One grandfather took a mountain and logged the trees off it into a lumber fortune while another constructed the first canals that irrigated the state’s vast Central Valley turning it into a hub of American agriculture.
In his youth Peckinpah rode (indifferently) – tracked and hunted (expertly) all over Peckinpah Mountain the High Sierras and his other grandfather’s ranch holdings – spending summers and weekends among the ranch-hands and cowboys who worked their land – absorbing their unlettered speech their indomitability and stoicism.
All of it would enrich and deepen the screenplays and movies he would later create.
The sense of a world cruelly torn out from under one’s feet was intensified when his mother sold the ranch Sam and his siblings had expected to inherit.
He never forgave her and some have speculated that this betrayal underpins the harsh view his movies take of women in general.
After a stint in the marines in post-war China where he acquired his lifelong taste for alcohol and whorehouses Peckinpah flouted his father’s wishes for a career in the law and signed up for drama school – first at Fresno State and then USC, and spent most of the 1950s honing his (mainly adaptive) writing skills and directorial chops in local theatre and then television.
He learned about directing and editing film from a lengthy stint as assistant director to montage-master and B-movie giant Don Siegel.
In 1960 after working on a succession of TV westerns of indifferent quality he was given the chance to produce his own creation The Westerner.
It only lasted 13 episodes (five directed by Peckinpah though he was involved in writing all of them) but it enabled Peckinpah to sculpt his characteristic western world of violence – cynicism and fatalism.
It was anything but glamorous – no fancy hats or pearl-handled six-shooters – no dead-eyed gunslingers – just one lonely cowhand (Brian Keith) and the relentless grind of the never-ending trail.
Here he would also assemble the posse of beaten-down character actors who would later populate his movies: Ben Johnson – Slim Pickens – Warren Oates – LQ Jones – Strother Martin et al.