Late, great character actor discusses the making of a horror fantasy classic
In 1971, late actor Paul Koslo starred in director Richard Sarafian’s existential 1971 automobile thriller VANISHING POINT. But that same year, Koslo also starred in the second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s influential novella I AM LEGEND, THE OMEGA MAN, whose magnificent Ron Grainer score we discussed here last week.
In THE OMEGA MAN, Koslo plays the laid back Dutch, a motorcycle riding refugee of a dead world inherited by a legion of deranged, hooded mutants intent on destroying any trace of humanity left on the planet, chiefly two-fisted survivor Robert Neville (Charlton Heston).
And though Koslo would also star in many other notable ‘70s film, including the TRUE GRIT sequel ROOSTER COGBURN, the Charles Bronson vehicle MR. MAJESTYK, Jack Starret’s THE LOSERS and Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE, it’s his tales of fighting side by side with the larger than life Heston in Boris Sagal s brilliant THE OMEGA MAN that concerns us today.
Here’s some words I once had (excerpted from a longer chat I published in the pages of FANGORIA) with Koslo, who we lost in 2019 and who remains one of the greatest character actors of 1970’s cult cinema.
ALEXANDER: Can you tell us about your humble beginnings?
KOSLO: Well, I was born in Germany during the end of the war and, you know, the whole country was decimated, totally destroyed; so all of our parents were like disoriented, like, what the hell happened? and the kids, well, we were running amok. I was 4 or 5 and there was tanks rumbling down the street and the Brits and Americans were throwing out Wrigley’s spearmint gum and Hershey bars and the kids were going crazy. We had no supervision. We started to fantasize about America, about cowboys and Indians, or what we thought were cowboy and Indians. Then, when I was 7 we immigrated to Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. This is in 1951. We couldn’t speak any English so in school they would say stuff like Germs are bad I thought they were saying Germans. I ended up fighting with people a lot. We were like aliens. We were always in trouble.
ALEXANDER: Did your parents embrace your decision to become an actor?
KOSLO: Actually, my dad was a career soldier and so was my grandfather and my great grandfather. He was a hard guy to get to know. So I up and left home when I was 13 and never looked back. See, to him, I was never an actor. It didn’t matter that I had been in over 100 TV shows and movies. He wouldn’t hear it.
ALEXANDER: Let’s talk about how you ended up as the other last man on earth in one of my favorite films, THE OMEGA MAN. Tell me about Charlton Heston; what did you learn from him?
KOSLO: Oh man, the first thing I learned was you don’t fuck with Moses, y’know (laughs)? But he was really nice. I worked with him on a few pictures and he was always very sweet to me. I hit him on the head with my pearl handle .45 in Dodger Stadium; remember that scene in the film? That scene where the mutants were going to burn him at the stake?
ALEXANDER: Of course, it’s the first time we see you in the film
KOSLO: Yeah, well I came in there, this guy, Dutch with his dopey Baron Von Richter hat and I had these guns and the director, Boris Sagal, what a sweet guy, he says Paul will you run in there as fast as you can and keep those guns out, because the goons will try to kill you, it will be dark, some explosions will go off and I need you to get in here as fast as you can because we’ll have a little fire behind Heston. Don’t worry he won’t be in any danger.
So I get in there, I slide in, really dramatic and hot looking and as I reach for his wrists above his head to untie him, I smack him in the head with the fucking gun and I break his skin! And I thought, Holy shit what have I done? I said, “I’m so sorry man”, and he says “Just get on with it! Get me outta here!” and I started to untie him and I’m like, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it!” and then we ran outta there hunched over, as fast as we could out of the shot. I said, I’m so sorry Mr. Heston. He says, “Goddammit, that hurt!” Anyway, they stitched him up and he was fine with me after that; but I will say that after that, I did all my close ups during our dialogue scenes talking to a mop that the script girl would hold
ALEXANDER: THE OMEGA MAN was an expensive picture but did it open well? Was it a hit?
KOSLO: It was a hit, yeah. I’ll tell you why: because it was controversial. Rosalind Cash, the love interest was, of course, a black actress and she had a nude scene and that was HUGE. This is 1971. It had never been done in a major motion picture by a major studio. That was very enlightening to a lot of people and Heston got a lot of brownie points for doing that. You know, I didn’t like his politics but Heston was a nice guy. A smart guy. And he was nice to me.
You know, right before THE OMEGA MAN I did THE LOSERS with William Smith. After three weeks of filming that in the jungle, the producer, Joe Solomon, hadn’t paid us. William Smith said, “We’re not doing anything until that SOB pays us!”
This was a SAG film and we went over our hours every day. So I never got paid. Heston was the president of the Screen Actors Guild at the time and I told him what happened. Not only did I get every penny that I had coming, but the penalties and interest as well. He was a real union guy.
ALEXANDER: You say you didn’t agree with his politics. What were they at the time? This was a man who I understood was a great advocate for civil rights
KOSLO: Yes, but he was still very, very conservative. He was a forerunner for putting his voice out there for things like civil rights, yes, but he was always pro-gun. He didn’t talk that much. He didn’t like that many people. He was a loner. But he was a big advocate for guns.
ALEXANDER: You are not, obviously.
KOSLO: No. Guns kill. People kill people with guns. If you’ve got a gun, you gotta use it.
ALEXANDER: You worked with another 70’s gun culture figurehead, Charles Bronson.
KOSLO: Yeah, I did three movies with that guy. MR. MAJESTYK, THE STONE KILLER and LOVE AND BULLETS with Rod Steiger. I have a real history with Bronson. I have some great stories. I didn’t like him at all. My mom loved him. But out of all the hundreds of actors I’ve worked with, Heston, John Wayne, all of them, I can only cite two assholes: James Franciscus and Bronson. That’s pretty good odds. In MR. MAJESTYK, we came towards the end of the movie and the director, Richard Fleischer, the sweetest guy ever, whose dad incidentally was Max Fleischer who did the BETTY BOOP cartoons, said, “Charlie, I want to change the end of the movie here. When you come down from the upstairs into the cabin, Paul is down here and you’re supposed to kill him, but he’s so funny in the movie, I think it would be nice to let Paul live”. Bronson walks down the stairs real slow, swaggering and he looks at me, he looks at Fleischer and says “I’m not here to make a star out of Paul Koslo. When you figure it out, I’ll be in my dressing room. And he walks out! Richard stops him and says, “No Charlie, I need you here!” Bronson looks back at me, piercing eyes staring me down. I shrug my shoulders, looking around, smiling nervously. Bronson says, “What, you think that’s funny? Maybe I can fix it so you’ll never smile again!” I’ve got Charles Bronson stories you would not believe, man!