|George ‘Buck’ Flower and John Goff were buddies on screen and off. Between them they appeared in 250 films and together on upwards of 50, many of them with major exploitation names.
Paul Higson recovers this 1989 interview, here published for the first time, and initially considered for an update. He was saddened to learn that it was too late an action for one of the subjects. The wonderful George ‘Buck’ Flower had died on 12th June 2004.
|People like George ‘Buck’ Flower and John Goff were the backbone of American exploitation film, and few of their kind remain in the independent sector stateside today. They stood out in bad movies, ensured that others got made, multi-tasking before and behind the camera. They first came to my attention as a virtual double act in the films of John Carpenter and Bill Rebane, their names popping up together more often than not, hinting the availability of their talented friend to whichever director they were working with the kindly trick behind that. ‘Buck’ Flower was unmistakeable, his semblance rarely altered, his resonant, deep voice delivering the funniest of lines, so often so that you suspected he was improving on the scripted dialogue, the directors operating on budgets meagre and discounting re-shoots while privately conceding the improvement. In The Fog the actors played two of the crew who do not return alive coming up against the ghost lepers. If I repeat the line, you’ll hear the voice. “Woman’s crazy, there ain’t no fog bank out there… hey, there’s a fog bank out there.” In Escape From New York that voice again will dig into you if I quote: “Oh, I knew I was gonna be the President when I got this here bracelet.”
John Goff meanwhile was shape shifting, moving from hick country heavyweight thug to dapper suit, from burly to lean. Good roles came occasionally, as in The Alpha Incident as a railroader worker with his movements restricted because of potential exposure to a dangerous lab made virus. Breaking down he becomes a vicious rapist before getting his just desserts (in the interview he recalls it as poisoning, his character is dramatically shot dead in the film). His finest turn was as the sober psychiatrist in the first two Relentless films, a rare recurring role that gives an example of how he might have fared had his concentration been on the acting career and not been divided by the writing that brought him greater financial stability.
While Goff was an actor and accomplished writer, Flower was an all-rounder, an actor, a writer, a film crewman in various capacities and a novelist. As a technician and manager he worked on the films of the notorious likes of Herb Freed, Matt Cimber and Don Edmonds (for this director, on the Ilsa movies, Southern Double Cross and Terror On Tour). He wrote novels with Charles Napier, Jerry Vonne (The Young And The Proud) and John Goff (Children Of The North Woods). Long before that he had short fiction published in 1964-5 for Challenge Press and with titles like No Social Security For Studs and Third Floor Walk-Up On 88th Street we can allude to the themes. He appeared in 120 feature films and a few more that weren’t completed. On stage up until 1989 he had been involved in over 500 theatrical productions. In 1989 there was a stack of prospective screenplays written with Ed Hansen, Charles Napier, Meegan King and Terry Gardner, tackling all exploitative genre, sex, mystery, horror, action, comedy and family, including Kiss My Saddlehorn, which, one assumes, was not family fodder. It doesn’t need telling that he was an exceedingly funny man it is evident in the following interview.
‘Buck’ Flower went into the industry because of the proximity it brought to good-looking unclothed women. Soft sex films came and soft films went to be replaced by hardcore that would not have accommodated him. The response, Flower began writing and producing sex comedies of his own, like Party Favours and The Bikini Carwash Company, the latter in particular doing solid business on video and then DVD in the UK to this day. Flower can often be found credited as CD LaFleur. Both men are fascinating and a lot can be learned from them… the primary lesson being ‘shut the heck up and just do it’. These men never wasted a moment and as a result will never suffer regrets.
The reason this interview did not appear at the time did not occur to me until I read it again and the motives flooded back. I was sending out interviews to small press publications every which way… but I was reserving several of the best for my publication, which had it reached issues five and six would have seen them included and proudly. Bear in mind the day in which this interview was conducted, a time before the Internet Movie Database so as much as I might have known going in, there was a lot more I could not know at that stage. It was a busy CV each then, and Flower in particular never slackened and continued to visit his magic on the low budget movies to the end. I just wish I had jumped to it a year earlier. There are many lousy films in my video collection just because ‘Buck’ Flower and John Goff are in them… I think Buck in particular would chuckle and delight in that fact.
I am a bit of a horror hound, and your SF, horror and fantasy outings are the films I am primarily going to be aware of.
John Goff (JG): I love the genre of horror, terror and sci-fi. I served three years as a critic, staff reporter and assistant editor at both trade papers here in town, The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety and, interestingly enough, the very first piece I wrote for publication in The Hollywood Reporter was the notice of Boris Karloff’s death (2nd February 1969). I remember it as a sad honour since I was always a great fan of Karloff.
I should ask for your personal details first of all. Where do we start? How about some rap on your earliest experiences in acting and then film?
George ‘Buck’ Flower (GBF): I was raised on a cattle ranch in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon about five miles from a tiny village called Monument that isn’t near anywhere. After a hitch in the army as a perennial eight-ball, I returned to the mountains and enrolled as a student of engineering in Eastern Oregon College. Nowhere on my resume will you find the word ‘smart’, but it soon became clear to even my mouse-sized brain that when you receive all flunking grades in everything but English composition and speech, engineering was probably the wrong vocation. The decision to move along was hastened by the schools administration the following spring when I, and 15 other spirited army veterans, was asked never to set foot on campus again. I still slump way down in the car seat whenever I drive through the small city of Lagrande Oregon. I was one of the three of the exiled 16 that ended up in Pasadena, California where I discovered I could re-instate my G.I. Bill and go to acting school. This seemed to me a good way to bring in some rent money without having to go to work. Investigated the local J.R. College in Pasadena and as I entered the drama department I found myself surrounded, literally, by tits and ass. My mind, as well as other parts of my anatomy, immediately set. I tossed aside my cowboy hat, purchased a couple of baggy sweaters and entered the world of dramatic arts and dewy-eyed co-eds, I followed a path that led to summer stock repertory theatre and, years later, the crazy state of cinema, where I found that after 14 years on the professional stage, I had no acting experience. I found employment as a grip, in the old softcore nudies, learned to become an assistant director and production manager, and finally, found someone fool enough to let me in front of the camera. My quest in life is still a-hunting for new damn fools. They are out there, but not nearly enough of them.
JG: I was born and reared on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in a small town called Kreole. That’s not far from Pascagoula, where a couple of guys were picked up in a spaceship a few years back and where, legend has it, rather than give up their land to the white man, a tribe of Indians many years back walked singing into the Singing River. On special nights and when the wind is right you can hear the spirits of those dead red-men still singing. (Reared) also near Moss Point… from where I graduated with a lack of honours from high school… flunked English three years in a row so it was only natural one of my professions should be writing. Kreole’s also near Escatawpa, Orange Grove and Bayou Cassotte. I grew up with an abundance of wonderful lore surrounding me. My uncle was manager of one of the local film theatres and I used to sit in the darkness of that house… the Ritz Theatre… and marvel at the images there and can never remember wanting to be anything other than an actor. I also learned to drink ‘moonshine’ whiskey and never dared to mention anything about being an actor during those formative years because that was considered… in the 1940s and 1950s not really a suitable profession for a six-foot, one-inch athlete. After graduation, however, I joined the local theatre group in Pascagoula and became the leading man of the group. Won a scholarship to Mississippi Southern College for their theatre programme. There I met one my great weaknesses, a beautiful female by the name of Carolyn Lovelady. I’ve never been able to resist a beautiful woman, and especially one with such an enticing name. She later joined a touring repertory company and, like a bloodhound following a strong scent… in this case it was more of a beautiful aroma… I followed her, thereby chasing and satisfying my urge for my two greatest loves. I remained on the road, touring the United States for the next year and a half and learning the craft of acting. I then went working summer stock in Colorado. After a year and a half of that and getting married… for the first time… I decided it was time to start making a star of myself; I came to Hollywood. Here I found pretty much the same thing Buck found… all those years of stage training didn’t mean shit to the ‘film folk’. I drove taxi for a while, was a janitor for a while, trimmed trees for a while, worked some more summer stock and then landed my first film role on TV on The Big Valley where I worked with Lee Majors and guest star that week John Anderson. Made a screen test at Warner Bros for a movie and then didn’t work as a film actor again for the following six years. Filling in that time I worked on the staff of the original Dating Game… don’t know whether you got that over there or not. This was in the mid-through late 1960s. Met a great many wonderful looking women and got my first divorce. After two and a half years of that it was time to move on again. Being born a Gemini… 24th May… and believing… at that time, and some now… that Geminis have a restless, double mood and chameleon-like nature, I landed a job at The Hollywood Reporter. Later I moved over to The Daily Variety and was then offered a starring role in a motion picture. That turned out to be The Devil And Leroy Bassett in which I had the role of Leroy and Buck played my brother Wilbur.
The two of you have worked together for a long time. How did you first meet?
GBF: I first met John Goff when we were both working as actors for a repertory company almost 30 years ago. We were not, however, in the same plays together. I had moved on to form my own rep company, The Inspiration Players, with a late short stint as a teacher at North Carolina State College and John had served several years as a critic, for both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety… he served about ten minutes as editor… before we were offered the leads in a film called The Devil And Leroy Bassett. We were sure the film would become a hit and make us both stars. The film bombed and nobody to this date knows who either of us is, but John and I became fast friends and remains that way today. Shortly after the film wrapped we became a writing team and fed our families writing softcore skin flicks occasionally selling one for a higher budget but not very often.
JG: Me! Yes, Buck and I had met years earlier when we toured for the same acting repertory company but at different times and in different troupes and had never worked together until this film. In it, I played a religious fanatic and Buck was my drunk of a brother Wilbur. I still get a thrill when I look at the poster from that film and see my snarling face emerging from a large skull with a bear-trap mouth. I’m in the centre of the bear-trap… where I’ve been the most of my life. On that film we discovered we had a mutual love for good whiskey, good times and we enjoyed acting together. We had both been signed to a two-picture contract and while we were waiting for the second picture we began writing together and found the ease we’d shared in acting together was equally there with writing. It took us, about, two weeks and fourteen cases of beer to complete a script. We sold that script and ourselves in the lead roles but it went belly up after a week of shooting and more internal strife on the executive side than the production could hold. We went looking for other jobs but kept the friendship and the writing team together.
Other films on which I have found credits for John Goff are The Love Butcher (as key grip), Hundra, Under The Rainbow, Distortions and A Time To Die.
JG: Yes, I was the grip on The Love Butcher but I still, to this day, haven’t seen the film. Under The Rainbow, I had a small role in. I was in The Buddy Holly Storyas T.J. – the cigar chewing Nashville record producer that Gary Busey punched out. Under The Rainbow was produced by the same team, and they had liked my work in Buddy Holly well enough to call me back. I had lost about 50 pounds by that time and didn’t have the same ‘look’ and they didn’t know what to do with me… the Gemini chameleon syndrome. Hundra, I was the screenwriter on for producer-director Matt Cimber, and I loved it. Even those minutes I don’t remember from imbibing a spot or two or three too much. A Time To Die is another favourite. We filmed that one in Amsterdam, three terrific months in Amsterdam with side trips into London, Paris and Rome. The working time of A Time To Die was ‘Mario Puzo’s Seven Graves For Rogan’ and I was hired originally to rewrite the Puzo script since he didn’t want to be bothered with it. I have some wonderful memories… some of which were related to me only later since I was able find some marvellous libations there also. I remember we were putting up at the EuroMotel there in Amsterdam and there was a group of construction workers also there from Nottingham. A couple of burly and wild redheaded brothers from Nottingham were the ringleaders and we spent some great nights draining the bar there. Wish I could remember their names. They were great lads. I dearly love your continent and hope to return someday, even if I can’t sip the great wines anymore. Distortions and another, Deadly Intent, both of which I was the screenwriter for, were done here, in this country for Jackelyn Giroux, who is the young lady in Drive-in Massacre, an actress turned producer.
Might you have had any involvement with any of these films, George?
GBF: I had no involvement with The Love Butcher but I did know most of the actors and all of the crew. I was off working as a casting director at the time. The little boy in the film, however, is my youngest son Roo, who is now six-foot, three-inches, 220 pounds, and makes his living as a grip. The others you ask about, I’m very familiar with but had no involvement with whatsoever.
George, you seem to appear very often as drunks, tramps and, you do a particular fine line in drunken tramps. Might this be a reflection of the real you?
GBF: I’ve done that character so many times that when somebody says, ‘Saw you do a drunk on a park bench’, I have no idea what movie they’re talking about. I think my famous old drunk started with a drunken old man I played nearly 20 yeas ago in a little known, badly done film called The Girl From Boston. John Goff played the faggot in this one, by the way and was shot by Dean Cundey who was recently nominated for an Oscar for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?! Up until then nobody could seem to figure out what ‘type’ I was. The film ran short of funds and the rough cut was shopped around a lot as the backers searched for finishing money. Nobody liked the film much but I started getting calls about the old man. I lost the first two jobs because I didn’t look like that in real life, so I started going out in make-up and leaving my upper plate at home, and I started getting hired. Then when the Wilderness Family films hit so big… I was ‘Boomer’ in all three of them; by the way… people just naturally figured that’s what I looked like! Then when Carpenter… bless his Kentucky hide… cast me as the wino in Escape From New York, it caught the attention of Spielberg and poker went up. For that character, at least, I never got more than one day, but the old dude gets more a day than any of my other characters get a week. Is that a reflection of me in real life? I gotta tell ya Paul, when I’m drunk I have no idea what I look like. I have been told, though, it’s not a pleasant sight.
JG: Buck has just about cornered the market on ‘drunks, tramps and drunken tramps’. I don’t try to compete. My own image… due to the Gemini chameleon syndrome… is still in flux, I suppose. I have gone from black-haired leading man to a fat bearded slob… psychotic, to gaunt and bony salt and pepper, to slim and grey right now. All of which were reflections of my bouts with the bottle and two other wives… total at this time, three… and just general searching and boredom. The roles have ranged from leading man to bully and more recently to professional types… lawyer in Maniac Cop, federal interrogator in Hit List – which I also scripted… police captain in The Night Stalker – scriptwriter again here… psychiatrist in the upcoming Relentless, judge on TV’s Simon & Simon, and the bit of the first and well-dressed alien in Carpenter’s They Live. Had one minute of screen-time in that one and they’ve been using my face for all the promotional material on it.
What’s the best drinking session you and John ever had?
GBF: John Goff hasn’t had a drink in over six years. He is a famous Hollywood teetotaller. However, back when we did The Devil And Leroy Bassett we were roommates in a hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Usually, we closed the bar together, but for some reason I had retired early� alone unfortunately. I was awakened rudely by a ‘tap tap tapping’ on the door. Pushing mightily against the many waves of sleep attempting to strangle my brain. I staggered to the door and opened it. There was no one to be seen. Suddenly, I felt something slither across the top of my feet. I look down to see this famous critic, recently from The Hollywood Reporter, crawl into my room. You may print this if you wish. I have witnesses. In spite of my nakedness… even in the nudies I was paid more to keep my clothes on that after the first two or three… I ran down the hall knocking on doors and waking everyone up. At least ten people saw the dignified Mr Goff laying on his back like a turtle as he attempted to disrobe for what was left of the evening’s slumber. I have names and numbers should you ever be approached by a barrister.
JG: The best drinking session Buck and I ever had would be hard to pick out. There were several on The Devil And Leroy Bassett, a protracted one on the film that went belly up where, at one point, we found ourselves driving through the middle of the blackest night one has ever seen through a farming community of Visalia, California, and we tried to move a bridge with a 1965 Mustang that was carting us around. The bridge didn’t want to move so it punched out the automobile. Wasn’t either of ours car… fortunately.
You had a great parts in Bill Rebane’s The Alpha Incident (‘Gifts From The Red Planet’ as it was titled during shooting) as the drunken train guard who gets a little nosy and releases the virus that later causes the gruesome death of at least one of the characters (played by Ralph Meeker). Was ‘Hank’ your first featured role, even though admittedly, not in a major film, George?
GBF: I did another film for Bill Rebane besides The Alpha Incident. John was also in this one and served as the assistant director. It was called The Capture Of Bigfoot. I think Devil And Leroy Bassett was my first major billing on a film. At any rate, A Small Town In Texas and The Wilderness Family and Across The Great Divide were much earlier than The Alpha Incident. I’m sure there are a few more but I tend to forget turkeys as each Thanksgiving rolls into oblivion.
JG: The Alpha Incident was a fun one. My hair was starting to turn colour on that one… also, my liver. I was the local railway bully in that one that survived only to be poisoned [shot, actually]. Another that Buck and I did for Bill Rebane was The Capture Of Bigfoot for which I was also the assistant director.
George, you seem to get the best lines in many of these films. Might this be because you are ad-libbing your parts? I am thinking primarily of The Fog and Escape From New York.
GBF: John Carpenter has accused me occasionally of not sticking to the script. In They Live, however, he wrote the part for me and the son of a bitch had such a good handle on me I couldn’t change a thing. Really made me uptight. I’m sure no one in this business can write except myself… well, William Goldman’s pretty damned good, and John Goff ain’t too bad.
JG: The Fog was our first to work for Carpenter. We filmed the stuff in the hold of the boat we were on and the shot on deck where we see the ghost ship. Then I left for Amsterdam and A Time To Die, came back three months later and Carpenter had written in the segment of our deaths on board. If you look closely you’ll see that I change shirts from the time we come on deck to the time of demise. Also that my beard is shorter since I had shaved in the meantime and Buck’s is longer since he hadn’t.
You have appeared in four Carpenter films The Fog, Escape From New York, Starman and They Live [he would subsequently appear in Village Of The Damned also]. He must be a big fan of yours.
GBF: Strangely enough I only know Mr Carpenter professionally, not at all socially. He seems to like my work and I owe the man one hell of a lot.
JG: I didn’t work Carpenter’s others until They Live and only got that one I think because Buck brought my name up. Don’t know how big a fan of mine he is, I can only say that Buck is a fan of mine. He got on a good writing roll the past couple of years and cast me as a homo choreographer in two… the same role, sequels… a lecherous airline manager in another. He refuses to typecast and since I haven’t been able to settle in on a certain ‘look’ he continues to cast me in various roles where an ‘actor’ is needed.
I have yet to see They Live [at the time of this interview only previewed by Guild for a coming theatrical release in the UK] and only knew of your appearance in that film due to a reviewer deeming you worthy of mention in Film Review magazine. Is your role as prominent as indicated, and what is that role?
GBF: See the film, Paul! Watching dirty ‘Buck’ Flower run around in a tuxedo is worth the money. Answer, it’s a damn good role… like I said, I owe the dude. He’s from the same place as my best friend Charles Napier, who has also steered money into my pocket many times to keep the wolf away… I’m sure glad god made Kentucky.
You dabbled in scriptwriting for at least two films, Drive-in Massacre and In Search Of The Golden Sky. You also took a starring role in the latter of the two. What was that film about? Sounds like an adventure film.
GBF: I’ve written several films. Many have been so badly butchered by the time they hit the screen I had my name removed. The ones I left my name on ain’t that hot either. Did you hear about the Polish starlet, Paul? She fucked the writer. In Search Of The Golden Sky is a G-rated family film, in the genre of the Wilderness Family. It made seven million dollars and I never saw a penny.
JG: Buck and I co-wrote both Drive-In Massacre and In Search Of The Golden Sky. As an actor I worked under the name of Jake Barnes in Drive-In Massacre… one of the police investigation team… and was Harry the helicopter pilot in In Search Of The Golden Sky but was cut out when the distributor re-cut and re-filmed a goodly portion of that film which ego ran rampant over. It was a wonderful family type film entitled ‘Children Of The North Woods’ in its original form the way we shot it.
Drive-In Massacre was I believe the borderline film for Stuart Segall, who I believe had been making porn films prior to that and is now working in television in the production of shows like Hunter. I have yet to see the film but it is said to feature gory murders. Who in the Flower/ Goff writing team exorcised themselves by devising the deaths for the script?
GBF: When two people form a writing team and create a story, it is almost impossible to figure out who came up with what. If you didn’t like it, it was probably John’s idea. However, if you did, I’ll take the credit.
JG: God knows whose idea that was. Drive-In Massacre was written at the same time two others were being written and many ideas came from both of us and from Stu and anyone else who might have been rummaging around through that pile of beer cans and whiskey bottles that was our work area. I remember another film Buck and I worked on as writers, Joyride To Nowhere. We contracted to write that from someone else’s idea and it was just godawful. We had fought to get two weeks to write it in. After the first day I turned to Buck and said, “I can’t work on this piece of shit for two weeks.” He replied, “I can’t either.” So went out for several cases of beer and finished it in four days. Mercifully it died quickly.
You, George, had the rather odd credit of ‘production advisor’ on Herb Freed’s Beyond Evil. What did this entail?
GBF: A production advisor on a budget film is a ‘line producer’ working with an ignorant producer whose ego is too big to share the credit. In the case of Beyond Evil a production advisor was also somebody who needed the money so bad he would have taken the title of ‘third toilet plunger’.
JG: I’m not really production minded. Buck’s great at that but about all I can do is fill up blank pages of paper and recite the words.
The girl patient in that film was credited as Werkino Flower. Is this girl related to you and what kind of name is Werkino?
GBF: Look, Paul, the girl’s name is ‘Verkina’. She was also in Drive-In Massacre. She appeared with me but as in many cases I elected not to be included in the cast list. And Verkina is a beautiful name, especially to a young, drunk, off-Broadway theatre director who’s just received a telegram from New Mexico that he’s the brand new father of a baby girl and what should we name her. This lady is now a very successful costume designer for commercials and feature films.
You both appeared in Maniac Cop without beards. Coincidence?
GBF: John Goff has been shaven for years. I shave mine if somebody pays me and then the next movies have to live with whatever I look like until it grows back. I didn’t have a beard in Starman. Check it out, better imitation material than The Fog.
Was the end to drinking under doctor’s orders, John?
JG: My drinking came to an end six years ago. I discovered I’d drank my share and was working on someone else’s stash and I didn’t want them to miss out on all the fun I’d had.
Robert Z’Dar (of Maniac Cop) also starred in a film which you, George, appeared in and you, John, wrote, the 1986 film The Night Stalker. Why has this film not been released in the UK? [This film was later released by New World on video.]
JG: No idea why The Night Stalker hasn’t been released over there. I wish it would be and someone over there would offer me a job or two. I got the job writing Hit List because William Lustig, the director had seen The Night Stalker in New York and came out here to get the team that did that one to do Hit List. Do you believe lightning really strikes twice?
GBF: I line produced The Night Stalker and hired John Goff to write the script with my boss and producer Don Edmunds. In my opinion it’s a hell of a lot better than Maniac Cop which had not only the same storyline, it also sports the same monster, Robert Z’Dar. Chuck Napier was the star of The Night Stalker. But whileThe Night Stalker bought the farm, Maniac Cop caught the merry-go-round ying. It did so well, in fact, that my fat brother-in-law, Jef Richard, the line producer of Maniac Cop and, coincidently, my production manager on The Night Stalker, has just started pre-production on Maniac Cop II. The Night Stalker was just another victim of spineless marketing people who operate under the theory, ‘He who makes no decisions, makes no wrong decisions,’ a common Hollywood virus. Another film I had the pleasure of being a part of, Pumpkinhead, starring Lance Henriksen and directed by Stan Winston fell prey to the same germ.
I may have imagined this but did you get a pretty decent credit placing on Back To The Future for your tramp that witnesses Marty McFly’s vanishing into time and reappearance?
GBF: I was the one line, one day, pleasantly paid, drunk on Back To The Future. I also just finished Back To The Future Part II, but I don’t believe the Spielberg folk gave me any special billing.