He has 105 screen credits, he’s played Django, Sartana and Butch Cassidy, and was on TV with James Dean – Rebecca Nicole Williams catches up with Jack Betts.
The character of Rick Dalton in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood has had people calling up a man called Jack Betts since its release last summer. With good reason too: Jack Betts pretty much is Rick Dalton.
What’s more, Jack Betts is coming out. 54 years after his Spaghetti Western debut in Sugar Colt, a film once selected by Quentin Tarantino for the Venice Film Festival and hailed as a minor masterpiece at Milano, the actor who was credited under the name Hunt Powers has a revelation: “I had a wonderful time in Rome, those great romances. And that wasn’t with Gina Lollobrigida or Brigette Bardot. It was with a naval lieutenant and an army sergeant! I’m coming out, ladies and gentlemen! This is me, Jack Betts, and I’m out of the closet. I’m really sad I’ve never done that before, so I figured, why the hell not?”
Betts is working on a screen adaptation of his play It Goes Like This, about the reconciliation between a transgender woman and her brother. He’s passionate about LGBTQ+ issues. “We did the play here in West Hollywood at the Lee Strasberg Institute. That was very successful.”
He hopes the film will feature Harry Hamlin, who spoke recently to the Hollywood Reporter about the negative impact taking a role as a gay man had on his career in the 1980s. “The movie script of It Goes Like This is very powerful,” says Jack. “I’m going to get this movie made and Harry is very interested. As a matter of fact, I’m going to be doing a scene in my acting class with Harry. I want Harry to play the General.”
Leonardo DiCaprio was Oscar nominated for his role as Rick Dalton, a Hollywood actor whose experiences echo Jack’s. Jack is excited about the response Tarantino’s film has received. “I absolutely loved it. It brought back a lot of memories, I mean, my god! I feel like I had so many friends calling me saying ‘Have you seen the ‘Hollywood’ movie? It reminds me of you!’”.
Looking back over his life, he tells us “it was interesting going to Rome. I had never been there, and I love the country and the people. I learned an awful lot and I think I found myself when I went there because of the way they enjoyed their life.”
“I was living in California at that time doing a couple of television shows and my agent called me one day and said ‘there’s an Italian director who’s been in New York for three weeks looking for somebody to star in three Western films and he hasn’t found anybody. He’s here now if you want to come by the office.’ The director was Franco Giraldi and we hit it off. He asked me ‘would you like to be in Cinecitta in three weeks and work on my films?’ and I said I would love to do that!”
Working with directors like Giraldi and Demofilo Fidani, ‘Hunt Powers’ played Django and Sartana several times, was Butch Cassidy once and went on to appear in Euro-capers and giallo before returning to the US.
“I had a public relations lady named Helen Ferguson, who handled Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck,” Jack explains. “She said ‘that’s wonderful you got this job, but you can’t go to Italy with a name like Jack Betts!’ She did some research into my family and found Huntington on one side of the family and Powers on the other.”
Hunt Powers was born.
“I’m very proud of Sugar Colt because when I got that job I had never really been on a horse and I had never had a gun in my hand. I was living in New York doing stage plays and studying at the Actors Studio, nothing to do with outdoor life at all.”
Classmates at the Actors Studio included Paul Newman and Lee J. Cobb. “I went to help a friend of mine audition,” Jack recalls.
“Now remember, I’m working in a lamp factory making $28 a week. Lee Strasberg called me at the lamp factory. How he got that telephone number to this day I don’t know. He said ‘I saw the scene last night at the Actor’s Studio. Do you want to study with me?’ If you were in that class, there were a lot of celebrities one of them being Marilyn Monroe.”
Soon Jack received another call at the lamp factory, this time from Elia Kazan who cast him as Brick in the touring production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. TV work kept Jack in legendary company. “Jimmy Dean didn’t come to the Actors Studio. Occasionally, but not very often. I met him on the first television show that was directed by Hume Cronyn. It was an episode called Glory In The Flower and another friend of mine, the director Mark Rydell, was in it too. It was a 90-minute show called Omnibus and they recorded everything live. We rehearsed for two weeks and I got to know him. I liked him a lot. Great sense of humour. Real crazy, a little unpredictable but a great guy.”
Jack is quintessential Hollywood. “I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. My mother had a friend in Miami, Florida and went down there for a couple of weeks to visit. Mother came back, took everything and put it in storage. She packed everything into that blue 1939 DeSoto and headed down the Dixie Highway number one to glorious, glamorous Miami, Florida. I auditioned for the talent show on Radio WIOD and sang ‘Green Eyes’ in Spanish. In those days, they had a live audience in the radio station. I got a standing ovation and won $25 first prize. I thought to myself even then what would happen if I didn’t do that audition? Would my life have been different?”
“I was ten years old and my mother took me to see a movie called Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier. I remember to this day she took me to that movie, and when I saw Olivier’s performance on that screen I said to my mother ‘that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,’ and she said ‘OK’ and that is what I have done all my life. Acting.”
Long may he continue to do so.
You can find out more about Jack over on his Facebook page at facebook.com/huntpowers
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