John Milius, Hollywood Wildman

John Milius

John Milius was once a force of nature in Hollywood. He co-wrote the first two Dirty Harry films, received an Academy Award nomination as screenwriter of Apocalypse Now, and wrote and directed The Wind and the Lion, Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn.

Here’s an interesting anecdote about Milius, from the Castalia House blog:

My all-time favorite Milius story concerns his frequent battles with producers and other movie executives.

One day, Milius was describing the concept of a movie he was writing to a woman who was high up on the studio chain. It was a macabre tale of a soldier betraying his king, filled with murder, sex, and madness.

At the end, the female movie executive gets up and exclaims; “Mr. Milius, what you have told me is absolutely disgusting and awful! We have no interest in making any film like that, and hope you will work hard to come up with something better!” She walks off.

Milius then looks at a man who witnessed all this, shrugs his shoulders, and says “Some people just don’t dig Shakespeare.” He had described Macbeth to her.

Good thing he didn’t pitch Coriolanus.

9 thoughts on “John Milius, Hollywood Wildman”

      1. Apparently ‘Revenge Tragedies’ like that used to go down great the audiences back in those days.
        Actually after I posted my reply and thinking about the executive’s reaction reminded me of a classic MAD magazine 1950s take on the progress of a script for a TV drama through the TV executives/sponsor’s ‘editing’:
        Writer’s plot: Father is a judge, always too busy at home reading up cases to spend time with his son. Teenage son falls in with bad company. They steal a car. Run over dog. Owner traces them. Son is tearfully sorry. Owner forgives him, but father blames himself for not spending time with his son and must shoulder blame.
        (Just a few snippets from the editing process; each prefaced by ‘Great script wouldn’t change a thing but……)
        Editor: How many kids got judges for a father. My old man was a professional golfer. Change that.
        TV Executive: Have to take out the dog out of the story. Those complaint calls from the Humane Society can be murder.
        This goes on with the boy being replaced by a girl, so that some executive’s daughter can get a bit part, and the TV company can use the latest teen singing sensation so drawing in the teenage girl audience. The sponsor also wants a cheap plug for their product.
        Finally someone decides since it is so ‘controversial’ the setting should be moved to The Middle Ages and the final product is Cinderella!
        The tag line being ‘Great script. This writer should be encouraged to produce more work for us,’
        That piece must be close to 50 years old and still reads as fresh.


  1. So interesting, Mike. This is why sometimes all I can do is roll my eyes at the decision-makers who decide what is art and what is marketable. It seems to be entirely based on personal taste, the time of day, plans for the evening, and mood. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Many books made into movies are eviscerated in the screenwriting process…seems as if many in Hollywood want to push a personal agenda instead of tell a good story


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