True Action: Walking Tall
In this edition of True Action we will take a look at a man who has been the inspiration for numerous motion pictures, books, songs and even a short lived TV series. His name is Buford Pusser.
- The Movie: The first movie based on the life of Buford Pusser was the 1973 film Walking Tall starring Joe Don Baker as Pusser. The film begins with Pusser driving his family back to his native Tennessee after retiring from the world of professional wrestling. But the home he once knew had changed. The quiet southern town was now a hot bed for illegal gambling, prostitution and running moonshine. Pusser, disgusted that the law isn’t doing anything about it and suspecting the sheriff may actually be in on some of the criminal activities, decides to take the law into his own hands. Pusser’s vigilante like actions nearly land him in prison, but instead he is seen as a symbol of hope for the folks who want their town back. With the people behind him, Pusser then decides to run for sheriff against the incumbent, Sheriff Thurman. Thurman goes to extremes to try to eliminate his competition and ends up in a fatal car wreck. This opens the door for Pusser to become sheriff of McNairy County and legally able to wage war on the State Line Mob. There are multiple attempts by the State Line Mob to take out Pusser, one of those attempts leads to death of Pusser’s wife, Pauline.
- The True Story: The movie starts off 100% accurate. Pusser or as Chicago wrestling fans knew him, Buford the Bull, did move his family from The Windy City back to Tennessee after leaving the world of professional wrestling. But it quickly deviates from the true story after that. In the movie, Pusser’s father is not a policeman, but in fact Pusser’s father Carl was the police chief of Adamsville. This is the job that Buford himself would step into when he returned to Adamsville in 1962. The incumbent sheriff of McNairy County (his name was James Dickey) was killed in a freak automobile accident, like he does in the movie, but it was not while attempting to run down Buford Pusser. Pusser would be elected as the sheriff of McNairy County in 1964 and it was at that point he started his war with the State Line Mob. There were actually numerous attempts on Pusser’s life and Pusser did lose his wife Pauline during an attempt on his life, when she rides along with him on a disturbance call. The call turned out to be a set up to take out Pusser, instead his wife was killed and Pusser was shot in the chin. In all, Pusser survived 7 stabbings and 8 shootings. Pusser died in a car accident on August 21st, 1974, although some members of Pusser’s family contend it was murder.
Here are a few more interesting factoids about Buford Pusser and the movies his life inspired…
- The Sequels: Buford Pusser was set to play himself in the sequel, Walking Tall Part II. After his death, the role of Pusser went to Bo Svenson. Svenson would reprise the Pusser role in the third film, Final Chapter: Walking Tall.
- The Series: Bo Svenson would also star as Pusser in the Walking Tall TV series. The series only lasted 7 episodes and aired on NBC.
- Night at the Museum: The home Buford Pusser was living in at the time of his death has been turned into a Buford Pusser themed museum.
- Buford Fest: There is an annual Buford Pusser Festival held in May in his hometown of Adamsville, TN.
- Technically Speaking: Buford Pusser was the technical consultant for the first Walking Tall film. His father, Carl Pusser, served in that capacity for the two sequels.
- Big Buford: Brian Dennehy portrayed Pusser in a 1978 CBS TV movie called A Real American Hero. Hollywood just could not get enough Buford Pusser back in the 1970’s.