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 boxrec.com, 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.
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?
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."
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.