Clu Gulager, rugged film and TV actor, dies at 93

Clu Gulager, a rugged character actor who appeared in critically acclaimed films like “The Last Picture Show” as well as low-budget horror films, and who memorably portrayed gunslingers in two TV westerns , died Friday at the home of his son John in Los Angeles. . He was 93 years old.

John Gulager confirmed the death. He said his father’s health had declined since he suffered a back injury several years ago.

Mr. Gulager’s raw good looks and his upbringing in the Southwest made him a natural for the Westerns that proliferated on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He was seen regularly in ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Bonanza’ , “Have Gun – Will Travel” and other shows.

An appearance as hitman Mad Dog Coll in ‘The Untouchables’ in 1959 convinced the writer and producer Sam People start Mr. Gulager as legendary outlaw Billy the Kid in “The Tall Man”, a television series he planned about Billy’s friendship with Sheriff Pat Garrett. (By most accounts, the title referred to Garrett’s honesty and straightforwardness, as well as the series opening creditsin which Garrett’s long shadow stretches before him.)

“He’s exactly what we were looking for, an actor with a flair for the unusual,” Mr. Peeples said in a TV Guide profile of Mr. Gulager shortly after the show first aired in 1960. gives Billy some psychological depth.”

The friendship between the lawman (played by Barry Sullivan) and the gun thief has been romanticized and greatly exaggerated over the series’ 75 episodes; many historians believe that Sheriff Garrett actually shot and killed Billy in 1881. Their fatal encounter never happened in the series, which ended abruptly in 1962.

Mr. Gulager played a more legitimate character in “The Virginian,” the first of three 90-minute 1960s Western series, starring James Drury and Doug McClure. Mr. Gulager’s character on the show, Emmett Ryker, was introduced in the show’s third season when a wealthy man attempted to hire him to assassinate a rancher. Although he refused to be a hitman, he was accused of killing the man. After clearing his name, Ryker channeled his penchant for violence into the service of the law.

Credit…NBC, via Photofest

In Mr. Gulager’s first scene, Ryker was generally unfazed. He walked into a saloon and within moments angered a man who was playing cards. Ryker pointed his gun at the card player before he could get up, ending the conflict.

Moments later, a deputy sheriff asked Ryker where he learned to draw like that.

“In the cradle,” he replied.

Mr. Gulager’s acting career, which lasted well into the 21st century, was not relegated to the frontier. He has appeared in non-Western television shows, including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, “Knight Rider” and “Murder, She Wrote”, and in several notable films.

He and Lee Marvin played contract killers in “The Killers,” a 1964 film noir directed by Don Siegel and based on an Ernest Hemingway short story that also starred Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes and, in what s turned out to be his last film, Ronald Reagan.

In 1969, he played a mechanic in “Winning”, a film about motor racing with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. He played an older man who has an affair with his lover’s stepdaughter in “The Last Picture Show,” Peter Bogdanovich’s famous 1971 study of a declining Texas town.

He was also in lower fare, like Keenen Ivory Wayans’ blaxploitation parody “I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka” (1988) and horror films “The Return of the Living Dead” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” (both 1985).

His film work continued into his later years, including roles in the independent productions “Tangerine” (2015) and “Blue Jay” (2016). His last screen appearance was as a bookstore clerk in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (2019).

Mr. Gulager left the cast of “The Virginian” in 1968 to focus on directing and teaching. (The show remained on the air until 1971, becoming the third longest-running western in television history, after “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.”) His directing career foundered after the short. “A Day With the Boys” in 1969, but he became a popular teacher, running a workshop focused on acting and making horror films.

“I tell young students in my class that what we do is as important as the work of a man who grows wheat, of the doctor who saves lives, of the architect who builds houses,” he said. he said in an ABC press release before playing. in the TV movie “Stickin’ Together” in 1978. “What we do, in our best times, is provide humanity with food for the mind.”

William Martin Gulager was born in Holdenville, Okla., on November 16, 1928. He often said he was part Cherokee; the name Clu comes from “clu-clu”, a Cherokee word for the birds, known in English as martins, which nested at the Gulager house.

His father, John Delancy Gulager, was an actor and vaudevillian who became a county judge in Muskogee, Okla., and taught him acting at a young age, long before he graduated from Muskogee Central High School. His mother, Hazel Opal (Griffin) Gulager, worked at the local VA hospital for 35 years.

Mr. Gulager served in the United States Marines from 1946 to 1948 before studying theater at Northeastern State College in Oklahoma. and Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He continued his studies in Paris, where he studied with actor Jean-Louis Barrault and mime Etienne Decroux.

He married Miriam Byrd-Nethery, and they performed in summer theater and college theater. In 1955 the two were in a production of the play “A Different Drummer” in the television series “Omnibus”. He continued to perform in New York until 1958, when the Gulagers and their infant son, John, moved to Hollywood.

Mr. Gulager’s wife died in 2003. Besides his son John, survivors include another son, Tom, and a grandson.

John Gulager is a director of horror films, most notably the bloody “Feast” (2005), which starred Henry Rollins and Balthazar Getty. This film and its two tongue-in-cheek sequels also featured the former Mr. Gulager as a shotgun-wielding bartender battling fanged monsters in a Midwestern tavern. The second “Feast” movie was even more of a family affair.

“You know, there are three generations of Gulagers in this movie,” John Gulager told the blog in an interview. One of them, named after Clu the Elder, was the grandson of Clu Gulager.

“He was 11 months old when we filmed him,” added John Gulager. “My dad said, ‘We have to start Baby Clu’s career now.’ ”

Christine Chung contributed reporting.

Previous Will there be a second season of The First Lady?
Next Laal Singh Chaddha Box Office Preview: Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, runtime, number of screens and opening day