Billy Jack: Tom Laughlin's 'Half-Breed' Action Hero

By | January 11, 2021

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Tom Laughlin (1931 - 2013) as Billy Jack in the 1971 film 'Billy Jack', which he also wrote and directed. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Billy Jack, the movie protagonist created by Tom Laughlin, was a cowboy war hero who uses extreme violence to promote peace. Though the character, which Laughlin played himself, debuted in the 1967 biker film Born Losers, he became a phenomenon in the 1971 western drama Billy Jack. Jam-packed with the most absurd of fight scenes, Tom Laughlin’s film series was immensely popular -- Billy Jack was the #1 draw at the box-office in 1971, and The Trial Of Billy Jack was the third-biggest film of 1974. By standing up for what was right, the underdog Billy Jack became a role model for baby boomers who were inspired to defend mistreated people in a prejudice society.

Tom Laughlin Struggled In The Entertainment World 

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Tom Laughlin was considered a man's man from Wisconsin, who played college football at the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University. He decided to pursue acting in Los Angeles in the 1950s. His ambitions progressed slowly as he landed minor roles in South Pacific and Gidget, and eventually took the lead part in the 1957 debut of The Delinquents. However, he wasn’t reaching as far as he had hoped so for a time he gave up entertainment altogether and instead established a Montessori preschool in Santa Monica with his wife Delores Taylor. Yet, there was an idea that had been on his mind for years that he couldn’t leave behind. This dream was to create a film that would do more than entertain, but bring awareness of the government oppression of Native Americans and inspire a movement for change.