JUNIOR BONNER: THE MAKING OF A CLASSIC WITH STEVE MCQUEEN AND SAM PECKINPAH IN THE SUMMER OF 1971 (paperback)
"Junior Bonner is Jeb Rosebrook’s masterpiece,subtly understated and richly rewarding. In 1972, it provided director Sam Peckinpah with a unique opportunity to return to his roots and deliver a portrayal of the modern American West. In this wonderfully written memoir, Rosebrook captures the creative conflicts that are inevitable as words become images. It depicts a classic confrontation between a talented young screenwriter and tyrannical director whose personal visions merge to make a classic motion picture. A must-read for anyone interested in the reality behind great moviemaking.”
—Garner Simmons, author of Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage
Junior Bonner (1972) is the best rodeo film that’s ever been made. It was the best script Sam ever got his hands on.…Junior Bonner is truer to the human element behind the sport than any other rodeo film. It’s Sam’s one Western film where the protagonists survive the transition—at least for another day. The wreck might still be coming for Junior Bonner another mile or so down the road. That was the story of Sam, too.“
—Max Evans, author of Goin’ Crazy with Sam Peckinpah and All Our Friends
“Without the pressure of being commercially successful the film is one of McQueen’s and Peckinpah’s finest films, dealing with the human heart. The combination of deft performances,inspired writing and directing, and the authentic feel of the locations resulted in a rare experience., in the words of McQueen’s next co-star Ali MacGraw, who proclaimed, “Such a beautiful, perfect film!”
—Andrew Antoniades and Mike Siegel, authors of
Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films
“Screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook’s memoir about the making of the classic Steve McQueen film he penned, Junior Bonner, is infinitely more than a behind-the-scenes account of a great film. It’s an inside-the-scenes account of a turning point in his own life, of a dangerous moment in the career of an aging movie star, of a transitional time when Hollywood briefly emulated the artistic ambitions and creative reach of European cinema. The cast of characters includes such flammable figures as McQueen and legendary director auteur-terrible Sam Peckinpah and assorted agents, producers, and 1970s studio executives who were presiding over Hollywood’s greatest explosion of audacious, boundary-breaking filmmaking since its founding. And Rosebrook’s memoir goes deeper, into the hearts and minds of these dreamers and schemers on both sides of the camera who, almost in spite of themselves, their egos, and their appetites, managed to make lasting film art that’s worth analyzing and celebrating all these decades later.”
—Steven Gaydos, Executive Editor, VARIETY
“For decades Jeb Rosebrook entertained audiences with films, television shows and novels. Now, his behind-the-scenes memoir of the production of the movie Junior Bonner, which he scripted, spotlights how filmmaking is an intensely collaborative art. Plus, we get all the skinny, and the fat, of behind the scenes shenanigans, sexual dalliances, and Steve McQueen’s resilience and acting strength against Peckinpah’s iron-fisted directing. Junior Bonner, starring Steve McQueen, Ida Lupino and Robert Preston, evolved through Rosebrook’s inspiring creativity and diligent collaboration with the actors—and director Peckinpah always threatening to send home anyone, cast, or crew, with a tin can strapped to their butt. Through it all, Rosebrook’s script survived to create a classic and memorable film—one of the top 100 Westerns.”
—James Ciletti, Pikes Poet Laureate, Colorado Springs, Colorado
“In this lovely and loving memoir, Junior Bonner: The Making of a Classic with Steven McQueen and Sam Peckinpah in the Summer of 1971, Jeb Rosebrook recalls the production of the film from its beginnings in his own masterly screenplay—an original and one of the best Peckinpah was ever graced with—to the disappointing returns that greeted the film at the box office. Yet, like the story in front of the camera, the story Rosebrook finds behind the camera is not one of defeat but of faith in dreams and perseverance in pursuing them—it’s a story of creative collaboration, where everyone working to his or her peak capacity contributes to the final achievement.”
—Paul Seydor, author of Peckinpah: The Western Films: A Reconsideration and
The Authentic Death and Contentious Afterlife of Pat Garrett
and Billy theK id: The Untold Story of Peckinpah’s Last Western Film.
Jeb Rosebrook, who wrote the fine screenplay for Sam Peckinpah’s modern Western, is in awe
of Peckinpah, Steve McQueen, and many of the leading figures who worked on Junior Bonner
(1972) in Prescott, Arizona, during the summer of 1971. And he has a story to tell— not only of the behind-the-scenes machinations that accompany many Hollywood productions but also of the intricacies of filmmaking (rehearsing, positioning, lighting, camera angles, editing, and so forth). Especially interesting for readers who follow film stars, his story chronicles day-by-day filming activities and focuses on two of the most talked about people in the business at the time:
director Sam Peckinpah, at the top of his game though considered outrageous by many insiders and, at times, over-the-top, and Steve McQueen, also at the top (Rosebrook frequently reminds us he was then the highest paid actor in the world) but going through a personal crisis.
At the time, Prescott was often considered the West’s best-kept secret, but its annual July 4 Frontier Days Rodeo was gaining attention, as was its popularity as a retirement oasis. The film is shotduring Frontier Days, with vivid scenes of the actual parade and rodeo. The Palace Saloon, in which the famous nonviolent fight scene occurs, is documented in the book with photos of the cast and crew (including many locals who served as extras) and much
Peckinpah memorabilia. The whole town, it seems, participated in the production.
In an interesting foreword, Marshall Terrill notes how he and Rosebrook’s son Stuart pressed Jeb over the years, “gently nagging him to write an account of the making of the rodeo film,” which he finally did for Arizona Highways in 2001 but which Terrill calls G-rated. This book is not. We learn, for instance, that Peckinpah tried to have his own name replace Jeb’s as screenwriter and to have Jeb fired from the production. Failing that, Peckinpah put Rosebrook
through a series of tests (as Jeb puts it, “whenever he [Peckinpah] felt like putting me in the barrel”), culminating with Jeb finally proving he “was the real deal cowboy, handling [himself] in the wild cow-milking” scene, which actually made it into the film’s final cut. After that Jeb claims he and Sam “worked well together,” with Peckinpah demanding that Rosebrook be a constant presence when shooting on location (169).
Not restricted exclusively to the fi lm’s making, Rosebrook’s narrative begins with a nostalgic memoir of growing up on the East Coast where, diagnosed with “allergy asthma,” his doctor advised his parents to relocate to a drier climate to “help him regain his health” (5). In February 1945, accompanied by his mother, Rosebrook boarded “a train in Grand Central Station . . . bound for a new life at a school on a working cattle ranch, the Quarter Circle
V Bar Ranch in central Arizona” (5). Jump to 1970: Rosebrook, thirty- five, reveals that except for a year and a half at a Florida high school, he had spent most of his youth on and around that
ranch, thirty miles from Prescott. Living in North Hollywood and scraping by as a freelance writer, he and his wife, Dorothy, visiting her mother in Phoenix, are invited to the Frontier Days Rodeo and, according to Rosebrook, “my life changed. I went to the rodeo . . .and Junior was born” (9). Going to Prescott was like a homecoming for him and in a way mirrors the homecoming Steve McQueen’s character experiences as he returns to his hometown and wins the bull riding contest by surviving the dreaded “Sunshine” for a full eight seconds. A response to Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, Rosebrook’s screenplay implies you can go home again, and even be a hero.
Another of the film’s themes is the father-son relationship between Ace Bonner (Junior’s dad) and Junior. And yet another is the fading of the mythic West as it confronts a new, harsh, commercial one, represented by Curly, Junior’s younger brother, who is selling
mobile homes on Rancheros— plots of land Ace once owned. This theme recurs in most of Peckinpah’s Westerns and is probably why Sam finally approves of Rosebrook’s script.
Dramatizing his story in “Th ree Acts,” Rosebrook traces the sometimes tortuous journey he, the script, and the film take.There are many details, perhaps too many, inundating the reader with names, dates, and places. More discussion of major themes would have been preferable, but maybe Rosebrook felt they’d had adequate attention in earlier articles and books. For fans of Junior Bonner, Peckinpah, and McQueen, this book is a must read, but it is
also fascinating for those who marvel at the astounding complexity of filmmaking. Jeb Rosebrook has given us a rare, insider’s view of the making of a classic Western. The book also contains many captioned photos (some never published before) from the film, advertisements (some in foreign languages), and spontaneous shots of the cast and crew, including their families and friends.