October 28, 2020
It's been over three years since Sam left us and long-time
partner actress Jessica Lange still has not shared any remembrances of their
life together, but almost 30 years ago, she did share some
intimate details about their relationship in a Vanity Fair interview. Here are
When we started, it was never with the intention that we
were going to run off, live together, have a family, do all these…regular
things. It was just this unbelievably passionate love affair. But then we
just couldn’t give it up.
I'd seen Sam in Resurrection
and there was something about him that struck such a familiar chord, probably
because I'd spent the last fifteen years with foreigners. I'd lived with a
Spaniard, then this Russian, and there was something about Sam…his long legs…I
immediately felt I knew something about him, that wildness, that typically
American wildness, a no-restraints outlaw quality.
Sam and I were so much in love, so wild about each other
and being together. We were absolutely inseparable. We couldn’t even go to
the grocery store without each other.
I've been with a lot of men and I've known a lot of men.
And you know I’ve had romances with what you’d call famous men, and none
compare to Sam in terms of maleness.
The worst part about
life with Sam is the separations. He's not the kind of man who’s going to follow
a woman around. He’ll come see us [she always takes the children], but he's not
going to pack his bags, sit on my locations for three months, and twiddle with
the kids….Sam would've been happy if I never made another movie, if we could've
lived together in the wild, idyllic manner we had in the beginning. But I kept
wanting to act. Those separations became sources of real, um, difficulty for us.
I was pregnant for
three years. Sam's one of those men who loves you when you’re pregnant–just
thinks you look more beautiful than ever before, loves the big belly. It was
great, except I get real dark sometimes when I'm pregnant. My mood swings
are extreme anyhow, but when I'm pregnant, I could be like Medea any moment,
I’m so hard to live with. Sam says he went through it twice, he doesn't want
to live through it again.
It's obvious that the pair each harbored their own demons.
Jessica often spoke about her mood swings so perhaps she suffered from a
bi-polar disorder and, of course, Sam continually battled alcoholism.
These were the last photos of the pair caught by a bystander
near Duluth, Minnesota, on July 27, 2015, exactly two years before his death on
July 27, 2017. You can see how frail Sam looks.
October 18, 2020
In 1976 director Robert Woodruff asked Sam if he had any
unproduced plays that could be premiered as part of the inaugural Bay Area
Playwrights Festival. Sam gave him THE SAD LAMENT OF
PECOS BILL ON THE EVE OF KILLING HIS WIFE, an operetta, which he created
with composer Katherine Stone. [Yeah, that's quite a title!] The play premiered
on October 22, 1976, but Sam never saw that production because at the time he was up in
Canada shooting "Days of Heaven".
The second production was presented in NYC by La Mama in a
double bill with SUPERSTITIONS in September 1983.
And in April 1984 the double bill premiered at the Magic Theatre in San
Another 'Pecos Bill' production was presented by New York's Signature Theater Company at the
Joseph Papp Public Theater in the winter of 1997.
"Superstitions" originally premiered on July 1, 1981 at the Intersection Theatre
in San Francisco. The advertisement below comes from the Berkeley Archives. Note
that it reads, "Improvisational jazz theater piece based on the poetic vignettes
of Texas-grown writer Walker Hayes."
In this instance, Sam used the pseudonym "Walker Hayes" though I don't
understand why he's referred to as a "Texas-grown writer".
Sam's wife O-lan appeared in the 1983 La Mama double-bill production as well as
in the 1981 Intersection Theatre production of "Superstitions". Here she is in
'Pecos Bill' with actor Mark Petrakis.
October 16, 2020
Published in 1973 by Black Sparrow Press,
was Sam's first book, which contained short stories, poems and monologues. The
book runs just under 100 pages, and includes around 50 individual pieces and are
a much darker collection of writings than "Motel Chronicles". I especially
was attracted to this photo of Sam with his youthful smirky grin, so different
from his future intellectual portraits.
Cultural critic and essayist Mark Dery writes, "No doubt,
'Hawk Moon' is early, immature Shepard, half-baked in spots, overegged in
others. The London Review dismissed the book as 'scrappy and inconsequential,'
rolling a derisory eye at its 'breathless, unpunctuated prose-poems and cute
little seven or eight-liners in free verse in the style of Richard Brautigan.'
Yet the reviewer conceded that the best of the fleetingly brief stories—flash
fiction decades before the term was coined—'are sharp, macabre histories of
urban fear and violence' that are very much of their moment - the mechanized
world of motor-car, radio culture, rootlessness and nuclear threat. Yet, you can
still see the mythical world of the Frontier, the Wild West, the prairies
receding in the rear-view mirror."
October 10, 2020
Back in August Ada Pirvu wrote a unique article called "The
Armani Aesthetic and Film Costume Appropriation: Sam Shepard in 'Voyager'.
Ada is the author of Classiq, an online journal that celebrates cinema, style,
culture and storytelling. She also contributes to the film magazine, The Big
Giorgio Armani has had a long relationship with the movie
world and has worked on many films. He knows that clothes enhance the cinematic
experience so he was hired to be the costumer designer for Sam's character - the
engineer Walter Faber in "Voyager". Ada writes
that when she first saw Sam in his tank top, vest, suspenders and Trilby hat,
the image instantly reminded her of Armani's 1980s and 1990s campaigns. Ada goes
on to say, "It was not just the clothes that brought Armani’s campaign imagery
to mind, but the feel of the shot, and Sam Shepard’s body language, and the gaze
on his face. It is a detached look."
“I enjoyed being out of reach.”
Do you remember that hat? He even wore it in bed and it
became a distinctive trait of this transient traveler. The story was based on
Swiss author Max Frisch's 1957 novel, "Homo Faber", and was adapted for the
screen in 1991. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff,
it starred Sam, French actress Julie Delpy and German actress Barbara Sukowa.
It's a must-see for all Shepard fans!
October 5, 2020
New material has been added today on the documentary
THIS SO-CALLED DISASTER by director Michael
Almereyda. It was filmed in the fall of 2000 during the last three weeks of
rehearsal for the Shepard-directed play, "The Late
Henry Moss", a
autobiographical drama about the playwright’s volatile relationship with his
father. It premiered at the Magic Theatre on November 14, 2000. Though Sam
appears uncomfortable at times in front of the camera, it was actually his idea
to document the staging of his play. That came as a surprise to me. At one
answers an AP reporter's shallow questions and wearily asks her photographer to
please get out of his face. Oh, that man makes me laugh. Well, we all know he wasn't regarded as Mr.
After Sam had played the role of
the ghost in Almereyda's "Hamlet", he contacted the filmmaker. Almereyda recalled, "Sam called me up and said he was directing a new play and that he
had a great cast and he wondered if I was interested in making a record of it.
He instigated the process. It was pretty impossible to say no. And he hadn't
even seen 'Hamlet' yet."
That great cast included a trio of notorious hellions - Nick
Nolte, Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson.
Sam explained his actions in an interview in the April 2004 American Theatre
magazine: "I knew this was sort of a chance of a lifetime with this many great
actors. The thing is that, as is true of any production, you don't see the work
the actor does. You don't see the sweat, the real grit, the energy that goes
into making the character. These guys were absolutely dedicated. For movie
stars, this was something that a lot of them hadn't really encountered."
And the film's director explained, "I
don't really know any documentaries like it. Most movies like this tend to be
pretty self-congratulatory, and I cut everything like that out. It wasn't an ad
for their nobility, it was more an attempt to show what happens on an intimate
level when people of this stature get together... The editing was a big
challenge, and in many ways the editing shaped the movie more than might be
apparent because I wanted a kind of artless or casual style. But really it's a
very crafted movie."
Freelance movie writer Ruthe Stein wrote, "I went into the
screening thinking the title
referred to the San Francisco production of 'The Late
Henry Moss,' although the play hardly qualified as a
disaster, so-called or otherwise. It sold out a
four-week run and was the talk of the town.
The meaning of the title isn't explained until late in
the film, when Shepard brings up a letter from his
father, their last communication before the man was run
over by a car while in a drunken stupor. In the note,
the elder Shepard absolves his son of any responsibility
for this 'so-called disaster between me and your mother.'''
The film premiered on May 7, 2003 at the Tribeca Film
Festival and is available on DVD. It can also be viewed at this
link if you don't mind the Spanish subtitles. The 89-minute
documentary explores Sam's working relationships with the play's cast but also
cuts away at times to some personal insights from Sam regarding his father. It's
a must-see for Shepard devotees as one watches Sam in a rocking chair on the
his writing refuge, a cabin in the Minnesota woods, while describing at length
the miserable relationship he had with his alcoholic father.
One reviewer wrote, "As a character study alone 'This
So-Called Disaster' does some fine work examining the background of a
playwright. It is interesting to listen to the story of Shepard’s father, who
led a very troubled life, culminating with his untimely death. He even shares
his last encounter with his father, one that is touching in the way that it’s
told so humbly."
Sam recalls, "It's one of those meetings you never forget, you know, but it was
horrible because he was absolutely smashed. And I should've known better, over
the years, to try to sit down with him when he was in that state, because he was
a mad man, he was crazy - he was totally crazy. And, uh, you know this Dr.
Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality thing that happens with true alcoholics."
The film ends on a sad note showing a home movie of Sam with
his dad and the following photos were also shown in the film. The first one
shows Sam's parents, Jane Elaine (Schook) Rogers (1917-1994) and Samuel Shepard
Rogers (1917–1984). The second one shows his dad as a bomber pilot during WW II.
You can see that Sam resembles his father, but I think
Sam and Jessica's son Walker has a closer resemblance.
October 1, 2020
It's been over three years since Sam's death and yet it feels
like only yesterday that this news enveloped us with tremendous grief. In a
new interview with The Observer, Patti Smith spoke about the loss
of her life-long friend.
Speaking about the
major moments in her life, the punk poet laureate said: "I see Sam looking at me with a wry smile – he knew me
so well – I miss him terribly."
"Sam was very protective, though he understood I’m pretty
tough and can handle myself," she added. “We went through a romantic interlude
but didn’t need that, we connected in so many ways. We trusted one another,
respected each other’s work, had a similar sense of humor. We had an equal but
masculine/feminine relationship which, at any age, is nice. He was like a friend
but it was also like having a man in my life – for 50 years."
"He was – still is – a very handsome man. And he
had this animal magnetism." ...Patti Smith, 2009
This is one of the last public photos of the pair taken
exactly five years ago today.
And speaking of Patti, here she is included in an interesting
collage created by artist Ed Seeman -
came across this very rare photo of Sam taken back in the '60s by the late
photographer Jerry Bauer, who gave authors their own movie-star moment. He
worked in black & white, and played with natural light the way other
photographers used lamps.
One of Bauer's most celebrated subjects was Samuel Beckett, greatly admired by
Sam. The following comments are from a 2011 issue of Interview magazine, in
which Sam expresses his thoughts on the legendary writer. The photo is by
"He’s meant everything to me. He’s the first
playwright—or the first writer, really—who just shocked me. It was like I didn’t
know that kind of writing was possible. Similar to the experience of reading
Rimbaud, it was like, 'Where the fuck did he come up with this?' Of course, with
Beckett, you can say it was James Joyce, because he’d worked for Joyce, but it
was more than that... I suppose it was the form more than anything else that I
was obsessed with, because I felt like the form of theater at the time was so
retrograde. That's what Joe Chaikin was after—this theme of naturalism that was
so present, was so old-fashioned and backward and unexpressive of the times.
Theater needed a brave new kind of expression, and Beckett had invented a brand
In a 2017 interview with The New Yorker, Patti
Smith shared Sam's love of Beckett:
"In the winter of 2012, we
met up in Dublin, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from
Trinity College. He was often embarrassed by accolades but embraced this one,
coming from the same institution where Samuel Beckett walked and studied. He
loved Beckett, and had a few pieces of writing in Beckett’s own hand, framed in
the kitchen, along with pictures of his kids. That day, we saw the typewriter of
John Millington Synge and James Joyce’s spectacles, and, in the night, we joined
musicians at Sam’s favorite local pub, the Cobblestone, on the other side of the
river. As we playfully staggered across the bridge, he recited reams of Beckett
off the top of his head."
In an essay at
Electriccompany.com entitled "What Sam Shepard Taught Me About Gods, Dads, and
Death", author Helena Fitzgerald writes, "It’s hard to talk about Shepard
because he ends up sounding like a parody– this swaggering, sexy cowboy genius
who wrote like Samuel Beckett if Beckett had gotten high on LSD on a road trip
across the American West."
Back in 2017, The Arburturian compared these two men - "Both were taciturn to
the point of rudeness, both great drinkers and smokers, both hugely embarrassed
by their burgeoning reputations, both unable or unwilling to talk about their
work, both standing tall with fine heads of hair and silently boasting
unequalled knowledge of world literatures and both constantly curious about the
foibles and weaknesses of human nature."
August 5, 2020
The photo below is the recent cover of the Catalan edition of
"Spy of the First Person," Sam's last book. It was
published in March by Quid Pro Quo. I can't make up my mind if this is an
improvement over the English edition. Neither one sparks any interest or
One of the photos used in connection to this book's edition
was the following photo. It wasn't labeled but I was able to track it down to a
most likely screen shot of Sam from the 2014 film "Cold
The cover of the Turkish edition of "The
One Inside", another 2017 Shepard book, shows a very recognizable photo.
Since Patti Smith wrote the foreward, obviously someone wanted to capitalize on
her notoriety as well.
* * * * *
If you're as old as I am, you probably remember the legendary
New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael. I recently discovered her review of
"The Right Stuff" and want to share this
"As the lanky Sam Shepard embodies him, Chuck Yeager, the
'ace of aces' who broke the sound barrier in 1947, evokes the young,
breathtakingly handsome Gary Cooper. And Yeager and the other test pilots have a
hangout near the home base of the U.S. flight-test program: a cantina in the
Mojave Desert, with a wall of photographs behind the bar —snapshots of the
flyers’ fallen comrades. Presided over by a woman known as Pancho (Kim Stanley),
the place recalls the flyers’ hangout in the Howard Hawks picture 'Only Angels
Have Wings' and the saloons in Westerns."
"Shepard’s Yeager is the strong, silent hero of old movies
—especially John Ford movies. On horseback in the desert, he looks at the
flame-spewing rocket plane that he’s going to fly the next morning, and it’s
like a bronco that he’s got to bust."
"Kaufman uses Sam Shepard’s cowboy Yeager as the gallant,
gum-chewing individualist. He has some broken ribs and a useless injured arm
when he goes up in that fiery rocket, and he doesn’t let on to his superiors; he
just goes up and breaks the sound barrier and then celebrates with his wife
over a steak and drinks at Pancho’s. He expresses his elation
by howling like a wolf."
* * * * *
"I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley out there towards that
semi-desert country in California working at Santa Anita Park
racetrack as a hot walker and working in a lot of those lay-up
farms. I mostly did grunt work. I was mucking out stalls and working
in the alfalfa fields. You know in high school you didn’t get very
glamorous jobs back then." ...Sam Shepard
* * * * *
I've come across terms, such as Shepardian and Shepardesque,
but I wasn't familiar with Shepardscape. Do you like it?
July 30, 2020
Mill Creek Entertainment will release
THE PLEDGE on Blu-ray on October 13, 2020. The
2001 psychological thriller was directed by Sean Penn and starred Jack
Nicholson. The supporting cast is full of big names - Robin Wright, Sam Shepard,
Aaron Eckhart, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Benico del Toro, Harry Dean
Stanton, Mickey Rourke, Lois Smith and Patricia Clarkson.
I had never created a movie page for this film so that has
now been completed. The screenplay, written by Jerzy Kromolowski, was adapted
from the crime novella by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The book was called
"The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel" and was published in 1958.
Penn had previously worked with Nicholson on "The Crossing
Guard" and after reading
Dürrenmatt's novel, he knew he wanted to direct him in the role
of retired cop Jerry Black. Penn says, "I was looking for another project to do
with Jack when we got the rights to the book."
The story follows
Nicholson told the press - "Every day I came to work with
another great actor, wondering what they were going to do with their character.
The quality of the actors Sean was able to attract to the project, that's what
gives the picture its richness. The film maintains its suspense and a lot of
that has to do with the quality of the performances of the actors, all of whom
are really quite wonderful."
In the first half of 2000, Penn directed Shepard and in the
second half Shepard directed Penn. Yes, after "The Pledge" was filmed, Penn
joined the cast of Sam's play, "THE LATE HENRY
MOSS", which premiered at
San Francisco's Magic Theatre on November 14th. The play's cast also included Nick
Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Cheech Marin and James Gammon.
July 13, 2020
This month Cowboys & Indians magazine featured an article on
the book "Sam
Shepard; New Mexico" by John Miller. They wrote, "The new book manages to
weave together a new experience using powerful passages from different times and
places. Shepard’s stark, sometimes desperate inner dialogues from weary days on
the roads of New Mexico are complemented by landscape photographs from the
respected artist Ed Ruscha."
Miller says, "I wanted to include images with [Shepard’s
words] that were not just pictures of him. Ed Ruscha’s one of my favorite
artists. ... I’m sure Shepard knew of Edward Ruscha — he’s a pretty well-known
artist and had spent a lot of time in California, too. ... Ed was a big admirer
of Sam, and that’s kind of why he agreed to do this. His studio found these,
basically, outtakes from the Twentysix Gasoline Stations book. And he was
very generous in letting me use them... I’ve put it in the bookstores here in
town [Sante Fe], but also in some galleries. Every place I go has a Sam Shepard
story. He’s a favorite son here even though he’s not from here — everybody loves
him and claims him as their own."
And what quality binds the two artists? Miller explains, "I
think it's the desolation. The emptiness of those gas stations really mirrors
where [Shepard’s] stuff is set, you know, in a motel room or in a car. And it’s
always on the way somewhere."
* * * * *
"First off, let me tell you that I don’t want to be a
playwright. I want to be a rock and roll star. I want that understood right off.
I got into writing plays because I had nothing else to do. So I started writing
to keep from going off the deep end. That was back in ’64. Writing has become a
habit. I like to yodel and dance and fuck a lot. Writing is neat because you do
it on a very physical level. Just like rock and roll. A lot of people think
playwrights are some special brand of intellectual fruit cake with special
answers to special problems that confront the world at large. I think that’s a
crock of shit. When you write a play you work out like a musician on a piece of
music. You find all the rhythms and the melody and the harmonies and take them
as they come. So much for theory."
...Sam Shepard, 1971
July 3, 2020
Today the American Film Institute Movie Club celebrated
THE RIGHT STUFF, ranked #19 on AFI's 100 Years
of the greatest American films of all time. Sam's role as Chuck Yeager earned
him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Great performance!
You can check out the
AFI web site and watch a brief video of Ed Harris and Ron Howard discussing
June 30, 2020
Last fall Minnesota native Jessica Lange published her
third collection of black and white photographs called "Highway 61" which
were also exhibited at Howard Greenberg's NYC gallery.
Highway 61 originates in the city of Wyoming, Minnesota running 1400 miles along
the Mississippi River all the way down to New Orleans.
She dedicated both the book and exhibit to Sam and when Rolling Stone
asked her about the dedication last October, she replied, "Yeah. (Long pause) I
miss him every single day of my life, and I thought, 'Well, this would be a good
dedication because there was a man who loved the road and spent a good portion
of his life driving different highways.' So, yeah." (Smiles)
I believe this was the first time that Ms. Lange spoke
publicly about Sam since his death three years ago. Why she never did remains a
mystery as well as why she didn't join the family at his bedside where he lay
dying. At least ex-girlfriend Patty Smith loved him enough to care for him in
his final weeks.
Another film page added! As most Shepard fans know, the
married Sam and the beautiful actress became an item while filming "Frances" so
it wasn't surprising that he would be considered for the role of Gil Ivy in a film called
COUNTRY that she was about to co-produce and star in. It was a project that
concerned Ms. Lange at that time. She told the press, "The part of Jewel Ivy was
more familiar to me than any other part I've played. I drew from all my aunts in
rural Minnesota. I wanted to convey the tremendous strength and tenacity of
these women in balance with a heartbreaking vulnerability."
"Country" was the story of the trials and tribulations of a
rural family as they struggled to hold on to their farm during the trying
economic times experienced by family farms in the 1980s. Coincidentally, there
were three movies released in 1984 with stories about the farmers' plight told
from the perspective of a strong heroine. Remember Sissy Spacek in "The River"
and Sally Field in "Places in the Heart"?
It was a troubled project from the beginning. The script by
Austin's William D. Wittliff was rejected by most Hollywood studios and when
production began in late 1983, Wittliff, who was set to also direct, resigned
three weeks into filming after his differences with Lange and Shepard proved
insurmountable. Richard Pearce took over the cold and difficult
winter shoot in Iowa. In the end, Sam did contribute to the screenplay though
his name does not appear among the credit titles.
During filming, Sam continued to write to his pal Johnny Dark
and there are two interesting excerpts I'd like to share. The first one was
written in October 1983 in which Sam discusses his frustration with the
"Well, a lot of shit has hit the fan since I started this
letter 10 days ago. The cinematographer has been fired, the director's quit &
I've quit until they get a replacement. They've threatened to sue me if I don't
go back to work but threats always make me more stubborn. It's a strange
situation to be in because Jessica has a big stake in this film & she wants to
get it done come hell or high water. At this point I just want to go back home &
ride my horses & shoot my new shotgun & maybe build a fire in the fireplace. I
really can't stand this movie crap anymore - it gets harder & harder to do it."
"I don't really know what's going to happen now. The
producers are frantically looking for a new director & trying to keep the film
rolling so they don't lose money. I suppose this move on my part is going to
brand me as 'difficult' & 'temperamental' in Tinsel Town. I really don't give a
shit anymore. Jessie & me are closer than ever but life in the movies is just
not my game so I guess I'll just have to accept this fact that I'm hooked up
with a movie star & allow her to play that out & maybe just ride along beside
her on the sidelines somehow."
This would be Sam's 8th film and though he describes his
disdain for movie making, he did go on to make 50 more films! The second
excerpt is from a December 10, 1983 letter in which he professes his love for
"I wanted to give her a ring & ask her in the corniest way
possible if she'd be my wife and have my kids and live with me forever. I bought
this great Sapphire ring set in gold. I stuffed it in my pocket & got all
excited about asking her. I waited for her to come into the motel where we watch
the dailies every afternoon & when I saw her coming, I swept her outside into
the cold wind and snow & popped the question. We jumped up and down together
like little kids, giggling in the snow."
Obviously, the marriage never happened and perhaps that was
the right decision for Sam since he had a problem staying faithful to any woman.
some critics pointed out in their movie reviews was
that Sam was definitely miscast and I agree with them wholeheartedly. One critic
wrote, "The husband is basically a weak man, unable to hold up to
pressure. Shepard doesn't look like he has a weak bone in his body. It's a
little like casting John Wayne as a coward." Texas Monthly wrote, "As
Jewell's husband Gil, Shepard flashes a wolfish grin at the beginning and is
sneakily appealing, but as the farm slips away, Gil turns into a bitter, moist
weakling. Sam Shepard wasn't born to play weaklings - his bones were built for
heroism". And from the Daily Titan - "Shepard, the playwright-actor, who
has been hailed as a modern Gary Cooper, is hopelessly miscast as the suddenly
spineless Gil Ivy." Certainly his conversion from devoted husband to petulant
and abusive drunk is too extreme and results in a confused audience in defining
Although the film failed at the box office, it was
generally admired by critics. Ms. Lange
was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe "Best Actress" award for her
performance. She also joined Sissy Spacek and Jane Fonda in testifying before
the United States Congress about the traumatic conditions of America’s
heartland. The film also caught the attention of then-president Ronald
Reagan, who decried the supposed propaganda of the picture even though part of
its provocation also stemmed from the prior policies of Jimmy Carter.
July-August 31, 2017
January - June 2014
January - June 2011
July - December 2010
January - June 2010
July - December 2009
January - June 2009
July - December 2008
January - June 2008
November 2005 - December 2006