by Frank M. Roberts - September 2015
Four times, Greg was beaten to a pulp. His opponent was the two-fisted former mayor of the beautiful California town, Carmel-By-The-Sea -- population, 4,000.
The heavy-hitting mayor, who was elected by a landslide and served from '86 to '88, is Clint Eastwood, one of moviedom's hottest commodities. He still lives in that town which offers the ultra rich Tehama Golf Club with its membership fee of - gulp - $500,000 annually.
The movie star earned some of his money by pummeling, among others, a nice young man from North Carolina who had ties to the northeastern area. Picture Dirty Harry beating a good Christian man. Gregory Walcott, who was at the losing end of the fisticuffs, had a brother, the Rev. James Maddox, who once served as pastor of the Hertford, N. C. Baptist church.
Truth to tell, of course, Greg loved being beat up. All of his life he had been dreaming of becoming an actor, probably not realizing he would become one of Hollywood's most famous character actors. (Personal note: It is a puzzle wondering why there were no stories about his death. When the less talented pass away, the salacious headline makers come up with something).
If you want to watch the one-sided fights - Eastwood vs. Walcott - check these movies: - "The Eiger Sanction," "Every Which Way But Loose," "Thunderbird And Lightfoot," and "Joe Kidd."
Every time Walcott went down, his bank balance went up. He was quickly becoming one of the best-known 'fall' guys on screens large and small. The Wendel, N. C. native, who was raised in nearby Wilson, N. C. had juicy roles on screens big and small. On the big screen he was usually the 'villain' and on the small screen he was usually Mr. Decent.
His real name was Bernard Mattox. The name 'Bernie' might be fitting for a comedian, but it seemed inappropriate for a hero or a villain. His friends had fun with the name, calling Bernard - Barnyard.
Walcott enjoyed those bad guy roles, explaining, "they have a little more dimension, a little more character. It's kind of fun, too."
Holy cow! No, erase that phrase. He was one of Hollywood's most active 'religionists' - head man of the Gregory Walcott Christian Fan Club. For many years his brother served as a preacher of the Hertford, N. C. Baptist Church. That's my town and my church and, during one of his visits to his brother he came to my house and especially enjoyed my three children. He explained that he was travelling and he missed his family.
He and his wife, Barbara, a former Miss San Diego, lived in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley. They were married 55 years, first meeting after an introduction by Dale Evans. Barbara died in 2010. A photograph of the twosome, which he sent to me, still sits in my computer space. Greg passed away last year.
I also have a copy of his autobiography, and a film of his life's history. His last commercial film was "Ed Wood," a biography of the director who put Greg in the title role of the movie most critics deem as the worst film ever made.
"Plan 9 From Outer Space," featuring paper plates as flying saucers, was done as a favor for a mutual friend who knew Mr. Wood. Once filming began, Greg was looking for an excuse to exit, but he honored his commitment. One critic noted that he was the only one in that movie bomb who knew how to act.
He looked at it this way: "It had the worst director who assembled the worst cast, with the worst props, the worst script, the worst budget, to make the worst piece of celluloid."
The major star was Bela Lugosi. He died shortly after filming began. Wood's accountant got the role, running around behind a cape hiding his face. Said accountant was about 6' 2". Lugosi was half that size.
The movie became a cult favorite and, later, Greg visited festivals concerned with such movies so, what he did not want to do at first, later became a fun thing. He played a potential film backer in the picture based on Wood's eccentric life.
One film he did turn down concerned an 'Elmer Gantry' type preacher. It could have meant a big boost for his career but, he explained, Hollywood, too often, portrays ministers as weak and unsympathetic. "I can remember only four movies that portrayed them in an honest light."
He played such a role in a movie he bankrolled. "Bill Wallace Of China," was the exciting story of an American missionary killed by the Chinese Communists. Unfortunately, it got only one booking, lasting about a week, in a Raleigh theater. He produced and starred in the film.
Greg never dreamt of major Hollywood stardom, but he did work for such giants as Steven Spielberg, and John Ford. But, what is he most remembered for by mostly femme fans? It was a role he played in the mid-'70s, the still succesful soaper about, "The Young and The Restless." He portrayed Katherine Chancellor's lover. The actress, Jeanne Cooper, had guest starred on his police series, "87th Precinct," and requested him for the coveted role.
How did he get to Hollywood in the first place? The high school football player turned down a Furman College scholarship to become an actor. Unlike about 90 per cent of today's performers, he had no connections - knew nary a soul in showbiz.
He pocketed about 100 dollars, took a suitcase and his tennis racket, and travelled by thumb. He stayed in the film capital for three years. Nothing happened. Back home, he went -- then still plagued by the acting bug, it was back to sunny California.
That in-between time was valuable. "I recognized Christ as my savior. It changed a life that was spiritually and morally bankrupt," he told me. While tooling around movie town he saw a scene being filmed on the sidewalk. The star was the star of stars - Clark Gable.
He managed some stage work and that is when the break appeared. A studio exec saw - liked - signed. At first, of course, small parts were the order of the day. But, his life was like a growing child. The parts were bigger, the films, for the most part, were better.
At first, of course, the roles were small, but he impressed those who needed to be impressed. To Greg's advantage he was about 6'4" tall, ruggedly handsome. He was an Army veteran and his job in the service served him well later on, giving him the most impressive role of his career. He portrayed a hard-bitten Marine drill instructor in the Tony Curtis movie, "The Outsider," about the Pima Indian who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima, following a bloody battle on that Pacific island.
It was close to typecasting, as Greg was a physical education instructor in the Army. The role, which he loved, won him a great deal of praise from critics and the public.
And, there was praise for the highly acclaimed cop stories on "87th Precinct," based on books by Ed McBain. It concerned a quartet of detectives, each one highlighted on separate adventures. Greg was Detective Haviland.
In the next column, I'll take a look at the important roles, and the important people who were part of the fantastic career of Gregory Walcott. And, a look at the cowboy actor who became his best friend, plus thoughts about some of the many, many people he worked with in the movies, and on the tube. Also, a closer look at the police drama.
The sorry 'Plan 9' pic was out of the way and, it was onward and upward for the man who eventually became on of the most in demand actors in the biz. The big was small initially, having had four teen roles, and gone uncredited, in four movies, all made in 1954.
You can't keep a good man down, and was up - in front of the cameras almost on a daily basis. One of the movies suggested things to come. He portrayed a drill instructor in a '55 movie,"Battle Cry." Later, of course, came a similar role in "The Outsiders," the story of the Pima Indian (Tony Curtis) who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. In the Army, he had been a physical education instructor, so he was more than ready.
Greg was on the big and small screen, on the latter often guesting in several episodes on some of the most popular show (for example - four times a 'meanie' on "The Rifleman." He often guested on "Bonanza," and I have a very nice letter from producer, David Dortort, highly praising his talents.
He made it into leading man status in "Texas Lady." He went in a little nervous because his co-star, Claudette Colbert, had a reputation as somewhat tough to get along with but, they got along well. Greg remembers her first words when they were introduced - "you're a tall one."
And, he recalls meeting Ava Gardner, telling her that the two of them came from the same neck of the woods. They were introduced by a mutual friend.
Let's call this - Walcotrivia:
Of all the actors he worked with, his closest friend was Harry Carey, Jr. who remembers the movie he and Greg made, a Spaghetti western filmed in Yugoslavia. "The movie was stupidly awful," Carey said, "but the pay was good and we had an adventurous trip."; The first movie star Greg met was Victor Mature. It was an accidental meeting at a bus station in D. C.; He received an invite to attend a Christian group meet in Hollywood. The invite came from Dale Evans, responding to a letter written by Greg's mom about the Hollywood Christian Group; As a delivery boy when he first came to Hollywood, the first star he 'sort of' met was Glenn Ford who grunted at him at first, but later offered him a soft drink.
Greg's first good part was in "Above and Beyond," but the excitement waned when his scene was cut; He had a decent role in, "The Moon Is Blue." His part was eliminated but, he became a walking partner with David Niven. Greg's first decent movie part was in "Red Skies of Montana." He and star, Richard Widmark, were friendly but their relationship was strictly business.
Once again, he could hark back to his military days, cast as a drill sergeant in "Battle Cry." He almost missed the part. He had been bicycling and Bible reading in the mountains. The roles got healthier and so did he - both efforts to better himself. And working with such top notch directors as John Ford, Mervyn Leroy, and Otto Preminger, didn't hurt.
Greg was one busy guy. Here's the career count: Featured roles in 50 movies and about 300 guest roles on television. He had a plum role (military again) in "The McConnell Story," about a Korean war hero. (two thumbs down: Trump) Problem: Ladd was 5'6", Greg was 6'3". Alan Ladd did not like appearing with taller stars. (He had a problem with Sophia Loren, embarrasedly settled when the little star (twinkle-twinkle) stood on some boards for a kissing scene).
Greg was fond of Fonda, (Henry, not Jane or Peter) who coached him for two films, "Midway," and "Mr. Roberts." Greg did a fair amount of work at Warner Brothers, and they were so impressed with his efforts - they offered him a contract; He and John Agar worked together and became very close. (Agar was married to Shirley Temple for a couple years. Marriage to wife number two is still going strong, and it's said he is a happy guy).
Okay, so what is it like to have a career as 'the second' or 'the bad') guy? Some time from now, I will take a further look at Greg's lucrative career on screen and hot 'n heavy career on the tube so, as we used to say on the radio) stay tuned. It is an interesting story.