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article imageActor Don Shanks and his second wind Special

By Adrian Peel     Jan 21, 2016 in Entertainment
Known primarily for his role as Nakoma in the 1974 film and subsequent TV series, 'The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams,' this 65-year-old actor of Native American descent is enjoying a new lease of life making movies with actor and writer, John Schneider.
An imposing figure on screen, Don Shanks has been cast in a number of horror films over the years, including The Crow: Salvation (2000), I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) and Halloween 5 (1989), where he played Michael Myers.
I caught up with the star, who has also worked on numerous productions as a stunt performer and coordinator, a few days after the death (from cancer) of his co-star on Grizzly Adams, Dan Haggerty. "You know what, he was like the brother I never had," he says of his long-time friend.
"We started back in 1974 and had many adventures together. I loved him and I'll miss him... First we did the movie, we did another movie after that (1976's The Adventures of Frontier Fremont) and then we did the TV series - and for years we'd been doing personal appearances and keeping in touch."
Looking back on Grizzly Adams, Don notes, "What I remember about it was that it was fun the whole time. Dan and I would do a scene and then as soon as the scene was over, it was like 'recess.' Some people disliked that because they thought we should be taking it more seriously... I learned a lot from Dan - he was my buddy, he was my brother. If anybody lived life to the fullest, it was him."
Denver Pyle, later to become famous as Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard, played "Mad Jack" on the series. "He was wonderful to work with too," recalls Shanks, who also had a minor role in Dumb and Dumber.
"He was funny, intelligent - he was the ultimate professional. Even if he didn't have any dialogue, he could make a scene interesting. Every morning I'd go over and have coffee with him and he would tell me some stories."
These days, Don is helping to bring to life the creative vision of another ex-Dukes of Hazzard cast member, John "Bo Duke" Schneider, owner of John Schneider Studios.
In 2014, he appeared in Smothered - a film written and directed by Schneider - and is set to follow that up with Like Son, again written and directed by the dedicated professional and star of such programmes as Smallville and The Haves and the Have Nots. As with a number of other John Schneider movies, Like Son was produced by Alicia Allain.
"Kane Hodder, who was Jason Voorhees in Friday 13th, he and I are friends. He called and said, 'John Schneider's doing this picture down in Louisiana...' and I said, 'I'll do it.' He goes, 'Don't you want to know what it's about?' I said, 'I don't care, I'll come and do it.'
"He called me back about an hour later and said, 'You're gonna play Don Shanks - the character's name is Don Shanks.' I said, 'You're kidding, that sounds great. I'm glad I said yes!' So anyway, I went down to Baton Rouge and John and I knew the same people, we worked out in the same gym. Why we'd never met before, I don't know, but it was like we knew each other before we even met...
Don Shanks with John Schneider.
Don Shanks with John Schneider.
John Schneider Studios
"I came in and it was a blast. So while we were doing the movie, he gave me some of his scripts to read and I really liked his writing. He gave me one and it was Like Son. I read it and thought it was really good. I said, 'Whoever gets to play Frank, that's a great part.'
"He goes, 'I want you to play it' and I didn't know what to say. I said, 'Really?' and he goes, 'Yeah, you're Frank.' I said, 'Well, whenever you're ready to do this, all you have to do is call' and for two years, everywhere I went I took the script with me and would read it.
"Finally last year he called and said, 'Well, you want to come down and start this? We'll just do it until we run out of money and see what we get' and we shot the whole thing."
The Cast of  Smothered.
The Cast of 'Smothered.'
John Schneider Studios
I asked Don what he particularly enjoys about working with John Schneider. "Well, with John he knows the business for one. He knows what it is to be an actor and he says, 'Just give me what you feel. Whatever's on the page, give it to me - it doesn't have to be word for word.' He's open to suggestions.
"When we shot Like Son, we were shooting in his backyard and sometimes we would go out at night with the camera and just film stuff. It's the way filmmaking should be, I think, if you're an independent producer or director. It's fun; it's like a little family."
"I just told him the other day, 'All you gotta do is tell me where to show up,'" concludes the veteran entertainer, when asked whether he hopes to work on more John Schneider projects in the future. "All he has to do is ask. Not many people have original ideas anymore, but he does. He's a good actor, he's a good director and he's a great writer."
For more information on Don Shanks, visit his official Facebook page.
The official Facebook page for the movie Like Son is here.
To learn more about John Schneider Studios, go here.
More about don shanks, the life and times of grizzly adams, Dan Haggerty, John Schneider, john schneider studios
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