Cinema Revival 2020: The legend of Budd Boetticher

David Filipi, Director, Film/Video

Feb 13, 2020

Title card for the 1959 Budd Boetticher Western film Ride Lonesome

Our Cinema Revival presentation of director Budd Boetticher's 1959 Western Ride Lonesome on February 29 inspired Film/Video Director David Filipi to research the filmmaker's history as a student at Ohio State in the 1930s, where he was a multi-sport athlete. Or was he?

“Budd Boetticher explored the bare essentials of the genre. His style was as simple as his impassive heroes—deceptively simple.”

Martin Scorsese made this observation in his epic documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995) to describe a revered series of westerns directed by Oscar “Budd” Boetticher, Jr. in the 1950s and early '60s. Boetticher made films in other genres, and he made westerns featuring other stars, but the seven westerns he made with Randolph Scott, starting with Seven Men from Now in 1956 and ending with Comanche Station in 1960, are why he is celebrated by so many today.

Boetticher was born in Chicago in 1916, attended The Ohio State University in the mid-1930s where he excelled in—depending on the source—football, basketball, boxing, and track. He left Ohio State before graduating and traveled to Mexico where he became a professional bullfighter before getting his foot in the door of the Hollywood studio system.

I’ve loved the Boetticher-Scott films since I saw my first, The Tall T (1957), in the late 1990s before we presented a series of Boetticher westerns in then newly-struck 35mm prints from Columbia Pictures (Sony). That he attended Ohio State made him even more interesting to me.

A promotional flier for a 1999 film series at the Wexner Center for the Arts on the Westerns of filmmaker Budd Boetticher

Flier for a 1999 Wex series featuring new 35mm prints of four Boetticher Westerns


Searches of Boetticher’s biographical record—both online and the old-fashioned way—yield similar results that testify to Boetticher’s athletic achievements at Ohio State.

Ephraim Katz’s The Film Encyclopedia notes that Boetticher was a varsity boxer and football player at Ohio State. The late Peter Wollen’s summary of Boetticher’s career in the New Left Review (written under the pseudonym “Lee Russell”) says that Boetticher went to Mexico to “recuperate after an American football season.” A filmography compiled by Chris Wicking for the British Film Institute dossier Budd Boetticher: The Western also states that “he was sent to Mexico to recover from the effects of taking part in the American football season.” David Chute’s story in LA Weekly has him as an intercollegiate boxing champ at Ohio State where he also ran track (“three-tenths of a second behind Jesse Owens” according to Boetticher). His Wikipedia entry says that he was a “star athlete” at Ohio State before an injury ended his athletic career. Michael Wilmington’s obituary for the Chicago Tribune mentions that he was a varsity football and basketball player at Ohio State. His New York Times obituary says that he “went to Ohio State University where he excelled in track, basketball, boxing and varsity football.” And in his autobiography, When in Disgrace, Boetticher references being a “football-injured son” and that he did not finish his education at Ohio State.

Since we are presenting a new 4K restoration of the Boetticher western Ride Lonesome (1959), starring Randolph Scott, on February 29 during our sixth annual Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration, I thought it would be interesting to reach out to Ohio State’s Department of Athletics and University Archives to flesh out the story of Boetticher’s apparently brief time in Columbus. I was expecting a few team pictures including Boetticher, some published rosters, some athletic records from a school that takes its sports very seriously.

So, it was quite surprising and even deflating to find very little and to come to the conclusion that, unfortunately, Boetticher probably inflated his achievements at Ohio State and they’ve been passed down as legend these many years. 

There are a number of mentions of Boetticher in articles from the period in the Ohio State Lantern, the student newspaper. A January 21, 1937 article notes that an intramural boxing match between Boetticher and a student named Harold Crim was stopped because Boetticher demonstrated “a much superior skill” and belonged in a higher class.  A February 2, 1937 article records a boxing loss by Boetticher to Walker Grelle. An article in the next day’s paper has Boetticher, subbing for Grelle, losing to Paul Alban for the 160-pound class “A” title. 

I could not find a single reference to Boetticher participating in track nor basketball, but I did find one potentially promising reference to Boetticher playing football. A January 28 article references the Boetticher-Grelle bout, but calls Boetticher “Dick” instead of Budd or his given name Oscar. It must be the same Boetticher, right? There is also an article from the previous fall that lists all of the football players receiving “freshman sweaters and numerals” including “Richard Boetticher.”  But in terms of Boetticher’s athletic career at Ohio State, this represents just about all that I could find. (It should be noted that Boetticher did participate in sports at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, before attending Ohio State. This might account for some of the confusion about the scope of his athletic achievements.)

Jenn Scarbrough in Ohio State’s Department of Athletics searched the “old athletic cards” that record a person’s participation in a sport whether they lettered or not and she even asked a 93-year-old former player if he remembered the name. No luck. 

Now, there is a Lantern article from October 27, 1936 naming the 92 students who had not listed Columbus addresses with the registrar’s office in order that the University directory may be completed. The subheadline reads, “Edith D. Cockins Requests That Blanks Be Filled Immediately At Her Office.” One of the guilty students was Oscar Boetticher. There is also an article from that fall recording that Boetticher received his pledge pin from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in September, and that in October he was one of the student contingent that took the train to South Bend for the now-famous Ohio State-Notre Dame game, which the Irish won 7-2 in the pouring rain. 

Perhaps Boetticher did participate in football in the fall of 1936, was injured, and never played again, though he did box intramurally later that winter. I had a chance to meet Boetticher in Los Angeles, very briefly, after a screening of Seven Men from Now at the Egyptian Theatre shortly before he died. He signed my poster from The Tall T (pictured below) and I mentioned that I worked at Ohio State and that I heard he had played football there.  He scrunched up his face a tiny bit and mumbled something about getting hurt, but then managed a few nice sentiments about his time here, probably to avoid hurting my feelings.  It would be great to have more definitive information about his athletic career at Ohio State or to be able to say he was headed for glory in Ohio Stadium before an injury cut short his budding career, but it’s not in the record. 

Filmmaker Budd Boetticher sits at a table autographing memorabilia during a September 2001 appearance at the Egyptian Theatre during Cinecon Los Angeles

Boetticher at Cinecon Los Angeles in 2001, following a screening of Seven Men from Now at the Egyptian Theatre; photo: David Filipi


At the end of my email chain with University Archivist Michelle Drobik (who pointed me in numerous helpful directions), she concluded, “Everyone’s grandfather played football for Woody Hayes and their great-grandfather ran track with Jesse Owens. You’d be surprised how many times we have heard this coming from individuals searching for their relatives. Sometimes a student’s participation in athletics gets embellished as time goes on, I suppose. However, it is exciting if we find out that the stories are true.”

Boetticher made a career out of telling stories that were not true, and I hope you will come to see one of his best, Ride Lonesome, during Cinema Revival.