Untold Tales of Hollywood #26

Writer-director John Milius asked me to create a teaser poster for Conan the Barbarian. I complied, but I was hampered by the fact that I had no photo reference of Arnold Schwarzenegger — I just painted his face from memory. I’m posting it here but I am saying out front that I consider it to be pretty mediocre.

Later, I did some small studies for potential poster art.

I never did a finished painting but I painted these little roughs which I think are more successful than my teaser painting.

John later asked for a painting of the film’s climax, after Conan beheads Thulsa Doom. The beheading of Thulsa Doom, by the way, was John’s attempt to do the final scene in Apocalypse Now (which John wrote) his way.

Milius originally wrote the role of Thulsa Doom for Sean Connery. When Sean passed on the offer, I heard John call James Earl Jones and tell him, “I’ve just written this role especially for you.” Actors love flattery like that; I noticed throughout my film career that it was one of the most common lies in The Biz. When I became a production designer, I used a variant: “You’re my first call. It’s you whom I want to work with more than anyone else in the business.” Lies, lies, lies.

Two more Sean Connery-related stories:

One day during the making of The Wind and the Lion, John made Connery ride up and down a distant hill for most of a day. That was because Sean had developed some irritating issues with Milius and John knew that Connery hated horse work. It was John’s revenge on Sean.

This story is better: Terry Leonard was our stunt coordinator on Conan the Barbarian. John had worked with him previously on The Wind and the Lion, as Terry was Sean Connery’s stunt double. The scene that had to be shot was one of the Raisuli (Sean’s character) riding down a slope towards an enemy. Upon reaching the enemy, the Raisuli beheads him.

“Where do you want the head to land?” asked Terry.

“Wha-a-at?” replied Milius.

“I said, where do you want the head to land?”

John was taken completely by surprise.

“Uhhh… here!

John drew an X in the sand with the toe of his shoe.

“Okay,” Terry replied. “Set up your camera.”

Terry, dressed as the Raisuli, mounted his horse and rode to the top of the hill. A dummy of his enemy was on horseback as well at the bottom of the hill near the cameras and crew.

John shouted “ACTION!”

Terry rode down the hill at a full gallop. When he got to the Raisuli’s enemy, Terry swung his mighty sword and decapitated the dummy on the horse. The head flew into the air and then bounced across the ground until it came to a stop…right on top of John’s X.

And that’s just one reason why John Milius always used Terry Leonard as his stunt coordinator.

One Response to “Untold Tales of Hollywood #26”

  1. aaron says:

    I remember the beheading scene you refered to. It was great in a creepy way to see that little turbaned bundle bouncing by the horses hooves. It just seems odd to me that Milius was able to do such a wonderful job with The Wind and the Lion but Conan (at least in my estimation) didn’t work out. I always thought the stories were ripe for a screen adaptation and it might have worked with some great stop motion monsters. Years later when I saw a scene in Lethal Weapon of Mel Gibson chasing a car on foot I said to myself, “There’s the guy who should’ve played Conan.”

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