Scribe William Norton, who penned Burt Lancaster starrer “The Scalphunters” and other action pics before becoming a gunrunner for a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army, died Oct. 2 in Santa Barbara. He was 85.
1968’s “The Scalphunters,” directed by Sydney Pollack, was one of Norton’s many action pics. He also wrote 1971’s “The Hunting Party,” starring Gene Hackman and Candice Bergen; and Angie Dickinson starrer “Big Bad Mama.”
Norton was a lifelong activist. After seeing combat during World War II, he worked in construction and as a park ranger before writing for publications including the California Quarterly and for Los Angeles theater.
But his leftist views led to his being hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s. His big break came much later with “The Scalphunters” in the 1960s.
He also wrote for the Western TV series “The Big Valley,” which aired from 1965-68.
During the 1970s and ’80s, at the same time he was writing, Norton helped Central American guerrillas. In June 1986, he and his wife, Joan, were arrested in France when they attempted to smuggle a van-load of guns to aid Northern Ireland rebels (Norton’s mother was Irish). Joan Norton was released after five months, and William was freed after 19 months. Taking refuge in Nicaragua and then Cuba, Norton became disenchanted with communism. He returned to the U.S. in the early 1990s, but the only thing he wrote was “Exiled in America,” which Paul Leder helmed.
Survivors include his wife, Joan; two sons including writer-producer-director Bill Norton; three daughters; and three great-grandchildren.