By the time Sam Fuller directed his first film at the age of thirty-six, he’d already lived three lives: as a journalist, a novelist, and an infantryman. By spinning his newsroom and frontline experiences into his movies, Fuller developed a unique cinematic voice that was complex and sophisticated, at times brutish and raw, though always truthful and personal. Fuller himself was a character only he could script—a magnanimous storyteller who spoke with brutal clarity and urgency (usually with a cigar clenched tightly in his teeth), relating to those around him as if they were comrades in a foxhole fighting deadlines, Nazi Germany, or studios unwilling to cooperate with his vision. What he once said about the writer he most admired, Balzac, Fuller could have said about himself: “He lived his stories.”
Samuel Michael Fuller was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on August 12, 1912. Legend has it that he was mute for the first five years of his life, an ironic beginning for a man who would later be known for his loquaciousness. His father died when he was ten, and a year later he moved with his mother to New York City, where he immersed himself in the world of tabloid journalism—his first great influence.
At twelve, lying about his age, Fuller got an after-school job working for the legendary editor Arthur Brisbane in the “morgue” (filing room) of the New York Evening Journal, a Hearst publication. He remained Brisbane’s personal copy boy till he reached seventeen, when he quit to become the youngest crime reporter on staff at the New York Evening Graphic. But when an editor at the Graphic talked the young Fuller into bringing a photographer to school with him to expose a supposed sex scandal, his high school principal expelled him, bringing a premature end to any thoughts of an academic career. Not that it mattered to Fuller: “He made me very happy because that meant a day job.”
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