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THREE RADICAL INTERVIEW REFLECTIONS ON 'BIG WEDNESDAY'

Cult Film Freak Three-Tier BW Retrospective
In the wake of DILLINGER and THE WIND AND THE LION, writer/director JOHN MILIUS set out on his next project, which turned out to be his most personal. Based on experiences growing up as a surfer in Southern California, he and fellow surfer Dennis Aaberg wrote BIG WEDNESDAY, a masterpiece that centers on three friends...

MATT JOHNSON (Jan-Michael Vincent), JACK BARLOW (William Katt), and LEROY SMITH (Gary Busey) on their personal journey for big parties, big waves, and good times eventually curtailed by the Vietnam War... Other characters include BEAR (Sam Melville), the group's mentor who makes boards on the pier until he's forced inland where he opens a board shop; WAXER (Darrell Fetty), the party mascot who works for Bear and is eventually shipped off to Vietnam; and ENFORCER (Reb Brown), a muscular stud who defends the group from inland party crashers.

Lee with Patty D'Arbanville
And the TWO CENTRAL FEMALE ROLES are played by Lee Purcell (Matt's girl, PEGGY) and Patti D'Arbanville (Jack's girl, SALLY). Other cast includes Geoff Parks (THRASHER), Robert Englund (as FLY, who also narrates)...

And co-writer Dennis Aaberg (as SLICK) with appearances by Steve Kanaly, Frank McCrae, Joe Spinell, Fran Ryan, Michael Talbott, Perry Lang, Charlene Tilton, Terry Bolo, Rick Dano, Perry Lang, and even John Millius himself as a Marijuana dealer in Tijuana.

from LEE PURCELL ("Peggy Gordon"): WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU HAVE OF THE KEG PARTY SCENE?

Lee strikes back
"The best part for me was in the bathroom when I tell a girl she should wear a padded bra and she responds that she already is! Very funny and very realistic female dialogue!"

GIRL AT PARTY: "You've got a great figure."
PEGGY GORDON: "Thank you. You too."
GIRL AT PARTY: "Is that a padded bra?"
PEGGY GORDON: "No, this is all me."
GIRL AT PARTY: "God."
PEGGY GORDON: "You should try a padded bra."
GIRL AT PARTY: "I have one on."

with JM Vincent
"When Jan (Matt) and I were on the couch towards the end, and my character is so drunk that I fall over sideways. That was my improv and John loved it and kept it in. Of course, then I had to fall over and over, from different angles, for many takes." Lee Purcell

from TERRY BOLO ("Party Girl") WERE THERE GOOD TIMES BETWEEN TAKES? "The party crowd led by the Pied Piper, Sam Melville, who played Bear, and Darrell Fetty, hung out in Sam's motor home, dubbed The Motor Hooter. Some people would go home on Sun, back to LA, again...

Terry Bolo toasts
"I can't remember how long we were up there, maybe 3 weeks or more. Well, the crew and extra bus, coming back from the location, was the place to be. Word soon got out, and even the principal actors and some of the key crew, would pass on their privately driven cars, and join the party bus."

GOING BACK TO BEAR

MATT JOHNSON is the epitome of a star surfer. In his time he was the top dog. After hitting the skids and becoming a heavy drinker, he causes a traffic accident and gets kicked off the beach by Jack, now a responsible lifeguard.

Matt returns to Bear's inland shop. Bear tells him an idea to make a Matt Johnson model surfboard. Matt wants no part of it:

JMV paddles out
MATT JOHNSON: "I don't wanna be a star. Have my picture in magazines, have a bunch of kids looking up to me. I'm a drunk, Bear, a screw up. I just surf cause its good to go out and ride with your friends. I don't even have that anymore."

Sam Melville
Bear was played by the late Sam Melville, best known for his part as a cop in THE ROOKIES television show.

His character Bear is the baseline of the movie: both father figure and mentor, and during the party is a very liberal chaperone.

There is a epic quality to this character. In a movie centering on young people running wild, he is the safety net.

The pivotal Bear wedding scene is the film's centerpiece, as Jack and Matt become friends once again.

"I loved working with Sam Melville (Bear); he was a wonderful person and terrific actor. That scene has a wonderful bittersweet quality to it that is so true of time passing, people growing up and the inevitable changes of life." Lee Purcell

ANYONE FEEL A DRAFT?

The Wild Bunch
Matt, Leroy, Waxer and several others are called to serve in Vietnam, something they don't want to do. So they show up to the recruiting station, each with their own way to get out of it.

Leroy the Masochist feigns insanity:

PSYCHOLOGIST: “I see here they call you a masochist.”
LEROY THE MASOCHIST: “I like pain.”
PSYCHOLOGIST: “Can you be specific? What kind of pain do you like?”
LEROY THE MASOCHIST: “Any kind of pain.”
PSYCHOLOGIST: “Such as?”
LEROY THE MASOCHIST: “I like fights, I've dove through windows, I've eaten light bulbs, I like sharks, any kind of blood. If you gave me a gun, I'd shoot you in the face just to see what it looked like when the bullet hit.”

Matt Johnson fakes a knee injury; Fly blindness... And Waxer had his own unique approach:

Frank McCrea & Waxer
SERGEANT: "Are you a homosexual?"
WAXER: "Well, I guess I am. I wrote it down, 'Homosexual Tendencies: Yes.' Yes."
SERGEANT: "Well, you're just gonna love it in the United States Army. There's lots of men there. And they get real close in foxholes and tanks, and in combat. Get him out of here and process him in the Marine Corps."
WAXER: "If you send me to Vietnam, I'll just die."

The Drill Sergeant is played by character-actor Frank McCrae, who also appeared in the Milius classic DILLINGER and a string of other movies spanning many decades. The scene involving Frank McCrae and Darrell Fetty is one of the most memorable in the film.

With director John Milius
from DARRELL FETTY ("Waxer")

"John Milius set it up so I'd be uncomfortable within that scene - I didn't quite know what was coming when Frank was screaming at me. That's actually one of the places where there was a little improvisation. In fact, the line that buttons the scene 'If you send me to Viet Nam, I'll just die!' was a pre-scene suggestion from Carolyne, my wife at the time. I sprang it on John and Frank during the take, and John kept it in, because as you know in the movie I do go to Viet Nam and get killed."

EULOGY FOR THE WAXER

Darrell Fetty waxed
The funeral scene involving Matt, Jack and Leroy reflecting on their fallen friend Waxer at a military graveyard is one of the most poignant in the film, especially the eulogy given by Jan-Michael Vincent.

MATT JOHNSON: "We're gathered here to say a few words about our friend Jim King. We called him Waxer. I'd just like to say that… he was a good surfer… and a really great guy. He had a nice cutback. He rode the nose real well. He was kind of screwed up the way he treated women, but he always got the one he wanted. So it doesn't matter anyway because he was a good guy all the way around. He'd always give people waves... Just give them a wave. He'd always stick up for his friends in a fight. He wasn't worth a damn but he was always right in there. I don't ever remember a big day that Waxer wouldn't go out and ride with his friends. Old Waxer was our friend. He was a little part of us. And we're gonna miss him."

Waxer is a very memorable, important character. He's the number one party animal, the mascot: representing the epitome of having a good time, which makes his loss the turning point of the film.

Darrell Fetty
"What's surprising is that at film festivals and special screenings, quite a few present-day surfers and younger fans come up to me to quote Waxer lines…although they mostly quote lines that Jan, Gary, and Billy Katt say about Waxer during that drunken cemetery scene." Darrell Fetty

AND THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS FOR LAST

from Lee Purcell: "I also loved working with Billy’s mother, Barbara Hale – she is a great woman, a real trouper and very funny. " Before the big day of surf, Matt has some business to take care of. He shows at Jack's house, and Jack's mother (Barbara Hale) answers the door. After a short surface conversation, Matt opens up with:

Both Katt and Jack's mom, Barbara Hale with Catch 22 book
MATT JOHNSON: "You know, Mrs. Barlow, there's something I'd like straighten out."
MRS. BARLOW: "What's that, Matt?"
MATT JOHNSON: "Well, I did a lot of things around here I'm kind of ashamed of. I tore up your lawn with my '40 Ford..."
MRS. BARLOW: "Many times."
MATT JOHNSON: "Took my pants off in front of your friends..."
MRS. BARLOW: "Oh, yes."
MATT JOHNSON: "And I even passed out in your closet, but I never... and I don't know who could have if I didn't... but I never, and I repeat never, ever pissed in your steam iron."

Big Wednesday
"BIG WEDNESDAY is a classic, now considered one of the great films of that incredibly innovative 1970s era of filmmaking. Many say it's the most authentic surfing movie ever made. I think it's been featured at more film festivals, benefits, and retrospectives than any of John's movies. I know I've made more personal appearances at various screenings as The Waxer than for any other role I've done." Darrell Fetty

BIG WEDNESDAY RETROSPECTIVE BY JAMES M. TATE AND COMING SOON TO AN OCEAN NEAR YOU, THE ENFORCER HIMSELF, REB BROWN, SHARES ALL ABOUT THIS CLASSIC FILM AND ANOTHER JOHN MILIUS/A-TEAM PRODUCTION UNCOMMON VALOR...
Gary Busey and William Katt help Jan-Michael Vincent take the waves in BIG WEDNESDAY
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