This week, on a special edition of the National Podcast of Texas: Willie Nelson & Friends, recorded live on July 6, from the porch of Willie’s Luck, Texas, headquarters. The conversation followed a screening of the first-ever digital presentation of 1986’s Red Headed Stranger, an Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow and Luck Reunion co-production that allowed 400 fans to watch the movie on the very property where it was filmed.
Red Headed Stranger has a complicated history. In 1979, screenwriter and director Bill Wittliff wrote a script based on Willie’s 1975 Red Headed Stranger album, telling the story of a scorned preacher seeking revenge on his wife and the man she left him for. Universal Studios quickly secured the rights to the script and set out to make a $14 million film with Robert Redford in the title role. When Redford wound up backing out, the project stalled, and Wittliff and Nelson opted to fund the film on their own. Now a $1.8 million project starring Willie himself, they got help from friends and family to make it happen, rounded up investors, and built the western town on Willie’s property just outside of Austin. In the end, Carolyn Mugar, a friend and fan from Boston, swooped in with the finishing money (she’s also executive director of Farm Aid).
Red Headed Stranger was the third movie Willie worked on with Wittliff, who passed away in June. It followed 1980’s Honeysuckle Rose and 1982’s Barbarosa. Red Headed Stranger has never been available on DVD, let alone streaming services. The print that the Alamo screened in Luck was found in a Los Angeles warehouse after an exhaustive search, then restored and digitized by the American Genre Film Archive.
After the Rolling Roadshow screening, we sat with Willie to discuss the film’s history, to remember Bill Wittliff, and to memorialize the story of how Luck came to be. Onstage with us were Luck architect Cary White; Willie’s former tour manager, confidant, and Red Head Stranger producer David Anderson; actor Sonny Carl Davis (who plays Odie in the film); and Willie’s daughter and the film’s wardrobe designer, Lana Nelson. Her son, Brian Fowler, also appeared onstage to discuss his first acting job.
With permission from Nelson, the Luck Reunion, and Alamo Drafthouse, we were able to record the Q&A session and present it to you as the National Podcast of Texas.