Tom Laughlin Was Not a Fan of Movie Critics

Tom Laughlin Was Not Fan of

The late actor once took out several ads in Variety with cash prizes for readers willing to condemn critics

Some rebels live forever. Who can forget James Dean and his parents who were “tearing him apart!!!?” Or Brando’s “Wild One” roaring down the highway. Or those “Easy Riders,” Billy and Wyatt, roles their stars, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda never eclipsed. There are some rebels, however, who blazed across the screen, sold millions of tickets and who haven’t endured as mythically and memorably. One of them, Billy Jack, was played by actor-director-writer-producer Tom Laughlin whose career as a counterculture star of the 70s wasn’t followed by major roles or a hallowed place in the film canon, a point that the Variety Archives makes clear would have made him angry enough to drop kick a Camaro.

Laughlin, who passed away this week at the age of 82, was unhappy with how little the critics of America cared for his pop culture hit pics, including the original “Billy Jack” (1971) and its sequels, “The Trial of Billy Jack” (1975) and “Billy Jack Goes To Washington,” (1977) and in response took out full page ads in Variety back in 1975 decrying the audacity of those who overlooked a genuine cultural phenomenon. He created a cash prize contest meant to create a whole new legion of populist, grass-roots critics who could give those pointy-headed intellectuals the kind of whipping that Billy Jack gave his enemies. He scoffed at anyone foolish enough to celebrate the works of Fellini, Renoir, Coppola, Bergman et al over the cinematic contributions of Tom Laughlin.

Today, of course, there are millions of critics on the internet, endlessly chattering about their favorite pop stars and movie heroes. Not many of them know that once upon a time, the biggest, most butt-kicking guy on the screen was an odd mix of hippie spirituality and Tea Party populism. The Billy Jack vs the Critics contest may have fizzled, but in this remake-hungry culture of modern Hollywood, who would be surprised by Billy Jack’s big screen, big budget return. Only one question: Who is the perfect Billy Jack of today?

See ads below from 1975 issue of Variety:

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  1. Skippy larue Nottingham-smiths says:

    To the square, uncool nimrod who keeps suggesting a) a Billy jack remake and B) brolin fit the role and c), almost the worst of all, mentioning marky mark the human hammer….. SHUT IT!!!! Just SIT DOWN and SHUT UP!!

    First of all you filthy old hippy, have you SEEN the remakes done in the last decade? THEY SUCK!

    I said,”THEY SUCK!”.

    Im not sure how to translate that info Hippy. Maybe something like, “They’re totally uncool, mannnnnnnn.” Anyway.

    If your going to do a PROPER female of Billy Jack, that means you have to understand it’s NATURE first you idiot!!

    1) understand it’s the 21st century. No, it’s not Big Brother. More Brave Me World.
    2) you MUST have an unknown in ALL roles, and they can’t be particularly good actors. Though it’s OK for the bad guys to be good.
    3) You’d be far better off leaving Billy Jack alone (you parasitic pos, let Tom have SOMETHING of his own) and making Billy June, starring a Native American woman who, if you must… Could be Billy Jacks grand daughter. Good knows we wouldn’t want a bad ass bitchbitch in a lead role towards some counter culture sorry line using old west themes!

    I know what your thinking, and I’m going to tell you again “Steve”: SHUT.IT. JUST… SHUT IT.”

    It’s jackasses like you that some know WTF any movie they are is REALLY about and its because of jackasses like you that so many talentless directors out of the right schools kep regurgitating the same god damned memes from one green to the next. You’re boring and dumb and I hate you. But you know what?

    You’ll come see MY movie. Youll come see it Steve for all the same reasons you saw Billy Jack and I will be as frustrated as Laughlin that there are so many posers waddling around saying they want things they really don’t. That’s another lesson of Billy Jack you missed Steve. Tsk.

    Now, of you don’t stop waddling around the internet as you have been demanding a Billy Jack remake, I’m gonna put my film on the right side of your FACE, and there won’t be a DAMN thing you can do about it.

  2. Skippy larue Nottingham-smiths says:

    “Wide release” was NOT common, despite what this site insisted, and what Laughlins marketing unique was nationwide OPENINGS on the day it was advertised nationwide. See the difference? Do your damn homework next time sorry and hey Variety? How about you hire some writers that AREN’T lazy little hambones, hmm?

    Just wait till MY movie comes out. You’ll need for an interview. Now it’ll never happen. Nobody treats Laughlin like crap. Nobody.

    I’m gonna put my film on the right side of your FACE, and you won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.

  3. John Shea says:


    PS I’d like my Plymouth Voyager in silver, please.

  4. Asashii says:

    One tin soldier rides away, RIP, the kids at the freedom school and I will Mourn the passing,One of my favorite childhood films, it was like spiritual-hippie movement-grindhouse. In the age of college and reservations shootings, the films were not Oscar worthy but the message was pure Golden.
    I for one will never forget!

  5. Curt Jankovitz says:

    Remakes hardly ever stand up to the originals, but can be interesting, intriguing and quite good sometimes depending on who is at the helm and who is being cast. “Billy Jack” being over 42 years old deserves a shot, if not as a reboot, then as a tribute to Tom Laughlin and all the others involved in such a groundbreaking piece of film history. Who would make the perfect Billy Jack today? I have pondered the list of actors and can say the only actor who could pull it off in terms of physical characteristics, demeanor, imposing presence and skill and talent as an artist is Josh Brolin. Compare images of Josh and Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack and watch them in action. Perhaps talented Mamie Gummer in Delores Taylor’s role of Jean, head of the Freedom School and Billy’s love interest. If anyone knows how and who I can suggest this to, please let me know. I see Mark Wahlberg is up for starring in a Billy Jack remake, I love Mark, but this time Josh fills the shoes.

  6. I don’t normally comment on my own work but I want to make sure and credit @JoeLeydon with uncovering this little gem from history. Full disclosure: He is an enabler. He called me and said “Am I crazy or was there once a Billy Jack vs The Critics ad campaign in Variety?” and me, being the Variety Archives junkie I am, was searching our archives before I had put down the phone. If there’s anything I should be aware of as fun and interesting as this, I am here for more adventures in the search trade.

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