How did you get the nickname Buck?
I don’t know. My parents named me Buck when I was a baby. I don’t have an interesting story about that… It’s funny to be called Mr. Taylor, though. I guess I’ve been around long enough to earn respect. I tell ’em: “My name is Buck.”
How did your dad break into film?
My Dad, “Dub” Taylor, was a great character actor. He made 300 B movies then went on to work with greats like Sam Peckinpah and John Wayne. Dad grew up in Georgia and Oklahoma and came out of Vaudeville. Frank Capra was looking for someone who to play the xylophone and cast him in You Can’t Take It with You (1938). Everyone that grew up in the early 20th century knew how to ride, so he transitioned into Westerns. He’d ridden bucking horses one summer as a young man… I grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley on the Western sets, so one thing led to another. My neighbors were all cowboys that had moved to California to be in the movie industry.
Who were your other mentors in the movie business?
Milburn Stone (Doc) and Ken Curtis (Festus) of Gunsmoke told me early on, “When you go in public, you’re going to meet people that let you into the privacy of their homes, into their bedrooms. They’ll think of you as part of their family, so they’ll feel like they know you. Some will want to hug you. When they do that, don’t disappoint them.” [Taylor appeared as Newly O’Brien in 113 episodes of CBS’s Gunsmoke from 1967–1975.] That’s my advice to any actor—respect those that got you there. Enjoy those that you’ve made happy. My dad was like that also. That’s old school, I guess.
What was James Arness like?
He was great. With his boots on he was about 6’8”. He was huge. John Wayne loved Jim and introduced him for an award once. Jim walked on stage, and the Duke said: “You’re bigger than I am!” Jim said, “Taller, maybe.” You never felt intimidated by his height. He was a very gracious and humble man… In my travels around the country with my artwork, people always ask about Gunsmoke. They still revere Gunsmoke over a half-century later. It’s amazing. I was at the right spot at the right time. That show had great writing, but a simple premise: Some special friends that would do anything for each other… I would like to play in an action movie like Iron Man (2008). Maybe something with Mickey Rourke. I could play his dad [laughs]. He acts like I paint—extemporaneous and bold. Don’t be afraid of color and breaking rules; make it different and interesting. If it turns out good, it’s a happy accident. I have happy accidents.
How did you get into painting?
I would not be painting if not for Betty Bennett, my high school art teacher at North Hollywood High School. Later, I studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. That’s where I learned watercolor. There are some basic principles, but there are no rules.
You have to negotiate what you’re going to do before you paint. It’s like acting that way—the preparation takes hours. You need to set everything up for happy accidents… My style is to paint realistically enough to know what it is but abstractly enough to know that it’s a painting, not a photograph. Andrew Wyeth is my favorite painter. Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, too. Wyeth said: “You cannot paint by the seat of your pants.” So I paint standing up. I think that’s what he meant [laughs].
Tell us about your ranch.
I live in West Texas. It’s a very special place. I’ve got horses and some cattle, and I try to raise some wheat. My wife Goldie and I ride the ones we keep in shape and round pen the others… No matter where you live, it’s cowboy country around here. It’s the last holdout of true Texas. It’s tough country; that’s why I like it. The more challenging the land and the weather are, the nicer the people are. Out here, everything has a thorn on it and a scorpion or a snake, but it’s got the nicest people. I like living in a sparsely populated place, because I shake a lot of hands when I travel. When I come back to my ranch it’s quiet—just nature. You need balance in life… The farther west you go in Texas, the nicer the people. I wish everyone was privileged enough to know the Cowboy Way. Our society would be better off with more honesty, integrity, and work ethic… I’ve been really blessed. I believe in God, and I believe that I was given the opportunity to do two things that I love: act and paint. Years ago, I was an acrobat and a gymnast. When you commit yourself to something, you have to go through with it. You cannot quit half way through. So I’ve learned to always give it 100 percent.
How do you stay fit and healthy?
I’m a team roper. I love it! Been doing it 30 years or more. I was left-handed and switched to right about 14 years ago. I’m a donor, but occasionally I win something. [laughs] Age is one thing, but if you never stop doing something then you can continue. “Use it or lose it,” as they say. The body is a great animal. I’ve been very active all my life. I went to USC on a gymnastics scholarship—until I lost it. I wasn’t too good at math… That’s when the Navy called me up. I was in the Reserves. I’m very proud of the men and women warriors that serve today. To do it all over again, I would have wanted to be a Navy Seal. I’d like to think I could have made the grade. Unbelievable how mentally and physically tough they are. I really admire our military. We need strong Armed Forces in this country.
Do you still train?
I still have a horizontal bar in the backyard. I can do a summersault flyaway [dismount]. Used to do doubles and a double twisting. Now a single is plenty. I still do push ups and pull ups, too. And I’ve logged over 40,000 miles running in my life. I averaged 50–60 miles a week for years, but I quit running at 60-something to avoid getting bad knees and hips. Now I like team roping and horses. I’ll do that as long as I can. I’m grateful that I have no major physical problems at all… I love what I do, and I love people.