The Legendary Manliness of William Smith
I’ve had these notes sitting around my work desk for the better part of two months, unclear of exactly how to do justice to a man who has accomplished so much both on and off the screen. Listing one’s successes does little to highlight a persons true contributions to society but in this ADD-infused world that we live in it often times forces writers like myself to condense what appeared to be a lofty paper into something well under 1000 words. Oh shit, I’m already at 85!
So it is with some regret but mostly relief that I have shortened this “too long to read while taking a crap” post into something that can be read during your lunch break or while committing yourself to the dumpatorium.
William Smith, who celebrates his birthday 83rd birthday today, has appeared in nearly 300 films and television shows during his illustrious career. But even with a staggering number like that to his credit, it’s his life away from the screen that had me thinking, “Is William Smith the manliest man ever?”
Despite the fact that Smith spent time in the Air Force during the Korean War and was an intelligence expert for what would become the NSA, his unbelievable physical prowess is only matched by his incredible mental capacity. Smith was a valuable asset during the Cold War days because not only was he an expert in Russian, but he was fluent in five different languages. Bill earned his Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse University and a Masters from UCLA but to call him a nerd would put you at risk of getting the ass-whoopin’ of a lifetime.
Smith’s time in the Air Force gave him other opportunities to push his body to the extreme. He was a light-heavyweight boxing champion, a champion discus thrower at UCLA, 2-time 200-lbs world arm wrestling champion, once reverse curled 163 lbs and did 5,100 continuous sit-ups. Bill trained Kenpo with instructor Ed Parker and also has a Black Belt in Kung Fu. Just listing these things out make me feel like less of a man.
William’s athletic career had many different paths. A short stint as a professional football player in Germany, and competitive downhill skiing and motocross are nothing to sneeze at, but his bodybuilding may be what got him the eye of Hollywood. Smith had intended, after the Korean War, to get a position working for the U.S. Government but he quickly started getting more and more work as and actor and soon found himself as a regular on shows like The Asphalt Jungle and Laredo. His 6’2″ frame as so physically imposing that he was able to become one of the “go to” bad guys for shows like Miami Vice and Kung Fu.William was born to do the Western genre, though, as he is actually a direct descendant of Old West legends Kit Carson and Daniel Boone.
William Smith is as close to a living, breathing version of Doc Savage as you’ll ever find (with a possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt) but it’s also that perfect combination of brains and brawn that made critics call him the “greatest bad-guy character actor of all time.” You believed he could do what he did on screen because if there was no director there to yell “CUT!” a crew member would have had to standby with a tranquilizer gun to stop Smith from terrorizing the film’s good guys. Bill was the acting equivalent of musical legend Johnny Cash. Their images were re-enforced by the sincerity of their badassness.If you’ve ever seen Smith opposite Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way You Can you will notice just how charismatic of a villain Smith could be. How many guys could hold their own next to Dirty Harry?
What many don’t know is that William was personally offered the role made popular by John Saxon in the martial arts classic Enter the Dragon. It was due to scheduling issues that kept them from agreeing to the partnership but you can be damn sure that Smith, Bruce Lee, and Jim Kelly would have killed it on screen together.
Smith’s coolness led him to be the final version of The Marlboro Man to be seen in a television commercials as well. Marketing firms knew, much like the rest of the world, that William Smith’s aura of Manliness was bigger than what kind of cigarette was in his mouth. It was bigger than the motorcycle that he rode on or the beautiful woman who wrapped her arms around his waist. It wasn’t something that he sprayed on himself that made him seem so badass. It was a lifetime of fighting wildfires, fighting biker gang members, and graduating Cum Laude that engineered the man that William became. Smith’s coolness oozed out of him and threatened to make anyone close enough “cooler” just by proxy. That’s a whole lot of man, folks.