[Lunchmeat chats with Paul A. Partain]
In 1974, Paul A. Partain played Franklin, in not only one of the first ever slasher movies (and arguably the American Granddaddy of them all), but he also played one of the subgenre's only (barring FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2) disabled character. With Franklin, Partain tread the tightrope between being sympathetic and infuriating - not an easy task.
Sadly, Paul passed away in 2005, but back in 2002 our very own Lunchmeat spoke to this enduring chainsaw legend. Appearing for the first time anywhere, here is that interview.
Q: Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably on everybody's top 10 list. It is definately in mine.
E network says TCM is the #1, most recognizable title in the world. Even more recognizable than Debbie Does Dallas or Gone With The Wind.
Q: As funny as it may sound, when I mention the film TCM to people who have already seen it, they always seem to bring up your character instead of Leatherface.
That sounds funny? Can’t imagine why. Leatherface was a big goober who never uttered a word. He merely grunted once or twice, wore his costume well and mostly didn’t drop the chainsaw.
Q: I know you probably have been asked this before, but can you maybe give us a little insight on how you were chosen for the part of Franklin?
I am more than happy to tell you all I know about it. Quite simply, I auditioned and auditioned and auditioned. The very first I heard about the project was from a lady at Theatre Unlimited, a dinner theater in Austin where I spent most of my free time acting or working on any crew that would have me. I now know they were reading mostly to fill the Hitchhiker role and indeed, that is the role I went to audition for. Alan Danziger had worked with Tobe Hooper on his prior feature, Eggshells, and Alan was pretty solidly cast as Jerry before I got there. Marilyn had locked up the Sally role, Jim was on board for the Father (He’s just the cook) and that left the Hitchhiker, Kirk, Pam and Franklin. Deciding on Kirk and Pam, as I recall, seemed to go rather quickly. There were several good looking pairs of “university age” actors to pick from and in listening to the readings and seeing who was read over and over again it seemed to me that Bill and Terri had a good shot at getting their parts after the first audition. As I mentioned, I went to the audition to try for Hitchhiker (I was told they were looking for a weird and crazy kind of guy….I can be weird and crazy, so why not). Although I am, and was even at that tender age, the world’s greatest actor, Hitchhiker was not for me and I found myself reading the parts that fed the lines to the actors who were reading for Hitchhiker, mainly our buddy, Franklin. Now, at this time, I had no way of knowing that Tobe and Kim had a friend of theirs in mind to play Franklin and that the part was all but cast. As the auditions went on and on, I found myself growing into the Franklin role and understanding him more and more and I think that Tobe and Kim were liking the directions I was taking Franklin in the readings, so they kept asking me to come back. One day, they decided, and viola, there it is, Franklin was forever wedded to Paul Partain.
Q: The thing that I love about 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is the gritty, docu-style approach in which it was filmed. Many of the scenes actually looked real. It seems as if I heard somewhere that you guys went through some pretty rough extremes to complete some portions of the film. I'm just curious....what were some of the most grueling moments during the filming of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'?
Grueling? Surely you jest. I am a native Texan. Born and bred in heat and sizzle of the Llano Estacato. I thrive on rolling around the state in 100 degree temperatures in an unairconditoned econovan with seven other sweating persons, chewing on raw sausage because some twit of a production assistant didn’t know she was supposed to buy the cooked kind. Grueling? Nay. Hot, yes. Add thousands of watts of light to an already hot dry windless set filled with decaying chicken bones and other pleasant set decorations and you have Gonzo Film Making! Could have been worse. I could have been in Tobe’s shoes, hanging upside down from the rafters in all of that trying to get just the right camera angle. Or I could have been one of the crew members enduring the same stuff as the cast, but unable at times to even breathe, finding that the back side of the lights gets damned hot and you have to move them to set up for the next shot and even if they cool down to room ambient, they are still above 100 degrees. I digress… There is a good line from a Johnny Rodriguez song that goes “ …yea it’s hot down in Texas,..but I call this my home. If I ain’t happy here, I ain’t happy nowhere…” Note to all northerners … if you can’t stand the heat, stay the hell out of Texas.
Q: Excuse me if this question is a little personal, but there is this little rumor that you and co-star Marilyn Burns (Sally Hardesty) didn't see eye to eye on some things during the making of the film. Can you maybe give us a little insight on this?
You should never listen to rumors. The two roles were written to have that sibling rivalry going on. When Marilyn and I were on the set we were working. There was not a lot of downtime and chances for interaction. I think you should go back to your source and question that information. Remember, the good guys and the bad guys were separated throughout the filming so if you heard a story about the bad guys from one of the good guys question it. Same goes for the bad guys spreading rumors about things they were never in a position to know anything about. Marilyn and I happen to be friends. We had worked together on a film the winter before Chainsaw. Be careful what rumors you choose to repeat. Big difference between actors being in character and staying in character and the personal interaction or lack thereof that may or may not be witnessed by an outsider. Anyway, Franklin, on the set was supposed to be a whiny bastard and that is exactly what Franklin was…Paul Partain ain’t like that.….phbttttttt! so there!
Q: In my opinion you had some of the best 'dialouge' from the film. I was just wondering, in your acting mode did you add libb any of your lines or were they originally written in the script?
Franklin was probably the most well written of all the characters. Personal opinion. We didn’t deviate from the script very much. Sometimes, once we had the scripted scene complete, we would get to improvise. The best example of that is the scene in the old “Franklin house” where Franklin has a heck of a time getting in and then looks up at the noise upstairs and then goes rolling around the downstairs in a snit. The first part of that was scripted. The remainder, Tobe and I made up as we went along . That is an actor’s definition of fun.
Q: I am not quiet sure if you can give me the info I'm loking for, but it is obvious that 'TheTexas Chainsaw Massacre' was filmed on a somewhat constrained budget. Would you have any idea how the money for TCM was raised and maybe give us some of the ages of the other cast members at the time of the shoot?
How the money was raised was not something I had anything to do with. There are some good pieces of reporting out there on the subject. I recommend you take a look at David Gregory’s TCM The Shocking Truth. I think he gets it right.
As to the ages of the cast members, OK, here goes: Jim Siedow was probably mid forties or so. Marilyn and Teri, well, womenfolk don’t always come right out with their age, but Marilyn was a college graduate plus a year or two, Teri was either a Junior or Senior at St. Edwards University. Bill and Alan were a couple of years out of UT. Gunnar was about the same age. Ed Neal had graduated and been into and out of the Army (ours). Grandpa John was 17. Everyone at the graveyard scene in the back of the pick-up is now dead, as is the cowboy who says “ I’m gonna steal your girl”, Jerry Green. Most of those folks at the graveyard came from the contact at Theatre Unlimited. Just remembered, Ed Neal had the lead there in the play Bell Book and Candle a few months before Chainsaw. Think I worked lights on that show, or perhaps I just played with the lighting director lady…the memory fades.
Q: Tobe Hooper is one of my favorite directors.
Q: What kind of experience was it to work with Tobe?
I found Tobe to be (I always wanted to start a sentence like that … Tobe, to be) a most focused and enthusiastic individual. Tobe had the vision and he had the ability to transmit that vision to the people who got to implement the nuts and bolts of the filming. Quite a trick.
Q: The scene involving Franklin, Leatherface, and Sally as you get ousted in the wheel chair is classic. Can you maybe tell us how this scene was accomplished? It looked so realistc.
That it looked realistic is hats off to Tobe and the crew. The whole
thing was orchestrated and choreographed to the nth detail. The chainsaw
was disabled, the clutch was out. I tested this on Tobe’s finger
prior to shooting. Good sport. …. Let me get back there in that
place. …. It was a night shoot. The temperature had dropped off
to the mid nienties. First part of the night was Marilyn running through
the mesquite trees. Dangerous thorns about an inch to two inches long
and sharp as needles all along the branches of the mesquite. Skimpy clothing,
not much protection at all. Disastrous results that left everyone feeling
her very real pain and left Marilyn wishing she had been blessed with
a more boyish figure when navigating the thorn breaks. The path that Marilyn
and I were trying to maneuver the wheelchair through was truly a rough
trail. It was a very real struggle to get that chair to move and of course
Tobe milked the scene for all it was worth. Marilyn and I were truly working
hard and getting frustrated and were thankful when we got to the part
where we actually had some lines to say and then out of the darkness comes
the sound of that big saw cranking up and then there is the most God awful
sight you ever want to see, eleven foot twenty seven inches tall, leather
apron, somebody else’s face for a mask and that damned smokin’
chainsaw coming right at you. I am an actor, and so is Ms. Burns, but
we did not have to do a lot of acting at that point. Marilyn hooked ‘em
to parts unknown and I screamed my ass off. The shot, the first time we
saw Leatherface, was as close to real as we all could make it. Now when
the close up came for old Franklin’s demise, that was a bunch of
fun. The camera was looking over my left shoulder. Most of the lighting
was coming from a “sun gun” flash light in my hand. The deal
was that Leatherface was to come into the light with the saw and take
a swipe at Franklin again and again. Dottie Pearl, our make up lady was
squatted off camera on my left and Tobe was in the same position off camera
on my right. We all three had a mouthfull of red Karo Syrup (blood) and
every time Leatherface came into the light, we would spit. The result
is that with each pass, the apron and saw gets more and more bloody. If
you look really close you can see drops of blood in the air. Very effective.
At the end, Tobe had a cup full of blood and he threw the contents. Said
it could have been when they hit the heart… As I recall that scene
was a lot of fun and everyone was laughing when it was done.
Q: At the release of TCM in 1974, did you have any idea that it would become the cult Icon in horror entertainment that it has become today?
Absolutely not. When it was released, I was amazed first of all that it got released, and then that it was as good as it was. It was good but films just don’t live for thirty years and still have the same effect on people. Chainsaw does. To this day, people see Chainsaw for the first time and are blown away. Me too.
Q: There are millions of horror fans in the world today. I would imagine that portraying such a character in such a famous landmarked horror film would lead to a following. Do people seem to recognize you when you go out in public as being Franklin from that 'Chainsaw' movie?
It helps that I am not in my twenties any more. When I was in my thirties, I had dropped a hundred pounds, grown back my moustache and had a full beard all the time from 79 to 95. Didn’t look much like the guy in the wheel chair. Still, some folks would hear my voice or place the name and then not really know what to do with their newly acquired information. I enjoy going to Fan conventions these days. Been to two so far and it is wonderful to see fans of all ages come up and tell me all about how and when and where they were when Chainsaw scared the pants off of them. Remember, the people walking around today being called Grandpa and Grandma were the first to appreciate Chainsaw or as Tobe says to “enjoy the buzzzzz”. Last year the local paper did an article about Chainsaw and one of the ladies from my church put the clipping on the choir room bulletin board. Can’t say the singers or the deacons look at me quite the same any more.
Q: Do you by any chance remain in contact with any of the original cast members?
Not by chance, on puropse.
Q: I was just curious, when you're not getting cut to bits by a guy with a chainsaw, just what does Mr. Partain do in his spare time? Any future projects?
Thank goodness I am staying busy. Working all the time. For the last thirty something years I have been in the electronics business. It has been very good to me but this summer it was just time to try something different. I now have a fledgling construction business which allows me the luxury of once again auditioning for movies when they come along and plays when I can spare the extreme amount of time required. I am loving it all. I recently had a very small part in Kevin Spacey’s new film and almost auditioned well enough to get into The Rookie (truth be told, I blew the audition at The Rookie. Director John Lee Hancock turned my interpretation of one character around and I just did not shift gears fast enough) That same guy, John Lee Hancock, is directing the new production of The Alamo now and if I can get the chance to get in front of him again I will have the most greased set of acting wheels he has ever seen. Once an actor, always an actor. It’s kind of a disease.
Q: And last but not least....what are your 10 favorite horror films?
10 favorite? OK Chainsaw has to be on top. Silence of the Lambs is in there (we’re kin by producers). I really enjoyed Hanibal and Red Dragon. Watching the old Godzilla flicks is still a hoot! The Thing scared the stuffing out of me when I rode my bike to the Palace Theatre downtown Georgetown Texas. I have a broad band-pass when it comes to film. I really like it and there just aren’t a lot of films that I don’t like something about. I think that is the key. If you really enjoy film, you can have a ball at any theatre in any genre. Especially film that is made with a passion, a vision. Tobe once said about Chainsaw, that he and Kim just wanted to do a horror film right. I think they succeeded beyond our wildest imagination. Enjoy the buzzzzzzzz! Paul Partain, Austin, Texas` December, twenty ought two.
Mr. Partain, it has been an honor for me and everyone else to have to conduct this interview. You have gave us all many hours of entertainment. I wish you and your family the best in life and always remember...'The Saw if Family'. You're great man!
Read the review of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE by Lunchmeat.