The Blacklisting of Michael Parks: How a Hollywood Star Was Quietly Shunned

In 1970 Michael Parks was one of the most popular and idolised faces on American television. After years of appearing in minor roles, he finally hit the big time as the motorcycle riding protagonist of the hit TV series Bronson, which was seen by millions of viewers on a weekly basis. His appeal was widespread and his chiselled good looks made him a symbol of both masculinity and femininity, appealing to both male and female viewers.

However, for Parks, the immense popularity he gained during this time would disappear just as quickly as it came. After making some less than complementary comments about the Hollywood system and making moral judgements regarding the content of Bronson, he was quietly blacklisted by the major film studios and TV networks, hindering his career for several decades.

Michael Parks might have been a major Hollywood actor.
Michael Parks might have been a major Hollywood actor.

Hollywood’s blacklisting of actors was no new occurrence; with the most infamous case being the ‘Hollywood ten’ incident of the 1950s in which ten filmmaking personnel were persecuted by the United States congress for refusing to clarify their stance on communist ideology. However, a less publicised blacklisting happened to Park in the early 70s, and it would hinder his career for decades to follow.

The Hollywood system was not new to having their actors accept their place as performers, being little more than mouthpieces for the studio, just looking good for the cameras and generally shying away from views that might go again against the views of middle America. But Parks is a man of an outspoken nature, and made no secret of his contempt for Bronson’s producers deciding to make the character more aggressive, and to raise the levels of violence on the show. At this time, American homes were receiving nightly footage of the ongoing bloody and nationally divisive Vietnam War, and studio’s felt they needed more aggressive protagonists’ on television to reflect support for the increasingly unpopular war effort.

Once he made his view felt, both publically and privately, the wrath of Hollywood executives was, according to parks, quiet yet vitriolic. The actor quickly went from being one of the most sought after actors in the industry to not finding acting work for four years after Bronson’s abrupt cancellation. Parks claimed: “If you don’t play the game, you don’t work”. During the 70s and 80s, he could only muster sporadic appearances in independent films.

Hollywood’s blacklist didn’t stop Parks from being creative outside of the acting world though. He continued the singing career he began before Bronson, and produced several gold selling country and western albums. He also attempted to join America’s long-distance-running squad to compete for the 1976 Olympic Games in Canada, but to no avail.

Parks acknowledged how the only avenue for finding acting work during this time was with directors who worked outside the Hollywood sphere of influence. These were filmmakers that admired Parks’ work and intentionally sought him out, like Earl Bellamy, who cast him in the low-key movie ‘Sidewinder One’ in 1977.

The ‘New Hollywood’ movement of the 70s that offered alternative views to the excessive cold war morals that were synonymous with previous filmmaking gave rise to new outspoken filmmaking personnel whose views did not conform to the views of the past, such as Martin Scorsese and actor Jack Nicholson. Parks might have found a home in this filmmaking style, but his reputation was damaged too early to have been established with this movement.

However, there is some concern regarding the veracity of the version of events that Parks tells. In a 1977 interview he made remarks that reveal a different side to the blacklisted performer views, admitting he could be a challenging performer when making movies: “sure I had a reputation for being difficult on the set […] I have my own ideas of how a role should be played”. Comments like this suggest there might have been a deeper reasoning behind the blacklist, as his tendency to question authority could be at least part of the dismissal he received.

Parks’ finding work through director’s that feel a personal admiration for him has been a great help to his returning to prominence. He slowly broke back into the mainstream with supporting roles, including a memorable role in David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks, and has since been repeatedly cast in the work of Quentin Tarantino, who calls him the “the world’s greatest living actor”.

Parks could have been one of the biggest names in movie and television. He had the charm, talent and charisma to be a superstar, but he will forever be known and remembered as a cult figure instead. Now aged 73, he occasionally mentions his past. In a podcast to promote the 2011 movie Red State by Kevin Smith (another director who admires him), he didn’t express any regret or even show resentment for how his career has turned out. Even at the height of his blacklisting, Parks simply remarked, “I’m just paying the price for living by my own values”.

So was he just an actor ahead of his time? In today’s filmmaking world, a rebellious artist is usually admired and praised by Hollywood studios. There are probably hundreds of promising careers that were flattened by the steam roller of Hollywood values and rules, but Parks is a survivor and proof that you can stand up to the Hollywood beast and still have a strong career. His supporting roles in recent Oscar-winning films like Argo and Django Unchained has certainly proved this.

Do you think blacklisting continues behind the scenes in Hollywood today?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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My name is Liam Brennan. I am about to graduate from The University if the West of England with a degree in Film and English.

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63 Comments

  1. I never really believed that this happened. Amazing and really shame.

    • Mark Martinez
      0

      If you look at Mr. Parks´ credits on IMDb.com you will see that he never stopped working on films and TV. 145 credits as of 2016 not bad at all if you consider other actors of his generation, let´s say Troy Donahue with 99 credits. This article about a “blacklisting” is a lot of BS.

  2. Jessie Jakes
    1

    Parks was outstanding in Red State! Sad to hear about this blacklisting.

  3. IMO Michael Parks deserved every award possible for this role in Kevin Smith’s movie. His performance reminds me a lot of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White. Maybe because they look alike?

    Do blacklisting continue behind the scenes in Hollywood today? Oh yes it does. There is a whole power play in motion, much of it we will never find out about. It’s not all glamor.

  4. Emma Mcwaters
    1

    Very important writeup Liam. One blacklisting that I cannot get over is that of Vanessa Redgrave. She is a supported of Palestinian rights and her political views have killed her career.

    • Thanks Emma. Yes, Vanessa Redgrave is another good example.
      She was booed for making political comments during her 1978 Oscar acceptance speech and her Hollywood career never recovered.

      • As much as I respect Vanessa Redgrave, I do feel Paddy Chayefsky made a fair point that the Oscars should not be an exploitation of people’s political views. It should be what it’s meant to be which is a celebration of films in the previous year.

      • ilovesaintpaul

        Liam: do you believe that Hollywood actively participates in blacklisting as a shunning tactic or as a politically self-preservation tactic? I’d be interested to hear what you believe the motivation is behind this. Thanks!!

      • Correction: The show Parks was on was called “Then Came Bronson,” not just “Bronson.”

        http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0662981/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

        • I was just about to post that same correction. Wonder why Brennan hasn’t fixed it.

          • Probably the same reason he hasn’t fixed the other textual errors in the piece. Boy needs an editor.

    • Doctor Jerry
      0

      In the case of Vanessa Redgrave there is no great mystery as to why she was shunned. Consider the fact that the Hollywood film industry has traditionally been run by Jewish businessmen. Redgrave’s support of Palestinian rights flies in the face of Israeli policy, which is universally supported by Jews world-wide. No wonder she found it hard to find work in an industry run by the very people whom she had most offended in her Oscar night speech.

      • I’m pretty sure that Israeli policy is not, actually, “universally supported by Jews worldwide.” Many have major issues with Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians.

      • Marhannah
        1

        Just as someone else mentioned, Ms Redgrave should have left her political views out of the Oscars. It ticks me off to no end when people, especially celebrities, babble-on without knowing history.

        Historically and literally, there is no legitimate Palestine. All one need do is research history; Roman conquest of Jerusalem and an Emperor named ‘Hadrian’.

        • Hollywood film industry is the largest supporter of Israel.
          Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are hugely sympathetic of Palestinian plight
          Why did Brad Pitt not yet win an Oscar?

          • Pitt has one Oscar and five nominations.

          • Urquart
            0

            Hollywood film industry does NOT support Israel. Is there a doctor in the house? Oh, you and Dr. Jerry will go well together.

    • Vanessa Redgrave is known internationally as the grestest actress of her generation.
      She will never be short of work.

  5. SWicker
    0

    I think it’s wrong. And, the big problem is that in this politically correct world, they often do it based on perspective rather than reality.

    Parks is great in Kill Bill: Vol. 2.

  6. Was waiting for someone to take this topic up so I could be better informed about the subject, I’ll have to dig up some of his work for sure.

    Nice article.

  7. Michael Clancy

    Very interesting read, I’ve enjoyed Parks in a lot of things in recent years but didn’t know this side of the story.

  8. Sure it happens all the time. Especially if you happen to have a conservative or religious bent

  9. Doctor Jerry
    1

    Sure Hollywood has its rules and if you don’t play by them you may find yourself shunned. But this is really no different than what people encounter in any business. Any large corporate employer imposes its will upon its employees as they climb the corporate ladder. If you’re a college professor wishing to advance his or her academic career you have to flatter the department head and publish a few papers on the way up. Ditto for a surgeon looking to establish himself at a large hospital. Every profession has its strictures and unless you have made it to the top already you must tow-the-line or pay the consequences. Michael Parks was never very good at towing-the-line.

  10. I have enjoyed Michael Parks ever since I basically fell in love with him as Fargo in the most lovely love story, Wild Seed, in 1965. I was 13 at the time and even then appreciated the handsome actor’s ability to express himself with less talk, great acting. I’ve seen the movie over 100 times. Sadly it was not well known. I had hoped he would be a leading man for many years to come. He had enormous talent. When he was cast as Jim Bronson I was in high school. We all loved that peaceful , exciting show. However he blew it when he told of his support for George Wallace , who, let’s face it, was a notoriously ignorant bigot. I believe he had the right to like Wallace although I must admit I was pretty shocked ! Still, I was saddened that he alienated others because he could have had a brilliant career. Now Tarantino and others have him playing such strange roles. I’m happy that Michael is working. I just wish he could do one more romantic mainstream film rather than movies about cannibals and vampires. He’s still awesome !

    • pat Jordan
      0

      I am for him doing a mainstresm film romatic or otherwise He’s still the greatest,asfar asI am concerned the film industry did this to Larry Parks in the 50’s. I only have two of michaels discs I would like to know where I can get more here in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am glad to have another reson to avoid movies.

  11. Michael Parks is a good actor and probably would have been a big star. But even stars can be limited by others perceptions of them and what they really are. He is right that it is a game with rules and has to be played as such. I think he was portrayed as the next James Dean and it affected his ability to be himself.

  12. Michelle
    0

    I loved Michael Parks for yrs, and will continue to do so.

    • I remember watching the program Bronson, I made sure to watch it,because I really liked Michael, I thought he was good looking and very suave, and sexy, and a good actor, I have often wondered what happened to him, I am with the other ones that would like to see him in a good love story. Miss seeing him on tv.

  13. I was just watching an old episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s television series.
    Michael Parks has been a favorite of mine for years.
    He exuded sex appeal and still does for me!!!!
    The bio was interesting in that I didn’t know he’d been blacklisted…Mcarthyisim at it’s finest,although he wasn’t personally effected by that barbarian.
    I admire him for standing up for his personal views even it did cost him a better career back on the day.
    Great article.

  14. I’m from Riverside,right next to Corona!!!!!
    A new fact about him I didn’t know!!!

  15. i loved then came bronson “hang in there” is somethng he advised someone to do almost every week. im glad he had his singing career to fall back on and that he was so successful . i dont remember ever hearing him. i see theres a clip of him being on the johnny cash show. if ever there was someone like they said parks was it johnny cash. hed been to prison about drugs i think. i was dissappointed when the show only lasted a year. of course that could be for the reasons him expressing his opinions as well as those reasons he said
    anyway i missed the show

  16. Terry Trentham
    1

    When Bronson came on the air, I had a new wife, a new job and a newly purchased condo. Loved the show. Three years later had ditched the wife, the job and the condo, was making my way as a musician with, of course no regular paycheck. Oh, and I was the proud owner of my first motorcycle. No idea how much influence Parks and the show had, but I`ve never been sorry. Worked out better than I could have ever imagined.

  17. pgjopop
    1

    in the fall of 1980, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Parks at Raspberries in Angels Camp CA. I had just finished playing a bit and was standing at the bar, someone tapped me on the left shoulder and complemented my playing with, “can I buy you a beer?”, I turned to my left to see who it was, the next word from me, didn’t you used to be Bronson? We ended up playing until closing, he said, ‘we should take this to the Marmot”. Subsequent to that, our paths crossed again on Cannery Row, Mr Parks knows California.

  18. The name of the show was “Then Came Bronson”, not “Bronson”.

  19. Yes Dr Jerry is right about one thing: Black listing is in every work place and it’s becoming worse…Of course the stakes are much higher in Hollywood land !…I read ‘you’ll never eat lunch in this town again’ & ‘you’ll never nanny here in this town again’..both books on how La La land blacklists you if you don’t ‘play the game’!
    Wealthy, powerful people who are personally miserable and it makes them happy to annihilate someone’s career/job/life because they can..talk about low life…Michael Parks was the James Dean of the 70s..unfortunately April born people talk before they think !

  20. Matthew
    0

    I think Mel Gibson after his comments, and Jim Carrey after his hypocrisy with kick ass 2 would say yes blacklisting is very much still a real deal.

  21. Harry Minetree
    0

    Harry

    Michael is a bright guy with a comes-and-goes threat, very clever, unpredictable and oddly thrilling. This blacklisted bunch should get together and make a bombshell picture.

  22. Jim Johnson
    1

    I know there is quiet blacklisting and not just in Hollywood. Michael Parks is one of the best. I especially like one of the last songs that Gene Clark wrote about Michael and the Then Came Bronson character called “Gypsy Rider” . It was one of his and best songs.

  23. Lorraine Johnson
    1

    Michael Parks has been our family favorite since “Bronson” and a favorite we
    had for our children was “You don’t work – You don’t eat!”. I have his LP
    albums and transferred them to cassette tapes to send to our daughter
    who was stationed in Australia in 1979. Still play them – love his soulful
    voice and the feeling he puts into his songs.. There will never be another
    like him.

  24. xboeing
    1

    I know nothing about acting but do know a great deal about working and knowing who you work for. I have had a certain amount of first hand knowledge in the regard. It was always important to me to stand my ground and I’m happy with my decisions but also understand it stypled my career at some point. I’m retired now and am happy with where I’m at in life and never had to kiss anybodies foot to get here. You should understand that going though.

  25. Mikeymouth
    0

    I’m certain of it…

  26. JASON-SCOTT CAMPBELL
    0

    I REALLY, REALLY LOVE CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM. NO JOKING HERE.

  27. clunker
    0

    Very simple, mainstream/blockbuster type Hollywood films just plain suck, same old worn out scripts, same old worn out excuses for mediocrity.
    Support independent film makers and the creative minded actors working with them in order to change the film market.
    Your hard earned dollars should reflect broad values, not those narrow minded hacks in the film industry who continually recycle the same empty junk they know sells/appeals to the lowest standards.

  28. Robert Crowe
    0

    Is this the same Michael Parks who was in the Broadway show Gypsy?

  29. Oh! Ya! Hollywood is the devils den! I love Michael parks great actor of his time.

  30. Probably the most under appreciated American film actor ever. Check out his work in the Tarantino films. Oscar performance quality…

  31. Scottie Lee Davis
    0

    I had always wondered what happed to Then Came Bronson, my most favorite TV show as a teenager. Now I know. Glad to see Michael Parks in his later years at least. Ah, but how I loved Bronson.

    Do I think Hollywood made a mistake…yes, with this and other favorite shows of mine…but they have the power…..little spine…..little consideration…..but nonetheless the power.

  32. Terri Castleberry
    0

    I think Micheal Parks is an extremely handsome man and very sad he was blacklisted. His looks are comparable to Clint Eastwood. Now that I am more settled and nearing 60 years old, I enjoy looking back at T.V. shows of the 50’s and 60’s and Parks good looks and acting ability really impressed me. I was not able to appreciate these T.V. shows when I was a child but now they do.

  33. Jackie Austin
    0

    I often wondered what happened to Michael. I thought he was great and was headed for bigger roles. Hollywood just hurts itself by its small mindedness. Watching The Evictors made in 1979 now and still thinking, “Damn he’s one handsome talented man.” I guess in Hollywood a person isn’t supposed to have an independent thought…let alone express it..

  34. Michele Donahoe
    0

    I do believe me. And it still is. WHY isn’t Then Came Bronson on disc. If he and the show are considered Cult then why can’t we see it? I was 12 yrs old when it came out and my straight laced mother wouldn’t let me watch it even though the show was teaching Values. I would give just about anything to see this show in entirety before I die. I would Honestly go peacefully having seen this show. This is not a joke. Thank you, Michele Donahoe Henderson Nevada. P.S. Michael Parks Great Great Actor. He deserves some recognition! !!

    • You can buy the series (The Came Bronson). I believe it’s been released finally. If not, it is available elsewhere- you just have to be careful where you buy it from. Look it up (Then Came Bronson) on Facebook. There are suggestions there where to buy it.

  35. Rosemarie White
    0

    Tarantino has a real talent for picking great actors. Christoph Waltz and Parks should star in the same film which Tarantino could write and that would be a super block buster in drama. How about it Quentin?

  36. Stephen Bowen
    0

    A real pity. An amazing actor. Lost to politics by the sounds of it.

  37. jas rob
    1

    Yes I do. Even though I don’t accept the LGBT belief, they are being blacklisted and for good reasons. To promote their cause, they are using their status as performers to justify their sexual orientation.

  38. DONALD MARION
    0

    I was the Manager of Advertising and Promotion at WMAQ-TV, the NBC ONO in Chicago in 1970. I liked the show. Each episode’s open revealed he was an upcoming lawyer that ecided to find the meaning of life – out on the road. It didn’t say that, but the audience knew it was his intent. Sitting at a Stop Light, a man in a car next to him would say, “I wish I was you.” Michael would say, “Really.”

    He became involved in people’s lives and his legal background sometimes benefited someone. It was a bit reminiscent of “The Fugitive.”

    I bought a single he recorded with his mother, I think, by Woody Guthrie…”way out younder on the Indian Nation ridinging my pony on the reservation…” Or, close to that.

    When the show was cancelled, I called Gene, the head Honcho for Promotion, based then in NY City.
    He said Michael had made remarks that pissed off the establishment who said he would never work again in Hollywood. Period.

    I so swear. Time passed, and it turned out he had an apartment in the same place as my brother’s friend. Parks had to apologize profusely before mainstream Hollywood would acknowledge his existence. He got bit parts but no more offers of a series…to my knowledge. I read other comments here with an impressive list of his work…and other comments disbelieving he had been, Blacklisted.”
    He was, it happened. He apologized and reappeared. I will always be his fan Period.

  39. NormCBS
    0

    I know for a fact that co-Producer Robert Sabaroff did not want violence on the show, so this article is not entirely true. Sabaroff quit near the end of the series when co-Producer Justman wanted more violence in an episode.
    Too bad the show only lasted one season because it was pretty good. Some good music and the episodes shot in
    Wyoming were really good.

  40. If you are a fan of Michael Parks, check out michaelparks4u.com . You’ll love this site.

  41. janie turnage
    0

    I think the ones doing the blacklisting cut off their noses to spite their faces. He was a fabulous actor and I wondered for a long time what happened to him. The shunners are the losers in more ways than one. The tables have a way of turning.

  42. lively_linda
    0

    The Wild Seed and Hatful of Rain – Loved him then – love him now.

  43. Armelia Thomas
    0

    Sure it does as long as they are being ran by the rich from behind the scenes and we all know who I am referring to it will continue to be blacklists (they who can not be named)

  44. Alias
    0

    Just saw him in a 63′ episode of Perry Mason with Betty Davis. Thought it was James Dean…

  45. Michael Parks is one of the Hollywood greats. I first ran across him in Hitman with Chuck Norris. A most remarkable actor. I hope the jerks that I blacklisted him end up poor homeless and living under bridges.

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