I have friends who like me, dig the zeitgeist of our turbulent childhoods. I probably get at least three quizzes in my inbox each week asking me to test my memory of growing up in the 60’s.
I get plenty of quizzes about the 70’s too, but considering that’s when I was a teenager, well…I didn’t watch a lot of TV then and that which I did watch….uh…er, uh…well, “circumstances” beyond my cognitive control prevent me from remembering a thing.
However, some memories are more vivid and therefore, able to rupture through my drug addled gray matter.
I especially remember the movie, Deliverance which made most of the men I knew back then, extremely uncomfortable. It caused one old boyfriend to swear off the use bar soap in his shower for fear of dropping it–even in private!! There are two memorable parts of that movie. One is the obvious scene involving the corpulent lean-to, Ned Beatty and a libidinous “hill person”; the other is the famous “Banjo scene”.
I’m going to refresh your memory with a video of that scene, but not before I refresh your memory, a little text, please. The kid with the banjo is a young, first time actor named Billy Redden. He was 16 when this movie was filmed in 1972 (it was released in early 1973). He’s “Dueling Banjos” with that no- talent SAG card hack, Ronny Cox (I kid because I love), who in this scene looks amazingly like the product of an unholy union between Randy Travis and a much younger, Peter Fonda.
Watch all the way to the end…
Did you see the cat clogging in the background? Not a lick of rhythm.
But the video helped, right? Now you remember?
Of course you do!
Anyway, a friend sent me a “that was then/this is now” photo of Billy Redden, which I’ll show you in a sec. The pic got me curious as to what this young man’s story was. I did some digging and found a Wikipedia article about him.
Redden earned his role in “Deliverance” during a casting call at Clayton Elementary School in Clayton, Georgia. To add authenticity and a little humor to the film (personally I found the scene kind of creepy), the filmmakers thought Redden fit the look of an inbred countrified, product of Pa and sister/mother, genetically bastardized banjo player and Redden happens to be neither.
Because Redden couldn’t play a lick, another banjo player knelt behind him and reached around his chest to hold and play the banjo. Redden wore a specially made shirt that made the man’s arms appear to be his own. He faked playing as he walked to the porch swing. Additionally, the shot was filmed from angles that made it impossible to see the musician behind Redden on the porch. He just ‘looked the part’.
At the end of the scene, the script called for Redden to harden his expression towards Cox’s character, Drew Ballinger. But Redden liked Cox and was unable to feign his dislike for the actor. To solve the problem and get the look that was needed, director John Boorman, got Human Pen(is) Cushion, Ned Beatty (whom Redden truly disliked–in spite of his “purdy mouth”) to step towards Redden at the close of the shot. As Beatty approached, Redden hardened his expression and looked away and the Panaflex lens caught it exactly as Boorman wanted it.
Billy wasn’t a Burt Reynolds fan, either. Here’s what he said about the star of Deliverance.
“Burt didn’t want to say nothing to nobody. He wasn’t polite. And he made us look real bad—he said on television that all people in Rabun County do is watch cars go by and spit.”
Redden also appeared in Tim Burton’s 2003 film, “Big Fish”, lookin’ older but in an all too familiar cinematic setting, sittin’ on a porch swing, barefoot and clutchin’ a banjo.
Burton was intent on getting Redden, who hadn’t appeared in a film since “Deliverance”, to play the role of a banjo-playing welcomer in the utopian town of Spectre. Burton eventually found him in Clayton, Georgia, where Redden still works as a cook, dishwasher and part-owner of the Cookie Jar Café.
That wasn’t the last anyone saw of Redden, by the way. In 2004, had you been very depressed and the victim of one cable channel, you wouldv’e been forced to watch old Billy Boy make a guest appearance on the abominable “Blue Collar TV”. Surprise, surprise, he played the role of an inbred car repairman named Ray in a skit entitled, “Redneck Dictionary”. For those playing the home game, the word du jour for that epic production was “raisin bread”, aka “Ray’s Inbred”.
And of course, he was shown playing a banjo.
He’s 56 today. Here’s a close-up of him at at 53. (photo from TMZ)
Is it just me or can you also take one look at adult Billy here and see a little southern-fried Robin Williams happenin’ in the facial area?