Larry Buchanan, B-movie filmmaker and self-proclaimed “schlockmeister,” was born Marcus Larry Seale, Jr., to Marcus Larry Seale, Sr., and Maude (Dove) Seale on January 31, 1923, in Lost Prairie, Texas, a small town (no longer on the map) near Groesbeck in Limestone County. His mother died of pneumonia when he was nine months old, and his father worked as a constable to support his family of six children, four girls and two boys. Seale was the youngest.
Overwhelmed by his responsibilities, Seale’s father left all six children at the Buckner Orphans Home in Dallas when Seale was three-years-old. As a student at this Baptist-related institution, Seale edited the school paper and was president of his senior class. He was awarded a ministerial scholarship to Baylor University but turned it down. He had become enamored with film thanks to his numerous visits to the Capitol Theater in downtown Dallas and wished to become as screen actor.
After he finished school Seale hitchhiked to Hollywood. On his twentieth birthday he became a contract player with 20th Century Fox, where the head of casting persuaded him to abandon his surname in favor of Buchanan, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother. Casting calls were infrequent (though he did get an uncredited bit part in The Gunfighter, a 1950 Western), so he supported himself working at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica during World War II.
Eventually souring on Hollywood, Buchanan moved to New York where he found work as a male model and as a musical director, writer, and performer on The Gabby Hayes Show, an early children’s television program. Texas dramatist Horton Foote and Fred Rogers (better known as Mister Rogers) also contributed to the Western show. While living in New York, Buchanan watched many films at the Museum of Modern Art and performed in military training films shot at the Signal Corps Photographic Center in Astoria, Queens. Deciding that he no longer wanted to be a performer, he devoted his efforts to becoming a filmmaker.
His first effort was a short Western film titled The Cowboy. Filmed in San Angelo, Texas, it was released in 1951 with the feature film adaptation of Death of a Salesman. Returning to New York, he worked as an assistant director for George Cukor who was filming The Marrying Kind in 1951. On the set, Buchanan met Jane McVayne, who was an extra in the movie. The two later married and had four children—Barry, Deborah, Jeff, and Randy. Buchanan’s first feature film was Grubstake (also known as Apache Gold), filmed in 1952 in the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend for $17,000. The Western was the feature film debut of Jack Klugman and Neile Adams, who later married Steve McQueen. Buchanan’s script was rewritten by Lynn Shubert, with whom Buchanan would collaborate several times.
Buchanan relocated to Dallas where he spent four years as a producer-director with the Jamieson Film Company doing commercials, documentaries, and industrial films. Jamieson was not only a full-service studio, it was the only 35mm film processing center in Texas. Jamieson later processed Abraham Zapruder’s film of the Kennedy assassination. Buchanan’s experience with Jamieson supplemented what he had learned while working with the Signal Corps in New York. By undertaking a variety of duties, he absorbed all the skills necessary for making low-budget features. He eventually joined the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild.
In response to diminishing movie theater attendance, spurred on in part by competition with television, the film industry produced both big-budget, widescreen spectacles that were far beyond the budgets and technical capabilities of television, and low-budget films, largely for drive-in theaters, that dealt with controversial if not lurid themes that television broadcasters dared not tackle at that time. The titles of Buchanan’s films display the direction that he took: The Naked Witch (1961); Common Law Wife (1961); Free, White and 21 (1963), a forerunner of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s; Under Age (1964); Naughty Dallas (1964); and High Yellow (1965)—all were obviously aimed at the exploitation market. Perhaps just as important, the films were all shot with budgets so low that it was almost impossible to lose money. The Naked Witch, for example, was shot in Luckenbach, Texas, for a mere $8,000, yet it opened at six drive-ins in the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone and grossed $80,000.
In 1964 Buchanan wrote (with Harold Hoffman) and directed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, a “what if” movie exploiting the controversy surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. By shooting most of his films in Texas, Buchanan helped a number of local actors build their resumes. Some found roles in A-list pictures; the most notable was character actor Bill Thurman. Other repeat collaborators who got their first roles in Buchanan’s films include Annabelle Weenick, Bill McGhee, and Pat Delaney.
Buchanan’s low-budget efforts were noticed by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures (AIP), which had distributed Free, White and 21 and Underage. AIP was a major purveyor of low-budget movies from the 1950s to 1970s (Roger Corman was their most prominent director). As the major movie studios had done, AIP began creating products directly for television. Buchanan signed three three-picture deals with AIP to create made-for-TV movies, which included remakes of several of AIP’s black-and-white, 1950s theatrical releases. Produced by AIP’s Azalea Pictures on tight schedules with budgets of around $35,000 each, Buchanan’s Azalea movies are widely considered to be the worst (or best) of his “good-bad” films.
Buchanan’s marching orders, as he later paraphrased them, were clear: “We want cheap color pictures, we want half-assed names in them, we want them eighty minutes long [to fill a 90-minute time slot with commercials], and we want them now.” Buchanan reworked Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) as The Eye Creatures (1965); It Conquered the World (1956) as Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966); Voodoo Woman (1957) as Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966); The Day the World Ended (1955) as In the Year 2889 (1967); and The She Creature (1956) as Creatures of Destruction (1967). In later years Zontar became a cult film (fans were known as Zontoids) and inspired a fanzine called Zontar, the Magazine from Venus. One of Buchanan’s original efforts for AIP was Mars Needs Women (1967). Like Zontar, Mars Needs Women acquired cult status as the years passed. Working with AIP allowed Buchanan to have stars of national, albeit modest, reputation in his films. Among them were John Ashley in The Eye Creatures, Paul Petersen in In the Year 2889, and John Agar in Zontar, Curse of the Swamp Creature, and Hell Raiders.
A milestone in Buchanan’s career was A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1969), which starred pop singer Fabian as Great Depression-era bank robber, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. After Buchanan had demanded a larger budget for what would have been his ninth and final Azalea film, AIP offered $350,000 for the production of the film, which was given a theatrical release and lacked the Azalea Pictures credit. The film was also the debut of actress Morgan Fairchild.
While his output was not always Texas-related, Buchanan occasionally exploited famous Texans for material. In the wake of Warner Bros. Bonnie and Clyde (1967), he wrote and directed The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde (1968), narrated by Burl Ives. After the death of Howard Hughes in 1976, he wrote (with Lynn Shubert) and directed Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell (1977). Buchanan also exploited celebrities whose untimely deaths inspired conspiracy theories. He used Marilyn Monroe twice, first with Goodbye, Norma Jean (1975) and then with Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1988). In Down on Us (1984), he speculated that the U.S. government was lurking behind the deaths of rockers Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin in the early 1970s.
In his later years Buchanan became something of a celebrity in the world of low-budget cinema. Acknowledging his legacy as a maker of “good-bad” films, he defined such a film as one “which achieves artistic effect through or despite consciously poor production values or technique.” Championing what he referred to as “guerilla filmmaking,” he led workshops and seminars for young filmmakers. According to Buchanan, as a guerilla filmmaker, “You work by the seat of [your] pants, rolling with the punches, without fiscal backup, on the run, exhausted, stealing shots [i.e., without permits from municipal authorities], feinting, pulling back for reloading, facing an endless succession of perils.”
Larry Buchanan died of complications from a collapsed lung in Tucson, Arizona, on December 2, 2004. Irrespective of the salacious nature of many of his films, he was remembered as a devoted husband and father. Having been deprived of a family life while growing up, he made his own family a priority. At the time of death, he had been married for fifty-two years.
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Larry Buchanan, It Came from Hunger!: Tales of a Cinema Schlockmeister (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1996). Ron Craig, The Films of Larry Buchanan: A Critical Examination (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2007). Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2004. Bret McCormick, Texas Schlock: B-Movie, Sci-Fi and Horror from the Lone Star State (Bedford, Texas: LECR Press, 2018). Don Sanders and Susan Sanders, The American Drive-In Movie Theater (Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International, 1997). Washington Post, December 10, 2004.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Seale, Marcus Larry, Jr. [Larry Buchanan],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 18, 2022,
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