09/13/2012 06:09 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2012

Samuel Fuller at 100: The Life and Times of One of America's Greatest Directors

This year marks the centennial of the late filmmaker Samuel Fuller, whose brutally honest and bold films won him the fierce admiration of filmmakers including Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese. Scorsese once wrote, "If you don't like the movies of Samuel Fuller then you don't like cinema."

When Fuller died in 1997 at the age of 85, he left behind over 51 known scripts and 30 films including Pickup on South Street, The Steel Helmet, Park Row, I Shot Jesse James, Forty Guns, Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, White Dog, and The Big Red One, to name just a few.

But even more extraordinary was Samuel Fuller's life, which began on August 12th, 1912 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was one of seven children born to Jewish immigrant parents, Benjamin Rabinovitch and Rebecca Baum. When his father died unexpectedly, the family relocated to New York City.

On a chance visit to Park Row -- the nerve center of the newspaper world -- he was gobsmacked by the rumble of the massive printing presses shaking the earth beneath lower Manhattan, and soon he was a paperboy, hawking newspapers on street corners.

When Fuller turned 17 at the height of Prohibition, the New York Graphic hired him to investigate prostitutes, gangsters, witness prison executions, and hang out at murder scenes.

Arriving in Hollywood in 1936, he came equipped with his Royal typewriter and a backlog of stories, a hot commodity in a town full of opportunistic producers on the lookout for the next big movie idea.

But his dreams of conquering Hollywood vanished in an instant when he heard the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and that same week, he found the closest U.S. Army induction center and volunteered for military duty.

Fuller wrote in his memoir, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking: "I had a helluva opportunity to cover the biggest crime story of the century and nothing was going to stop me from being an eyewitness."

Fuller was assigned to the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One), landed at North Africa on November 8th, 1942, and for the next two and a half years Fuller saw death up close.

He made the invasion at Sicily and fought in many fierce battles up through the mountains, liberating towns until the campaign ended in August and the division was sent to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy.

Bobby di Cicco, the actor who played Pvt. Vinci in The Big Red One, told us, "Everything that happened to him in WWII wound up in all of his war movies. He would say, 'this is fictional life based on factual death.' This guy was meant to survive and tell his story.'"

It was a miracle that Samuel Fuller wasn't one of the tens of thousands of casualties on June 6th, 1944 when he waded through the bloody surf on Omaha Beach -- he later was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism on D-Day.

After the war, Fuller returned to Hollywood and was determined to make up for lost time. His first three films included the Korean War picture The Steel Helmet, which caught the attention of Twentieth Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck, who signed Fuller for a seven-picture deal. Under Zanuck, Fuller made other highly successful war films, like Fixed Bayonets and Hell and High Water.

Fuller's most memorable films of the late 1950s and early 1960s were gutsy, lower-budget dramas: Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss which endeared Fuller to an entire generation of independent filmmakers who were inspired by what could be achieved on a low budget.

"You can't take humanity and originality away from a filmmaker," said Christa Fuller who spoke to us about her late husband from her home in Los Angeles. "It's enjoyable to look at films like The Avengers, which make lots of money for the studios, but we also need great storytellers and filmmakers. Sam was both."

To his great satisfaction, Fuller eventually made The Big Red One -- about his WWII experiences -- in 1980 but later moved to France after his film White Dog, a film about racism, was considered inappropriate and shelved by Paramount Pictures.

"Moving to France was very painful," Christa Fuller told us. "But he was appreciated in France where he got the Commandeur of Arts and Letters in France from the Minister of Culture."

Fuller eventually returned to Los Angeles in the early 90s where he died at home of natural causes on October 30, 1997.

Samuel Fuller's legacy lives on in his daughter Samantha, a filmmaker at work on a documentary about her father's epic life experiences called A Fuller Life: The Story of a True American Maverick.

To view the trailer for Samantha Fuller's film, click here.

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