I have now hung out with legendary stuntman Dick Warlock three times this year, and while I will always be a fan in awe whenever in his presence, I dare say we have ventured into an actual friendship.
|HDN editor Matt Artz with Dick Warlock (photo by Sue Artz for HalloweenDailyNews.com)|
I say this because I know things about the man that I don’t believe a casual blogger looking for a quick interview for easy views would likely have the time or access to learn. I know things like how Warlock hates to fly and instead drives to any of his convention appearances because he has trouble getting through security without dropping his pants, and every time he takes his pictures along they have to open the boxes and then they all want autographs. I know he is always accompanied by his wife Cat, and I know he hates to use the cell phone for anything other than communicating a message of importance because he doesn’t feel like it is a tool meant for conversation when you where hearing devices. I know from going out to eat dinner with he and Cat that he always has to be the one driving the car, even when it’s a rental.
I know what a kick he had teaching Adrienne Barbeau how to handle a gun for Escape From New York in Barbeau’s bedroom, an amazing aside he threw out with a clear twinkle in his eye during one of our conversations.
I also know that his favorite movie monster is the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and that he was almost as geeked out when he got to have lunch with Ricou Browning, the original stuntman to portray the Gilman creature underwater, as I was when I had lunch with Warlock for the first time back in March of this year, at the Mad Monster Party horror convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is where our interview took place.
Upon meeting the man who was The Shape in Halloween II at an intimate screening of the film in Williamsburg, Virginia (you can read about it here), I was simply in awe, not only of his entertaining storytelling style but also his candid humor and unbelievably impressive wealth of tales from some of the most iconic movie sets in history.
Before reading on, you can learn about some of Warlock’s experiences on some of those historic sets in Part 1 here and Part 2 here, and then come back for the following story of when the future Michael Myers met John Wayne.
“I met The Duke on Green Berets,” Warlock recalls. “I get a call one morning from Jim Martell, the casting director at Warner Bros, and he said, ‘Dick, get down here now. I needed you yesterday.’ I said, ‘Okay’. I lived about three miles from Warner Bros. I ran down to the studio and over to the stage, and there’s a guy waiting outside, turns out he’s the assistant director. He said, ‘Come with me’.
“So they took me to the wardrobe department and put the fatigues on me and handed me a beret and said, ‘You’re going to hair and makeup.’ So I went over there and they put the beret on me and they cut one side of my head. It was so quick.
“We went back to the stage and on the way in the door, he said, ‘The Duke wants to meet you.’
Well that didn’t register. The Duke of what? So we walk out from behind the set and there are about 350 dress extras, all in tuxedos and dancing. The scene is where two people walk into this club where this girl is singing and at the table they’re talking about her being a spy. Wayne is there, Richard Loo, and Bruce Cabot. The assistant director and I walk up to the table. Well I knew most of the extra kids who were there, and I thought, ‘What is going on here?’
“Then I realize what’s happening. He introduced me to Wayne and Bruce and Richard, and he calls the script clerk over, gets a little piece of paper, writes something on it, and he said, ‘Here, you got till after lunch. We’ll go to lunch, so you got a while.’ I’m thinking, ‘I just met The Duke’.
“So lunch is over, they come back and I’m standing around, and he called over and said, ‘Hey kid, come here. Let me hear the words.’ So I rattled them off. He said, ‘That’s not what I wanted you to say.’ I said, ‘Yes it is.’ He said, ‘No it’s not.’ I pulled out the piece of paper, with the dialogue he had written, out of my pocket and handed it to him. He looked at it and said, ‘That’s not what I wanted you to say’, and he balls the paper up and throws it on the floor. He gets another piece of paper and he says, ‘Here, you’ve got five minutes.’
“I don’t know whether he was testing me or what. So I go behind the set, and I’m scared to death really. We rehearsed it and it was okay. We walked back up the steps to the top where we were going to shoot the scene and Aldo Ray starts in on me – ‘This is my scene’ – he starts four-letter-wording me. I’m like, ‘Hold on here, I don’t even know why I’m here, man’.
“They told me later that Aldo Ray had been drinking and Wayne was a little hacked off at him and so he said, ‘Get me somebody in here that can do the dialogue.’ So I come down the first time we shoot it and I went up – which is what they call it in show business when you forget what you’re supposed to say, you forget the words – and he’s laughing. He said, ‘Let’s do it again’. So I went back up, came back down and we do it again, and I got it out right – ‘Colonel Morgan blah, blah…’ – and he messed up.
“He laughed and said, ‘Let’s do it again’, and I thought, ‘Oh no, I got through it that time and now I’ve got to do it again.’ So I go back up and I come down, and we all got through it and it went fine. He said, ‘You’re going to be off tomorrow because it’s Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on Friday to do some close-ups. Whew! Okay. So we had to come back on Friday and do it again. I think I got a compliment when Mr. Cabot asked who my agent was. I don’t know whether he was going to call him and tell him to ditch me or what.
“I wished I had gotten to work on the westerns, but because of the look I had, really baby faced, I never got in with the cowboy group that did all that stuff. So I never did any westerns with him (Wayne), but I sure would like to have done that. But just to work with him on Green Berets was something. The scene was a pivotal scene too. It’s about the middle of the movie when the big war broke out.
“I didn’t like his politics too much. The reason is he loved Mexico, which is okay. He spent a lot of his money and most of his time in Mexico, he was married to Mexican ladies, and with all that flag waving about America, I was thinking ‘Really? Why’s he buying all that property in Mexico?’”
In the Part 2 of our interview, Warlock told us about working for Walt Disney, where he first met a young Kurt Russell, whom Dick would go on to serve as stunt double for over a 20-year span, including some of Russell’s most memorable roles, like Snake Plissken and R.J. MacReady. It was through his relationship with Russell that Dick would meet John Carpenter and eventually become Michael Myers.
“It was only because of Kurt that I met John (Carpenter) and Debra (Hill) and got to work with that group of very fine people, and that was on Escape from New York.
“I was in Kurt’s contract, so when they hired him, they had to hire me. They asked me about coordinating the show, and I was like, ‘Yeah, fine.’
“I drove the car when it crashes (in reverse) through the pile of cars, and I drove the cab on the bridge through all the junk, mostly cars which I had put there earlier with the help of the transportation department. I did the dive onto The Duke. I came down the wall and dropped down to the ground, and then Kurt came up and ran around the jeep. John called it a Texas Switch, and he’s been calling it that ever since.
“So I did that, and at the end of that show, that’s when Debra a few months later called and said, ‘I’m doing a little movie and we’d like you to come in and coordinate.’ I said, ‘Okay’.
“So I went in and she told me a little bit about what the character was about and this white mask and so on. I had never seen Halloween up to that point. However, I did view it before production began.
“She said, ‘You have to meet the director, Rick Rosenthal. He’s down the hall.’ I got up and started down there and I passed a couple offices, and in one of them there was a desk and chair and that was it. Nothing else was in there, but there was this mask that was lying on the desk. I walked over there and picked the mask up, and I put it on and walked to Rick’s doorway and I just stood there and looked at him. He said, ‘Who are you?’ I didn’t answer, I just stared at him.
“I think I could actually feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and he said, ‘Who the hell are you?’ I took the mask off and said, ‘I’m Dick Warlock.’ I approached his desk and we had our little meeting. He said, ‘Yeah, the coordinating is fine.’
“We said our goodbyes and as I started to walk out the door and I turned around, and I had the mask and I held it up, and I said, ‘Is there any reason I can’t play this guy?’
“He said, ‘I don’t care if Debra doesn’t.’ So went and asked her and she said, ‘That’s fine’. That’s how I got the job on Halloween II. Through that I did The Thing and on and on.”
What were the challenges of wearing two hats as stunt coordinator and actor on Halloween II?
“The challenge was – and actually Rick made it easy because he didn’t give me a lot of direction – but my concern was trying to do the character and also for the safety of the actors I was working with. Except for Gloria Gifford – the nurse who is laying on the stretcher with the blood running out of her arm – the other ones (deaths) I had to work with, choking Leo (Rossi), you know Pam (Shoop). We collectively got the job done. I think it went okay. It was a job for me though, a way to feed my family.
“People are always asking, ‘What was it like being in the mask and the suit?’ So I ask them, ‘Have you ever dressed up for Halloween?’ It’s no different really.
“I’d put it on, shoot the scene, and take it off. Then we rehearse, or we stand around or do whatever, and I put it back on when it’s time to shoot. I didn’t put it on during rehearsals because I didn’t have to. I’m not in it very long. The coveralls, I had just my underwear and t-shirt on under the coveralls. It’s not a big deal.”
What did you bring to the character of Michael Myers?
“I didn’t try to analyze it that much. The one thing that I did do is – where I picked up the idea of doing it mechanically is when Tommy Lee Wallace falls on the floor after attempting to get at Laurie in the closet, and then Nick Castle in the other shot sits up, and it was very mechanical, so that’s why I elected to do it in that manner.
“The thing that allowed me to get into character was the breathing. Whenever I put that mask on, I would (breathes like Michael Myers) all the way through whatever I was doing, and that kept me into that character. But that’s the only thing that I did in the way of preparation to get into it.”
No one ever contacted you about Halloween 4?
“No. Fred Lerner was the stunt coordinator and he said, ‘Well I’ll bring Warlock in’, and Mustapha Akkad said, ‘No, no, we want big. We want Jason.’ So that’s how he went from 5’8” to 6’ or 6’8” or whatever it is.
“He (Akkad) always thought I was too short, because I’m not much taller than he is. God rest his soul, but he was not a tall man.
“I was actually 5’9” and when I wore the boots – I bought engineer boots, which had a pretty good close-to-three-inch heel and then I had a cork insole which they used for lifts or an elevator shoe – I was at 6’, and that’s what Nick was. I was about 165 lb., so I was thinner, and they would always drop the camera down to make me look taller. That’s why I look taller on screen.
“And most of the actors, I mean I didn’t work closely with any of the males if you remember, it was mostly the females. When I did run into Leo in the steam room there, that was kind of obscure in the background while everyone’s watching Pam.”
Do you like horror movies?
No. My big horror movie was Creature from the Black Lagoon. I can remember seeing Ricou Browning swimming underneath Julie Adam’s double. I had lunch with Ricou the last time I was in Florida.”
The third time I hung out with Dick this year was at the epic Halloween franchise reunion during Flashback Weekend in Chicago. He and Cat took my wife and I out to dinner on the final night after the convention ended, another surreal experience to be eating with The Boogeyman, but more than that, it was cherished time to soak in the life and career of this remarkable man.
Thinking of my friend, I can’t help but admire all the original stuntmen of his generation more than ever, and I am amazed at the bitter irony that it was they who made the stars look so heroic while performing the absolute most dangerous work of anyone involved with the film, only too often to be completely left off the credits in the end, a fact somewhat remedied with the recent advent of IMDb but shocking nonetheless.
He is a legend, among the last of a dying breed who gave blood, sweat, and tears so that the stars could shine more brightly, taking the beatings and bearing the scars while someone else received the glory.
I know Dick Warlock made cinematic history when he played Michael Myers, the Shape of ultimate cinematic terror, but even more than that, he is the embodiment of old school Hollywood, when the most amazing special effect of all was the fearless, life threatening performance of a living, breathing stuntman, the real life badass survivor of truly classic horror.