By Scott Shaw
Sadly, the great actor, William Smith has passed away. For those of us who are old enough or for those of us who have watched the evolution of independent cinema, we know that Bill has appeared in so many films and TV shows that it is almost impossible to believe. In the 1960s and into the 1970s he was ultimate badass. He was in so many biker films; it’s not even funny. But, before that he was in westerns. From there he went on to co-star with Clint Eastwood, he fought Kwai Chang Caine in the original TV series Kung Fu, he even took over for Dano on the final season of Hawaii 5-O. The man had a great career!
I was lucky enough to have worked with him a few times. The first time was on, The Roller Blade Seven. I so remember the night Don Jackson and I went to meet him to talk to him about being in the film. He was homeless then; couch surfing at the home of one actor or another. When we asked him to be in the film, he actually cried, as he was so happy to be offered work.
When we took him to the set, several days later, his constant mantra was, “Can I go home now, daddy? Back then, he drank a lot. He had brought an entire gallon jug of vodka with him to the set and continued to drink from it throughout the day. None of this changed his performance, however. He was great.
We shot with him for a few days on the Roller Blade Seven. Each time he as on the set he brought that great William Smith presence.
I also got to act with Bill and direct him in my film, The Rock n’ Roll Cops. This story is told elsewhere, but the night we were to work with him, Don was in one of his major fuck with everyone sort of moods. Don produced the film and shot it for me. Anyway, we had rented a suite at the Bonaventura Hotel in DTLA as a filming location. Don invited everyone to show up. And, I mean everybody. …Telling them they all would be in the film.
Don and I had been messing around all day and well into the night, when we finally got there, and saw an insane number of people in the suite. Don immediately screamed and yelled and threw and general fit; throwing everyone out. He then fired the guy who was managing the talent, blaming him for allowing so many people to show up. Bill just sat there in disbelief while all this was going on. Don then decided that he didn’t like the fact that Bill had brought along his then girlfriend, later wife, Joanne along. But, he didn’t have the balls to tell Bill he didn’t want her there. So, without me knowing, he told Bill I didn’t want her there. But, I was fine with it. I liked her! I noticed she was gone and I asked Bill what happened to her? He said, “Don told me you don’t want her here so she went down to the bar.” When I told him that wasn’t the case, he got up and stormed into bedroom where Don was preparing the camera, jumped on him, and put his hands around his neck in a chokehold. It was just a joke, as he liked Don, but it was a funny sight to see, as he did all that with that pure William Smith intensity. After that, Bill gave a great performance!
Another funny experience I had with Bill was when he invited Don and I to a private screening of a film he was in. Don also invited another of his friends, who I also knew. Anyway, the film was so bad, and Don’s friend kept making jokes and cracking up throughout it, which caused me to also laugh through most of the film. Believe me when I tell you, the movie was bad. After the film, we are talking to Bill outside, he stated, “Who were those assholes who were laughing, I’d like to kick their ass.” Of course, this just caused us to smile.
With the amount of work Bill did, his legacy is set in stone, or should I say on celluloid. …This, even though much of his later work was shot on video.
Overall, he was a great guy, a true badass, a great actor, and a very nice person. As I sadly said not so long ago, in regard to the passing of Julie Strain, the Zen Filmmaking family keeps getting smaller. The original team is almost all gone.
As for Bill, it’s sad. He was a true talent!
Rest in Peace my Zen Filmmaking brother.
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