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6 Things You Might Not Have Known About Billy Jack

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Actor, director, and occasional presidential candidate Tom Laughlin passed away last week at the age of 82 after a prolonged illness. Laughlin will probably be remembered most for the film Billy Jack, which he wrote, directed, and co-starred in along with his beloved wife (they’d been married for 60 years at the time of his death). It was considered to be cutting-edge at the time of its release, and is still a cult favorite if nothing else for the '70s-era hippie cheesiness, not to mention the irony of a pacifist loner constantly kicking butts in order to spread his message of peace.

1. In The Beginning…

The Billy Jack character was actually introduced in the 1967 film The Born Losers. Tom Laughlin already had the basic outline of the script for Billy Jack the movie, but lacked funding because studios simply weren’t interested in a film about peace and love and the plight of the American Indian. What did interest Hollywood investors, though, were violent outlaw motorcycle gang movies. So Laughlin dashed off a script based on a 1964 incident with some Hell’s Angels in Monterey, California, and The Born Losers earned enough money for him to begin work on his pet project.

When Billy Jack was re-released in 1973 (after a 1971 attempt was halted by legal wrangling), the tradition at the time was for new films to play in one downtown theater in major cities upon release and then eventually move to smaller theaters in the suburbs. Laughlin tried a different tack; he had 1200 prints of his movie made and “opened” it in 1200 different-sized theaters across the U.S. Allowing so many people to see the film at one time increased the word-of-mouth buzz, and Billy Jack, with its $800,000 budget, earned $40 million in its first year of release.

2. Friends and Family Plan

If some of the “actors” in the film seem a bit wooden, that’s probably because they weren’t professional performers but rather friends of the Laughlin family. The young blonde girl, Carol, who sang the uplifting “My Brother’s Dead” song, was played by Tom and Delores’ daughter Teresa. Kit, the headband girl who got “floured” in the ice cream shop was portrayed by Debbie Schock, who was the Laughlin’s babysitter. And Julie Webb, who played the runaway-with-hepatitis Barbara, was a high school pal of Schock’s. Jean, the leading lady who ran the Freedom School, was reluctantly played by Tom’s wife, Delores Taylor.

Taylor was not at all interested in appearing on-camera, and only agreed to play the part of Jean when her husband told her that his original actress had suddenly quit. Despite her insecurity, her work was praised by no less a legend than Marlon Brando, who stood up in a crowded theater after the scene where “Jean” told Cindy about Bernard attacking her, and announced “this performance is the yardstick by which all actors should judge themselves!”

3. Let’s Make Everyone White

Speaking of the famous confrontation in the ice cream shop that drove Billy berserk, viewers who wondered why a soda fountain would have a barrel of flour handy might be interested to find out that this scene was based on a real-life incident Taylor witnessed while growing up in a small South Dakota reservation town. She was one of a handful of Caucasians who lived in the area (her Native playmates called her Little Yellow Head as a child) and the poor treatment of the Indians while growing up had a huge impact on her, and later her husband as well.

4. A Dislocated Elbow or Drive Your Car into the Lake?

One of many iconic scenes in Billy Jack is the one where Billy forces Bernard Posner to drive his brand-new $6000 Corvette Stingray into the lake. David Roya, who played Bernard, was behind the wheel in that scene and gunned the engine when director Laughlin called “Action!” After he was retrieved from the water, Roya was confronted by actor Bert Freed, who played his father in the film. “Are you crazy?! Why the hell did you do that?!” Roya at first thought that Freed was being paternal and concerned about his safety. As the actor continued his tirade, however, it developed that Freed was vice-president of the Screen Actors Guild and was furious because a union stunt man should have been hired to drive the car into the water.

5. Seeing Double

Tom Laughlin was a long-time student of the martial art hapkido, and he performed many of his own fighting moves in the movie. But in one particular scene he was forced to use a stunt double—his teacher, Master Bong Soo Han. The scene in question was where Billy Jack smacked Sheriff Posner upside the head with his foot; Laughlin was able to perform the kick in question, but not with the precision necessary to stop his foot just millimeters away from actor Bert Freed’s face.

6. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Connection

The actress who played the small but memorable role of Miss False Eyelashes in Billy Jack went on to star in the MST3K favorite Space Mutiny. In fact, in real life she’s married to Reb Brown, who played Dave Ryder aka Blast Hardcheese, Punch Rockgroin, Rip Steakface, et al.

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Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images
8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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Kevin Winter/Getty Images

He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.


Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”


By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).


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