Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Five Films from 'Billy Jack' Star Tom Laughlin

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Five Films from 'Billy Jack' Star Tom Laughlin

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES - Tom Laughlin, who came to fame as the half-Native American, half-white ex-Green Beret in the 1971 indie blockbuster "Billy Jack," died Thursday at age 82.

A lot of his films are on DVD and on streaming services. If you want to go back to his earliest films, check out "The Delinquents" (1957) - which was directed by Robert Altman - "South Pacific" (1958) and even "Gidget" (1959).

And for those who want to revisit his best-known films, or perhaps see them for the first time, here are five:

-"The Born Losers": Laughlin first introduced Billy Jack in this low-budget 1967 biker film, which American International Pictures released in 1968.

You can tell it's an AIP film by its poster tag line: "Kitten on Wheels With Her Bike ... Her Boots and Bikini! Out for kicks ... in for trouble? She's going to Join the Born Losers."

Besides Laughlin, Jeremy Slate and Jane Russell also starred. Laughlin's wife, Delores Taylor, who was one of the producers, and two of their children were featured in cameos.

-"Billy Jack": Laughlin's website at billyjackrights.com called this 1971 movie the "most independent film ever made" since it went through three studios before it was released. The film sold 58 million tickets, the site said.

Laughlin's Billy Jack is living on a reservation in Arizona when he becomes interested in the local progressive Freedom School and an idealistic woman named Jean (Taylor), who runs it. But when small-town bigots threaten the students, karate master Billy Jack kicks into action. According to the Laughlin's site, the film was among the first to "introduce martial arts, specifically hapkido karate, to American audiences."

Reviewers loved or hated the film. The Washington Post proclaimed it was "a horrendously self-righteous and devious action movie." The Los Angeles Times described the film as "rude and sensational, yet urgent and pertinent (and) ... in its unique, awkward way one of the year's more important pictures."

Ms. Taylor received a Golden Globe nomination as most promising newcomer; Laughlin won the grand prize at the 1971 Taormina film festival in Italy.

The film's theme song, "One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)," performed by Coven, was a top 40 hit in 1971. …

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