Tom Laughlin: Wikis


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Tom Laughlin
Born Thomas Robert Laughlin
August 10, 1931 (1931-08-10) (age 78)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Other name(s) Tommy Laughlin, T.C. Frank, Don Henderson, Mary Rose Solti, Frank Laughlin, Frank Christina, Lloyd E. James
Occupation Actor, film director, film producer, screenwriter, political activist, educator
Years active 1955–
Spouse(s) Delores Taylor (1954–)
Official website

Tom Laughlin (born August 10, 1931) is an American actor, director, screenwriter, author, educator and political activist. Laughlin is best known for his series of Billy Jack films. He has been married to Delores Taylor since 1954. Taylor has also co-produced and acted in all four of the Billy Jack films. His unique promotion of The Trial of Billy Jack was a major influence on the way films are marketed.[1]

In the early 1960s, Laughlin temporarily left his film career behind to start a Montessori preschool in Santa Monica, California; it became the largest school of its kind in the United States.

In recent years he has become increasingly involved in politics, running for President of the United States three times (1992, 2004 and 2008). He also has been involved in psychology and domestic abuse counseling, writing several books on Jungian psychology and developing theories on the causes of cancer.


Early life and career (1931–1960)

Laughlin was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he attended Washington High School.[2][3] While in high school, he was involved in an athletic controversy that made headlines throughout the city. The controversy involved Laughlin being forced to attend another school for a brief period, making him ineligible to play football at his previous school upon his return.[4] Laughlin first attended college at the University of Wisconsin and later at Marquette University playing football for both schools.[5] While at Marquette he played both safety and halfback.[6][7]

Laughlin decided to become an actor after seeing a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.[8] According to a 1956 newspaper profile, he became involved in the theater program at Marquette after encouragement by a university professor Father John J. Walsh.[9] While a student he also formed a stock group and directed and starred in a production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.[10] He later transferred to the University of South Dakota where he majored in radio acting, directing, and producing.[9]

While a student at the University of South Dakota, he met his future wife Delores Taylor. He wrote the original screenplay for the film Billy Jack in 1954 after witnessing the treatment of Native Americans in her hometown of Winner, South Dakota.[11][12] The two were married on October 15, 1954.[9]

He began his on-screen acting career in the 1955 television series Climax!.[9] From there he went on to appear in several feature films including: These Wilder Years, Lafayette Escadrille, Tea and Sympathy[9] and South Pacific.[13] He appeared in several episodes of various television series throughout the late 1950s. He also appeared in the film Gidget (1959) as "Lover Boy". However, he failed to make any money in the early years, telling People magazine in 1975, "We were living on $5 a week and eating Spam. I stole Christmas cards from a church so I could write home saying how well we were, but then I couldn't afford the stamps."[14]

Laughlin's first starring role was in Robert Altman's 1957 film The Delinquents, in which he played Scotty White, a teenager who gets mixed up with a gang when he is told he can no longer see his girlfriend.[9] Despite the film's low budget, it became a cult film, with Alfred Hitchcock among its fans.[15] However, Laughlin and Altman did not get along well,[16] having sharply differing views on acting;[16] Altman later describing Laughlin as "an unbelievable pain in the ass".[16]

Laughlin made his directorial debut later that year with The Proper Time,[17] though the film wasn't released until 1960. The film was a romantic drama set on the campus of UCLA. Laughlin shot the film on the campus in six days[18][19] working with a $20,000 budget.[20]

Laughlin also wrote, directed, and starred in The Young Sinner. Originally filmed in 1960, and shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, over a period of 14 days,[21] it is the story of a star high school athlete who falls deeper and deeper into trouble after being caught in bed with his girlfriend. The film was intended to be the first of a trilogy entitled We Are All Christ.[22] It premiered in 1963 under the original title Among the Thorns,[23] which was changed to The Young Sinner upon its 1965 re-release.[24]

In 1960, Laughlin planned to make a film titled Poison in Our Land based on the true story of a Texas couple affected by atomic radiation.[25]

Leaving Hollywood (1961–1966)

In 1959, Laughlin and his wife founded a Montessori preschool in Santa Monica, California.[5] By 1961, Laughlin had left the film business to devote all of his time to the school, which by 1964 had become the largest school of its kind in the United States. It was profiled by Time magazine in July of that year.[26] However, by 1965, the school had gone bankrupt.[14] One of his students was Christian Brando, the son of Laughlin's friend Marlon Brando.[27]

Billy Jack years (1967–1977)

In 1965, Laughlin told the Milwaukee Sentinel that he planned to make a film on the life of Catholic priest William DuBay.[28] However, the film did not get past the planning stages.

In 1967, Laughlin wrote, directed (as T. C. Frank) and starred in the motorcycle-gang exploitation film The Born Losers.[29] This was the first film in which the character of Billy Jack appeared. It was a box-office hit and is often thought of as one of the best biker films.[30] The film featured a rare late-career appearance by Jane Russell.[31]

After The Born Losers, Laughlin was set to begin a film project with backing from such figures as Marlon Brando, Jack Lemmon, Candice Bergen, and director Robert Wise. The film was to be a documentary on the issues facing African Americans in the 1960s and would have focused greatly on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. followed by a discussion of race.[32] However, the film was never made.

He followed this up with the sequel to The Born Losers, Billy Jack, in 1971. Although he made the film, like all of his films, independently and with his own money, several studios agreed to distribute it. American International Pictures refused to release the film unless many of the political references were cut. This led the Laughlins to withhold the film's sound reels, which in effect made it a silent film.[33][8][34] Eventually Warner Brothers released it, but Laughlin, upset with the studio's marketing of the film, sued to get it back and re-released it himself.[5]

The film's re-release was highly successful and very controversial. Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, wrote "Billy Jack seems to be saying that a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice. Is democracy totally obsolete, then? Is our only hope that the good fascists defeat the bad fascists?"[35]

"However, the film was embraced by much of America's youth, leading Laughlin to claim in 1975 that "The youth of this country have only two heroes, Ralph Nader and Billy Jack".[8] When adjusted for inflation, it is, as of 2007, the highest-grossing independent film of all time.[12] The film was also among the first to introduce martial arts, especially hapkido to American audiences and also contained elements of Jungian psychology, the Ghost Dance religion, and the teachings of Wovoka.[36] As part of the film's promotion, Bong Soo Han, who was in charge of the martial arts choreography for the film,[37] toured the United States giving hapkido demonstrations.[38]

The second sequel The Trial of Billy Jack, released in 1974, was also a box office, if not critical, success.[39] It is notable for its casting of Native American icons such as Sacheen Littlefeather and Rolling Thunder, as well as its strong criticism of the Kent State shootings.[12] However, Laughlin's unique promotion of the film was its real legacy. Unlike most films of the era which opened in only a few cities before gradually spreading across the country, The Trial of Billy Jack opened in cities nationwide on the same day and commercials were broadcast for it during the national news. The film's promotion forever changed the way films are marketed and has been called "the first blockbuster".[1][40]

In 1975, Laughlin released The Master Gunfighter, a western set in the 1840s, detailing the plight of the Chumash people. Laughlin grew a full beard for the film and his character fought with both a 12-barrel pistol and a samurai sword.[14] Although it did reasonably well at the box office, critics were not pleased with the film.[41]

He returned to the Billy Jack franchise in 1977. However, the fourth entry in the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington was a failure because of distribution problems,[34] and it proved to be Laughlin's last film as a director through 2010. Laughlin has blamed individuals within the United States government for the failure of the film, telling CNN's Showbiz Tonight in 2005,

At a private screening, Senator Vance Hartke got up, because it was about how the Senate was bought out by the nuclear industry. He got up and charged me. Walter Cronkite's daughter was there, [and] Lucille Ball. And he said, 'You'll never get this released. This house you have, everything will be destroyed.' [I]t was three years later, he gets indicted for the exact crime that we showed in the movie."[42]

At the time of the film's release, Laughlin's company, Billy Jack Enterprises, had plans for a new Montessori school funded by his own foundation, a record label, an investigative magazine, books, a distribution company and more message-laden movies, including a special subsidiary to produce films for children.[43] He told People magazine at the time, "Three years from today, we'll be the new United Artists. Either that, or we'll be out on our butt on the street."[14]

In 1976, Laughlin announced that he was more than $7 million in debt and blamed the financial troubles on unethical behavior by Warner Brothers Pictures, which he said had illegally sold the television rights to his films.[44]

Later career (1978– )

In the years after the failure of Billy Jack Goes to Washington, Laughlin played small roles in a several films, such as The Big Sleep and The Legend of the Lone Ranger. His last acting role through 2010 was in a 1991 BBC production entitled The War that Never Ends.[45]

In 1984, he purchased a series of 12 advertisements in Variety condemning various aspects of the film industry and its treatment of independent filmmakers. He also created a blueprint for taking control of the home video distribution industry as a way for independent films to be seen.[46] This plan was a failure.

In 1986, he attempted to make a fifth Billy Jack film, entitled The Return of Billy Jack,[47] which was to feature the title character fighting child pornographers in New York City. However, he suffered a concussion and neck injury during the production which led to the production being shut down.[48] In 2009, several scenes from this unfinished film were released on Laughlin's website. A notable incident occurred while he was filming in New York City, when he broke up a street fight on Manhattan's West Side, threatening to rip a man's arm off.[49] Laughlin also gained notoriety at this time for making a citizen's arrest of a man after an argument over Laughlin's driving.[50]

Laughlin has been seeking funding for a fifth Billy Jack film since at least 1996, when he spoke about it during a lawsuit against a man who Laughlin said had illegally changed his name to "Billy Jack",[51] and at one point Laughlin had plans to make a Billy Jack television series.[52] In 2004 he announced that the film would be entitled Billy Jack's Crusade to End the War in Iraq and Restore America to Its Moral Purpose; this was shortened to Billy Jack's Moral Revolution in 2006. In 2008, the film's title was changed to was Billy Jack for President.[5] Recently, it has been re-titled Billy Jack and Jean.[53] Laughlin says it will be a "new genre of film" and a great deal of social commentary on politics, religion, and psychology will be discussed,[54] and a debate will take place between Billy Jack and President George W. Bush via computer manipulation of archived speeches.[42] In 2009, Laughlin released plot details of this film on a video on his website. The video also contained several scenes from the film.[55]

Other work


In recent years, Laughlin has turned his attention to politics. In 1992, as a protest[12] he sought the Democratic Party nomination for President.[5] He told the Milwaukee Sentinel, "I am the least qualified person I know to be President, except George Bush."[56]

He appeared on the primary ballots in New Hampshire[57] and Louisiana. He campaigned on a platform of a tax cut for "ordinary Americans," term limits, an overhaul of public education, universal health care, and nuclear disarmament.[58][59] While campaigning for the Iowa caucus he said of fellow candidate and Iowan Tom Harkin: "I think he's a sleazebag. I despise him."[60]

Despite being excluded from debates[61] by party officials who did not consider him a serious candidate, he received 1,986 votes in the New Hampshire primary.[62] He blamed the results on lack of cooperation by the Democratic Party, which allowed him and other candidates only five minutes to speak at the state's convention while giving the five front-runners 20 minutes each.[63] He participated in the Independent Presidential Candidates Debate on March 25, 1992, along with former Senator and Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy and others who had been excluded from the major debates.[64] However, he was seen by much of the press as a "fringe candidate".[65][66]

Laughlin later heavily protested being excluded from the primary ballot in his home state of Wisconsin at the same time former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was included.[67] After dropping out of the race, he worked as an advisor to the campaign of Ross Perot.[68]

He ran for president again in 2004,[69] this time as a Republican.[70] Campaigning as an opponent of the Iraq war, he received 154 votes in the New Hampshire primary[71] despite not being allowed to participate in the debates.[72] He ran again in 2008[73] as a Democrat, getting 47 votes in the New Hampshire primary.[74]

Laughlin has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq War[75][76] and President George W. Bush.[77] His website presents several writings calling the Iraq conflict worse than the Vietnam War, in addition to pieces on what he calls "realistic exit strategies".[78] He also devotes several pages of the Billy Jack website to reasons that he feels justify an impeachment of George W. Bush[79] and has also repeatedly stated the need for a viable, mainstream third political party. In addition, he has criticized the Christian right, which he has called "false Evangelicals", "false prophets"[80], and the "Christo-fascist movement".[76] He released several videos and writings during the 2008 election.[81]

Psychology and counseling

Although he is not a professionally trained psychologist, Laughlin has always had an interest in psychology, studying it independently.[76] A 1975 profile of Laughlin in People magazine mentioned his deep interest in psychology and mentioned that he had a personal "dream secretary" to whom Laughlin told his recollections of his dreams. They were written down to be analyzed later.[14]

Laughlin has lectured on Jungian psychology at universities and colleges throughout the United States since the 1970s,[82] including Yale University and Stanford University[83] In 1995, due to his background in football and psychology, he was brought in to counsel University of Nebraska football player Lawrence Phillips after Phillips' suspension from the team. He said of Phillips at the time, "He should not be rewarded by being allowed to play unless there is real substantive change. I don't mean surface change. But if he does change, then he's not only going to not batter this girl, he's not going to batter the girl he marries at 30 and 35. If he just pretends to change, of course he should not be allowed to play, but Lawrence has already been sanctioned in ways other batterers on this campus are not".[83]

He has written several books on psychology including The Psychology of Cancer; Jungian Psychology vol. 2: Jungian Theory and Therapy, published in 1980; 9 Indispendable Ingredients to Writing a Hit (1999), which details the psychology involved in the box office and hit filmmaking, and The Cancer Personality (1998), which explains his cancer theories.[84]

One of Mr. Laughlin's concerns is the issue of domestic abuse. He became involved in this after witnessing a neighbor, who happened to be a police officer, beating his wife.[12] He blamed the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson on domestic abuse, saying,

O.J. Simpson was my neighbor up the street on Rockingham. He lived at 300 Rockingham Drive, I lived at 100 Rockingham. I've known O.J. forever. This is one of the sickest, sorriest days in our culture, that he was not guilty. I've told him since 1985 he'd end up in jail. Eight times [Nicole] cried out and eight times, because it was O.J. and it was woman-battering, it was dismissed. But now, with the trivialization, people are afraid to call because they don't trust that the system will help them. The fact that [O.J.] was found not guilty is going to make that 10 times worse. If you can't get help, if there is no justice, if there is no legal system that will help them, where do you go? Who's going to call? Why call if you're not going to get help?.[83]

Personal life

Laughlin has been married to Delores Taylor since 1954. They have three children: Frank, Teresa, and Christina. His daughter Teresa (known by the family as T.C.) is,as of 2010, a fashion designer.[85] He derived at least two of his pseudonyms from his children: Frank Laughlin, his son's name and the name he used to direct The Trial of Billy Jack and The Master Gunfighter, and T.C. Frank, which stood for Teresa Christina Frank.

In 2001, it was announced that Laughlin was suffering from a cancer of the tongue that was inoperable because of a heart condition.[86] His website says it is in remission. His book, The Psychology of Cancer, is about faith, attitude and other factors that might affect cancer.[84]

On November 20, 2007, he posted a video on YouTube explaining that his poor health caused him to leave his website in a dormant state. He is suffering from Coeliac disease, an auto-immune disorder, and has had a series of strokes.[87] In the video, he announced that he had his health issues under control, has updated the website, is continuing his plans for a new Billy Jack film.

See also


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  7. ^ "Exchange Department". Milwaukee Journal. September 22, 1951.,6250598&dq=tom+laughlin&hl=en. Retrieved February 19, 2010. 
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  54. ^ Waxman, Sharon (June 20, 2005). "Billy Jack is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again". The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  55. ^ Laughlin, Tom (2009). "New Billy Jack Film: Billy Jack and Jean". Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
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  60. ^ Associated Press (November 27, 1991). "Tough Talk from Laughlin". The Iowa Daily Reporter.,7204715&dq=tom+laughlin&hl=en. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
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  62. ^ Associated Press (February 19, 1992). "'Billy Jack' Laughlin gets 1% of N.H. Vote". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
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  65. ^ Baer, Susan (November 13, 1991). "From 'Messiah' to 'Billy Jack', Dozens Want Bush's Job". The Seattle Times. Retrieved February 19, 2010. 
  66. ^ Desenport, Ellen (November 29, 1991). "Fringe Dwellers Seek the White House". The St. Petersburg Times.,3609025&dq=tom+laughlin&hl=en. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
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  68. ^ Cheevers, Jack (November 1, 1992). "Poll of Perot Activists a Charade, Ex-Backers Say Politics: Texan runs the show, they assert, and is not just bowing to volunteers. Billionaire has spent heavily". The Los Angeles Times.,+1992&author=JACK+CHEEVERS;+JOHN+M.+BRODER&pub=Los+Angeles+Times+(pre-1997+Fulltext)&desc=Poll+of+Perot+Activists+a+Charade,+Ex-Backers+Say+Politics:+Texan+runs+the+show,+they+assert,+and+is+not+just+bowing+to+volunteers.+Billionaire+has+spent+heavily.&pqatl=google. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  69. ^ Laughlin, Tom (2003). "Laughlin for President: A Powerful New Voice to Give Real Power Back to All the People". Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  70. ^ "'Billy Jack' Star Making Political Statement". Deseret News. February 3, 2004. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  71. ^ "New Hampshire Republican Primaries Results". The Green Papers. January 27, 2004. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  72. ^ Farrell, James (December 9, 2003). "Gore for Dean, and Debate Night". New Hampshire Primary. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  73. ^ Laughlin, Tom (November 15, 2007). "Laughlin for President Pt. 2- My Plan to End the Iraq War (video)". Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  74. ^ Montgomery, Ben (January 20, 2008). "Whatever happened to...The 1970s Icon with a Conscience?". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  75. ^ Laughlin, Tom. "America has Lost its Moral Purpose". Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  76. ^ a b c Basham, Doug (May 11, 2005). "Interview with Tom Laughlin (audio)". Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  77. ^ Laughlin, Tom (January 20, 2001). "The Case that George W. Bush is Not the Legally Elected President...the Overwhelming Proof". Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
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  81. ^ "Tom Laughlin's YouTube Channel". Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  82. ^ "Tom Laughlin at UVA". The Cavalier Daily. 1978-11-02.,2325716&dq=tom+laughlin&hl=en. Retrieved February 19, 2010. 
  83. ^ a b c "'Billy Jack' Continues Crusade Against Abuse and Violence". The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Scarlet. October 6, 1995. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  84. ^ a b Laughlin, Tom. "The Psychology of Cancer". Retrieved February 21, 2010. 
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