Jack Starrett

Jack Starrett

Perhaps best known for playing Gabby Johnson (a parody of Western actor Gabby Hayes) in Mel Brooks's seminal spoof "Blazing Saddles," Jack Starrett made a name for himself by acting in a number of biker movies that were in vogue during the late 1960s. Two years before "Easy Rider," he costarred with Jack Nicholson in "Hells Angels on Wheels." Starrett also appeared in a few films directed by counterculture icon Tom Laughlin, including "Like Father, Like Son" and "Born Losers," the movie that introduced Laughlin's vigilante character, Billy Jack. It wasn't long before Starrett was directing movies, too; low-budget exploitation films were his forte. The most famous work in his opus is probably "Cleopatra Jones," with Tamara Dobson as a special agent who wages a war on drugs. The caper comedy "The Gravy Train" was somewhat of a departure for him; it had a cast that included Stacy Keach, Frederic Forrest, and Margot Kidder, as well as a script co-written by Terrence Malick. He also acted in that film, as he did a few of his others; he frequently played aggressive lawmen, as he did in the first Rambo rampage, "First Blood"--a somewhat logical extension of one of Starrett's early directorial jobs, "Nam's Angels." Although he continued to work through the 1980s, he was plagued by alcoholism and died of renal failure.