Believing real-life turmoil bred peerless creativity, Sam Peckinpah left an indelible mark on post-1960s cinema with a relatively small body of work that was not for the faint of heart, either in the audience or his collaborators. Peckinpah's unruly, incendiary vision turned such films as Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969), and the non-Western Straw Dogs (1971) into forceful, complex ruminations on violence, morality, and manhood.
Born in Fresno, CA, and raised on a ranch on nearby Peckinpah Mountain by his sober mother and judge father, descendants of pioneer settlers, Peckinpah learned to ride and shoot as a child and idolized his hardy Superior Court jurist grandfather. A boozing, violence-prone troublemaker by his teens, Peckinpah spent his senior year at military school, joining the Marines in 1943 after graduation. Enrolling at Fresno State College in 1947, Peckinpah discovered his calling when his schoolmate and first wife-to-be turned him on to drama. Relocating to Los Angeles to get his master's degree at U.S.C., Peckinpah began directing theater and took a job at KLAC-TV as a stagehand. He was subsequently fired from his menial job on Liberace's TV show for not wearing a suit. Peckinpah's luck changed when he was hired as Don Siegel's assistant at Allied Artists. Well matched in cinematic temperament, Siegel became Peckinpah's mentor as he learned the craft on five Siegel films. Peckinpah also began writing scripts for TV Westerns in 1955, contributing episodes to several shows, including Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel. Getting a shot at directing with an episode of Broken Arrow in 1958, Peckinpah further honed his skills with episodes of The Rifleman and The Westerner.