‘The worst piece of celluloid’

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cult flick keeps N.C. native’s memory alive

By Frank Roberts

Four times, Greg Walcott was beaten to a pulp. His opponent was the two-fisted former mayor of Carmel, Calif., population 4,000.

The heavy-hitting mayor, who was elected by a landslide and served from ’86 to ’88, is Clint Eastwood, one of moviedom’s hottest commodities. He still lives in that town, which offers the ultra-rich Tehama Golf Club with its membership fee of $500,000 annually.

Email newsletter signup

The movie star earned some of his money by pummeling, among others, a nice young man from North Carolina who had ties to the northeastern area.

Walcott had a brother, the Rev. James Maddox, who once served as pastor of a local church.

Truth to tell, of course, Greg loved being beat up. All of his life he had dreamt of becoming an actor, never realizing he would become one of Hollywood’s most famous character actors.

If you want to watch the one-sided fights between Eastwood and Walcott, check these movies: “The Eiger Sanction,” “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Thunderbird And Lightfoot” and “Joe Kidd.”

Every time Walcott went down, his bank balance went up. He was quickly becoming one of the best-known “fall” guys on screens large and small. The Wendel, N.C., native, who was raised in Wilson, had juicy roles in about 50 movies, and about 300 TV shows. On the big screen, he was usually the villain; on the small screen, he was usually Mr. Decent.

His real name was Bernard Mattox. The name “Bernie” might be fitting for a comedian, but it seemed inappropriate for a hero or a villain. 
Walcott enjoyed those bad guy roles, explaining, “They have a little more dimension, a little more character. It’s kind of fun, too.”

He was also one of Hollywood’s most active “religionists,” head of the Gregory Walcott Christian Fan Club. For many years, his brother served as a preacher of the Hertford (N.C.) Baptist Church.

That’s my town and my church and, during one of Greg’s visits to his brother he came to my house and especially enjoyed my three children. He missed his family while traveling.

He and his wife, Barbara, a former Miss San Diego, lived in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley. They were married 55 years, first meeting after an introduction by Dale Evans. Barbara died in 2010. Greg passed away last year.

A photograph of the twosome, which he sent to me, still sits in my computer space. I also have a copy of his autobiography, and a film of his life’s history. His last commercial film was “Ed Wood,” a biography of the director who put Greg in the title role of the movie most critics deem the worst film ever made.

“Plan 9 From Outer Space,” featuring paper plates as flying saucers, was done as a favor for a mutual friend who knew Mr. Wood. Once filming began, Greg was looking for an excuse to exit, but he honored his commitment. One critic noted that he was the only one in that movie bomb who knew how to act.

He looked at it this way: “It had the worst director who assembled the worst cast, with the worst props, the worst script, the worst budget, to make the worst piece of celluloid.”

The major star was Bela Lugosi. He died shortly after filming began. Wood’s accountant got the role, running around behind a cape hiding his face. Said accountant was about 6′ 2″. Lugosi was half that size.

The movie became a cult favorite and, later, Greg visited festivals concerned with such movies so, what he did not want to do at first, later became a fun thing. He played a potential film backer in the picture based on Wood’s eccentric life.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.