The work of John 'Bud' Cardos' over a lifetime cannot accurately or completely be reduced to any one-word title. Cardos so successfully and continually executed such an array of different jobs again and again over his 75+ years as a multifaceted entertainer that it is in simply factually incorrect to limit a description of his life to one single professional activity. Without exaggeration Cardos has worked as a cowboy, musician, animal handler, stuntman, rodeo clown, construction worker, film actor, head of a film's transportation department, production manager, producer, international import/export businessman, saddler, miscellaneous crew member, a versatile member of the camera and electrical department, second unit director and/or assistant director, art director, special effects coordinator, Western artist, highly-regarded movie director, and/or as we often sees reference, today, ultimately – as a “versatile and underrated B-movie Renaissance Man.”
John Cardos was born on December 20, 1929, in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to California with his family when he was four years old. In virtually every newspaper article, feature length-magazine feature story, chapter in a book, and most recently in a book-length study it is always cited that his family had roots in the entertainment industry. A cousin, Spiros Cardos, worked at Twentieth Century Fox–although little else is ever said about him. In the 1940s, his paternal uncle was manager of Graumann's Chinese theater while his father managed the Egyptian Theatre down the block on Hollywood Boulevard. It is also regularly mentioned that all three of the Skouras brothers were regular guests in the Cardos home.
Consequently, it is not surprising to hear that in 1933, at the age of five Cardos first started working at MGM and that by seven he was a regularly appearing child actor in Hal Roach's, Our Gang comedies (Valley News, Van Nuys, CA July 7, 1977). Yet in time, Cardos became too old to play in such productions. Around this period Cardos' father opened one of Los Angeles' most famous eateries the Cardos Club Café.
In the chapter on Cardos' life in Wild Beyond Belief: Interviews with Exploitation Filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s by Brian Albright we hear: “I started riding rodeos when I was sixteen or seventeen…I lived up in Big Bear Lake. My dad bought a place in 1941, and I'd go up there for the summers and stay. I worked in different stables up there, so I started working on Roy Rodgers pictures and Gene Autry pictures, 'cause they made 'em up there. They'd rent horses from us and I worked as a wrangler (McFarland and Co. (NC) 1973: 31).” According to Cardos, sometime around 1944, he first began working as a rodeo clown. But not long after his career as a cowboy, rodeo clown, animal wrangler, and stuntman began it unexpectedly came to a halt.
“From roughly 1946 to 1952, Cardos served in the United States Army. Upon release from active service Cardos worked serving prime rib at his father's restaurant. Nonetheless, it wasn't too long before young Cardos was back up in Big Bear Lake working once again as a horse wrangler and in the local rodeos. It was during this period, early 1950s into the late 1950s, that Cardos first began doing tricks with his horse Double Trouble at local rodeos (The Grizzly (Big Bear Lake (CA) August 30, 1956).” Such was Cardos' natural ability handling and training animals that by 1957 he was using a monkey in his rodeo act (The Grizzly March 28, 1957; April 18, 1957). Never one to use just one of his natural talents, Cardos was also playing the guitar and singing in local venues at night in and around the Big Bear Lake region.
Cardos states that his first work on the television scene started, as a horse wrangler was for the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (1955-1958) program. While Cardos, once again started by working horses for this show, he soon began “driving dogsleds, and finally doubling for the actors in rough stunts – his first work as (an adult) actor (Valley News (Van Nuys (CA) July 7, 1977).” In 1963, Cardos returned to motion pictures as a bird handler on Alfred Hitchcock's fabled killer-animal classic The Birds. Essentially, from this point forward Cardos never looked back and worked in any field of entertainment in virtually any capacity. In terms of television, from 1965 until around 1993, Cardos appeared in a wide array of popular programs such as (but not limited to) The Monroes, Custer, The High Chaparral, Daniel Boone, and Hollywood Beat.
It cannot be over emphasized that John Cardos never ever turned down any work offered to him. Whoever approached him and asked him to do something in the film/entertainment industries he accepted. This is why it is so difficult to summarize, let alone chart, Cardos' body of work. Some write about him as a stunt man, others as an actor in a wild series of what are now called exploitation movies, and still other accounts single out his career as a director.
As an actor Cardos achieved his greatest cult popularity acting in several “entertainingly trashy exploitation features he's especially memorable as Mohawk-sporting Native American biker Firewater in the splendidly sleazy Satan's Sadists (1969) and as crazed half-breed Joe Light Foot in the gritty (and often incoherent) western Five Bloody Graves (1969) (c.f. www.imdb.com).”
In terms of his impressive stuntman/stunt coordinator work, Cardos performed stunts in movies such as Nightmare in Wax (1969), the hippie film Psych-Out (1968), The Savage Seven (1968), The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971) and Jud (1971). The cinephile's cinephile Quentin Tarantino cites Cardos as one of his all-time favorite cowboy stuntmen. Tarantino is quoted as saying “John 'Bud' Cardos. Sounds like a rodeo cowboy, doesn't it? One of those dusty drinks of water who comes riding out of the chute one the back of some two-ton beast frothing at the mouth, bent on throwing him into the muck and stomping the shit out of him (Dix 2016: xi).” Cardos appears as himself and talks about his stunt career in the documentary film, Danger God, which is about his friend and fellow stuntman Gary Kent.
Further Cardos credits include his work as “second unit director chores for Sam Peckinpah's landmark western The Wild Bunch (1969). As a production manager, Cardos worked on Dead of Night (1974), Killers Three (1968), The Rebel Rousers (1970), -Lash of Lust (1972), Hell's Bloody Devils (1970) and Deadwood '76 (1965).
Cardos made his directorial debut with the blaxploitation item The Red, White, and Black (1970). His other directorial efforts include the superior revolt-of-nature horror film Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), the now cult science fiction/horror film The Dark (1979) as well as the zombie classic Forbidden World (1982).
Sometimes called 'a drive-in idol' Cardos, beyond question, came up through the movies the hard way, taking every opportunity, every chance, and so creating along the way his own legacy as an innovative film maker. But don't take my word for it. See and read about it yourself. And once again these accounts and filmed interviews vary from attempts to cover as many aspects of Cardos' professional career as possible to focusing on only one or two facets of his broader work in American film.
These accounts vary from an entry in Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary, 2d ed. by Gene Scott Freese (McFarland & Co. Jefferson, NC, 2014) to the book-length biography, the very readable Action!: John 'Bud' Cardos, by the late actor Robert Dix and Lynette Dix (L & B Publishing, Bensen AZ: 2016). There are any number of interviews and short selected scenes from movies in which he both appeared in as an actor and/or directed.
Among the very last films Cardos directed was the documentary Legends of the West (1992) with host Jack Palance. The film examines how Hollywood has depicted Western legends like George Armstrong Custer, Billy the Kid, Crazy Horse, and the O.K. Corral. This documentary received the Western Heritage Awards 1993 from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City with Cardos receiving an award as director. As one final published source on Cardos' career see the full page entry with photograph titled, John 'Bud” Carlos: Independent Westerner, in 'Western Portraits of Great Character Actors: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen,' by Steve Carver and C. Courtney Joyner with a foreword by Roger Corman (Edition Olms: Zurich, Switzerland; 2019).
Many notable Greeks and people of Greek decent have lived and made a name for themselves in the American West. Yet even among that number of unique and accomplished individuals it cannot be denied that John 'Bud' Cardos has created and maintains a most singular creative existence.