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Merrill Connally’s Got Horse Sense, Excepting a Certain Shark Movie

Craggy-faced Merrill Connally is more than the younger brother of ex-governor, ex-Cabinet member and one-time presidential hopeful John Connally.

Merrill’s a Texas rancher, oilman and sometime actor who has appeared as local color in many films shot in the Lone Star State. He can be seen in the last reel of “Rush” as the flamboyantly attired attorney who elicits a crucial confession from star Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Connally is the biggest movie star in San Antonio. Literally. He plays Davy Crockett in the IMAX film that Alamo tourists see. TV viewers may recall him as the judge who sentenced Dolly Parton to 20 years in a recent NBC movie, “Wild Texas Wind.”

“Steven Spielberg got me started back in ’74,” Connally recalls. “He was looking for a tall, white-headed 45-year-old to play the foster father of Goldie Hawn’s baby in ‘Sugarland Express.’ After that he wanted me to go up East and work in some shark movie but I said that sounded pretty poor.

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“He did get me to spend three months in ’76 on ‘Close Encounters’ over in Mobile, Ala. I was the senior officer in charge of building the landing field for the aliens’ spaceship.”

Mostly, Connally has stayed in Texas, where he has been a judge, twice a Democratic National Committeeman and more recently (like his brother) an active Republican. Unlike his brother, he didn’t declare bankruptcy but held on to most of his land during the state’s financial reverses.

“I love to act,” he says, “but I don’t care to do it more than a month or two out of the year. I have my ranch and my family. I don’t have an agent. I’ll do something when somebody calls. Spielberg once told me I should go out to the West Coast and act full time. He said if I stuck with him, pretty soon John would just be known as Merrill’s brother.”


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