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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Tom Laughlin: "Billy Jack" and Crazy Horse

Tom Laughlin in his "Billy Jack" attire.
The photo is from the internet; I don't believe I have any photos of him in my personal collections.
. . .
I note with sorrow the death of Tom Laughlin, the star and producer of the "Billy Jack" movies.

While Laughlin was a student at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion (where I also attended college) he met his wife Delores Taylor. He said he wrote the original screenplay for the first "Billy Jack" film after visiting her hometown of Winner, South Dakota, and observing the prejudice against Native Americans there.

Laughlin wasn't only an actor and activist; with his wife he founded what became the largest Montessori school in the U.S., in Santa Monica, California. He left acting to devote all his attention to the school, which went bankrupt in 1965.

In another lifetime, one of my many past lives, Tom Laughlin read some of my writing, and invited me to meet with him and with his wife Delores Taylor in Minneapolis. There he hired me to write the screenplay for a movie he wanted to do about Crazy Horse, the charismatic Lakota leader who also caught the imagination of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.

I don't recall the exact dates and don't care to delve into my journals for the details, but I do recall that I was working on the screenplay during the Rapid City flood of 1972. After proofreading the first published issue of my arts magazine Sunday Clothes, I had left Rapid City early that afternoon in my VW van. Because the storm was so severe, I pulled over not far outside town and sat on the floor in the back of the van while the storm winds made it rock and roll, recalling that Crazy Horse, who was born along Rapid Creek, had once predicted a devastating flood there.

The next morning, I heard about the Rapid City flood, which killed hundreds-- and incidentally washed away the company that had printed the first issue of my magazine.

The Crazy Horse movie was never made, of course. And despite all the research I did on Crazy Horse, including some that I believe has not yet been duplicated, I have never turned the screenplay into a book.

But I appreciated the dreamer, Tom Laughlin, who had the thought, and the strength of his opinions and his devotion to them.

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For more information:

See my website's page about Sunday Clothes Magazine


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