At the center of Quentin Tarantino's new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, out July 26, are actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), both stars whose time in the Hollywood limelight may soon be coming to an end. That's because their careers peaked with the fictional Bounty Law, a fictional TV show created for the film. Rick stars in the one-time hit Western series, which bears a striking resemblance to a few of those actual classic Western television shows that were immensely popular around the end of the 1950s. In fact, Tarantino has specifically named one show, Wanted Dead or Alive, as a source of inspiration. That show's principal actor, Steve McQueen, also contributed to the characterization of Rick.
In a conversation with the Pure Cinema podcast, Tarantino expanded on the real Hollywood personalities behind Rick and Cliff and the TV show they work on. "Rick had a very successful NBC series called Bounty Law," the director explained. "It came out the same season as Steve McQueen came out with Wanted Dead or Alive, and they’re pretty much identical shows."
Wanted Dead or Alive ran from 1958 to 1961 and featured McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall, who, in addition to chasing down fugitives for money, performed various other services, including helping an amnesiac recover his memory, and, strangely enough, finding Santa Claus.
Tarantino didn't say on the podcast whether Rick's Bounty Law character, Jake, also goes on a search for Santa Claus, but he did explain the contrast in career trajectories between Rick and McQueen. "[Rick] became quite popular and, like McQueen, during his hiatus, started doing movies … and they did OK, but during McQueen’s hiatus, eventually, he did The Magnificent Seven, and that was that. So, when he goes back to his series, to finish his last season … he’s a f*cking movie star. Rick is still Jake … he doesn’t pull off the TV-to-movies transition.”
So while Rick languishes in TV stardom limbo, McQueen entered Hollywood stardom. As Tarantino mentions, McQueen appeared in some certified Hollywood classics, including The Magnificent Seven, which is a Western remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, plus action thrillers such as The Great Escape and the iconic San Francisco car chase flick, Bullitt.
While Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape are available online for streaming, Wanted Dead or Alive might prove to be a harder get, as it isn't streaming anywhere. It's still possible to purchase a copy on Amazon or wherever else you get your DVDs. So if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stokes your curiosity about this era of film, television, and celebrities, you can get your fix by checking out some of the media that paved the way for it.
And if, after that, you're still dead set on checking out some golden age Hollywood, these 12 historical fiction novels set in Old Hollywood should be on your reading list. You'll be as big of an expert as Tarantino in no time.