about Tennessee, over the next two films. The two films were all about the club but I watched Tennessee change and it became more integrated and restaurants changed and you could now bring your own bottle in. I made friends with a couple of local blacks who would take me to nightclubs and I’d be the only white person in it. I learned a lot about dancing by learning how their rhythm was working. My wife being a dancer we used to dance together a lot. So I learned a lot in Tennessee the one thing I did learn was different writers, different producers, different things I think the Walking Tall went way off base and they lost the real Buford.
Is it true that when Crispin’s mother married you she thought, “Who am I marrying?” when she first saw that Hellion wasn’t your real middle name? What was she like as a person? What did you love most about her?
That she wanted me. She wanted me from the first she saw me. She made me know it and she made me want her. And I did. And she was smart and tough and brave. She was a terrific dancer. I did dancing too, I did an Off Broadway show for a year where I did East Indian Kathakali dancing. But she and I used to dance together. She was a terrific, strong woman, she had the physicality of a dancer with all the muscles. The brightness of her face and her eyes. She was a brilliant woman. And she grabbed me and made me marry her, Betty. And I miss her every day. We had fifty-six years of marriage and it’s three years almost now since she died. And she dies every day as far as I am concerned. I will never not miss her every minute. I mean I miss her every day.
How did becoming a father change your outlook on the world?
Well, of course being a father is not too dissimilar to being an older brother protecting his little sisters and his little brother who eventually came along. You have to teach your child and I remember being born, literally.
So before Crispin was born I started talking to him. Putting my mouth on my wife’s tummy and talking to Crispin and playing classical music. Putting classical music on her stomach.
I think you have to have an influence and your responsibility to a child is to give to them and help them grow and to stimulate them with things. I did that and his mother did that.
The idea is not to make him conform to your way of doing things but to help them find their way of doing it which is what I believe any teaching has to be.
I used to pose for art classes and the best teachers were those that didn’t teach anything. They just went around approving of what everyone was doing. I remember there was one teacher up at the Art Institute of Chicago, I posed in his class and he just went around telling everyone how great their stuff was and he was right. (laughs) All these other people criticizing even at the Art Institute were destructive. And I don’t think you need to criticize you just need to show people life and let them live it and live their art.
So a child has to be shown…stuff and let them reach out for it. His mother did and I did. Crispin had the benefit of both of us and he had the benefit of our genes and lots of brain cells in there, from both of us. And that is being a good parent as far as I am concerned.
What was Crispin like as a child growing up? How did it feel to have him direct you in It Is Fine! Everything is Fine. ? What are your personal feelings on that particular film?
As a little kid, he was very brave. I was in New York City. I remember him walking miles without even looking around to see if I was following him. He would climb up rocks with me, of course, I was right behind him to make sure he didn’t fall but he’d just climb. He was always very brave and curious, and he didn’t whine and cry a lot. He never crawled. The first time he got out of his crib he didn’t crawl he stood up and walked. So he had a sense, from the moment he was born he had a sense of looking around and seeing life and I guess I had already introduced him to lots of that before he was born where I used to talk to him.
Working with him as a director… is fine. He is smart enough to recognize if what you are doing is good and direction is collaboration. We still will collaborate on future things. He is a terrific director. He is smart. He is my son too. In the long run, you know the love is there and the caring and the appreciation of each of us and our talents. So again, Crispin was great to work with. I don’t know if I’ll get to have him direct me in something else again or maybe I’ll get to direct him in something. I’m writing scripts too.
Bruce & Crispin at the premiere of “American Gods” season 2.
You have said that Cripsin, as a director has an eye for talent when it comes to casting people who have never acted before. Where do you think that ability comes from ?
I think that is just the seeing of real.
I mentioned it earlier. That Guy Hamilton had it for Diamonds Are Forever the Bond film where he took Putter Smith who had never acted before so I am playing bass fiddle with Thelonious Monk and he said, “That’s got to be one of the guys.”
So he just saw that there was a quality that Putter Smith had. It was a gift to me. He didn’t know how much of a help he was, but he gave me something to bounce off of in creating my own character in looking at his character. Since it was a rare kind of movie where for the first time in history two characters were being identified as gay. There were some strange guys.
There were more in Chicago and New York, well you know they are everywhere and great people mostly. Betty had a lot of gay friends around so that was one of the things I didn’t want to do when I did the character in the Bond film. I didn’t want to do that buddy of Betty’s going, “Oh if you two get divorced. I don’t know which one I am going to marry.” (laughs)
People are people. It doesn’t matter if you want to hump…an elephant or not. Keep it to yourself. (laughs)
As an artist yourself, what do you love most about the act of creation in all of its various forms?
Just the experiencing of it, the doing of it. Sometimes the results fit in the changing of it. And the learning process. That it is a constant learning. And if you are not learning while you are doing an art then you are not doing it right.
Good actors never know quite what is going to be I think. There are actors that come across as good because they do the same thing over and over, and at the end of the night, they are so great looking that they get away with it.
Are there any little known things about you that people might be surprised to know?
I suppose the Dyslexia, which I mentioned. What my theory is, is if you have a talent for something, you should do it. You don’t have to learn how. Do it. And that is one of the things I do as a teacher and I hardly have any classes anymore because all of these people who are bad teachers spend a lot of money advertising. So, if anybody is smart enough to come to me, I will help them.
One of the things they won’t know and might be surprised to learn is that I am very kind. And I want to help people. And that is what I would get out of teaching, is seeing somebody grow, but most people only listen so much and they don’t do the work that they have to do. I mean the working class dude that you asked me about earlier, that is true of…everything. If you don’t do the work you are not going to be very good at it. If you don’t take some chances you are not going to get there.
You have to take chances. I took a lot of chances as an actor where you would just barge into places and just do things and if you got a part you might change it and never discuss with anyone what you were going to do.
One of the things that I am, I suppose, is that I totally, outrageously…don’t live by the rules. The rules have to be found out now. Now I change the rules, now I have to do these rules. And you have to look at to some degree, a certain amount of balance about how you care for people and take care of them.
I suppose maybe, that might one of the things. Like Crispin…we are kind to people. We like people, but we are not going to be pushed around. (laughs)
What would say is the key to a life well lived?
Living it. You know, every minute. Being in the moment. Not being afraid. Taking the pain when it comes and living that too. Live, live, live and that is what it really is all about.
How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?
Ah, who cares? I’ll be dead. (laughs)
Is there anything else you’d like to say in closing?
Live your life. That is what I try to do and whatever part of it that you are in right now. Be in it. Get through it. If it is great, it is great. If it is not great, live through it. Do work. You have to be working on something. If you are not creating something you are not living. You have to create stuff that is not abuse of a lot of people. Create something that educates people. Be an educator, be a protector and by protecting others you protect yourself. Your own integrity is to constantly learn. Learn something new every day. If you are not learning you are dead.
I’ve been close to death many times and even the death process is kind of a learning process.
I remember I had a motorcycle accident where I knew I was going to die. I ran into a cow that had ran out on the side of the road. A big steer with horns coming right at my face. And I knew I was going to die, but I noticed that his mouth was slopping his tongue out. And I laughed. So even at that moment when I knew I was probably going to die, I found it funny (laughs).
I had another moment where I was going to be struck in the face by a rattlesnake while I was climbing a cliff in Utah. And as it was striking at me I still noticed how beautiful it was.
So live it til the end and laugh when you can.
(Author’s note: My deepest thanks to Mark Kinnaman who took the time to call and record this interview, as well as Bruce Glover, himself for giving of his time so graciously).