Bo Svenson will be “Walking Tall” at Mid-South Nostalgia Festival | Lifestyle

Actor Bo Svenson received calls threatening his life for portraying famed Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser and ran someone off the road that he thought was following him during the filming of “Walking Tall.”

Pusser was sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee from 1964-1970 and waged a one-man war on moonshine, prostitution and gambling run by the Dixie Mafia. He survived several assassination attempts and became a local hero who inspired books, songs, movies and a TV show about his life. He was killed in 1974 in an automobile accident under mysterious circumstances.

Svenson, who will be appearing as a guest at the Mid-South Nostalgia Festival June 9-11 at Whispering Woods Hotel in Olive Branch, took over the role from Joe Don Baker and starred in two sequels “Walking Tall 2” (1975), “Walking Tall: Final Chapter” (1977), and a tv series.

He said producers were not able to shoot the movie in McNairy County because of threats and that filming was so tense that he was even given a gun to carry by law enforcement in Jackson to protect himself.

“I kept getting calls. They would call me and say ‘Mr. Bo, why are you making a movie about Mr. Buford?’ I’d say, well, it’s a job. And some were not so nice. ‘Don’t you go making him into a hero,'” Svenson said. “They said ‘Buford Pusser was not a good man. We’re going to get your a**’ Then ‘click.'”

Swenson said he didn’t really want to play Pusser, but liked the script.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Svenson said. “I didn’t want to play a real person. I didn’t do any research into who he was. My job was to bring to life the character in the screenplay. But there was a tenderness in there with his relationship with his children and family that appealed to me.”

Swenson said he pulled out of the parking lot one night and was driving home on Interstate 40 when he noticed a car behind him with its lights on that began following him. The more he sped up, the faster the car would follow to keep pace.

“We were having death threats made against us,” Svenson said. “Here comes this guy and he’s hauling a**. I’m thinking, oh this is not good. So I floored it and started speeding up. Ninety. Ninety-five. One hundred miles an hour. And every time, the car kept gaining on me. I think it was a Cadillac. So I finally pulled the emergency brake, he passed me and I got right behind him and nailed him. He ended up running into a light pole. I jumped out of the car, had my revolver in my hand, tore open the driver’s side door and I get him down on the ground and I stick that revolver right into his face. The guy inside looks at me and says ‘uh, Mr. Svenson, can I have your autograph?’ The guy was a fan. I was like ‘I’m so sorry.’ That cost me $8,000 for a new car.”

Swenson did get to meet Elvis Presley though during filming. He and Red West, who played Sheriff Tanner in Walking Tall Part 2 and was a close friend and bodyguard of the singer, drove from Jackson to Graceland to hang out with Elvis.

“We drove down Interstate 40 and at that time the police were running radar,” Svenson said. “We were driving a police car from the movie and every time we would see a cop running radar on an overpass we would turn the blue lights on and sailed right through to Memphis.”

Swenson said Elvis was one of the nicest, most polite men that he has ever met.

“He was the most graceful southern gentleman,” Svenson said. “I got the impression though at the time hat he was a bit embarrassed by his fame and how big a star he was. He sang Gospel songs that night, and me being dumb, I had no idea that he sang that kind of music. He asked me to spend the night but I didn’t. I don’t know why. Red and I drove back to Jackson.”

Svenson was born in Sweden and emigrated to the United States when he was 17 years old. He spent six and a half years in the Marines where he earned a black belt in judo while in Japan, a passion which he still embraces today. Svenson was introduced to acting when he did a guest spot on the TV show “Flipper,” then moved to New York City where he acted in several Off-Broadway roles before being cast in the 1967 Broadway production of “Pigeons Don’t Cry. ”

After several TV pilots went nowhere, he moved to California in 1969 and landed a role in the hit TV series “Here Comes the Brides” and appeared in the 1973 made-for TV movie “Frankenstein” as the monster, which led to big- screen movie roles.

Swenson appeared opposite Robert Redford in “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1974) about a pair of ex-World War I pilots barnstorming the Midwest in the 1920s. The movie was directed by George Roy Hill, who had worked with Redford and Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.”

Although the movie is one of his best remembered roles, Svenson said he felt uncomfortable the whole time during filming because Hill wanted Paul Newman to play the part.

“It was supposed to be Newman and Redford,” Svenson said. “Lew Wasserman, head of Universal Pictures, asked him who he wanted. He said Newman and Redford. Wasserman said ‘Is that all you can do is Redford and Newman movies?’ So I was at Paul Newman’s house and it came down to between me and Mark Harmon. I got the job, but I never trusted that I “got” the job.”

Svenson said he did the actual wing walking stunts in the movie without a harness, which the studio didn’t know at the time.

“That’s me on the wing,” Svenson said. “I weighed 230 at the time. The guys who did the wing walking back in the 1920s weighed 130. They were little guys. So we did it without the insurance company’s knowledge. The footage was already in the can. Now they had to get Redford out on the wing. He’s a good guy. He’s very manly. He wanted to do it. But there was no way for insurance purposes that they were going to let that happen. So when you see him step out of the cockpit, he’s actually in a harness.”

Next came the “Walking Tall” movies and the 1976 cult classic “Breaking Point” where he played a vigilante, and the bank heist movie “Special Delivery” with Cybil Shepherd.

Svenson said he later learned that the screenplay for “Special Delivery,” which was credited to Don Gazzaniga, was actually plagiarized word-for-word from a script by James Edward Grant called “Time Deposit,” which was owned by John Wayne and his production company Batjac.

Gazzaniga was a bartender at a lounge near the Batjac office and had a desire to act. The movie had a part in it for a bartender and he was given a copy of the script by John Melson, who Batjac hired to rewrite Grant’s original screenplay.

Svenson said John Wayne filed a lawsuit and had the movie pulled from circulation.

“John Wayne had bought the screenplay,” Svenson said. “Apparently Gazzaniga took it and tore the cover off, changed the title, and sold it to Bing Crosby Productions. Wayne was at the premiere and he got up after about 15 minutes and said that was his screenplay and he was going to put a stop to it. So he shut the thing down. Incidentally, “Special Delivery” was Jeff Goldblum’s first movie.”

Svenson had other good roles in the 1978 war movie “The Inglorious Bastards,” the 1979 sports film “North Dallas Forty” with Nick Nolte, and the action flick “The Delta Force” with Chuck Norris and “Heartbreak Ridge in 1986 with Clint Eastwood .

He’s also appeared on the small screen on hit shows like “The Virginian,” “Mission Impossible,” “Mod Squad,” “McCloud,” “Kung Fu,” “Magnum PI,” “The Fall Guy,” “Hunter,” “Murder, She Wrote,” and “JAG.”

Typecast in tough guy roles that held him back from achieving greater stardom, the 6 foot 5 inch Svenson found himself less satisfied with the movies he was being offered and appeared mainly in B-movies in the 1980s and 1990s, but landed small roles in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 remake of “Inglorious Basterds” and as a preacher in “Kill Bill: Volume 2.”

“That’s one thing that bothers me a great deal is that I don’t get the phone calls that I’d like,” Svenson said. “They wanted me to be the deputy in the TV show “Cade’s County” with Glenn Ford. I met with him and he was real nice. He said ‘have a seat, but please know that I have no intention of having you on screen with me. At my age I am not interested in competing with you on screen.’ We shook hands and he gave me a hug. I think in essence, it might be because of my height or my body of work.”

Swenson has also used his talents behind the camera and is also an author, director and screenwriter. His screenplays “The Red Cloth” and “Khalid: A Champion for All” have won more than 20 major film festival awards.

While he is still open to accepting acting roles, Svenson said he doesn’t go to the movies or watch much television today. He believes today’s movies lack honesty and some of the “feel good” aspects which made going to the movies a true experience for an audience.

“There are some projects that I’d be there in a minute if they called,” Svenson said. “But I just don’t find what’s out there very appealing. Things are no longer the way they were. In some ways that is good. But I am super grateful for every opportunity that comes my way.”


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