R.I.P. Michael J. Pollard (Dirty Little Billy)

We got the word from pal Sheila O’Malley just now that Michael J. Pollard is dead at the age of 80. I first knew Pollard from the classic Star Trek episode “Miri”, where he and Kim Darby (another actor whose golden age was the late 60s and early 70s and whom I’m due to write about) guest starred. Pollard made a HUGE impression in that episode as a kind of smirking doofus with a hatred from “g’rups”, a centuries old humanoid trapped in the body of a whiny teenager (“Bonk-bonk on the head!”).

That was the kind of character he specialized in — leprechauns and imps. He was C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a supporting role, but maybe his biggest film (and he also landed an Oscar for his performance). And on a few occasions, he got to star or co-star in films, as when he played Little Fauss in Little Fauss and Big Halsey (1970) opposite Robert Redford. And he played the title role of Billy the Kid in Dirty Little Billy (1972), which we thought we’d focus on today, as it was directed by an old childhood friend of my father-in-law’s, Stan Dragoti. It’s obscure, but deserves to be much better known because it’s also terrific.

This semi-comical take on the Billy the Kid legend is extremely well photographed and features terrifically realistic sets and costumes. Here, par for the Michael J. Pollard course, Billy is not a criminal thug, just a dopey, lazy oaf. You can tell that he smells. He’s kind of like Pig Pen. He moves to Texas with his mother and stepfather from New York City. Billy is made to work the farm and he is extremely ill-suited for the life. He takes to hanging out with the town misfits, the town tough guy Goldie (Richard Evans), his prostitute girlfriend (Lee Purcell) and the town drunk, an older man (Ronny Graham). None of these people are “bad” per se…circumstances and contrary personalities have pushed them to the margins. Goldie teaches Billy to use a gun but that doesn’t mean anything, because all they do is loaf around. Things change when some drifters come to their saloon hangout for a game of cards and a fight breaks out. Guns are fired (the drunk is accidentally shot by Billy) and the girl knifes a guy. Meanwhile the town (a little muddy shithole) is growing. A lawman is brought in to run the bad guy out of town. The girl is killed. Billy and his friend ride out to a hideout in the desert where some bad guys are. The bad guys look like they’re going to kill Billy and his friend, when Billy suddenly turns and manages to kill them all. The movie ends there — on the beginning of “Billy the Kid.”  Also in the film, Dick Van Patten as a naked whorehouse patron (bleccch, can’t unsee), a very young Gary Busey in one of his first roles, Nick Nolte (in his very first film role) as a gangleader and familiar character actors Charles Aidman (as the town leader) and Richard Stahl (as the new sheriff).

On a related matter, among my mother-in-law’s belongings, we found this:

Michael J. Pollard autograph

At any rate, I hope to do a fuller appreciation of Pollard’s work in future. In the name of rapid response we post this stopgap tribute. See this movie!