Western fans mourn the passing of this writer and director who gave us such diverse classics as The Rounders with Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford, The War Wagon with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, and Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner and Walter Brennan.
A few years back, Kennedy did a book signing at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage. He had finally put pen to paper and had documented his days in the business, in an all-too brief book called Hollywood Trail Boss. As an insight to how his films came together and to the people he worked with, it’s an absolute treasure. As he quipped, he “was born in a trunk to vaudevillian parents.” After wartime service, he enrolled as an actor at the famous Pasadena Playhouse. But Kennedy’s entry into Hollywood came about by doing a bit of fencing stunt work in MGM’s The Three Musketeers with Gene Kelly. Not wholly satisfied hitting the mark with that, he drifted into writing scripts. Eventually, he came to the attention of the Duke himself. Seven Men from Now was written for Wayne’s own Batjac company and was Kennedy’s first association with star Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher. Kennedy, Scott and Boetticher would later work together in The Tall T, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station. Being dark and psychological in nature, these Westerns went on to develop their own cult following; a sharp contrast to the comedic style Kennedy would later become known for. Through the cliche parody, Support Your Local Sheriff, Kennedy blazed the trail for Blazing Saddles. But not to be forgotten, Kennedy was a man of action. His days as both a writer and director on such TV shows as Lawman, The Virginian, and Combat are added proof.
Kennedy continued working through the 1980s, but mostly for television. He clearly loved making Westerns and although he didn’t quite attain the status of John Ford or Sam Peckinpah, he well deserves our respect for helping to keep the genre alive and for keeping us well entertained to boot.
Due to his exemplary service in World War II, Burt Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery with a 21-gun salute. He will surely be missed.