BRUCE DERN, A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE

Bruce Dern, The legendary Oscar-nominated actor turned 86 years old on June 4th. The length and the breadth of his career certainly deserves recognition. Although he never worked with Lee Marvin, the two actors did have parallel careers, almost crossing paths a few times despite their age difference they both guest starred on the likes of Wagon Train, Ben Casey & Route 66. as documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank
   That aside, I’ve read much about him lately via social media in praise of his canon of work and that canon is worthy indeed: The best screen version of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1972); A rival to Jane Fonda in both They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969) and Coming Home (1978); a recent inductee into the Quentin Tarantino stock company with Django Unchained (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015) and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019); a cornucopia of other great films in his seven decades of acting that is still going strong. 
  However, the role he will always be remembered for is that of “Longhair” in the John Wayne western The Cowboys (1972). It’s been said that as the man who shoots the Duke in the back, Wayne told him with a smile “They’re gonna hate you for this,” to which Bruce Dern replied, “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley for it.”
   Such stories abound on social media lately, but the one I liked best came from Dern’s 2007 memoir, “Things I’ve Said, But Probably shouldn’t Have.” For some reason this great little anecdote has not been mentioned so I intend to rectify that:

The cover of Bruce Dern’s 2007 memoir.

“We’re filming the The Cowboys and in the first scene I’m trying to get Wayne’s character to hire me. Duke says, ‘Who recommended you?’
I say, ‘Mr. Leeds recommended me to you, Mr. Anderson.’
He says, ‘Really? And how long ago did you meet him?’
I say, ‘Oh, about six weeks ago. I was down yonder at his ranch.’
‘And you rode all the way up here just to see me? If that’s the case, you rode a long way for nothing, because I ain’t interested in hiring you..’
‘Really? Why is that, sir?’
‘Because Leeds died four years ago. So you’re a liar. An I don’t hire liars.’
‘Well, I swear on my mama’s sainted grave that I ain’t no liar.’
Duke says, ‘I’d question that somebody like you ever had a mama.’
I look around and I say, ‘Well sir, if you’re going to coin a phrase ‘had a mama,’ I guess I’d say I had yours about five years ago.’
   Wayne just breaks up laughing. He’s up on a horse and he turns around in the saddle, and the sun is sinking, and you can’t really see the expression on his face because he’s got that goddamn lid hat that comes out to here. He looks pretty fucking great on a horse when he’s up there all six foot six and 285. He looks around and says, ‘And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why this prick is in the movie. It ain’t gonna be in the movie. But that’s why he’s the guy that’s gonna kill John Wayne. Because that’s clever goddamn thinking ain’t it?’ Everybody breaks out and applauds. And then we go to take two.”

Photographer Bob WIlloughby’s on location portrait of Bruce Dern in The Cowboys.

So, happy birthday Mr. Dern, and many, many more!
– Dwayne Epstein

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2 thoughts on “BRUCE DERN, A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE

  1. I watched an interview with Dern on youtube a year or two ago. He was very self deprecating. He said “I was a forceps baby. I had a face like a baby’s forceps,” “They told me, ‘You’ll always be the third cowboy on the right.’”

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