×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tom Laughlin Was Not a Fan of Movie Critics

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:

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content