- Junior Bonner: The Making of a Classic with Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah in the Summer of 1971 by Jeb Rosebrook
Jeb Rosebrook, who wrote the fine screenplay for Sam Peckinpah’s modern Western, is in awe of Peckinpah, Steve McQueen, and many of the leading figures who worked on Junior Bonner (1972) in Prescott, Arizona, during the summer of 1971. And he has a story to tell—not only of the behind-the-scenes machinations that accompany many Hollywood productions but also of the intricacies of [End Page 85] filmmaking (rehearsing, positioning, lighting, camera angles, editing, and so forth). Especially interesting for readers who follow film stars, his story chronicles day-by-day filming activities and focuses on two of the most talked about people in the business at the time: director Sam Peckinpah, at the top of his game though considered outrageous by many insiders and, at times, over-the-top, and Steve McQueen, also at the top (Rosebrook frequently reminds us he was then the highest paid actor in the world) but going through a personal crisis.
At the time, Prescott was often considered the West’s best-kept secret, but its annual July 4 Frontier Days Rodeo was gaining attention, as was its popularity as a retirement oasis. The film is shot during Frontier Days, with vivid scenes of the actual parade and rodeo. The Palace Saloon, in which the famous nonviolent fight scene occurs, is documented in the book with photos of the cast and crew (including many locals who served as extras) and much Peckinpah memorabilia. The whole town, it seems, participated in the production.
In an interesting foreword, Marshall Terrill notes how he and Rosebrook’s son Stuart pressed Jeb over the years, “gently nagging him to write an account of the making of the rodeo film,” which he finally did for Arizona Highways in 2001 but which Terrill calls G-rated. This book is not. We learn, for instance, that Peckinpah tried to have his own name replace Jeb’s as screenwriter and to have Jeb fired from the production. Failing that, Peckinpah put Rosebrook through a series of tests (as Jeb puts it, “whenever he [Peckinpah] felt like putting me in the barrel”), culminating with Jeb finally proving he “was the real deal cowboy, handling [himself] in the wild cow-milking” scene, which actually made it into the film’s final cut. After that Jeb claims he and Sam “worked well together,” with Peckinpah demanding that Rosebrook be a constant presence when shooting on location (169).
Not restricted exclusively to the film’s making, Rosebrook’s narrative begins with a nostalgic memoir of growing up on the East Coast where, diagnosed with “allergy asthma,” his doctor advised his parents to relocate to a drier climate to “help him regain his health” (5). In February 1945, accompanied by his mother, [End Page 86] Rosebrook boarded “a train in Grand Central Station . . . bound for a new life at a school on a working cattle ranch, the Quarter Circle V Bar Ranch in central Arizona” (5). Jump to 1970: Rosebrook, thirty-five, reveals that except for a year and a half at a Florida high school, he had spent most of his youth on and around that ranch, thirty miles from Prescott. Living in North Hollywood and scraping by as a freelance writer, he and his wife, Dorothy, visiting her mother in Phoenix, are invited to the Frontier Days Rodeo and, according to Rosebrook, “my life changed. I went to the rodeo . . . and Junior was born” (9). Going to Prescott was like a homecoming for him and in a way mirrors the homecoming Steve McQueen’s character experiences as he returns to his hometown and wins the bull riding contest by surviving the dreaded “Sunshine” for a full eight seconds. A response to Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, Rosebrook’s screenplay implies you can go home again, and even be a hero.
Another of the...