In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the great 2019 movie by Quentin Tarantino, Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate visits a bookstore to buy Roman Polanski a copy of “Tess of the Durbevilles.” The white haired clerk, an older man, looked familiar. The shock was he was played by Clu Gulager, then 90, who represented in many ways the characters played Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt in the movie. Gulager, matinee idol handsome, had been a regular on TV westerns in the late 1950s and well into the 60s. But mostly people had forgotten about him, and probably assumed, as I did, that he’d died long ago.
Gulager passed away Saturday at age 93. He spent his young years with roles on TV westerns until he became a regular on “The Tall Man.” He went into “Wagon Train” playing different parts and then filmed 104 episodes, five seasons of the hit show, “The Virginians.” That role set him up for the next three decades.
There is almost not a hit broadcast show in the 70s or 80s that Gulager didn’t guest star on. He never got a series again, but like the Pitt and DiCaprio characters, he was always in demand and warmly welcomed. His one big artistic moment was in 1969 when a short film he directed, “A Day with the Boys,” was nominated for Best Short Film at Cannes.
In the foggy mists of Hollywood lore, Gulager turned down a role in Robert Altman’s “MASH.” He also filmed the pilot for the nighttime soap, “Falcon Crest,” but wasn’t hired for the series. Still, his credits rolled and rolled. Toward the end of his career, Gulager was cast in a number of low budget horror films, which could not have been fun. He was one of TV’s original cowboys.
Condolences to his two sons, his fans, and friends.