4 READERS INTERVIEW - LEE MAJORS
From Movie Life magazine – February 1967
We arrive at Four Star studio in North Hollywood at six-thirty, just as Lee was finishing up for the day. Introductions were made, then Lee excused himself to change clothes while members of the panel went on to wait for him in one of the executive offices. Lee arrived about ten minutes later wearing a long sleeved , light blue shirt, dark blue slacks and carrying a dark blue sweater. He seemed tired, and as we all took our seats he confessed that he was all talked out after nearly thirteen hours of shooting. Cathy led off with a question concerning Lee’s career.
Cathy: Who is the one person who helped you the most in getting started in show business?
Lee: My agent Dick Clayton. James Dean was a very big star when I was in high school and I was a fan of his. When I decided to try for a career in show business, I remembered the name of his agent and also that he was considered one of the best artist representatives in the business; a man of high integrity. At the time I was a park director at North Hollywood Park – some of you have probably been in my park. That was in 1963, not so long ago. Anyway I went to see Dick and did a scene for him. He liked what I did and became my agent. He took me down to MGM, introduced me to some of the important men there and that’s how I got started.
Cathy: Was there any star in particular who inspired you to try for an acting career, someone you may have set up as a model?
Lee: No, I don’t that anyone particular star was a contributing factor.
Mrs. Shapiro: Since you were a fan of James Dean, would you like to take his place in films?
Lee: No, I wasn’t really a fan of his. It was the roles he played that I identified with. If I had met him on the street I might not have even liked him. I don’t know. The role he played in Rebel Without A Cause was similar to my childhood.
Steve: Do you think that actors of today are bringing out the troubles of the world? Are you getting a message over to the people? Do they change the roles to do this?
Lee: There has to be a message in the …. (Pause, Lee was giving the matter some thought)….you’ve got me there. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked thirteen hours.
Moderator: I think what Steve means is that years ago movies tended to be light and frothy and today the majority of the films tend to be stark realism.
Lee: You mean like Virginia Woolf?
Steve: Do you think those kind of movies are necessary?
Lee: No! I went to sleep at the premiere, right in the third row. Of course, it’s all a matter of taste. I liked to be entertained when I go to a movie and not necessarily have to face reality. I want to be taken away somewhere to relax. There’s enough of that kind of reality in everyone’s life. I think the performances of Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis and George Segal were great, but I never want to do a picture like it and I hope I am never asked to do one.
Mrs. Shapiro: Since you are a big star in The Big Valley….
Lee (modestly protesting): Now, hush…
Mrs. Shapiro: Are you most satisfied with your role or what type of role would you like?
Lee: I like period pictures. I do want to follow up with a movie career, and I hope to make a good picture as soon as I can find time. I’d like to do the kind of pictures that Paul Newman and Steve McQueen do. I think I am capable of doing that kind of role. As far as way out comedy goes, I don’t know. Newman and McQueen have a certain subtle humor that is an art itself.
Grace: Do you feel that most of the glamor has gone out of Hollywood?
Lee: Well, I have no comparison being a newcomer out here. I only know what I read about the old days and I guess it has.
Grace: I mean as far as great spectacles go.
Lee: Spectacles – as far as pictures – or scandals?
Grace: I mean the fabulous big productions…. giving a feeling of being out of reality?
Lee: You mean like Gone With The Wind?
Lee: I think they are trying. Budgets are a high although it may not seem so because salaries have gone up. To me Giant was the last picture that falls into the broad productions category. For my first picture I would like to do a period picture and I have a property in mind. It is a cross between Giant and The Carpetbaggers. I hope to obtain it with some other people.
Grace: Do you have any idea when you will be making this picture?
Lee: No, I don’t because as long as I am tied up with the series I have very little time off. Six weeks in March and April. What can you do in that short time?
Steve: Will you play an outdoorsman?
Lee: Very much so. It takes place in the South.
Mrs. Shapiro: You’ll have to sharpen up your southern accent.
Lee: Actually my accent isn’t really Southern. It’s more mountaineer or hillbilly.
Mrs. Shapiro: Have you been back home since coming to Hollywood?
Lee: Yes, several times. It’s not the same though because all of the friends I had in high school and college have gone away. My home town is very small. But my parents still live there.
Steve: Do you think they should raise the draft age to allow boys an opportunity of finishing their education before going into service?
Lee: I think the best thing is to go into the service right out of high school. During the two years he will get a better understanding of himself and learn some discipline. When I was in school I had some idea of becoming a lawyer, and yet while I was in college I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. If the draft age was raised you might be all set for a career and have to go into the service before you had a chance to get started. I know what I am talking about because I am facing the same situation myself. I was exempt from draft because of a football injury and later because I was married, but now just when things are going well for me, I received notice that I have to report for my physical. No, I think the smart thing to do is get your hitch over with as soon as possible.
Mrs Shapiro: What is your opinion about teenage drinking today?
Lee: (Laughing) It’s probably no different than teenage drinking yesterday. I didn’t do much drinking because I was an athlete and had to keep in condition. Every now and then I had a beer, but it isn’t a good idea for teenagers to take up drinking. They might have the idea it makes them more grownup, but they’re wrong.
Grace: You come from Kentucky. Did you have a still?
Lee: We didn’t but my grandfather did. He really made some good stuff……
Cathy: Do you feel you are anything like Heath? (His role in the Big Valley)
Lee: Yes, I feel that he is me. There are some things the character of Heath does that I may add to, but basically it is me. Not having had any acting experience prior to the series I act by instinct.
Steve: Have you every studied acting?
Lee: I studied with Estelle Harmon for a short time and later on the MGM lot for a few months.
Grace: Has anyone on the show helped any?
Lee: Oh yes. Any time I have trouble with a scene I can go to Barbara (Stanwyck) or Peter (Breck) and they will help, but they don’t necessarily volunteer help or advice. I’ve always been a positive thinker. I believe you make your own breaks.
Mrs. Shapiro: Are you a religious person?
Lee: No, I wouldn’t say that I am a religious person. I was brought up to go to church and I believe in God but ……
Mrs. Shapiro: You don’t attend church now?
Lee: I did up until I went away to college, and then I drifted away from it. I have my own philosophy about religion. I was brought up in a very small town and went to a small church. As a child you go to church mainly because your parents make you go. You don’t understand why. I remember as I was growing up I’d see all of these people at church, and it seemed to me that most of them went just to be seen and because it was a thing to do, to go to church. To go through the week and drink or whatever and then go to church on Sunday, well, that isn’t going to repair any wrongdoing, especially since most people will go right out the next day and do the same thing. I guess certain people have a need to attend church and that’s fine. But I believe if you do the right thing morally then it isn’t necessary. Those books I mentioned parallel with my thinking and also a great deal with the teachings of Christian Science. I attended some Christian Science lectures and learned about it. I don’t hold with the principles of pain – if you have a headache I think you should take an aspirin. But I do agree with the philosophy of good which is the basis of C.S. If you think good things, then good will come to you. If you think negative then bad will come to you.
Cathy: Do you associate more with show people or those in other professions and businesses?
Lee: I don’t think that makes a difference. I have friends in both. My problem is that I don’t have many friends – a lot of acquaintances, yes. One bad thing about this business is that you have no time. I work five days a week for twelve hours a day. Weekends I spend at my ranch in Malibu. In a town this big with everyone so busy with his career, it’s difficult to find time to stay in touch with friends.
Grace: How big a ranch do you have?
Lee: Very small, about two and a half acres. I have horses, dogs, a raccoon and a burro.
Mrs. Shapiro: Sounds very peaceful.
Lee: It is.
(Until now Lee has been rather ill at ease. He is beginning to loosen up and enjoy what he jokingly refers to as the interrogation.)
Grace: What is the one thing you dislike most about being an actor?
Lee: Oh, a lot of things (laughter). I’ve always been the bashful type, and it’s been very difficult for me to do this type of thing. (Pause) There are so many phony people out here, I suppose that isn’t a good way to put it.
Mrs. Shapiro: It’s the standard complaint.
Lee: That, and because I don’t like to dress up or put on a tie.
Grace: Do people try to pry into your life?
Lee: Well, I have had some interviews with people who are very hard for me to talk to. If I say that I don’t want to discuss a certain subject or answer a question, they turn right round and ask it a different way.
Mrs. Shapiro: Being a new star, do you find that you have to be careful about who you date, where and when?
Lee: You always have to be careful because what you do is apt to get into print. But I don’t think who I date matters because I’m not going to do anything that isn’t printable.
Moderator: There was a time when upcoming stars had to date certain people for publicity.
Lee: That is still true to a certain extent. My press agent will get calls from publicists of girls who are just getting into show business and ask if I will escort their client to some party or premiere. I haven’t done it yet.
Cathy: You want to do what’s right for you, not because you have to do it?
Lee: Yes. I have certain principles that I just can’t go against. Actually, to an actor any kind of publicity, even bad, is good. But I have to do what I feel comfortable doing.
Grace: Then your life really isn’t your own.
Lee: No, but I make it my own as much as possible, and a lot of times I get into trouble for it. Not going to things or doing things….
Mrs Shapiro: Then you are a non-conformist.
Lee: Well, I just like to do what I like to do. If that’s being a nonconformist, then I guess I am one.
Steve: He doesn’t wear a beard though.
Mrs. Shapiro: What do you think of our beard-sprouting young men?
Lee: Well, I don’t know. When I was in school we had all kinds of fads – we did crazy things. I imagine if I were still in school I’d be doing the same thing. The ones on Hollywood Boulevard, that’s different. There’s no hope for them.
Mrs. Shapiro: You don’t think that’s a fad?
Lee: Yes, but there are limitations!
Steve: What is your stand on the war in Vietnam?
Lee: I wonder what we are doing there.
Steve: Do you think the voting age should be lowered?
Lee: Definitely. If you are old enough to go off to war at eighteen then you should be capable of voting intelligently. As a matter of fact, I think that kids fresh out of high school usually are more informed in civic matters than their parents because they have been studying and learning about those things.
Cathy: Would you give us your views on teenage marriages?
Lee: I have be very definitely against them. I don’t know if all of you are aware of the fact that I was married.
Grace: Yes, I’ve read about your marriage and that you are now divorced.
Mrs. Shapiro: How long were you married?
Lee: Three years and I have a little boy, four years old.
Grace: Do you think you will ever remarry?
Lee: (emphatically) No!
Mrs. Shapiro: So you plan on being a happy bachelor for the rest of your life.
Lee: Well, just a bachelor. Happiness comes and goes. I say now that I won’t marry again, but you never know what will happen tomorrow. That can change later on.
Mrs. Shapiro: Do you feel that your youth was the cause of your marriage failing?
Lee: Very definitely. We eloped. I was still in college, a sophomore on a football scholarship and Kathy was sixteen. It was fine at first because we had no real financial problems, and we were in our home town where our families and friends were close by. When you are in college there are so many activities, you have a busy social life and it’s usually inexpensive. We went to parties and football games. Then we had a baby and moved to California. I had my teaching degree and my reason for coming out here was because teaching salaries are higher in California than in most states. We arrived in February of 1963 and I couldn’t go to work as a teacher until September, so I had to take what odd jobs I could.
My wife had to go to work too. Here we were in a strange town. Neither of us had ever been west of the Mississippi before – we had little Lee and the responsibilities of marriage really became evident then. I couldn’t take Kathy out. We had so little money and we knew no one… eventually it had to happen. We hardly saw one another. Kathy was only 17 or almost 18 and it just wasn’t fair to her. I was too young. I think our divorce was for the best. We are very close now; better friends than when were were married. Our son is content and happy because Kathy and I have a good relationship.
Mrs. Shapiro: Do you see him often?
Lee: Well, they stayed here until last year, and then went back to Kentucky. I felt that it would be best since Kathy’s family and mine are there. Kathy has nieces and nephews for Lee to play with, and we feel the boy has a better chance of feeling secure as part of a family. If they had stayed on here Kathy would have probably had to leave him with a sitter while she worked or when she went out. I see Lee as often as I can get back home.
Grace: You must miss him an awful lot?
Lee: Yes, I do miss him but I try not to think about that. I write to him and we talk on the phone. (Pause.) When you think about marrying while in your teens…. out of millions of people in the world how can you be sure that the person you think you love when you are seventeen is the person you will still love at 30?
Cathy: Is that the age you feel is right for a man to consider marriage, 30 I mean?
Lee: Yes, by then he’s started to get someplace in his work and he’s sowed his wild oats. He can handle the responsibility.
Steve: Do you think that today’s teenagers have too much sexual freedom? You know, the sex on campus stuff we read about?
Lee: No, I don’t think so. I think we just talk about it more. I am very much in favor of sex education in the schools. I think it’s important for high school kids to understand what is happening to them biologically and emotionally, so they can handle their feelings sensibly.
Steve: When you were a teenager did you think you knew everything?
Lee: I thought I knew quite a bit. (Laughter)
Cathy: Do you think that girls of today are too forward?
Lee: Not at at all. Actually since I have a tendency to be very shy and generally ill at ease, I enjoy a girl who has an outgoing personality.
Grace: What one thing is there that you have never done and always wanted to do?
Lee: My goals keep changing. When I first started in this business, I wanted to do my first part; then I wanted a chance to do a series. Now I’m looking forward to my first feature role.
Cathy: What about your personal life?
Lee: I made a statement recently to someone and I really meant it. This business is so unpredictable. Why tomorrow I could be out of a job. When I started on The Big Valley my salary was relatively small, but if I was sure that I could have this income for the rest of my life I would be very happy.
As we prepared to leave the studio Lee thanked us for coming and we all agreed that it had been a very interesting hour for all of us.