An Interview With Hal Needham - Bandit Backstory
HPP Gets The Inside Scoop From Smokey And The Bandit's Writer/Director Hal Needham
From the December, 2007 issue of High Performance Pontiac
By Thomas A. DeMauro
Photography by Thomas A. DeMauro, Universal Studios, The Hal Needham Collection
Most first attempts at anything in life yield less-than-stellar results-be it a first kiss, riding a bike, or your first driving experience. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that you will remember it. Hal Needham's first attempt at writing and directing afeature film, however, did not conform to typical logic. Not only was it successful, it received the kind of accolades from which Hollywood legends are born.
Smokey and the Bandit was second only to Star Wars for box office receipts in 1977, grossing more than $126 million nationally. High praise for a first-time writer/director, considering the seasoned writer/director George Lucas had already been nominated for Academy Awards for 1973's American Graffiti and would be again for writing and directing Star Wars.
While George would be hard-pressed to write about his firsthand experiences in "a galaxy far far away," the subject matter of Smokey and the Bandit, its location and its characters, rang close to home for Hal Needham due to his Southern upbringing.
Hal was born on March 6, 1931 to Edith May and Howard Needham in Memphis, Tennessee. The family lived in Arkansas and Missouri during Hal's childhood, and the Depression was not kind to their finances. As a teenager, Hal served as a paratrooper during the Korean War, then did some modeling for a cigarette company and a few other jobs. He launched his stunt career in TV on the series Have Gun Will Travel (1957), which led to working with director John Ford and actor John Wayne, and stunt doubling for Burt Reynolds, among others.
Of the thousands of television and film credits that comprise Needham's resume, Smokey and the Bandit is held near and dear to the hearts of Pontiac fans worldwide, and catapulted Hal Needham to A-list director status. With a shelf life longer than a box of Twinkies, Smokey and the Bandit is just as popular a film today, on its 30th Anniversary, as it was in 1977. HPP recently spoke with Hal regarding his exploits during the production of this legendary film. As hoped after seeing him onscreen over the years, Mr. Needham was very down-to-earth, easygoing, and a pleasure to speak with.
Read the whole interview here
A must read for any Smokey and the Bandit Fan !!