Bud Kennedy

2006: Bill Paxton comes home to a Fort Worth movie town of memory

Bill Paxton at the AMC Palace in 2007 for the Lone Star Film Festival.
Bill Paxton at the AMC Palace in 2007 for the Lone Star Film Festival. Star-Telegram

Having been shot into space, blown away in a movie twister and killed by an assortment of predators, aliens and terminators, actor Bill Paxton is now ready to face the most dangerous hazards yet in his 32-year acting career.

First, he must endure a homecoming party tonight in Fort Worth, where his old friends and new fans will pay $100 and up to say hello to a 1960s west side kid who has quietly become one of the top 25 box-office stars in movie history.

Then, he must marry three women at once in his first TV starring role, and show his stuff beginning March 12 on HBO in the new Sunday adult drama Big Love.

If local legend is true, his high school dating life at Aledo and Arlington Heights prepared him well for the role.

If every local woman who claims she once kissed him shows up tonight at the Community Arts Center, all 450 seats will be filled.

“That's probably true!” Paxton, 50, said over breakfast Friday, making a rare trip home for the benefit to help raise money for a fledgling local film society.

“Yes,” he said, smiling. “That's true.”

His mother, Mary Lou, jumped in to say, “I remember the time … ” and before long, we were back in a time when teen-agers cruised Camp Bowie Boulevard, parked down Indian Creek Road from the Paxtons' house along Shady Oaks Country Club and took dates to see movies at the Cherry Lane Twin Drive-In or the Westside.

Paxton said he always watched the movies. Even the night he drove home with a Cherry Lane Twin speaker hanging from his car window.

He learned the business in the great Fort Worth moviehouses, riding the city bus downtown to see the newest James Bond film at the Hollywood, Palace or Worth theater or his bicycle out west to Disney's latest at the Ridglea or Bowie theaters.

“I grew up in a city of movie palaces,” he said.

On Saturdays, he would take the bus downtown and read at the old library, then go to a movie. “For a kid in Fort Worth, there was nothing better than going to the movies,” he said.

He met actors such as Ray Bolger when they came to his family's home for parties after visiting golf great Ben Hogan at the country club. Paxton's father was a movie buff and a local executive with Kansas City-based Paxton Lumber Co. and Paxton Beautiful Woods.

The actor wrote a sixth-grade paper about filmmaking, but later took an interest in oceanography when his family moved to a Parker County ranch.

“In Aledo, nobody cared about movies,” he said. “All they cared about was whether you would run with a pig bladder.” That's a football.

When the Paxtons moved back to the city, he transferred to Heights and ran into the legendary taskmaster of a chemistry teacher, Dona Stovall.

He passed her class: “But that was enough science.”

Heights drama teacher Rosemary Burton, a guest tonight, already had him hooked on theater and cast him in “Tea and Sympathy.”

By graduation in 1973, he had decided to be a movie stuntman. He and his friends staged their own stunts, filming wild leaps or firing a barrage of rifle shots into junk cars, like an early version of TV's “Jackass.”

One day, they hauled a Kodak Ektasound Super 8 camera to a place off West Vickery Boulevard and staged their own World War II drama, “Victory at Auschwitz.” They wore genuine uniforms and carried rifles from a father's collection.

That surprised the Fort Worth police.

“They thought they had uncovered some kind of neo-Nazi uprising,” Paxton said.

He mentioned another influence on his career: Icky Twerp.

KTVT/Channel 11 showed “Three Stooges” film shorts every morning on “Slam Bang Theater,” hosted by late slapstick funnyman Bill Camfield as host Icky Twerp. When Paxton directed his 2001 movie “Frailty,” he included a Slam Bang clip of Twerp.

“Dallas had ‘Mr. Peppermint,’ ” Paxton said, mentioning the Fred Rogers-like WFAA/Channel 8 host. “We had the Stooges and Icky Twerp. Now I'm showing those movies to my children.”

We talked about the day he saw President John F. Kennedy speak here, before Kennedy went to Dallas.

And we talked about Paxton's old pals, including beloved friends from the Lake Como neighborhood who worked in the Paxtons' home. Those friends will be among his guests tonight.

And he put in a plug for Fort Worth.

“I know this town's sitting on a big gas well,” he said, referring to the new riches of the Barnett Shale.

“But you don't know what a great, deep well of culture you have here, too. I grew up in a city that supports the arts. This city has the museums. You have the third largest cultural center in the country. This city supports music, and theater and film.”

We talked about the stars from Fort Worth: headliners such as Ginger Rogers and Larry Hagman plus supporting actors such as Paxton's west side contemporary and new Sunday night ratings rival, Harriet Sansom Harris of ABC's “Desperate Housewives.”

“You have so much film history here,” he said. “You could have a great film festival here.”

That's why we're throwing him a homecoming party.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.