Charles B. Pierce

Charles Bryant Pierce was an independent filmmaker from Arkansas whose movies have become cult classics. Films that he wrote, directed and/or produced were not only made in Arkansas with local actors but also drew their inspiration from Arkansas themes. He is believed to be the source of one of the most famous lines in American film history from the 1983 film ‘Sudden Impact’: “Go ahead, make my day.”

Charles B. Pierce was born in Hammond, IN, on June 16, 1938, the son of Mack McKenny Pierce and Mayven Bryant Pierce. When he was a few months old the family moved to Hampton, Calhoun County, in the south-central part of Arkansas. Living in Hampton, Pierce grew up next door to Harry Thomason, who later became successful as a producer and director of such projects as TV’s “Designing Women” (1986).

According to Pierce’s family, one of his chores growing up was mowing the lawn. His father came home one day at lunchtime and asked if the boy planned to mow the yard anytime soon, adding, “When I come home tonight and the yard has not been mowed, you’re gonna make my day.” Later in life, Pierce would use the admonition to great advantage.

In the mid-1960s, Pierce was working as an art director at KTAL-TV in Shreveport, LA, and later became a weatherman and hosted a children’s cartoon program at the small independent-owned TV station. Returning to Arkansas, he started an advertising business on State Line Avenue in Texarkana, Miller County, in addition to playing a character called Mayor Chuckles on a local television show.

In 1971, there were local headlines about a Sasquatch-like creature sighted in the wetlands vicinity around the nearby town of Fouke in Miller County. The “Fouke Monster” was reportedly seen in the Boggy Creek area and was suspected of attacking dogs and livestock as well as a local family. In mid 1972, while still working in advertising, Pierce created a semi-documentary film originally titled “Tracking the Fouke Monster”–later renamed ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’. Pierce shot the movie with a 16mm camera he assembled himself at home. Much of the movie was filmed in Fouke and Texarkana with local residents and students as actors and/or crew. Estimates place the cost of making the film at about $165,000. Becoming popular as a drive-in horror feature around the country, it became one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of the year, earning over $20 million.

Earning several hundred thousand dollars in residuals from the film, Pierce used his new found wealth to write and direct several other films, which included the crime comedy-drama Bootleggers (1974), the westerns Winterhawk (1975) and The Winds of Autumn (1976), the true-life horror flick The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), the western Grayeagle (1977), the viking adventure The Norseman (1978), another true-life thriller The Evictors (1979), the western Sacred Ground (1983), a sequel to “Boggy Creek” titled Boggy Creek II (1985), the violent western Hawken’s Breed (1987), the family drama Renfroe’s Christmas (1997) and Chasing the Wind (1998). His earlier films in particular were shot in Arkansas and/or featured Arkansas themes and local residents in their production.

After moving to California in the early 1980s to further his career, he became friends with actor/director Clint Eastwood while living in Carmel, where Eastwood was elected mayor in 1986. After sharing a story treatment that Eastwood liked, Pierce became a writer for the fourth in the Dirty Harry series, Sudden Impact (1983), which Eastwood directed. Its most famous line, “Go ahead, make my day,” has been ranked in the top ten of the American Film Institute’s top movie quotes of all time.

Returning to his own independent;y produced films, Pierce was the star, writer, director and co-producer of The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II, (1985), a sequel to “Boggy Creek” that was eventually re-titled Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues (1985). The movie also contains footage of a University of Arkansas (UA) Razorback football game in Fayetteville, Washington County), complete with hog-hatted fans.

Pierce acquired the nickname “Sparkplug” due to his energy; he was always thinking about his next project while completing another. Pierce was married to Florence Lyons, a Tennessee native, for ten years and they had three children, one of whom was Charles Pierce Jr. They eventually divorced. Pierce’s second wife was Cindy Butler; they also later divorced. While filming “Hawken’s Breed” in 1987 with Peter Fonda (I) in the area around Dover, TN, Pierce met his third wife Beth Pulley; they married the following year.

Along with starring and directing Boggy Creek II, Pierce acted in several of his films, in small roles; these included “Bootleggers”, “The Winds of Autumn” and “The Town that Dreaded Sundown”. Pierce directed a number of noted character actors, such as Slim Pickens (I), Jack Elam, Kathleen Freeman (I), Woody Strode and L.Q. Jones, along with lead actors including Jaclyn Smith (I), Dawn Wells (I), Andrew Prine, Lee Majors (I), Cornel Wilde, Mel Ferrer (I), Vic Morrow, Michael Parks (I) and Academy Award winner Ben Johnson (I).

Suffering from poor health later in life, Charles B. Pierce died on March 5, 2010, at the Signature Care nursing home in Dover, TN, at age 71, where he had been living for the past seven years. He is buried at Stewart Memorial Gardens near his home in Dover. Two years before his death, the frail-looking Pierce attended and was spotlighted by the Little Rock Film Festival in 2008 with a retrospective, received the Arkansas Arts Council’s Judges Special Recognition award in 2009, honored annually by the Little Rock Film Festival through the Charles B. Pierce Award for Best Film Made in Arkansas. He was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2010.

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