Budd Boetticher ends up near Ramona

Bare knuckles

Boetticher at El Cortijo Lusitano stables: "I bailed out and somersaulted out to the right, and he spun around and came down with both hooves on my chest."
  • Boetticher at El Cortijo Lusitano stables: "I bailed out and somersaulted out to the right, and he spun around and came down with both hooves on my chest."
  • Image by Scott Lindgren

There are the little men. Then there is Budd Boetticher. I don't mean his size — he's a compact man with an easy smile and vaguely Mongol eyes that hint at a barbaric zest for experience. I mean his guts. Boetticher is the last of Hemingway’s big-hearted men. a living, breathing exemplar of the Nietzschean epigram. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

Joseph Levine screened his latest picture, Carnal Knowledge, for Boetticher. "We sat alone together in his main projection room... I was forced to squirm through that dreadful final scene."

Joseph Levine screened his latest picture, Carnal Knowledge, for Boetticher. "We sat alone together in his main projection room... I was forced to squirm through that dreadful final scene."

Boetlicher (it’s pronounced Bed-e-ker). respected as a disciplined director of westerns, bullfight pictures, and other tough-guy genre movies, was working in Hollywood when it wasn’t overrun with MBAs and snobs. This was the era of Harry Cohn, John Huston. Duke Wayne. John Ford. Robert Mitchum, and movie crews that weren’t merely interested in donuts and double overtime. As Boetticher puts it, “There was a real camaraderie. We could have won World War II. the toughest bunch of bastards you ever saw in your life.”

Boetticher in 1939 before Hollywood: "When I was a kid, people used to beat me up and chase me home and pants me."

Boetticher in 1939 before Hollywood: "When I was a kid, people used to beat me up and chase me home and pants me."

The studio people were a tough bunch of bastards too, but Boetticher was tougher. Darryl Zanuck gave him his big break, appointing him technical advisor on the 1941 Tyrone Power bullfight epic Blood and Sand after Budd put on a convincing display of capework learned from the great Mexican maestro Fermin Espinosa, “Armillita."

"There are only two things they can do to you in Hollywood," says Boetticher. "They can fire you or they can lick you. There were never a hell of a lot of guys in Hollywood who could lick me. so I’ve never been worried about that. And I’ve been fired. But when I bullfought, producers and studios don’t become very frightening. I never had the horrible fear that people live with out there.”

John Wayne peeks out from behind post as Boetticher demonstrates guiding a bull with a muleta.

John Wayne peeks out from behind post as Boetticher demonstrates guiding a bull with a muleta.

Case in point, Boetticher’s encounter with Harry Cohn. “Everybody knew who Harry Cohn was, and he really was a bull. I was working for George Stevens on The More the Merrier. Stevens and Cohn hated each other. Stevens was the top director in town and had a backboard built on the set. And every time Harry Cohn came on the set to interfere, I would give George Stevens a tennis ball, and he would play handball against the back-board at about a hundred dollars a hit until Cohn would leave. This would just infuriate Harry Cohn.

Robert Stack's costume from Bullfighter and the Lady

Robert Stack's costume from Bullfighter and the Lady

“Cohn came on the set one day and said. Tell that sonofabitch I want to see him.' So I said,

‘Sorry, sir, he’s busy.’ He said, ‘Goddamnit it, you sonofabitch. When I tell you to go get him, go get him.’ And I said, ‘Don't ever call me that again.’

And he said, ‘What’ll you do?’ And I said. ‘Mr. Cohn, I’ll knock you right on your ass. because compared to those black bulls coming out of that black hole, you look like the Virgin Mary.’ ”

Cohn later called Boetticher into his office to make him an assistant director on Cover Girl.

Practice bulls

Practice bulls

“Cohn said. ‘I want you on the set because I believe you; you would have hit me.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir. I would.’ He said, ‘Okay, we have the most miserable, arrogant Hungarian sonofabitch who ever lived, and I’m allowing him to direct this picture because he’s a great talent.’ And then he went on and on swearing at the guy, calling this guy everything in the book. Cohn was the most profane man in the world except for maybe John Wayne.

"And he said the Hungarian's name is Charles Vidor, Did you ever work for him?’ And I said, 'Oh. yes, I threw a chair for him one day, and I blew the shot, and he fired me. I was his second assistant.’ Cohn said. ‘He just terrorizes assistant directors. If you don’t have control of the set and he gets tough with you and calls you a sonofabitch. what are you going to do, Budd?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll probably knock him on his ass.’ And he said, ‘Charlie, come out. Meet your first assistant.’ He had Charles Vidor sitting behind a screen. I said, ‘Mr. Vidor, it’s a great pleasure, and he said. ‘You might as well call me Charlie.’ And from then on, we got along great. I just loved him. Can you imagine a man having that kind of power?"

Did you use the name Budd then?

“I used Oscar Boetticher, Jr., all my life until Bullfighter and the Lady. When I was a kid, I was a real sissy. Being one of the richest kids in town, they called me Oscaretta. People used to beat me up and chase me home and pants me. By the time I got to high school. I’d become one of the fastest runners in Indiana. And I started playing football and making long touchdown runs, but I couldn't fight at all. They were beating the hell out of me. I thought I'd better learn to fight, so I went down to where they taught — they called them Nigros those days — to box. A guy named Paddy Sullivan — a great name for a trainer, an old man with one eye and a broken nose — he taught me how to fight.

“One of the greatest breaks of my life happened when I went on a cruise to the Hawaiian Islands with the [Hal] Roach family. I was then a boxer at Culver (Military Academy) and looked great. Thought I was pretty fancy. And I was punching the bag in the ship’s gym because, you know, the girls come in. and you figure who's going to be your date for the next five days. So I thought I better get stripped and punch the bag.

“Hal Roach brought in one of the nicest-looking little guys I’d ever seen. He weighed about 150 pounds, smaller than me. and he had a baby face. He watched me punch the bag and said. ‘You’re pretty clever, the way you handle your fists.' And I said. ‘Yeah, what the hell, that’s what I do.’

He said. ‘I spar around a little. Would you like to go a few rounds with me?’ And I looked at this little guy and I thought, sure I will. So he put on a pair of black boxing trunks with a shamrock on the side and we got in the ring.

“People started coming into the gym. a lot of pretty girls. I threw a right hand at him and wound up right on my ass. BAM! I thought, this is absurd. So I got up and I threw a left hook at him and BAM!, down I went. And Hal Roach stepped in between us and said, Budd, I want you to meet Jimmy McLarnen, the welterweight champion of the world.' And he said to me. ‘You’re a fine-looking young man, but you don’t know a hell of a lot about boxing, do you?’ And I said, ‘No, sir.’ He worked with me from then on; he taught me more things about boxing. There’s all the difference in the world between an amateur and a professional. They know terrible things, and he taught me all the tricks.

“I had breaks like that all my life. By being arrogant, where someone wanted to show me how wrong I was. I grew up rich and spoiled and arrogant. It was bad enough being rich, but to be a rich athlete, I must have really been obnoxious. You don’t realize it, of course, until you grow up.”

With some 34 motion pictures under his belt and enjoying a self-imposed 20-year hiatus from a movie industry that Boetticher disgustedly believes is "going to break itself,’’ he now spends much of his time overseeing his El Cortijo Lusitano stables at San Diego Country Estates near Ramona. Here Boetticher raises a rare strain of Portuguese bullfighting stallion, a noble, responsive breed favored by the ablest rejoneadors (matadors on horseback) since the time of Julius Caesar, who mounted them to fight bulls in the Roman Coliseum. "These magnificent horses were the Sherman tanks and stealth bombers of their day, responsible for the spread of the Spanish Empire,” says Boetticher. "Unfortunately, the Americans have Americanized the Spanish horse; he’s beginning to look like other breeds of horses now.

“There are very few Portuguese horses in this country. You have to dedicate your life to riding these animals. Riding these horses is like taking someone who flies a two-motor plane and you suddenly put them on a jet fighter. You better know what you're doing. These animals are dynamite.”

Behind the stables is the Boettichers’ exhibition ring, with the dimensions of a bullring, designed for rejoneo. Prominent at the entrance to the ring is the Boetticher brand, a composite of the Boetticher family coat of arms, matador Carlos Arruza’s Pastaje ranch brand, and the insignia of the Calle-Jimenez horse-breeding ranch in Spain, where Boetticher obtained his first Andalusian stallion.

I find the Boettichers taking a breather in the stable's picture room, which is lined with photographs of bullfighters, rodeo stars, and actors, all close friends of the two-fisted gentleman. Budd. as he prefers to be called, is accompanied by his wife Mary, an attractive, dignified blonde woman who looks quite comfortable in a pair of jodhpurs. Horse-mad Budd laughs at his often-told story that Mary, during their courtship 20 years ago. scared him with the revelation. “You know, the only thing that really terrifies me in this whole wide world is a horse.” Under Budd’s tutelage (“He was really tough." remembers Mary), she became an accomplished equestrienne who puts the most difficult riding horses in the world through their paces.

“I have written a script with the title When There’s Something to. Do,” says Boetticher. hinting at the source of his vitality. “When I wake up in the morning. I know I’m going out to the stables and work with the horses. I’ve got something to do. and that’s all-important.”

At the height of Boetticher’s success as a director — he had just completed the 1960 critical and commercial success The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond — Boetticher turned his back on formula moviemaking. He first directed the star-crossed documentary on matador Carlos Arruza, which required 13 years from concept to screen, and then chose to concentrate on the breeding and training of his Lusitano horses.

The making of the Arruza documentary is in itself a story of epic proportions. It is related by Boetticher in his recently published memoir, When in Disgrace. As his friend Barnaby Conrad, prolific chronicler of the corrida, put it in the book’s foreword.

  • In I960 Budd Boetticher, product of a well-to-do Midwest family, amateur bullfighter, highly successful director of films starring such popular actors as Randolph Scott, James Cobum, Richard Boone. Lee Marvin. Joseph Collen. Rock Hudson, Anthony Quinn, Glenn Ford, et al. — went to Mexico to film a documentary. It was to be about his great friend, matador Carlos Arruza, probably Latin America and Spain’s greatest hero. Seven years later he returned to Hollywood with the completed footage.
  • During that time he went through a divorce, a passionate love affair with a top Mexican star, near starvation, a jail sentence, a Kafkaesque stint in an insane asylum, an almost fatal lung ailment, the near-loss of his project, chicanery and treachery at every turn, the death of most of his technical crew, and finally, devastatingly. the sudden death of the star and subject, Arruza himself. A lesser man would have given up many times along the way. But eight months after Arruza’s death Budd was filming shots of the star’s widow reacting to the matador in scenes of him made six years before!

By the time Boetticher returned to Hollywood from Mexico in the late 1960s after completing principal filming of Arruza, he had missed the social upheavals of that decade.

“I’ve been gone seven years. I hadn’t seen the Whisky-A-Go-Go. I never got to see any of the long-haired stuff. There were five guys in the world who had long hair. The Beatles and El Cordobes.

"I’m seeing this agent, Ronnie Lubin, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Here’s a guy my age and he’s got long, flowing hair and a big bald spot in the front. I said. What the hell happened to you?’ And he said. We got to keep up with the youth of America.’ Bullshit! Try to teach them something. The John Fords of the world, the Hal Roaches, my elder generation, they taught me! Let ’em learn how to do things. We don’t learn from them!”

Dignity, accomplishment. grace — the virtues Boetticher had nearly lost his life to protect had in a few years become old fashioned. After blustering producer Joseph E. Levine decided to distribute Arruza, he screened his latest picture, Carnal Knowledge, for Boetticher. As he describes the event in his memoir.

  • We sat alone together in his main projection room, and I just loved the show. Ann-Margret was sensational. Jack Nicholson was simply wonderful — as he always is. And then I was forced to squirm through that dreadful final scene.
  • “God, Joe, you don’t need that!" I said.
  • The boss looked al me as if I’d lost my mind.
  • "What the hell do you mean ‘I don’t need that?’ ”
  • "Jesus, Joe, that would make me uncomfortable in 16mm and black and white. If a major company like yours gives the kids unnecessary sex like that, they’ll begin to believe that’s all they want."
  • Mr. Levine looked across at me for a long time, then: “You’re a fucking moralist," he said and walked out of the projection room.

“Leave something for the bedroom” is Boetticher’s philosophy. He is repulsed by the current mania to publicize the private, to disrespect the boundaries that are not merely decorous but are the consensual glue to a civilized society. Sighs Boetticher. “Without respect, all is lost.

“Take Kirstie Alley’s comments on the Emmy awards. She accepted her Emmy, and after she thanked everybody with this big closeup on her face, broadcast worldwide, she said, ‘I want to thank my husband, who’s given me the Big One for the last three years.’ I mean, how crude can you get? Mary and I tuned in to General Hospital at lunch break from the stables, and here were two 15-year-old kids who were supposed to be virgins, kissing for the first time, and the kiss was so open mouthed that I wanted to yell, ‘Jump or you’ll drown!’ ”

Boetticher makes an unlikely Tipper Gore. He’s ribald, even raunchy, around his pals. “Hal Roach, Jr., who was my dear, dear friend, married a disaster. Her name was Dolly Hunt, and her previous husband was a San Diego yachtsman. A very wealthy girl and terribly, terribly stuffy. She gave a Christmas party the first year they were married, so Hal and I got really stoned at another Christmas party at the Hal Roach Studios beforehand. They had a lab there. Stack was the top still-man in Hollywood. He made a star out of Jean Harlow and was very well known, but he was a pornography freak, and he had all kinds of stag films. Dolly wanted to run some of my bullfight films. Lorenzo Garza, all the great bullfighters were her guests. So Hal and I cut in a big closeup. a six-foot closeup of the act of making love, I mean BIG, right in the middle of the bullfight picture. I’ll never forget, we were sitting behind all these sophisticated people, all in tuxedos and evening gowns, and they’re watching the bulls go back and forth, and all of a sudden their heads are bobbing up and down. Dolly never spoke to me after that. Hated my guts. Of course Hal said, ‘It was Budd’s fault; I didn't know it was in there.’

“I’ll bet you, if you sat with the television on 24 hours, seeing all the movies, you’d kill a couple thousand people every day. There never has been a car that went off a cliff in a modem movie that doesn't blow up or catch on fire. That's hard to do. They don’t blow up. They crash. Unless you're sitting in there as a corpse lighting a match. Everybody’s disembowled with a machine gun. Very funny about Sam Peckinpah, who was a friend of mine. I think a great director. He tried to excuse his violence, which started a lot of this stuff when he put meat in wounds and blew ’em up so you’d see the man’s face explode. He said he did violent things because he wanted to show how wrong violence was. I said, ‘C’mon, Sam, that ’s a lot of crap. You do it because you think it’s good for the picture. My guys are just as dead as yours, but you can bury them in one piece.’ ”

But weren’t your movies considered violent films in a violent genre?

“I don’t think my westerns were ever violent. People got killed, but they got shot in an honest endeavor to save their lives or were at war. We didn’t go indiscriminately out and kill people. My villains in the [Randolph] Scott pictures were charming and they stole every film they were in, and we made stars of them. We saw a man die on-screen the other night; took him ten minutes, shot 50 times with a machine gun, and I thought he would never die.

“Let me tell you something. The motion picture industry is based on telling a story. If you tell a story that’s a piece of crap, halfway through the story you’re telling, you're going to lose your audience. Because they know what you’re telling isn’t true, isn’t feasible, isn’t plausible. That’s what happens to movies today. You look at them and you say, ‘That’s impossible. Why am I watching this? This could not possibly happen. Things couldn’t be like this.’ And so they’re not telling good stories. The motion picture has become a sequence picture. As in, ‘Boy, did you see that building blow up!? or ‘How about that helicopter crash!?’ ”

"The way movies are cut now — loud noises, buzzers, smash cuts, screams — they remind me more of a video game than a movie.

“Well, they are. Hitchcock, when he first saw Psycho, he didn’t have his soundtrack, and he thought he had made a failure. Most especially the scene of the detective going upstairs before he was knifed. And then he put the WOO WOO WOO WOO WOO and people went screaming from the theater. Sound has a lot to do with it. But it’s like a dirty word. If you use up your sound in the first reel, how are you going to top it when you need it?

“I remember when pictures used to end, the kid, the fade-out, the glorious triumph, and it said THE END. Now because of the unions and all these damn people, you sit for three minutes and you look at all these people’s credits who don’t mean a damn thing, which detracts from the writer, the producer, the director, the cinematographer. And you have to sit in the theater, and when they get to the credit saying Pathe Lab, you’ve forgotten what the picture was all about. That’s absurd.

“We used to work to get credits. I remember my first credit [as technical adviser] on Blood and Sand, the first time I ever saw my name on that screen, and it was a big thrill. Today, the second driver of the standby hairdresser is a credit. Who cares?

“Did you see Robin Hood? It was a debacle. A debacle. At the end of the picture they had this modern group come out and sing a song. Some rock singer from England. That kind of crap went out with Gene Autry.

“When I first became a director I was 25. I had dinner with George Stevens, whom I loved dearly, a great director. And he said something that I have remembered, and I’ve passed it on to young would-be directors if they would listen. He said. ‘Budd. always remember, because of your physical background, they’re going to want you to do a lot of action pictures. Always remember who’s in the car.’ And I said, ‘That's great advice. George, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. What do you mean, who’s in the car?’ He said, ‘Let me give you an example. You pay $5000 for one of the greatest automobile stunts in history, and the car with the young lieutenant in it coming back from Korea goes over the cliff and crashes. If it’s in the first reel, it doesn’t mean a thing. But if it’s in the last reel or next-to-last reel, and that lieutenant’s wife is having her baby, and she doesn't know her husband has been discharged from the Army, and he’s in the car. then the stunt really means something.’

“Today, violence is for violence’s sake alone. The special effects have taken over the studios. These gentlemen are geniuses, obviously, but you get so much of it you don’t care about the people.”

Adds Mary. “They want violence or sex now. And Budd won’t do it. We’re happy with our horses now. And until they want to make the kind of picture Budd wants to make, and he’s got artistic control, we’re not going to do it.”

t appears likely that Boetticher is jumping back into the industry he had forsworn a couple of decades ago. He recently completed a screenplay titled A Horse for Mr. Barnum, which is set to be shot in Spain next spring and is budgeted for 10 to 12 million dollars. Not surprisingly, its story is about the search for Andalusian horses in Europe for P.T. Barnum’s circus.

Production on A Horse for Mr. Barnum has been several years in the making since Boetticher is holding his ground against encroachments on his very specific ideas of integrity and authenticity. “Some Italian people told us we could get money if we starred LaToya Jackson.” remembers Boetticher. “Imagine that! LaToya Jackson starring as a gal in the Old West. We've had numerous distributors who want me to use Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington. I would love to work with Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman, but not in a picture about Spain in 1880. There’s no way I’m going to do it.”

Why start making movies after so long a hiatus?

“I want to do what nobody else can do. I want to make a decent, honest, class picture. It’s a great story, and I think it’ll help the western. It came to me when I went to Europe some years ago to attend a 25-picture retrospective of my films. At the end we went to visit a friend who was doing a runaway western. In other words, it should have been shot in the States but was shot in Spain to save money. Bill Clothier, who was the cameraman and who did Seven Men from Now with me and a lot of Wayne’s pictures, went over to the director and said. *We didn’t notice it until now but the sun's setting so fast we’re getting reflection’ — kicks, he put it — from the spires from a castle on a distant hill, which nobody saw until the sun was hitting it. I went back to Seville that night and wrote a treatment, where my kind of cowboy is in Spain, and there’s a reason for the castle to be there.

“You don’t know how many times people sitting in that couch there asked if we care where the money is coming from. Of course we care where the money is coming from! This thing upsets me because of what happened to a good friend of mine. I came down from my apartment in the Franklin Towers, and Audie Murphy is sitting in the lobby with dark glasses with a half glass of wine I said. ‘What are you doing down here?’ He said. ‘I won $250,000 yesterday morning.’ He owed the government $200,000. and he said, ‘I lost it all in an afternoon at Santa Anita.’ I said. ’Jesus Christ, Audie, why didn’t you give the government 50.000? They'd have stayed off your back for the next ten years.' He blew the whole thing in one afternoon. He died soon after in a plane crash. And I don’t think it was just an accident."

Bullfighter and the Lady, with Gilbert Roland as the old matador. Robert Stack as the novillera. and Joy Paige as the love interest, was notable because it was Boetticher's first “A” picture and involved a theme very close to the director’s heart. Produced by John Wayne, Bullfighter earned Boetticher an Academy Award nomination and the respect of critics.

Bullfighter and the Lady turned out well because it was authentic. I am so careful about authenticity in my movies. People know when things are right and when they're not. When the motion picture industry says no one’s gonna know, that’s crap. But the 42 minutes John Ford cut out was the difference between a good picture and a great picture. (The restored director's cut is now available from Republic Pictures.) J Gilbert Roland, who was a complete schmuck. the best way I could make him look good as a matador was to surround him with great matadors who bowed and scraped to him and lit his cigarettes and pulled out his chair. And you said immediately, unconsciously to yourself, ‘Wow. he must be a hell of a bullfighter.’ You fool the audience, lure them into an appreciation.”

There seemed to be quite a few dangerous camera set-ups in the ring in that movie.

So many people ask me how you make a bull mad. Well, you simply open the gate and let him into the ring. They want to kill anyone and anything. We had a situation that I never publicized because it was very sad. The overseer of the bullring was also the village drunk. I would personally pick each bull that would appeal in the picture. You have to get the bulls that look alike so you can intercut We had loaded the bulls into the individual pens, and here comes this drunk fellow to take care of them, and he opens the gate to the first one. and the bull picks him up by the horns right in the stomach, and someone yelled while we’re shooting closeups in the ring. A bull is killing a man!'

‘Three great bullfighters and I ran in there. We picked up the guy without thinking where the bull was. All of a sudden I look over at the other bullfighters, and their eyes go real wide and I see the bull coming. He would have killed all of us. I take my sombrero off and throw it, and fortunately the bull goes after the hat as we carry the guy out. I say to the bullfighters. Hijo. we were all dead!’ They said, ‘No. we aren’t.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And they said they were going to throw the drunk guy on the horns, that he was already dead.

‘‘Howard Hughes wanted to distribute Bullfighter and the Lady and couldn’t make a deal with Wayne. Seems that Mr. Hughes ran the picture and really fell in love with it and sent his courier off with a check for $3 million. I had 15 percent of the picture. I heard this story while I was broke in Mexico making Arruza. The courier found Duke playing gin rummy at the golf course and offered him the check for S3 million. And Wayne said, ‘I’ll take five.’ And the courier just walked out. Hughes never negotiated with anybody.” About his relationship with Wayne. Boettichcr recalls. ‘‘I used to gel drunk every Saturday night with Duke. We never drank when we were working. We got away from the studio, if we were lucky, at eight o’clock at night. We had a joke, here we are Saturday night and we have to get drunk and we dread it. We'd wake up on Sunday morning and get up. this whole crowd of ours would call each other and find out what we did. Jesus! That s not the way to live. We d go on a unit every Saturday, usually to dinner at Tail of the Cock or the Wild Goose and then go to somebody’s house, usually our house or Duke's, then end up at six in the morning at some place having scrambled eggs. A crazy way to live.”

“Everyone in the world has a Budd Boetticher story." says pal Barnaby Conrad He quotes an anecdote of Robert Mitchum’s in his foreword to Boetticher s memoir.

  • Life around Budd was always exciting. I remember once, about 20 years back, he and I are walking down this Tijuana street and along come three of the toughest, tequilaed-up yokels you ever saw. Budd happened to he in a feisty mood and out of the blue says, “You take the one in the middle and I'll take care of the other two.” I cleared out, slunk away and melted into the background and left him (o work it out with all three. I felt sorry tor them. What a character!

Boetticher returns the volley with his favorite Mitchum story “He was making a picture on Angel’s Flight for Rudy Matte, and in the scene Jack Palance is supposed to jump on the trolley and get in a fight with Mitchum. Miichum is supposed to cold-cock him. So Bob sees this big guy coming. He backs up and throws his right hand and hits Palance right in the jaw with all his might. Palance knocks Mitch right on his ass. So Mitch comes to and says to Rudy Matte. Let’s do it again.’ Mitch figures if he takes one step back he can do what we’ve all learned, get his leverage against this bench. So here comes Palance and Mitch goes BOOM, and Palance goes WHAM and knocks Mitch on his ass again. Mitch says, ‘That's it, CUT. Print whatever you want. Rudy. I'm not going to do this again.’ That was Palance’s first picture.”

For all of Boetticher’s two-fisted rascality, he’s always comported himself like an old-style gentleman in from of women. Longtime associate Lyn Sherwood, the well-known bullfight photographer, tells it this way “Budd can swear like a sailor, but he'll get real upset if you say anything the lest bit off-color in front of a woman."

The most poignant moments of If Boestticher's roistering memoir are taken up with tender and not so tender memories of women: his meddling but beautiful mother Georgia, Mexico City's madame Ruth D’Laurage. who introduced Budd to the world of bullfighting, taking him to "the best bullfight I'd ever seen — Lorenzo Garza killed six bulls and caused a riot"; fragile Debra Paget, whose marriage to Budd was ruined by Debra's Svengali-like mother; beautiful Mexican paramour Elsa Cardenas; and lastly. Mary Chelde Boetticher. Budd's partner of the past 20 years.

"I'm a pushover, a very sentimental guy, and I didn’t get Mary and any of the very beautiful girls out there I’d been with because I d thrown a good left hook or fought a bull. You have to understand the other side of the fence. Mary would have never married me until lately. I was the worst macho in the world, and I hate that word. I was all guts and balls.’’

There’s an awareness in Boetticher's book of woman-as-tender-trap. He quotes famous matador Dominguin. who was overmatched by lover Ava Gardner: "It's a wonderful gift to be able to cut ears and tails in bullrings. But to be expected to cut ears and tails morning, noon, and night in the bedroom is too much, even for me.”

Boetticher’s legendary stubbornness. which his Mexican friends called his "proud.” was at least partly responsible for some tempestuous moments in his romances. But this same temperament also yielded the remarkable documentary Arruza, completed against staggering odds. “I was in Mexico seven years on Arruza. I figure that's over $2 million Arruza cost me if you count what I was making beforehand. That's not counting the quarter of a million dollars I put into it. And I never got any of the money back.

“When we premiered the film, before we had the soundtrack. at the University of Mexico, an Italian boy got up and said. ‘Mr. Boetticher, how can one man destroy his career, end his marriage, possibly destroy his health, and ruin his reputation as a director to film the life of a friend?’ And I said, ‘Young man, wouldn't it have been a wonderful thing if the director of The Agony and the Ecstasy had had Michelangelo instead of Charlton Heston?' The best line I read in my life. I had my own private genius. Stand here, stand there, do that, do that, walk there, ride here, and I said no other director in history had that situation, and that’s why I made the picture. Roger Greenspun of the New York Times said, ‘This may be one of the last great examples of classic filmmaking.’ ” Though nothing in his life since Arruza has been so utterly demanding, life at the stables can get pretty hairy. “Put your hand here.” orders Budd, placing my hand on a sickeningly bony protrusion from his chest.

What the hell is that !

“Six ribs, crushed. When I hug Mary, she always goes Ouch!” Puncture your lung?

"Thought it had.”

How did it happen?

“There was a girl at the stables who had an Arabian colt who’d rear and go over backwards. She was going to get killed and asked me if I could help her. So I went up in the ring and got on this colt, and I taught him in about a half an hour not to rear, and I had him in great shape. And just as I had my leg off the horse, they turned a couple horses loose in the ring. And this colt went straight up in the air. I knew he was going to knock me against the fence and maybe break my neck, so I bailed out and somersaulted out to the right, and he spun around and came down with both hooves on my chest. The only time I really thought I was dead.” Boetticher refused medical attention, remembering two previous stints at hospitals that nearly killed him.

"The Gypsy bullfighters can smell death. They can sense it. They call it the smell of wax. The day that Joselito was killed, his handerillero got sick before the opening because he said he smelled wax and couldn't make the opening parade. Joselito was killed that day. Two years later the handerillero was working with another great matador, Manuel Granero, and he got sick again because he smelled wax and couldn’t come out from behind the fence, he was vomiting. Granero was killed. Ten years later he was on the train, going from one little town to another. The matadors had left their gold suits on. He got up. said he smelled wax, and the guys all laughed. They said. ‘Well, you blew it this time, because it sure as hell isn’t going to be one of us.’ But when they went back to the handerillero's seat, he was dead.”

At perhaps the lowest point of his life, languishing near the point of death in a Mexican hospital, besieged by charlatans ready to grab the rights to his nearly completed Arruza. Boetticher refused to give his enemies the satisfaction of an easy death. As he describes it in his memoir.

  • I was damned if I was going to die. I’ve always had a feeling that many people are kind of relieved when they learn "The Truth.” Certainly, Death is a thing that may frighten us, but I think it’s a thing wc don't have to, at least willingly, accept. Maybe Death is wrong. Anybody can make a mistake. Hell, maybe Death's got the wrong door number. Well, that’s what I figured. And I was furious! I'd think of something! And I was sure going to have the hospital change the number on my door.

Budd Boetticher is not the kind of man to ruminate on death for long. He’s sparred with the reaper and won. A Horse for Mr. Barnum is undergoing pre-production for a spring 1993 shoot. At their El Cortijo Lusitano stables. Budd and Mary train protoges in the equine arts and intermittently hold exhibitions of rejoneo, dressed in ornate Portuguese costume. Don’t ever accuse Budd Boetticher of doing anything halfway or second-rate, as did a Spanish newswoman who ventured, “I understand that they call you the King of the Bs.” “I’ve never made a B picture.” answered Budd. “I’ve made a lot of Cs and Ds and Es and Fs, some of which turned into A pictures, but I’ve never intentionally set out to make a B picture.”

(When in Disgrace by Budd Boetticher is available from Neville Publishers, P.O. Box 50509, Santa Barbara CA 93150.)


(Compiled by Chris Wicking)

1941: Technical Advisor: BLOOD AND SAND


1944: Assistant Director: COVER GIRL

Films Directed by Boetticher:
















1959-1968: ARRUZA


1992: A HORSE FOR MR. BARNUM (in preparation)

Boetticher also wrote the original script of TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA

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