Classic Hollywood book nook — George Kennedy’s ‘Trust Me: A Memoir’

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George Kennedy, best known as Paul Newman’s Oscar-winning “Cool Hand Luke” chain gang sidekick and Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan police captain in “The Naked Gun” comedy trilogy, penned a memoir five years before his 2016 death. Is “Trust Me” worth joining your cluttered book shelf? Ten vintage photos and videos accompany the review. Possibly on location in Silverton, Colorado, and sporting rare facial hair, Kennedy is notorious outlaw John McKay in director Burt Kennedy’s light-hearted romp “The Good Guys and the Bad Guys,” ultimately debuting on November 19, 1969. Photography by Don Christie / Warner Bros.

A hard-scrabble existence in Depression-era New York City was Oscar-winning character actor George Kennedy’s fate until he left for World War II service. Lacking a male influence in his life due to the untimely death of his father, life was hard with “plenty of nothing.” With his mother’s help, who was good and unselfish to a little boy, he made it to Hollywood and beyond with a simple prayer: “Dear God, don’t let me mess up.”

Trust Me: A Memoir was written solely by Kennedy, published in 2011 by Applause Books, and available on Amazon. The tome is raw, earnest, quintessential, and chock full of vintage photographs taken from the late actor’s remarkably consistent career, consisting of over 180 film and television roles according to the Internet Movie Database.

Kennedy toiled in episodic television for six years — a Bonanza appearance plus seven plumb guest spots on Gunsmoke are a good starting point for Kennedy newbies — until ascending to leading roles in 1965 in such well-remembered films as Shenandoah, The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, Bandolero!, The Boston Strangler, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Airport, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and The Eiger Sanction. As Paul Newman’s encouraging chain gang buddy “Dragline” in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, Kennedy nabbed his only Best Supporting Oscar.

All of the major actors of the day worked with Kennedy like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, Doris Day, and Maureen O’Hara. Kennedy presents brief vignettes between each chapter recalling escapades with most of the afore-mentioned stars.

On location in Almeria, Spain, George Kennedy confidently steps into Yul Brynner’s black boots as the mysterious gunman only known as Chris in “Guns of the Magnificent Seven,” the second sequel to the iconic “Magnificent Seven” released on July 30, 1969. Image Credit: Cinematographer Antonio Macasoli / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Often cast as deliberating, burly heavies in Westerns and military flicks, the six foot, three inch Kennedy’s career consisted of poor script choices and unimaginative Airport disaster knock-off sequels as the ’70s and ’80s dragged on. He serendipitously received a second wind in the late ’80s when he teamed up with Chuck Norris for the action-soaked Delta Force and ultimately Leslie Nielsen in the uproariously funny Naked Gun trilogy.

Slightly over 200 pages including a filmography but no index, Kennedy’s narrative is generally a breezy read, particularly his harrowing pre-Hollywood years. Unfortunately, the book tends to lose focus once Kennedy discusses his life in front of the camera.

Instead of offering linear, fascinating reflections of his costars and reasons why he made certain career decisions, Kennedy shoots for an esoteric, whimsical style of writing that more often than not was difficult to maintain this reader’s interest. A co-author possessing a sharp editing eye might have offered a more satisfying resolution. Still, Trust Me: A Memoir is the only source for fans wishing to learn more about an oft-forgotten actor who emboldened any celluloid scene he appeared in. If you have the book, was it worth reading? Comments are welcome below.

******************DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET!*******************

Exclusive Interview: Determined Arkansan Beth Brickell had an intimate meeting with Princess Grace Kelly at the Palace of Monaco to figure out whether it was feasible for her to pursue her dream of acting. How did she manage such an unheard-of feat? By going the tried and true route and writing a letter. After years of toiling at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York City, she found herself cast in a breakout smash television series in 1967 as the dependable wife of Florida Everglades game warden Tom Wedloe [Dennis Weaver] on the half hour family adventure series Gentle Ben. Into the late 1970s Brickell dropped by Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Emergency!, Hawaii Five-O, and Fantasy Island…occasionally enlivening a feature film such as Kirk Douglas’s underappreciated, decidedly cynical Western Posse.The Unconventionally Persistent Journey of ‘Gentle Ben’ Heroine Beth Brickell” stands as her most comprehensive, intimate interview in years.

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George Kennedy, fresh off his Best Supporting Actor win in “Cool Hand Luke,” is Sheriff July Johnson in a Glen Canyon, Utah location still from director Andrew V. McLaglen’s thrilling “Bandolero,” released on June 1, 1968. Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
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George Kennedy and John Wayne converse during a break from filming “Cahill: United States Marshal” in Durango, Mexico, circa November 1972. Directed by Wayne veteran Andrew V. McLaglen, the underappreciated Western was released on July 11, 1973. Photography by Dave Sutton / Warner Bros.
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George Kennedy, struggling actor, circa 1962, when the tall, burly actor was still appearing in various classic television programs including “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” and “Maverick.” Image Credit: The John Springer Collection / Corbis / Getty Images
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“Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” Directed by David Zucker, a candid from the film that launched the comedy franchise starring Leslie Nielsen as Sergeant Frank Drebin and George Kennedy as Captain Ed Hocken, released on December 2, 1988. Photography by Elliott Marks / Paramount Pictures
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The living embodiment of a Cheshire cat: The cover of “Trust Me: A Memoir,” written by Academy Award winner George Kennedy and published on October 1, 2011 by Applause Books. Image Credit: Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
Click to watch George Kennedy, who molded a career in such landmark films as “Lonely Are the Brave,” “Charade,” “The Sons of Katie Elder,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Boston Strangler,” “Airport,” and “The Eiger Sanction,” explain why he wrote “Trust Me: A Memoir.” Video Credit: Applause Books

© Jeremy Roberts, 2014, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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