BY A.J. DUGGER III
Legendary actor John Saxon is being celebrated this week with a film festival at The Heritage at Brentwood. Saxon and his wife, Gloria, quietly moved to the residency eight months ago.
Saxon is known for his roles in hit films such as “The Appaloosa,” “Enter The Dragon,” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street.”
The couple chose Tennessee because the retirement homes for actors in Los Angeles lacked active programs.
“I didn’t want him standing outside in the backyard looking at the ocean all day,” said Gloria. “I searched for a long time to find a place we liked. At the Heritage, they really have an understanding of care that you don’t get in other places. They have more activities. We have 24/7 access to everything, and we can keep our dog.”
She said the staff at The Heritage go out of their way to keep the residents happy.
“We like to take their ideas and run with them because this is their home,” said Ashlie Burnett, director of community life services at The Heritage. “We try to take a lot of their input to heart and put it to use.”
The programs were not the only thing that attracted Saxon and his wife.
“In Los Angeles, the traffic is bad and it takes forever to get out,” Gloria said. “We can go in and out much easier here.”
Although frail at 81 years old, Saxon still has hints of the physique that helped make him a Hollywood star.
“I used to do physical activities to stay healthy and keep my body in good condition,” Saxon said.
Many of the residents at The Heritage are fans of Saxon and his films. Two residents, in particular, requested screenings of his classic movies.
“We have a ‘Make A Wish Program’ when residents are able to suggest programs, outings, activities or events that they want to see,” said Burnett. As a result, the two requests were approved and was expanded into a five-day screening of Saxon’s movies.
Saxon was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Hollywood when he was 17 years old.
“Because of his good looks and work as an extra, he had fan mail before he was officially an actor,” Gloria said. “He’s still handsome today. Look at his teeth.”
After a few minor roles as an extra, Saxon had his first big role in “The Unguarded Moment,”(1956) where he played a character who stalked Esther Williams. Saxon’s career took off from there. In 1966, he played opposite Marlon Brando as the Mexican-American bandit Chuy Medina in the film, “The Appaloosa.”
Saxon said the film industry was different back then; he was considered too muscular sometimes.
“This was before the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Gloria said. “John worked out all the time and some (movie) producers thought he was too big.”
In 1973, Saxon appeared alongside martial arts legend Bruce Lee in “Enter The Dragon” where he played the role of Roper. He also played the role of Lt. Donald Thompson in 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
“He was such a seasoned, mature actor. He was one of the few actors in Hollywood that studied diction,” said Gloria. “He speaks Italian and Spanish.”
Saxon has plenty memories of working with other film legends.
“Marlon Brando borrowed John’s jacket when they were filming The Appaloosa, and he never gave it back,” Gloria said, adding that Saxon became close to Lee, who revealed to him that he feeling sick shortly before he died.
Saxon shared how he offered advice to then 17-year-old Johnny Depp, who was a novice actor when they filmed “A Nightmare On Elm Street” in 1984.
Saxon is quick to smile and laugh, which is the opposite of the vile villains he often portrayed on-screen.
“I think they missed out putting him in more films with humor,” Gloria said.
The movies being screened throughout the week include “Posse From Hell,” “The Appaloosa,” “Enter The Dragon,” “Portrait In Black,” and “The Unguarded Moment.”