Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Very Candid Conversation with Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a bass player whose resume reads like a Who’s Who of Rock’n’Roll. The people he has played with include the following: Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Dokken, Tommy James, and Alan Parsons Project. He was also the house band bassist for the Broadway play Movin’ Out: a musical composed of Billy Joel numbers with choreography by Twyla Tharp. Greg’s first major act was late punk legend Wendy O. Williams. Since playing for Wendy, he has never stopped playing since then. More of Greg’s extensive resume can be read at his website:

In addition to providing able bass and stage presence for the many acts he has played with, Greg provides another unique factor: his vocals. Like Van Halen’s bassist Michael Anthony, he provides excellent harmony and background vocals. Greg currently plays with Ted Nugent and, on some of the Nugent tunes, Greg sings lead vocals here.

In this candid conversation, we cover all the various acts that Greg has played with. We also discuss the colorful personalities that Greg has provided bass for such as Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Ritchie Blackmore. I want to thank Greg for taking the time to do this interview.

Jeff Cramer: So what got you interested in playing the bass?

Greg Smith: Okay, well, it was kind of interesting. Basically, my younger sister's birthday's in April and mine's in May and she got a guitar for her birthday and said, "Why don't we start a band? You can play bass." And I said, "What's the bass?" She pointed it out to me on a song on the radio and I said, "Okay, I'll play bass." So the next month, I got a bass for my birthday and started taking lessons [laughs]. Luckily, I ended up having a propensity to pick it up pretty quickly and within three months, I was playing my first gig. So, it's good thing she didn't say piano or drums or something 'cause maybe I wouldn't have been as good at it.

JC: Okay. I understand your first professional gig would be with Wendy Williams.

GS: Yeah.

JC: Okay and how did that start?

GS: Well, I was playing in a band called Squadron in New York, New York City, Long Island and we were playing in a club called My Father's Place in Long Island and Gene Simmons and Eric Carr, the drummer at the time for KISS, came in. They were looking for a guitar player to replace Ace Frehley and they liked our guitarist and so they started courting him for a while and he did a little – a few tracks with them and then after that, Gene was producing Wendy Williams' album. He played bass under a pseudonym, Reginald Van Helsing, but then when it came time for touring, he remembered the way Mike, the guitar player and I, looked together and played together and he just put both of us in the band.

JC: So how long were you with Wendy?

GS: I think about three years. Yeah, about three years.

JC: Around that time she did that movie Reform School Girls

GS: Oh, you saw that?

JC: I remember it. I'd never seen it but I do remember seeing a TV ad for it.

GS: Yeah, yeah, that was – that was pretty interesting. Wendy pretty much got to be herself but what was kind of funny, though, is like she was a 35, 36-year-old woman playing a young girl in reform school, but she was in shape enough for it, that's for sure.

JC: Yeah, sure. This might be a touchy subject, because we know what happened to her, eventually.

GS: Uh-huh.

JC: Did you keep in touch? Were you aware or you were just shocked like everyone else when you found out about her suicide?

GS: I was shocked. I didn't expect anything like that from her. Yeah, I didn't expect anything like that. We kept in touch – not as much as I would've liked to. It was more through mutual friends. "Hey, how's Wendy doing? Tell her I said 'Hi'," kind of thing or "Wendy, I saw Wendy. She says hello." That kind of thing. It wasn't as personal as I would've liked it to be, in retrospect.

But we left amicably. When I left the band, I mean, she was actually – she was very upset. She was crying.

JC: Really?

GS: But she was not like a lot of people thought she was. She was – that was all a persona. She was actually very sweet and very nice and had a lot of little girl qualities.

JC: Right.

GS: She was a sweetheart.

JC: Right. So who did you play with next: Vinnie Moore?

GS: Yeah, well, I was with a band on Long Island for a while, an original band and we tried to get off the ground and – for a couple years here in Long Island and New York City and things went pretty good. We made quite a buzz here but like the old story goes, it didn't happen. The guitar player left the band and then it kind of fell apart from there. That's when I hooked up with Vinnie Moore. Through Joe Franco, who's a Long Island drummer. He had played on one of Vinnie's albums and recommended me to Vinnie. And that's how I got involved in that.

JC: Okay, and from there, you came to play with Alice Cooper?

GS: Yeah.

JC: How'd that happen?

GS: Well, I was playing with Vinnie out in the NAMM Show and Alice's personal assistant, Brian Nelson, and the A&R guy, Bob Pfeiffer, walked into the Premier Booth where we were playing and liked the way that I played and Vinnie played and they fired the bass guitar and guitar player from Alice's band and just essentially asked us if we wanted a gig. We didn't get the call till a couple months later. You know, I didn't know… realize it till a couple months later but I think what they did is they ended up auditioning all the available players in LA and couldn't find anybody good and then they just basically offered the gig to us, no audition, no anything. They just flew us out and the first day I met Alice and everybody, we did a video. So, you know, like, "Welcome to the band. Get in front of the camera.”

JC: I also understand you were with Alice Cooper when he did the Wayne's World movie.

GS: That's right. And that was about two feet of hair ago. [Click here to see the two-feet-of-hair-ago Greg playing with Alice Cooper to an excited Wayne and Garth.]

JC: Yeah [laughs]. Right, so did you get to meet Mike Myers or –

GS: Yeah, yeah, they were right there. So I got to meet them. They were cool. Mike Myers was really focused and very businesslike and everything like that. Dana Carvey was, you know, we were on the chow line and he's doing his imitations of George Bush Sr. and just making everybody laugh, being a total clown? They were both very cool, though.

It was all done at Universal Studios, the Universal Amphitheater. I was only on it for two days. We did the live filming of it one day. The next day was the dressing room sequence.

It was a real surprise to me when that movie did as well as it did. I mean, it was the number one movie for about five weeks.

JC: I know.

GS: Prior to that, all the Saturday Night Live spin-offs had pretty much gone into the toilet, but we said “Okay, this is gonna go into the toilet, but what the hell, man! We're going go out to LA," They put us up in the Sheraton Universal and nice rooms and we figured we'd make a little bit of extra money and no big deal. We had a break between the US leg of the tour and the European leg of the tour to do this film, which ended up doing really, really well.

JC: They did a sequel and Mike Myers’ film career started from that film.

What was Alice like? Many people say there was a huge difference between his stage persona and who he was as a person.

GS: Well, Alice is a great guy. When you see Alice doing interviews and stuff like that – that's Alice. He's got a good sense of humor and he's very articulate, very smart. He’s fun, likes to crack jokes and have fun on the bus. Loves to play cards. We used to always play poker on the back of the bus and he would – although he doesn't drink or anything like that, obviously, he saw a pattern. When I would have a couple of beers, I wouldn't do so good. So there was one tour where I started doing pretty good and he goes, "Greg, why don't you have a beer?" I'm like, "Nah, I don't think so" [laughs]. So he wanted me to have a beer and not do so good anymore. Another time, I took him for about 400 bucks.

At the end of the tour – he loves to go to pawn shops. So what he did is he found this little trophy. I'm looking at it right now. It's a marble base with a Miller can and then a hand on top with a full house.

JC: Oh.

GS: So he bought me that for as a little championship trophy.

JC: After Alice Cooper, you would then play with Joe Lynn Turner and then Rainbow.

GS: Actually, I left Alice's band the first time to do Rainbow [laughs]. In between Rainbow, I started playing with Joe Lynn Turner – probably like about '92 or so – I did a bunch of albums with him and we did some touring and that was a whole lot of fun. So, I played with him and then I'd also played with Dave Rosenthal and Chuck Burgi in a band called Red Dawn that was – it's really, just did a release for Japan but it ended up getting a cult following pretty much everywhere on the planet except for the United States.

I'd be down in Brazil or Japan or Russia and people would come up to me with the Red Dawn album to sign. So, I played with guys who had been in Rainbow.

JC: Yes.

GS: So when I got into Rainbow, I knew what to expect from Ritchie [laughs]. I'd heard all the stories. I heard all the practical jokes and everything like that. So I was already hip to it and there was no way he was going to get me with anything.

JC: So he never played a practical joke?

GS: Oh no, he tried but I never let him see it affect me in any way, so he would just move on to easier prey.

Rainbow (Greg at Far Right)

I did play in Blue Oyster Cult in the summer of '95. I did the Stranger in Us All album with Rainbow in the beginning of '95. I think it was January through April and then Chuck Burgi was playing with Blue Oyster Cult and he called me up and asked if I wanted to play with them and I said, "Well, look. I'm touring with Ritchie starting in September but I could play the summer."

JC: Right.

GS: And they needed somebody that next week. So, I ended up learning their whole set within a week's time. We did one rehearsal and then boom, that was it. So I played with them for the summer. And you know what? Those bastards never paid me for the last two shows I played.

JC: Oh, that sucks.

GS: You could print that [laughs].

JC: Okay, I will. But after Blue Oyster Cult, you went on tour with Rainbow. When you played with Rainbow, that's the first time I saw you onstage.

GS: Oh yeah?

JC: One interesting thing about watching you live, was that you had one of the rare qualities, along with fellow bassist Michael Anthony. In addition to playing a killer bass, you possess great harmony and back-up vocals.

GS: Yeah, well, it's something I started doing pretty early on. I really started to get into the singing thing when – remember, I told you it was in between Vinnie Moore and Wendy O. Williams when I was doing that original band. The lead singer, he'd be telling me to sing and I'd be like, "Oh man, I don't know if I can hit that note." He'd be like, "Aw, that's an A. That's easy for you." So I'd do it. He pretty much gave me the confidence to do it even though he didn't really know whether I could do it or not. I started slowly getting the confidence and singing in the car and stuff and realizing like, "Oh man, I can do this.” So – and then I just kind of kept doing it, and really, that's about it. [Watch Greg here do a terrific vocal job with Rainbow on the Deep Purple classic “Burn” as he handles backup vocals and the Glenn Hughes part of the song.]

JC: While Ritchie put Rainbow back together, I was reading a couple of things like he didn't really want to call it Rainbow and he was already to start thinking about Blackmore's Night.

GS: Well, no. That really wasn't the case. The Blackmore's Night thing didn't take effect until I guess probably about '96 or so. In about '96 is when he fired the management and Candice [Ritchie’s wife]'s mother took on the manager role which then, that was the beginning of the whole Blackmore's Night thing. You know, so that's when Candice wanted to do something and obviously, he wanted to make his wife happy and yeah. So that's – that was the beginning of that. Prior to that, there was no talk of a project with Candy. It was just really Rainbow and what we were going to do and another album, another tour and all that and once her mom took over the management, that's when the focus kind of changed.

JC: One thing I noticed is that while Ritchie put Rainbow back together, he was taking a lot of people from Blue Oyster Cult. There’s you. John Micelli was playing drums at the Rainbow show I saw. John O’Reilly was in Blue Oyster Cult as well.

GS: Yeah, well you know what, BOC and Rainbow pulled a lot of Long Island guys. I mean because that was their original home and Ritchie now lives in Long Island.

JC: After Rainbow was no more, you went to play Alice only to do the Broadway show Movin’ Out.

GS: I got back into Alice's band from, was it '99 through 2002? Well, I left Alice's band because I had the opportunity to play with this – it was a brand new thing. I live in Northeast Pennsylvania, but I'm originally from Long Island. It's about an hour and 15 minutes from New York City. One of my best friends is Billy Joel's guitarist and musical director, Tommy Byrnes. So Billy got contacted by Twyla Tharp, the choreographer, about doing a show on Broadway utilizing his music and Billy basically said, "Sure, yeah we can do this, but I get to choose the band and make sure the band is seen onstage and the whole thing." So that was called Movin' Out.

So, I did that for three and a half years. The band was onstage. We were on a moving platform and it was just really cool. It was something completely different. It was the beginning of what they now call the jukebox musicals and it was kind of the first one and we had a good run. I mean, I did it for about four and a half years. We did three and a half years on Broadway and then I did a year on the road with it. So, it was cool. I got to stay home. I get to know my wife. We actually like each other [laughter]. We had a daughter, you know, so I mean all that kind of stuff wouldn't have happened if I was on the road the way I usually am. So it was interesting, different and very cool.

JC: One curious thing is how come – don’t get me wrong, it’s a great gig and I’m glad you got it – but, it's interesting you got in because, you know, how come they didn't use Billy Joel's own bass player for that one?

GS: Well, like I said, Tommy Byrnes was the musical director and he and I'd been friends since we were kids and he's my daughter's godfather. So basically, when he put the band together, he thought, “Let's see. Who do I want to play with?" You know, 'cause he was going to be in the band, too. So he hand-picked the band as much for players as personalities, too, personalities that would get along well.

JC: Around that time, you played with Dokken.

GS: Yep. Now, I got into Dokken because, now going back to that band that I played with in Long Island in between Wendy O. Williams and Vinnie Moore. That guitar player, Jon Levin, ended up moving out to the West Coast, becoming a music attorney and he became Don Dokken's attorney. And he also is Dokken's guitarist.

JC: Right.

GS: So, get this, this is really weird because I was doing Movin' Out. It was 2003 and one of the things with the Broadway show, you can take off as much time as you want, you can have a substitute and I had about five or six guys that I used. So Jon called me and said, "Hey, Dokken's doing this run on the West Coast and some stuff in Europe, you wanna do it?” I said, “Sure.”

JC: Now after Movin’ Out, we get to Over the Rainbow. I did an interview with Joe Lynn Turner. One question I never got to ask Joe and I am going to ask you this question about Over The Rainbow. Did Ritchie really want his son Jurgen not to use his last name Blackmore?

Over The Rainbow

GS: No, it wasn't quite like that. I think it's the J.R. Blackmore. He didn't want him to use and he's like, "Well that's my name, so screw you." So, it just got weird. I think they sit around and they're bored and they just kind of come up with things [laughs] to complain about. I don't know. I have no idea. I just know that whatever it was was taken care of and it all remained good. Ultimately, he is Jurgen's dad and he should support him. I mean Jurgen's a great guy. I can't call him a kid 'cause he's only a year younger than I am.

JC: Yeah.

GS: But yeah, I don't know. And things got a little weird there for a while but I know that Jurgen took care of it and it's really just a matter of just calling his dad and saying, "Hey, look, what's going on here?" It didn't get the lawyers or anything crazy like that. It's a family thing.

JC: Besides Joe Lynn Turner, I interviewed the very first bass player of Rainbow, Craig Gruber. Craig Gruber came in very briefly back into it in after Jimmy Bain was no longer there, so I asked him if Tony Carey was in the band when he was there. He told me that Carey was the type of guy who was just not a very personable person. You know, he only really spoke if you put a microphone in front of him?

GS: Really [laughs]?

JC: So my question is this: Tony Carey was the original keyboardist of Over the Rainbow before Paul Morris took over. Was he not a personable guy in Over The Rainbow?

GS: No, Tony's cool. I love Tony. Tony and I got along right from the get-go.

JC: Right from the get-go?

GS: Yeah, he's a smart ass. And I'm from Long Island, so I'm used to that, I'm okay with that. And to me that's a form of a sense of humor and I kind of like that. I'd make him laugh. I'd be a smart ass to him. He'd be a smart ass to me and it was just kind of fun. That was our little way of having a sense of humor but he was – when we got Paul Morris back in the band, it was because Tony got sick. He got very sick.

JC: Oh!

GS: Luckily, he's okay, now, thank God. But he had a pretty bad scare, you know? The cancer scare.

JC: He had a cancer scare?

GS: Yeah, so he had to basically stay home and take care of his health. And that was the only reason. Otherwise, he would have still been in the band. As a matter of fact, Paul Morris was really only a fill-in up until the very end when we said, "Okay," when we were sure Tony wasn't gonna come back.

JC: I imagine with Over the Rainbow, like Red Dawn, while you guys weren’t that popular in the US, you must have been huge in Russia and Japan.

GS: It was. In Russia, I mean, our first gig was in a 5,000-seater and we sold out. We did great in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. That was really our strong hold and we did very well in Japan, too. But over here in the 'States, not so good. I don't think … there's not a lot of people anymore who really know who Rainbow is. You ask – even people my age, you mention Rainbow, they go, "Who? Who?" And then you sing a song and they go, "Oh yeah, them." So that's a shame. Over in Europe, the fans, they stick with you.

JC: Right. A lot of European people on the web come on to read the two interviews with Rainbow members that I did on my blog.

GS: Unfortunately, over here, in the US, it's the flavor of the month. It'd great to be get some good work over here, too, but I don't mind doing Europe. I like it. It's interesting. You go to different places like Eastern Europe and Russia, it's real cool and the fans are just so – they're so thankful, especially in Russia because they never thought that they'd ever be able to hear rock n' roll or hear a band like Rainbow when they were under Soviet rule. So they're really grateful when you come over and that's cool. It's kind of makes you feel good.

JC: Now we come to Ted Nugent. Mick Brown from Dokken plays drums with Ted. Is it through Mick you got the gig with Ted?

GS: A few years later after I played with Dokken, Mick got into Ted Nugent. Barry Sparks (who had also played with Dokken and I replaced him when he went to play for Ted Nugent) left for good. Mick asked me to do it. It's kind of funny 'cause he called me and he goes, "Hey Greg, do you sing lead?" And I said, "Yeah." He goes, "Good, 'cause I told Ted you did."

JC: Right, I saw Ted Nugent this year. This summer, I saw you sing lead on "Need You Bad," where Derek St. Holmes and Ted took other lead vocal duties.

The Nuge, Greg and Derek in action 2011

GS: Yeah, before Derek, I would do "Just What the Doctor Ordered" and "Hey Baby" as well. [To hear Greg sing “Just What The Doctor Ordered,” click here.]

JC: Did you do any of the others, like "Stranglehold"?

GS: No, Ted always wanted to sing that one and I always told him, it's like, "Hey, if you want me to sing it, I got it," and he was like, "No, no, I got it." So, he’s the boss and you gotta listen to him.

JC: Besides performing, have you gone hunting with Ted?

GS: No, I haven't done any hunting. He's threatened to take us out hog hunting one of these days but, we'll see. I do a lot of shooting, though. I've always been a gun guy my whole life. I've always had rifles and handguns and so that's something that we had in common when I got in the band.

JC: So, do you guys ever do target practice?

GS: Oh we do at his house all the time, yeah. We'll rehearse a little bit. We'll barbecue and then we'll go out with the machine guns. He's got fully automatic machine guns. So we have some fun with that.

JC: I’ve seen Ted on stage, at an outdoorsmen convention, and on clips on TV and YouTube. In all of them, he’s one of the most enthusiastic people I have witnessed.

GS: Oh yeah. Well, he's got tons of energy. I mean, the guy's like a power plant. He's 63. He's got more energy than anybody else in the band. It's really amazing to watch him. I hope I have that much energy when I'm his age. [Laughter]

JC: Curious. What are the types of basses have you been using for Ted and other gigs?

GS: Let's see, with Ted for the last few tours, I've been using a '72 P bass. And that's been, just, you know what I'll stick with that, man. I don't really change because it sounds so freaking good, I'll just – I just leave it alone unless I break a string or something. And then for spares, I've got a '57 Reissue, which it's actually an '82, '57 Reissue. It's the first year they came out with the '57 Reissues and that thing is an absolute monster, too. I have another – I think it's a '96 P bass. So those are the two backups. I've been playing P basses pretty much exclusively since the mid-'90s. I mean when I first got into Rainbow, I was up there using a Spector and then I picked up this '82 Reissue P bass and then that thing just sang and then from then on, I was like, "Oh man, I forgot how great P basses were?” And so just been playing those. I mean, I've got a vast array of basses. I've got jazz basses and Music Mans and Guilds and I even have my old Kramers from the '80s. But what I prefer, is the P bass.

JC: I noticed that you also played with Tommy James.

GS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I still play with Tommy. [To see Greg play with Tommy on his classic, “Crimson and Clover”, click here.] That's kind of fun. He only does about 15 gigs a year so what's really great about that is that when I'm away in the summer with Ted, I got a guy who comes and fills in for me and then I just jump back into it again, which is kind of cool. He plays about an hour and 15 minutes, of just all his hits, you know, and mostly fly dates, so I just head to the airport with a bass on my back and plug into some rented SVTs and blast off for an hour and 15 minutes, then it's off to the hotel bar to hang with the guys and on the plane the next morning.

JC: I also noticed on your Facebook page that you are playing with a Journey tribute band.

GS: Yeah, a buddy of mine's got a band called Voyage. My buddy's Hugo Valenti and if you saw a picture of him, you would swear it's Steve Perry. And not only that, he sounds just like him, too. [Readers can decide for themselves if Hugo looks and sound like Steve Perry, by clicking on their performance of “Lights” here.]

I did some gigs with him and it ended up being – playing like some of the same places I played with Ted – we're playing casinos and places like Penn's Peak and so it actually ended up being a really cool thing and then the money's been great and, so yeah. If I'm around and available, I'll be playing with him, sure.

JC: How does he manage to maintain his voice? Cause you know the real Steve Perry has blown his voice and I remember the next guy who came after him in Journey also lost his voice.

GS: I've known him for almost 30 years and he used to be in a band called Valentine and another band called Open Skies that had – they had about 15 minutes in the '80s. And even back then when I first met him, it was like, "Dude, you look like Steve Perry." He goes, "Yeah, everybody tells me that." Many years later, he's decided to capitalize on it. He owns his own business. I think he's got an appliance business or something in New York and so he just decided for a few months to have some fun, get out and play and put a few bucks in the pocket. I was more than happy to help and play. It's good fun. Paul Morris is in the band, too.

JC: Oh really?

GS: Yeah, and so we're having a blast. It's good fun. And the crowd reaction is crazy, man, it's like, these women, they see him and they treat him like he’s really Steve Perry and I'm like, "It's not him, you idiot." [Laughter] But the crowd has a great time and we have some fun and it's all good.

JC: The other thing that I saw on your website was that, in between playing with Ted Nugent, was The Hippiefest.

GS: Yeah, that was fun. That was 2009. That was the year Ted didn't tour. I hooked up with some buds and did that. That was some good friends of mine from New York, Godfrey Townsend and Steve Murphy, the guys from Alan Parsons band. And so they were doing it and they asked me to do it and it was Joey Molland(from Badfinger), Mitch Ryder, the Turtles, Chuck Negron (from 3 Dog Night) and Felix Cavaliere (from the Rascals). And, so we got to be the background for all of them and man, some real fun, great music to play and it's basically rock n' roll history going on right there. You know what I mean?

JC: You mention Alan Parsons Project. You also played with them. That’s interesting because Alan didn’t tour during his prime days and he had different musicians and different singers with him throughout his career. He and Eric Woolfson were the only constants, you know?

GS: Yeah, there was supposed to be a couple of shows and one of 'em got cancelled so I ended up playing the 60th anniversary of the Roswell crash out in New Mexico and you can imagine that was pretty crazy. It's like a bunch of nut jobs walking around but it was really great playing with him. He's really tall and I'm only five-eight, so I looked like a shrimp next to him. But it was a lot of fun. I actually had that gig on a DVD, too so it's kind of a nice little keepsake.

JC: That would also make it one of the very few times Alan has played live. Also, you have a bunch of songs in Alan’s repertoire and they were also done by different bass players interpreting it their own way.

GS: Yeah, that's true, but when I played with him, his band had been playing together for quite some time and what I did is I just got some live recordings. They supplied me with some live recordings so I learned it the way the band was used to hearing it. We didn't do any rehearsals. I just popped right in and played with them. So, I wanted to make sure things were easy for them and easy for me.

JC: Okay, well I think I've pretty much think asked about every person you've played with at this point. Is there anyone I missed?

GS: No, I don't think so. Sometimes it's kind of hard for me to remember.

JC: Okay, I think we pretty much got everybody, then. One of the other things I want to ask you about is the fact that you've managed to stay employed for a very long time. What's your secret in this type of industry?

GS: Just go out and do a great job with whatever gig you're doing and most of the time you'll get recommended for another one. That's sort of been what's happened with me on every step of the road, is it's been recommendations, you know?

JC: Yeah.

GS: So just come in, know your shit, and singing doesn't hurt. And that's it. Just be professional, courteous, everything – it's really a no-brainer. You know, go in, kick ass, sing great, and don't be a dick. [laughs]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Very Candid Conversation with Jack O'Halloran

Jack O’Halloran is best known to moviegoers as Non, part of the trio of villains led by Commander Zod, in both the original Superman and Superman II. He is a huge man (6’6’ feet tall) and has played villainous roles not only in Superman, but in The Baltimore Bullet(starring James Coburn and Omar Sharif), Dragnet (the Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks comedy based on the hit TV series) and the Chuck Norris vehicle Hero and The Terror. Because of his big size and frequent roles as a villain, he is often compared to Richard Kiel, who played “Jaws” in the James Bond series.

However, there is more to Jack than playing Richard Kiel-like roles. His debut performance (and his best, in this author’s opinion) was in 1975’s
Farewell My Lovely. Jack plays an ex-con, Moose Malloy, who wants to find Velma, the girl he loved before he went to jail. He hires Robert Mitchum’s Philip Marlowe to find her. As Marlowe carries out a dangerous investigation to find Velma, it becomes clear that not only does Velma not want Moose to find her; she also wants to keep her own identity hidden from the public. Jack conveys the torment of a man blinded by love. Another performance that shows more versatility from Jack is in March or Die (a 1977 film starring Gene Hackman and Catherine Devenue), in which he plays a Russian exile of the Russian revolution who ends up joining the French Foreign Legion.

Jack’s acting career is only part of his story. Before he became an actor, he was a professional boxer active between 1966 and 1974. He fought a total of 57 fights, winning 34 (17 KOs), losing 21 fights (being knocked down 8 times) and drawing 2. He was undefeated in his first 16 professional fights. Some of the fighters he defeated included Cleveland Williams and Manuel Ramos. Some of the fighters he lost to were Ken Norton (by decision) and George Foreman (by knock out).

While a boxing career and an acting career would be quite a lot for most people, Jack has more stories to tell. Jack has written a book called
Family Legacy (due out in November). The book is based on the life of his father, Albert Anastasia. Jack’s father is best known as the head of Murder, Inc., an organization that enforced the decisions of the ruling council of the mafia. He is also in the business of acquiring a Long Beach Studio.

In this candid conversation, we cover Jack’s boxing days, acting days and his current activities as an author and future studio owner. I want to thank Jack for taking the time to do this interview with me.

Jeff Cramer: I understand you originally started off as a boxer. How did that happen?

Jack O’Halloran: Originally, yeah. I played some football and went right into boxing. I was like, 23, before I went into boxing. I was playing ball and I was looking forward to playing with Philadelphia. They had a great team until they hired a guy called Joe Kuharich. The owner was Jerry Wolman who was a really super young man, and he just got hoodwinked into hiring an incredibly bad coach who traded a championship football team. Well, he traded Sonny Jurgensen and Tommy McDonald. And, like, it was very frustrating, so I just said – Ali had just won the title – and I said to a couple of friends, "I think I can beat him." And they said, "Well it's probably a good idea. Let's put you in the gym." And I went into the gym and I never boxed amateur, you know, I just thought that I'd get in shape and get – take a lot of weight down and I went right into professionals. And I started out in Philadelphia, had my first maybe five or six fights out in the Philly area and I went up fast, and the rest is history.

Jack in action

JC: From, I see that in your first two fights, you knock out Joe Pinto and Bob Hazleton in one round.

JOH: Yeah, I was in great shape. My heart and soul was into it. You know, they had aspirations for a great career for me. I was big. I could move, I could punch and I could fight. You know, for it, I just had a natural ability for it. I could fight – in a day's notice, I could fight ten rounds. I was that kind of an athlete.

I think I was 16 and 0 when I got into a couple of problems. I would fight anywhere, anybody. Fighting people anywhere leads to spurts, you know, where I would beat top-ranked fighters and then I would lose decisions to people I should have knocked out in two rounds but, when you fight people in their hometown and stuff like that, you were in a position to lose decisions on things because you're fighting in someone's backyard.

I prospered for a while and then I actually boxed around the world and went to California in 1972, towards the end of my career and I fought Ken Norton and that was an amazing fight and I stayed and won the California state title. And things went well, very well.

JC: I understand you went the distance with Ken Norton.

JOH: The Ken Norton fight was a great fight, actually. I was in New Jersey and I was under indictment of a lot of union problems and the guy called me on the phone. He said, "You wanna fight Ken Norton?" I said, "When?" I wanted to get out of town. And he said, "Next week." I said, "Send me a ticket." He says, "You'll take the fight?" I said, "Send me a ticket." So I trained about four or five days for the Norton fight and I gave Norton the worst lickin's he ever got. You know, I cut him up pretty bad and, actually, I really won the fight and in the ninth round, the fight was probably one of the greatest heavyweight fights they'd seen in California in a lot of years. At the end of the ninth round, people were standing in their chairs, screaming and it was so loud that they rang the bell and nobody could hear it so they rang it three times and finally the referee separated us and I was going back to my corner and Norton ran across the ring and hit me behind the head and drove me into the corner post and the Commissioner jumped up in the ring he said, "If you can't continue, you just won this fight on foul," and I was so mad, I said, "I'll kill him."

Jack delivering a nice punch to Ken Norton

But, like a fool, I went out in the tenth round and there's no way I was going to win a decision in his hometown, but I won the city. You know, the people knew I beat him and I beat him up pretty bad, actually. He would never fight me again but we became good friends. Kenny was a tough kid. He was a good fighter and it was just a fight that I happened to be in better shape than I thought I was in and it worked out. It worked out very well. I mean, I stayed in California and I got serious and beat about four or five guys in a row and I won the state title. I fought a kid, Henry Clark, that nobody would fight – Jerry Quarry or anybody. Quarry wouldn’t fight me either. So I beat Henry Clark so I took the state title on him and then I had a call to fight a guy. The guy's name was Rahman Ali.

JC: Ali as in Muhammad Ali?

JOH: Muhammad called me on the phone. Muhammad Ali called me. That's when he said, "Jack, you gotta do me a favor." And I said, "What do you mean, do you a favor?" I said, "I'll do you a favor. Sign a contract to fight me and then I do you whatever favor you want." He said, "No, you're fighting my brother next week and I want you to get him out of boxing. I want you to hurt him," and I said, "Are you serious?" He said, "I'm dead serious." He said, "And then we'll talk about you and I fighting." So, I said, "Oh, my God I better get in the gym and get – train a few days. And I knocked Rahman out in the ninth round. You know, he was fast like his brother, but he wasn't his brother.

And Ali and I exchanged, you know, telegrams and we started to put together a fight in San Diego and he was coming out to fight me and I had – we were putting together a pretty good deal and Norton was owned by some very wealthy men in San Diego and they went to over Muhammad in Chicago and they gave up a lot of money so Norton got the Ali fight and Ali called me on the phone. He said, he was crying. He said, "I really apologize. This is out of my hands. There's nothing I can do about it," and but, he said, "I'll promise you, we'll fight somewhere." So now he came to San Diego and the Norton fight happened and then I was supposed to fight him in Australia and he would fight me down there, and I was supposed to, oh, I don't know, fight him a couple, like three or four different places, but Muhammad and I became very good friends and he was a great guy. He really is a great guy. And, you know, that's just history. That's just the way things are.

It wasn’t the only time I was promised certain fights and they didn't happen and that kind of frustrated me. I was going to Houston, Texas, to fight Terry Daniels, who was a ranked fighter out of Cleveland, Ohio, and they were looking for an opponent for Frazier and I knocked Terry Daniels out and they – and I was in pretty good shape and I knocked him out in the third round and they said, "You fight one more good fighter and we'll give you the Frazier fight," Frazier's people told me. I said, "You name the place and the fighter and send me a ticket and I'll show up." So a month later, I fought Cleveland Williams, who was a pretty good fighter and I beat Cleveland Williams in Houston, Texas, and Terry Daniels got the Frazier fight and Cleveland Williams fought George Chuvalo on the same card. So, you know, it's the kind of way things work in boxing.

JC: You did get to fight George Foreman, though.
JOH: When I knocked out Manny Ramos in LA, no one would fight me until I fought Foreman. Foreman was like, five months later.

Jack fighting George Foreman

JC: When did the boxing career come to an end?

JOH: Boxing is one of the periods of my life that I kick myself the most for, because I had a very God-gifted talent, because I was using boxing as a day job and I didn't listen to a lot of people and I didn't do the things that I was supposed to do. I had this disease called acromegaly, right, and never realized it. They told me I had to stop boxing. So I stopped.

JC: I’m sorry, what is acromegaly?

JOH: It's a tumor of the pituitary gland. The doctor who told me that I had it wondered how I could even get in the ring. The disease supposedly causes a lot of depression but somehow I used to fight right through it. Sometimes it didn't feel like there was anything wrong. You know, I feel that it was just kind of a bummer thing, but I never used that as an excuse and that's probably the first time I've ever talked about it in an interview.

I had the procedure to take care of it. They take the tumor out. And man, just to show you the kind of insane things I used to do, I was in Mass General and they fixed it. It was a guy called Raymond Kjellberg, who was the expert in that field, medically, and he removed the tumor with a procedure called psychotrauma proton beam and they took it out. I checked myself right out of the hospital about three days after the procedure and went to Baltimore, Maryland, and fought the number three ranked heavyweight in the world.

JC: Wow.

JOH: [Laughs] Which was kind of a dumb, dumb thing to do. I mean, when the doctors saw that, they almost had a heart attack.

JC: [Laughs] I probably would have, too.

JOH: I had a lot of ability and I just, you know, I was my own worst enemy, and looking back over it, I kick myself in the butt but, you know, you do what you do in life and I don't throw stones at it. I just move on, like I'm doing now.

JC: What is your current opinion of the fighting scene today?

JOH: Most of the fights, most of the heavyweight – a lot of the problem with boxing today is that fighters don't fight enough to really know their trade. And it's all hype and – I mean, you have a kid like Pacquiao is a great little fighter and he trains and he dedicates his life to it. You look at a young kid like Pacquiao or Mayweather and they're talented, talented fighters. And that's why they draw the crowds that they draw. I mean, God bless 'em. They're making a fortune. I mean, Pacquiao has gotta be a multi – probably got a couple hundred million dollars. Mayweather comes from a real good family. I know his uncles. They were great fighters. He comes from a great fighting family. I mean he's been around boxing since he was old enough to walk. So – and he learned from – and his uncles were great fighters that, you know, was a good fighting family and a couple of them were a little wacky but, you know, they could still fight. I mean, you know, they were a lot like myself. You know, crazy, running around the streets and take a fight at the drop of a hat and stuff and, you know, they had a lot of courage. They were courageous people, you know. And you don't see a lot of that today, you know, and that's the sad part.

Freddie Roach is a dear friend of mine and I started Freddie. You know, Freddie's a real good trainer and a super young man and he's done tremendous. I mean, he's got, like four champions that he trains and he's an old-school trainer and he knows what he's talking about. And it's sad that he has to find a heavyweight because he knows boxing inside and out. There's too many fighters that, you know, like the Klitschko kids and stuff like that. I mean, my God, when I was fighting, there were 15 fighters that would've kicked their brains in. I mean, you had a lot of good heavyweights when I was fighting. Oscar Bonavena and I mean some tough, tough kids. But different cut of fighter. You know what I mean?

JC: Yeah.

JOH: I don't see any of the heavyweight division that's there now. They would have been mediocre fighters when I was fighting. They would have been lucky to have 8 rounds fights and it's just a whole different era. I mean, back in his day, Muhammad Ali was an amazing athlete. He would've been great in anything he did but he was a tremendous fighter and he was fast; he was big; in anything; he was smart. He was a great, great fighter, you know, and he was in an era when there were a lot of great fighters and he beat a lot of them very easily and made it look like they weren't that good, but they were some good fighters that he beat. He just had that great ability. You know?

I look around to see if I see a heavyweight young kid. I may put my hand back into it again. I told Freddie that and he said, "Please, bring him down here. Let's go." Boxing’s a great sport, you know? It just unfortunate that it's more about money than it is about the sport itself. You know what I'm saying?

JC: How did you get started in show business?

JOH: You know, they called me – they tried to get me in the film business for several years and I kept saying no. They wanted me to do The Great White Hope, with James Earl Jones, and I had just knocked out Manuel Ramos, the number one ranked heavyweight in the world. Wanted me to retire from boxing and go to Spain for six months and I didn't think that was a good idea. Steve McQueen and I were good friends and he kept trying to get me to go into the business and I kept saying no.

After boxing, I was in, actually in South Jersey. I owned a couple of construction companies and I took a look around. I said, "You know, maybe I'll give this deal a shot." And I came out and did a screen test and I've been here ever since. They offered me Farewell, My Lovely[Click here to see the trailer], with Robert Mitchum, and Mitchum became a mentor and he was a incredible individual. The picture worked extremely well.

DVD cover for Farewell, My Lovely

JC: It's actually my favorite performance from all the films I've seen from you.

JOH: Yeah, it was a great film. It's one of my favorites. I mean, but Mitchum was an incredible individual.

JC: Yeah. So you and him got along very well?

JOH: Yeah, Mitchum set up an appointment for me to see Johnny Carson and do his show and he told me at the Polo Lounge, he said, "This will get you nominated for an Oscar." And I said, "I can't do your show." He says, "Well, what are you talkin' about?" I said, “My father was Albert Anastasia who was a pretty prominent figure in New York in his day.” His show was live at the time and I said, "Well, you're gonna get me on the stage and you're gonna ask me about my father and I'm gonna ask you where the men's room's at."

JC: Okay.

JOH: He said, "You would get up and leave?" And I said, "Yeah." I mean, I was very protective of my past and I never really talked about my father to anybody and he said, "Well I won't do that." I said, “You have Albert Anastasia's son on your stage and no one ever has unraveled anything about my father and you're not gonna ask me questions? An investigative reporter like you?” And he looked at me and he smiled and I said, "I apologize but I can't do it." Mitchum said, "What, are you crazy? This is Hollywood. Who cares?" That was my own fault. And I should've done it. I should've done a lot of things in the beginning of a career. But you know, the picture worked very well and I went on to do King Kong and some great movies that, you know…

JC: In Farewell, My Lovely, there's an early role with Sylvester Stallone before he did Rocky.

JOH: Yeah, Sly was brought out by Joe Spinell. Joe Spinell brought a whole crew of New Yorkers. Sly and I got to sitting down, we were talking, and he was writing Rocky at the time. Rocky is a combination of me, the Philadelphia gangster kid fighter and Chuck Wepner, the Bleeder. He put two fighter's lives together and he wrote a pretty good script, you know, and, God bless him, he pumped me day after day about this and boxing experience stuff like that.

Sly is a nice kid and he's done very well for himself, but he was never a poor kid when he was raised. His mother was married to a wise guy in Florida and Sly went to private schools. You know, he came back into the streets of New York with people and hung around and just got into the acting business and writing business and, you know, you give him a lot of credit. You know, he came right up in the deal and did what he had to do and the Rocky thing took off and, you know, there's your career.

JC: Your next role would be the King Kong movie with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges. [Click here to see the trailer.]

JOH: I think I set a record on how long I was on the set. We worked like, nine months on the picture.

JC: Nine months, okay.

JOH: A long run in picture.

JC: Yeah. As for King Kong, actually I read in the IMDB trivia section, your character was actually originally supposed to be the lead but constant script rewrites ended up making Jeff Bridges the lead guy.

JOH: Yeah. That's true, actually. But, you know, it worked out. I mean, I know there was some great moments with Jeff, but the problem with King Kong was it was a great script with a lousy director. The director was – if they'd had a better director than John Guillermin, it would've been an amazing movie because they had all the potential. It was a great cast. It was a great idea. DeLaurentis spent a lot of money on doing this and they just had a bad director. It was sad because it was a picture that coulda been so much better, you know, at the end of the day. But it still did well, you know and it's still a pretty stand-up movie, but there wasn’t enough to really do what we wanted to do.

King Kong poster

JC: Right. Although you’re mostly in the background as one of Charles Grodin’s men, I do like your one moment, when you wanna do CPR on Jessica Lange right after they rescue her from being overboard.

JOH: Yeah, well that was my Mitchum scene [laughs]. Oh gosh. Jess is a sweetheart. That was her first movie and she was such – she's such a nice lady. We all knew she was gonna be a big star. She had the presence and, – again, he – Guillermin – almost ruined her career before it started because he was trying to make her look like Marilyn Monroe. And thank God she got through that, you know. I remember when I met her in Beverly Hills and she said, "I got an opportunity to do Postman Rings Twice with Jack Nicholson." I said, "Oh, lady, do it. Just melt them in the aisles." And she did it, you know? She did a brilliant job and, you know, and that took her to Frances and Tootsie and you know, and she just is a very, very talented woman. She really is a talented person and she deserves everything she got out of her career.

After King Kong, I went to March or Die and I turned down the Bond picture.

JC: Oh, so you were offered "Jaws" for Bond?

JOH: Oh God, yeah. They came. They chased me all over the place.

JC: So Richard Kiel was not the original choice?

JOH: No.

JC: Okay.

JOH: No. In fact, I turned down – I think I turned down five pictures that Richard did and that was his career. God bless him. He's a nice guy.

I didn't like the character in the Bond picture and I sat down and mentioned it to Mitchum and he said, "Well, you know, they looking to typecast you, and you gotta do what you gotta do." And actually I should have done the picture but I did March or Die and from March or Die came Superman.

March or Die movie poster

I had signed to do March or Die, [Click here to see the trailer] which had a great cast – Gene Hackman, Catherine Deneuve, Max von Sydow, Ian Holm – and it was the same director who directed Farewell, My Lovely.

So it was the English crew and we were down in Morocco and Spain.

JC: They really were shooting in Morocco as you are in that picture, March or Die.

JOH: Yeah, we shot down in Agadir. We shot in Agadir in Morocco and we shot in Spain and then we finished it in Arizona because Hackman got hurt. He fell off a horse.

JC: March or Die has a huge cast but most of your scenes were actually with Terence Hill in that movie.

JOH: Terence was not a great actor. It was the first picture he ever did where he spoke English.

JC: Right.

JOH: But he was a huge draw. I mean huge. He was a bigger draw than Hackman or anybody.

JC: Than Hackman and Deneuve? Yeah?

JOH: Oh God yeah. This kid was a huge draw. March or Die got $8 million out of Germany, alone, just for Terence Hill. I mean, you know, he and Bud Spencer did these crazy Western pictures. They were, I mean, silly, silly pictures, but they made a fortune.

JC: That was one of the reasons I was thinking that they cast you opposite him, because you slightly resemble Bud Spencer.

JOH: You know, the director, he knew I turned down the Bond movie. So they were trying to build a character for me to do and to be, with moments all through the picture with the star of the picture, and I played a Russian guy. And I remember Bill Smith. Bill Smith is a pretty good actor and he was a great linguist. Jesus, he spoke Russian fluently and I got a Russian accent down from him. You know, there was some stuff that they cut out that was actually quite good that I'd love to show but the problem with the picture was, it's a four-hour movie and when you cut an hour and 20 minutes out of four hours. . .

JC: They cut out 1 hour and 20 minutes?

JOH: If you ever get a chance to see the television version, it runs four hours and it makes a lot more sense. They cut a lot of things out. They put holes in the original picture which was sad because it had a great cast and it was a good idea. It just should have been a much bigger picture but again, the director was kind of kooky. I mean, Dick's a good guy but they should have done a better picture with another director. Dick was good for Farewell and he did three or four other little pictures before that but he came from the commercial world. I mean, making commercials. In fact, he owned Tootsie. That was his property, and when they got Dustin Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman said, "I'll do the movie but not with him as a director." And Dick, you know, just sat home and collected a lot of money because he owned the picture. He didn't let his ego get in his way. And they did a movie and it was a great movie. It made a lot of money and he never directed again. He was – he's a nice guy. He's a real super guy actually, but he just wasn't a great film director. And Jerry Bruckheimer started out on Farewell, My Lovely and March or Die.

JC: I noticed he's on there on both March or Die and Farewell, My Lovely. Those films are so different from all the Bruckheimer films we know him as today.

JOH: I remember when Jerry picked me up in his Volkswagen. Jerry's a really good kid. I should have stayed close to him 'cause I would have done Beverly Hill Cop, Pirates of the Caribbean, and all these other movies. But, you know, it's just not my forte to do incorporate myself. I’m sort of like a lone ranger kind of guy, you know?

During the time Hackman was recovering from his injury, I went to London 'cause I was living in Europe, a little bit back and forth, and I went into London. The first A.D. on March or Die was going to work on Superman. He said, "Richard Donner would like to meet you. Why don't you come down to Pinewood? They wanna talk to you about the Superman movie."

I went down there and saw Dick Donner and he offered me the role of Non. And I liked the idea of doing a picture as a deaf mute, you know, not speaking. Not a deaf mute but a mute, because I loved the performance that Jackie Gleason did in Gigot when he won the Oscar. I mean he was a flamboyant, loud-mouthed comedian and he does a role where he doesn't speak. He was a deaf mute and he was brilliant and he's absolutely brilliant with, body language and facial expressions. And I said, "Boy, would I love to get my hands on a role like that."

JC: Okay, so it was your decision to make Non a mute?

JOH: Yeah, I wanted to do that that way and I convinced them that was the best way to go. And it worked. It worked for the film, it worked for the character

Sure enough, when you look at the characters of the three villains, you know, Terence Stamp was a menacing guy, Sarah Douglas was like a man-female, like menacing, you know? So someone had to relate to the kids, and I said, "Wow, what a great opportunity to take this mental giant and treat it like a child learning how to walk and learning how to talk and do something that will relate to the children, 'cause it's a kids' movie."

The three villains with Jack(on right) as Non

And it worked very well. I had a lot of fun doing it and it worked, worked really well. And it's a picture that's amazing. When we did the picture in the '70s and today it stands up as well as anything they're shooting today.

I don't know if you've ever seen – you ever seen the Donner cut?

JC: I've seen the Superman II Donner Cut.

JOH: Oh, a much better film.

JC: Right. One very subtle difference about your character is in Lester's cut they have you trying to kill the snake again after Ursa kills it, making you look like you’re not that bright. Well, that scene is noticeably absent in the Donner cut.

JOH: Yeah. There was a couple things that – Donner – if they'd have let Donner do II, he would've done III and IV and the Superman saga would've been much different. Much, much different. Salkind made a very serious mistake in bringing in Richard Lester. Donner was so into Superman, you have no idea how much he idolized doing that picture, and he did a great job.

JC: Right. The Superman series has never been able to reduplicate the success of I and II since then. You know, every picture III or IV, that one they did in 2006 has all been inferior, you know?

JOH: III was terrible and IV – they let Christopher write the script for it and Cannon did the picture. I couldn't believe it. So it was done shoddily because, you know, Cannon's a low end movie producing company and when they did IV I said, "I don't believe it." And originally, when we started, they were supposed to do ten of them and Christopher, unfortunately, you know, he did I and II and then did III, you know, and all of a sudden, he thought he was a super movie star. And so he got away from it. Boy, I mean, it just – he should've stood his ground for Donner. Hackman never came back. All that footage they had of Hackman in Superman II was what Donner shot. And they infiltrated it in and then the scenes that Lester changed, they used a stunt guy, and, you see, it's Hackman's back. You never see his front. So it was kind of a, you know, it was sad because it was a great idea, could have been a great franchise and then the last picture they did, they took away the American way. I mean, I don't even wanna say how they do some of the things in Hollywood. That's an American icon and you turn around and you take the American out of it? You know, that just is kind of really stupid. They use so much CGI and the script, they should be horsewhipped. You know? I mean they made Lois Lane look like a hooker.

You know, I just don't understand some of the things that people do and they're doing this new one and I hope that they go back and get their marbles together and right because it's a great franchise and they should revive and do it properly, because it's an American icon – that's our American superhero. However, I and II came out really well. And we had a lot of fun doing it and it made all of us, like, icons, you know?

JC: Superman II is one of the greatest comic book movies for the same reason as The Dark Knight. Terence’s Zod, your Non and Sarah’s Ursa are on par with Heath Ledger's Joker. Most superhero villains aren’t usually that scary and threatening, but your villains are really scary and make one feel like you can really take down the superhero. [Click here to see how the White House and army are no match for Zod, Ursa and Non.]

JOH: No, the Superman movies were really well done and the characters were really well done. It took a lot of technology when we did Superman. I mean, some of the scenes to shoot them were so long and tedious because, I mean, when we do the fight scene and we're flying underneath the bridges, around buildings and people say, “Wow, how did you do that with wires and stuff?” and I say, what they did was they had a huge 70-foot screen and they put pole arms through the screen and they put our body cast with us laying in them and we shot on VistaVision. We shot us in the scene, you know what I'm saying? It's long and tedious but it really worked really well. I mean it really, really worked well, and a lot of it wasn't done just on blue screens. We actually physically did the shots. I mean, when we did the flying shots into the Daily Planet we were on a set at Pinewood and had tracks and we flew right through the set and right into the building, and it was cool.

JC: Right. Although I understand Donner was shooting I and II at the same time.

JOH: He got so hung up in II and that's the reason why they had enough footage to do the Donner cut just at the back end. They never finished the ending and we worked out a different beginning. But he got so hung up doing II that they had to stop because they had to release I and he had to finish I.

When we went back and finished II, and the Salkinds (the film producers) were late delivering II and Warner Brothers says, "Maybe we won't pick up the option on the picture." Alexander Salkind said, "Does that mean that I can bring every distributor I want in to look at it?" And they said, "Yeah, no problem." So he set up a screening in Pinewood Studios and brought every distributor, major, in to see the fight scene. He showed the fight scene over the city and Warner Brothers couldn't get the rubber band off their money fast enough. My God. They sat there in awe when they showed us fighting Superman over the city. You know, it was a great, great scene.

JC: I understand he's a very elusive guy but I noticed, at least, you are sharing one scene with Marlon Brando. Did you have any other contact with Marlon Brando besides that scene?

JOH: Oh, we became very good friends.

JC: You did?

JOH: Marlon was from New York, he knew my father and he couldn't wait to meet me. I mean, it was a trip. I went down to see him –the first Saturday he was there, I went down to say hello to him and he was surrounded by reporters and looked – he saw me coming and he jumped away from them. "Jack!" He ran across the stage, and Brando is an incredible actor. I mean to work with Brando. Marlon lost a lot of weight to do that picture; he really wanted to do it and he was such a brilliant actor. My God, you know, and when Brando – it's like Mitchum. When Brando comes on the set, you can hear a pin drop.

And he's a class guy, you know? He says hello to everybody in the morning and good night to everybody at night, and Mitchum did the same thing. Mitchum taught me this is a family you're working with. And no, I loved Brando. Brando was great. He's just such a terrific guy. I had a lot of fun with him, absolutely. We had a lot of laughs. Hackman's a great guy.

I've been very fortunate in my career. I worked with a lot of brilliant actors, you know? Jimmy Coburn and Omar Sharif.

JC: Right. You worked with them on Baltimore Bullet.

Baltimore Bullet movie poster

JOH: The really neat little movie that they ran out of money and they never distributed it properly. Same as Farewell. Farewell, the distribution of that was sad because Embassy ran out of money before they could distribute it. So it was a much better picture that they just didn't release properly. Baltimore Bullet [Click here to see the trailer] was a cute movie. It was, you know, a lot of good talent in it. It was Bruce Boxleitner's first movie. And it wasn't a bad story. It had all the great pool players, you know, and we had a lot of fun doing it.

JC: Willie Mosconi, the guy who actually trained Paul Newman as a hustler, I understand, was in that movie as well.

JOH: Oh they were all in that. Everybody was in there. I mean, Minnesota Fats was there. They were all there. Every pool hustler, Alan Hopkins, you name it. One of the funniest things to happen on that movie was that you had all these pool hustlers, so they hustled all over the world – you know, pool and whatever – and they were big backgammon players. They waited for Omar Sharif because they knew Omar Sharif was a world-class backgammon player.

JC: Right.

JOH: And he comes on the set and when he comes down to get a makeup test and he and I were chatting and we became very good friends. He's a good guy, so he's sitting in the chair and they surrounded him. Omar said, “What’s up guys?” The guys said, "Why don't you play a little backgammon with you," and he said, "You know, I just got off the plane." [Laughs] Anyway, they got him into a backgammon game and he skinned 'em, you know, 50 grand off these cats so fast their eyeballs were spinning. I stood there, I laughed my ass off and then he walked away with me and he said, "How foolish could these guys be?" They thought they were gonna hustle him? [Laughs] He hustled them.

Omar put out the very first video backgammon game. It was his and he was like number three in the world in backgammon. He was a great bridge player and a great backgammon player. Just a big gambler. They'd gamble horses and he was – he, you know, what a fun guy. He was a fun guy. He was a trip. Omar's a really, really nice man.

JC: In The Baltimore Bullet, it takes both James Coburn and Bruce Boxleitner to knock you down in that movie.

JOH: That was a great scene. They both punched me at the same time. It was a fun movie. We had a lot of fun doing that picture, actually.

JC: Yeah.

JOH: Really did. Went down to New Orleans for a while and we had a lot of fun.

JC: The Hustler may be the ultimate pool movie but I think Baltimore Bullet’s better than Color of Money.

JOH: I do, too. I agree with you. It was a neat little picture and it was just – it was just distributed very badly. It was sad. You know, it was – if that picture were done today, it would be a money-making fool. It was well-acted. I mean it was well – it was a good story.

JC: Yeah it was a good story. Not to mention, while you don’t have Paul Newman, but you have the next person after Newman, James Coburn.

JOH: Yeah, Jimmy was a good pool player. He loved playing pool. It was sad that, like I said, you know, they just didn't have the distribution thing together as well as they should have. It was the same with Hero and the Terror, you know? Hero and the Terror [Click here to see the trailer] was probably one of the better movies that Chuck Norris did in his career. And then again, it was at the end of an era for Cannon and they didn't distribute it as well as they should've.

JC: Well, there’s a lot more character development and dialogue for Chuck Norris than usual. The character has recurring nightmares of you and has scenes dealing with his pregnant girlfriend, having to reassure her that he will still find her attractive after she gives birth and gets older.

JOH: Yeah.

JC: Hero and the Terror was the other role that you don't speak in besides Superman.

Hero and The Terror DVD Cover

JOH: That's another reason why I did it. I had a lot of fun doing that, too.

JC: Was the decision not to speak yours or was it already written into the character?

JOH: No, the character didn't speak and they asked me if I would not speak– and they knew what I did in Superman, so I said, "Yeah, not a problem."

JC: How did you get along with Chuck?

JOH: Yeah. Chuck's a good guy. He's a nice kid. He really is. Chuck was good in his karate stuff. He was an Oklahoma kid who, you know, got…he came a long way with karate. It got him in the movie business and he was good at the sport, you know? He gives everybody marks who, you know, who he dedicated himself to it and he fought a lot, he won a lot of tournaments and he was a proficient karate guy.

JC: What about the final fight scene between you and Norris – how did he do as a fighter against you?

JOH: We had a lot of fun doing it [laughs].I just told him, I said, "Just do what you gotta do." I said, "You're not gonna hurt me."

JC: I can imagine that because you make him look very small [laughs] in that movie.

JOH: They had me all padded up and stuff, you know? Had this whole padded thing I wore underneath a shirt and everything, so I looked huge, you know? And I'm a big guy anyway. I mean they made me look really huge and I said to him, I said, "Just, let's play, man." You know? I said, "No holdin' back. Let's do it and let's make it look really great on the camera." It looked pretty good, you know, it worked out pretty well. I did all my own stunts all the time. I went through the glass myself.

JC: In your opinion, in real life, who would win in a fight, a boxing champion or a karate champion?

JOH: Do you remember a fighter named Joey Giardello?

JC: I've heard the name.

JOH: Joey Giardello was the middleweight champion of the world and was from Philly. Brooklyn, actually, but he fought out of Philadelphia. They were starting these karate schools all over and there was a guy that had a big one in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. And he was pumping it up and, you know, doing – trying to, you know do things to turn people to karate, you know? And he was sitting at a restaurant over in Cherry Hill and Joey was having lunch and the guy's telling him, "Well, you know, boxers could never beat a karate guy,” and all this other stuff. And Joey said, "Really?" He said, "How much money you got in your pocket?" and the guy said, "Well, what do you wanna do?" He said, "Well, let's take, get in the car and take a drive over to South Philadelphia to the gym." And Giardello was heavy. He was already retired from boxing and everything, so they go to the gym, and they go up to the gym where we all trained, and Joey takes off his suit coat and he hands it to a guy and he takes his tie off and he gets in the ring and this guy gets in the ring and he's warming up and all this stuff and Giardello said to him, "I'll tell you what, we'll do three rounds, $200.00 a round." And the guys says, "Yeah, no problem." He said, "But if I knock you out in the first round, you got to pay me all $600.00."Yeah, no problem. No problem." And they had a guy up there filming it and all this shit [laughs] and the guy, Giardello stood in front of him, took a stop to the left, and the guy came flying at him with his feet. Joey took a step to the left, hit him a left hook and knocked him flat cold.


Got out of the ring, put on his jacket, picked up the money and said to the guy, "I don't think you guys have enough knowledge yet to be fuckin' with fighters." He walks out of the gym. I laughed. I said, "Oh, my God." That was the first guy that ever tried to use karate on a boxer. And karate is a very straightforward line deal, yeah? Any good fighter can move side to side and a karate guy don't have a shot with him. I mean, karate's a – you have to be an aggressive stance at somebody and a good boxer, you know, that can counter-punch a little bit, you're in serious trouble. And, you know, the fighter would go right at you because, you know, all the leg stuff and all this other jazz, stuff like that. I think Ali did the same – an exhibition one time with a guy that was a big-time karate guy in Denver, Colorado. And they went after Ali's legs and stuff and he still knocked the guy out.

But back to Hero and the Terror. You know, doing that character and playing that oaf-y type thing, I scared the shit out of some people. I walked up the ramp and I turned around and came down in character and when I was in the garage scene, and as I am coming down this ramp like a menacing …Oh my God. People got scared to death. They almost ran off the set [laughs].

JC: What about that scene in the beginning of the movie where Chuck is climbing up the ladder and you’re shaking it…

JOH: And I broke the rungs, you mean?

JC: Yeah.

JOH: Yeah, we did that scene down at the Santa Monica Pier. The director was really nervous about me getting hurt, and I said, "Listen, we'll do it this way." We did it in one take. I went through all the pegs and the director – his eyes went out like, "Oh my God." I like doing things on camera that are very realistic, you know?

JC: The other movie you did was Dragnet with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks.

JOH: Dragnet was a lot of fun and it was a good picture. Dragnet's one of those pictures that every time you see it, you'll find something that you missed 'cause there's so many great one-liners in it. I mean Aykroyd's brilliant and Tom Hanks is a good actor but, you know, Aykroyd's brilliant, just amazing. He just had Jack Webb down. Boy, he had it right down. He had an earpiece in his ear all the time when he was listening – he just – I mean he did a great – I thought it was a clever, clever done picture. I thought it was done very well.

Dragnet movie poster

And even I had a lot of fun doing it, you know, and Tom Mankiewicz, who was a writer on Superman, asked me if I would do this role and I said, "Yeah, you're writing? Yeah, for sure I will." And I got into it and I had a lot of fun doing it. And there's some great scenes in there with Aykroyd and Hanks and I in the police station [Click here to watch the police station scene in Dragnet], and I thought Dragnet came off really well. Did you like it?

JC: Yes. On the IMDB, it says you have actually a movie that you're about to do, Dark

JOH: Dark Star Hollow?

JC: Yeah, Dark Star Hollow. That's it.

JOH: They've been putting that together for a couple years. I hope they get it done.

JC: One thing I noticed in the IMDB, you only did a few TV movies after Hero and the Terror and Dragnet. Why did you start to become less active?

JOH: Oh, I moved to Ireland and I was looking to build a studio over there.

JC: Oh.

JOH: I was also doing a lot of writing and I had another script that's really quite good and one of these days I'm gonna get it done. I don't know if you ever saw the picture, The Informer.

JC: I've heard of it, yeah.

JOH: John Ford's picture with Victor McLaglen, that won the Oscar and stuff.

JC: Yes.

JOH: I wrote another adaption of the book and it came out really well and I could've had it done a couple times and I got in an argument with Paramount and I got in an argument with another studio and I just, you know, wanted to make sure we controlled the creative, control of it. But we have a really good script and I wrote it for Mitchum and I was gonna do it and then he passed away and at least, I don't know. I was gonna do it in Ireland when I lived there and I was gonna buy a studio at one time but, as I learn, the studio business was, and I figured that, you know, you buy a studio or build a studio abroad, you still gotta bring all the talent to it.

JC: Good. I also understand that you ended up opening up a studio on Long Beach.
JOH: We're doing it. We're in the process of it. We're building probably the biggest studio in the world in Long Beach. We're gonna put 40 sound stages in and we're gonna put – the first time in this country, which should have been done a long time ago, but we're gonna put a 200,000 square foot sound stage in it. You know, everybody always wanted the Pinewood, you know, that sound stage for all sizes, which is why we did Superman over there.

And it'll be the most advanced digital studio in the world and it's good. We're just about to go into escrow with it and we'll start building it out, probably Februrary 2013 it will open.

When I came back here to produce a picture called The List, five or six years ago, I opened my nose up again in the industry and I started looking around and I found Long Beach and for the last four years we've been down here, and we had all the money when we started. It took us about ten months to get Boeing to do a PSA, a purchase order agreement, and in the interim, the world fell apart. The financial world fell apart.

So we've been fighting the last few years to get the money to, you know, like almost $500 million to build this place properly, and then we finally have done that, you know, we've put together a funding situation, and we're about to go to escrow and it's gonna be a magnificent studio. [A 2009 AP article about the studio can be read here.] Really, it's gonna be great for the industry because we will be the most cost-effective studio in the Western Hemisphere. So we'll bring a lot of business back to California where it belongs and the studio will do extremely well. It's a great idea and I have a great partner and a lot of good people involved in it and it's just – we're really looking forward to getting it underway.

Family Legacy cover

JC: Good. And I understand you are writing a book as well.
JOH: It's a book called Family Legacy, and it's about my father's world as I saw it as a young man growing up, and it talks about an era of time and people that this country will never see again. You know, my father was partners with Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano and they were part of the growth of this country and, you know, so the book takes place from my father's death and Kennedy's death and we're gonna tell the truth. It's gonna be a trilogy of books. I'm gonna do this one and a couple other ones. And people are very excited about it. We're just finishing a script on it as well. It's about time that a lot of this stuff is told. You know, there's two sides to every story, you know what I mean?

JC: Yeah, I know. Yeah.

JOH: It was a different time and it's time that some of these things were told, the truth about certain things. And we're gonna just, you know, set some records straight and do it properly so people are mesmerized at that world. Anyway, it's gonna disclose a lot of things and it's gonna be good. Looking forward to it, and the presales on it are huge [To preorder the book, click here.] So we expect to the book to do really well. I look forward it to seeing it sell.

JC: Well, Jack, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

JOH: It was my pleasure, Jeff.