“The whole idea of the road, of going from one place to another, is essentially American.”
—Two-Lane Blacktop Screenwriter, Rudy Wurlitzer
Esquire magazine printed the entire screenplay in its April ’71 issue before the movie was even released and boldly declared Two-Lane Blacktop as, “The Film of the Year.” Set largely on old Route 66, which had seen better days, filming locations stretched from California to Tennessee, and the project was wrapped up in two months for mere pocket change– $950,000. And while it wouldn’t quite live up to Universal’s expectations (who did little to promote it) and become a commercial success by anyone’s standards– it would survive the test of time to become a cultural icon, and one of the most loved road films ever made.
There still a lot of love for Two-Lane Blacktop— even after all these ears. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of great studio stills that have survived– finding decent pics on the internet was slim pickings. I’ve had a few squirreled away for a spell (courtesy of Performance Pontiac Magazine, go figure) and so out they now shall come– along with a few tidbits from behind the camera.
“I saw a picture of James Taylor on a billboard on the Sunset Strip promoting his new album. I thought his look was right for the part of The Driver. Regarding Laurie Bird, I took a trip to New York to meet with Rudy Wurlitzer, and, while there, met with a number of modeling agencies just to explore that field. When you’re looking for someone that age to play that role, it’s impossible to find someone who is established, so I anticipated finding an unknown. I checked out modeling agencies and met with people in L.A. as well and she was recommended. Laurie was so inexperienced it never occurred to me that I would actually cast her. She seemed so typical of what we had in mind for the character, however, that we used her as a prototype. Rudy and I did a three-hour taped interview with her; she became the template for the character. I still thought I could cast an actress who could play the part, but I couldn’t. Someone then had the bright idea of screen-testing Laurie.” –Director Monte Hellman
“Dennis Wilson (of Beach Boys fame) was the last one to come onboard, after I ran through every actor and some other musicians. As a matter of fact, we even met with Randy Newman. Fred Roos, the casting director, finally suggested Dennis. If memory serves, I saw Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and James Caan; I think I saw every young actor in Hollywood. Dennis was very easy going. The only problem was that he was having so much fun that it was hard to find him when we were ready to shoot because he was off somewhere playing all the time.” –Director Monte Hellman