MATHIS – With more than 200 acting credits under his belt, Don Collier may not be as famous as some of his more high profile co-stars over the years, but unlike them, he’s still alive and kicking.
Some know Collier as ranch foreman Sam Butler from the popular TV show “The High Chaparral”, which ran from 1967-1971. Others may know him from his film roles like “The Undefeated” where he played Goodyear or Shack from “The War Wagon,” both films where he performed opposite John Wayne. He’s shared the screens with the likes of legends Rock Hudson, Dean Martin and even Elvis Presley in “Paradise, Hawaiian Style”.
Once a year, Collier passes through Texas and makes sure to visit his old pal Rex Taylor and his wife Janet who live in the Mathis area. And when he does, he also makes sure to pay Gail and Mike Smolik a visit and grab some grub at Smolik’s Smokehouse.
At 91, Collier isn’t interested much in performing anymore, though he picks up the occasional voice over role from time to time.
“I’m just a bum,” Collier said with a laugh. “My wife’s gone; all my kids are taken care of, and I don’t have any obligations. None. And it’s great.
“I don’t know why I’ve lived this long, but I’m still in good shape so if there’s something I want to do, I just do it.
“I’m really enjoying life; it’s a lot of fun just traveling around. I don’t have not a one responsibility.”
Collier moved to the city of Gilbert, right outside of Phoenix, last year where one of his sons lives, but the retired actor said it was too crowded and has his sights set on Kentucky, the home of another one of his sons.
“I might move in there permanently,” Collier said. “I’ll surprise him with that when I get there.”
But if he decides to hit the road again, with six kids, 11 grandkids and 14 great-grandkids, he’ll definitely have a place to stay.
In Mathis, fans and friends filled the meeting room of Smolik’s Smokehouse with laughs, shouts, jokes and stories.
One visitor mentioned that Collier was missing the tip of one of his fingers – which he lost in World War II loading shells aboard a cruiser during battle. After the war, he joined the merchant marines and visited Japan which was still in the midst of rebuilding.
“We went in Tokyo Bay, and there was still bows of ships sticking out the water,” he recalled. “They blew the heck out of Yokohama and Tokyo – destroyed it.
“When we went to Tokyo, the tallest building there was two stories high, and it was the Ernie Pyle building who was an old wartime correspondent. The Americans built that building before the war.”
Ernest Taylor Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and war correspondent who is best known for his stories about ordinary American soldiers during World War II. The building was later named the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater before being demolished in 1998.
“And we saw two automobiles there, and they burned coal, and they had a water tank on there which made steam,” Collier remembered. “There were a lot of rickshaws and bicycles because that place was just tore up. It took them years before they got it all built back.”
Going back to the subject of old Hollywood, Collier talked about Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, the academy award winning “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood” where Leonardo DiCaprio plays an old western TV actor trying to make the leap to films with his trusty stunt man at his side played by Brad Pitt.
“(The movie) was good; I like those two boys,” he said. “They covered that Manson thing pretty good.
“It was a lot of fun all those years. I grew up there and spent almost seven years of my life right there before I moved out to do ‘High Chaparral’ in Arizona. I liked Arizona. I bought a little ranch and did some local stuff there. I enjoyed it.”
Collier said the last thing he did in front of the camera was filming a show titled, “Confessions of a TV Cowboy” out in L.A. but mentioned that he has himself a recorder and may do some voice over work and send it out to possibly try and get some work.
“I might do that, but I don’t like to work anymore,” he laughed. “I smoked for 50 years and quit 25 years ago. I drank my fair share of booze, and I’m still able to drink now and then. I had my appendix out in 1948 and had bladder cancer 10 years ago. Other than that, I haven’t had anything.
“All my life, I’ve had jobs where you’re obligated to do this and obligated to do that.
“Now? No obligations.
“I loved all those years raising the kids and all that, but this is nice.”
When asked about his long life and how he’s made it so far still being able to maintain a regular schedule and get around, Collier said with a grin, “I don’t know. I didn’t try; it just happened.”