Turner Classic Movies
Sam Peckinpah
Written by Diana Saenger   

Date of Birth: February 21, 1925

Place of Birth: Fresno, California

Date of Death: December, 28, 1984

Place of Death Inglewood, California

Sam Peckinpah © Warner Home Video

He only directed 27 feature films, but anybody who worked with or knew Sam Peckinpah would definitely say, "He made films his way." Known particularly for his Westerns, which often ended with bloody climaxes, Peckinpah was also a writer on early TV shows as well films.

Peckinpah's Beginning

Born Samuel David Peckinpah, Sam grew up around Fresno in a family of men held to high accountability, explains his younger sister, Fern Lea Peter, in the featurette "A Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the High Country" on the remastered "Ride The High Country" from Warner Home Video.


Fern Lea Peter, Sam Peckinpah's sister © Warner Home Video

His father became a lawyer as did many of the Peckinpah's and the men were expected to move into professional positions.

His grandfather, Denver Church Peckinpah, was a judge and then a congressman, and loved the outdoors in the Sierra Nevada outdoors. "The older men took it for granted," said his sister, "but Sam had a soft sweet, very tender side that I never saw in Denny (their older brother) and never saw in my father. Trying to live up to being a tough guy was very difficult for Sam."

While many of the men folk spent their summers on a family ranch, "Dunlap's Ranch" doing manly things, Sam enjoyed reading more than anything. He was smaller of frame then his peers and was often picked on. "He fell off a horse, injured his back and had to wear a brace that affected his posture his entire life," said Peter.

Sam was not one who took orders well, so his parents decided he should attend military school. He later joined the Marine Corp during World War II, but had problems with his thyroid and eventually got out.

The Lure Of Show Business

After Peckinpah married Marie Selland in 1947, he bucked the idea of family tradition and became the black sheep of the family by moving to Los Angeles to pursue movies. "He got his artistic characteristics from both our mother and father, who was very dramatic in the courtroom," said Peter.

He studied acting at the University of Southern California began working odd jobs on TV shows such as "The Liberace Show" (1952) and after being a runner for director Don Siegel, Peckinpah got a walk-on part in the 1956 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." He began to score writing gigs and eventually directing as well on TVs shows such as "Gunsmoke" (1955), "Broken Arrow" (1956), "The Rifleman" (1960) and "The Westerner," (1960). In 1957 actress Ida Lupino took pity on the young man living behind her property and gave him work on her series "Mr. Adams and Eve." Although he was gaining a reputation for being difficult to work with, Peckinpah was recognized as a great writer, even though he did most of his writing in longhand. He directed his first feature film "The Deadly Companions" in 1961. It didn't do much for his reputation, but his next film in 1962, Ride the High Country starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, was the beginning of a respectable career.

Sam and Maria, who had four children, were divorced in 1960, and he married BegoƱa Palacios in 1965. After a couple more misfires, Peckinpah made what some say is his best film, "The Wild Bunch" (1969). Peckinpah and Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner, his co-writers of the script, were nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay, and he for a Directors Guild Award. The gritty and violent style of the film was much talked about and became a style embraced by Peckinpah.

Straw Dogs might have been a provocative film in 1971, but even with Dustin Hoffman starring, the violent film went to far out on the edge and takes dedication to sit through to the end. By his next western, "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" (1970), Peckinpah had mellowed a bit. However much he enjoyed them, westerns just couldn't reach box office heights like Peckinpah's 1972 "The Getaway." With Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw starring, the film became Peckinpah's highest grossing film.

He was highly outraged when MGM made changes to "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" in 1973, and unfortunately he wasn't around in 1988 to see his original version released. He continued to be obstinate (Charlton Heston once threatened him with a cavalry saber) but every film bore his distinctive touch. Conversely, he was known as an avid Bible reader and many of his films used Bible verses or had moral messages.

Peckinpah's last directing assignments Julian Lennon's music videos, "Too Late for Goodbyes" and "Valotte." He received the Golden Boot Award (benefiting the health and human services, retirement and child care programs of the Motion Picture & Television Fund) in early 1984, and died the following December of a stroke . Peckinpah said, "The end of a picture is always an end of a life," and he lived his life by that creed.




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