I was watching TV the other day and stumbled upon the made-for-television classic Duel. If you’ve never seen Duel, here is a quick background of the film: it stars Dennis Weaver as a middle-aged salesman driving a 1970 Plymouth Valiant on a business trip. After encountering a menacing Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, he tries to shake the sadistic driver off his tail throughout the film. It’s a simple premise, perfectly executed by Weaver and then first-timer Steven Spielberg at the helm.
It’s a terrific car movie, using the Peterbilt and the little, red Valiant to elicit more emotion than many of Hollywood’s A-listers could do. After watching Duel I brushed up Dennis Weaver, the underrated star of the long-running series McCloud and Gunsmoke. That’s when I realized that Weaver, the Missouri born-and-bred actor, is perhaps the greatest (and most underrated) environmentalist Hollywood has ever known.
Weaver was of my grandfather’s generation, having also served in the Navy during WWII like my grandfather. He was a hard-nosed guy who stood up for what he believed in, which happened to be everything from increased fuel efficiency standards to wind power, all before it was the “popular” thing to do. Weaver, a vegetarian since the late 1950’s, also founded The Institute of Ecolonomics (formed from combining “ecology” and “economics”), which demonstrates that “creating a symbiotic relationship between a strong economy and a healthy ecology is the only formula for a sustainable future.”
“I feel responsible; I feel I’ve got to do something that will leave the kids a place where they can live healthy, safe, productive, creative and prosperous lives.” –Dennis Weaver
In 1989 Weaver built his very own “Earthship,” a 10,000 sq.-ft. solar-powered home built from roughly 3,000 recycled tires and 300,000 aluminum and tin cans in Ridgway, Colorado’s Pleasant Valley. And as recently as 2003 Weaver led a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles (including hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles) from Santa Monica, CA, to Washington, DC in his “Drive to Survive” caravan to raise awareness about America’s dependence on foreign oil.
There have been few people as forward-thinking as Dennis Weaver. He devoted his life to causes he genuinely believed in, whether it be vegetarianism or environmentalism or providing food for needy people through his L.I.F.E. organization (Love Is Feeding Everyone); and he did all this in an era when not everything was a PR initiative. Weaver’s drive simply came from his own selfless interest and concern about where we were headed as a society, with respect to our planet, prompting him to devote his great life and career to, as he once said, “get the goodies out of life without destroying it.”