Vladimir Bejval - from Czechoslovak child actor to Calfiornia cowboy

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Vladimir Bejval is a man with an amazing CV. Child actor in Czechoslovakia, cowboy in the United States, tool maker, bodyguard and bounty hunter - Mr Bejval has been all of those things. As a teenager he appeared in the famous 1955 film Cesta do praveku, called in English Journey to Prehistory or Journey to the Beginning of Time. Almost half a century later, Vladimir Bejval is still proud of the film.

"It was the best film because now the mega-films are made by computer but at that time it was done by hand by the animator. When the brontosaurus or dinosaur came from here to here, it took him six hours. It was a piece of art and until now in the United States and Canada they show this movie to students and say, this is a piece of art."

As a boy what did you enjoy about acting?

"It was the most adventurous thing...I was in California, working like a cowboy, I was working like a stuntman, everything, but it (acting) was an adventure for me which I'll never forget in my whole life. It was really something. I love it, and I was very happy when I came back to the Czech Republic I made a TV movie. It was my dream to stand in front of the camera again, and I was so happy about that. If you are an actor you will never forget it."

Did you have acting training?

"No. No. I was trying to go to a special school which they call FAMU but because of my...there was a communist regime here and they said no way, your father had a hotel. It was in that time...I didn't have a chance."

You said you started acting at the age of six - did you ever have a normal job, so to speak?

"Yes, I was a toolmaker, which I was doing in the United States, for a while."

You spent many years in America...

"From 1969 until 1995. When the Russian army - not only the Russian army but the other armies from the Warsaw Pact - invaded us and I saw, because I was on the streets at that time, and I saw when the Russian soldiers were killing innocent people, students just waving flags, unarmed, I said...my daughter was only four years old at that time...and I said I will never let her grow up in a country like that. Never. So we escaped, we actually escaped with one piece of luggage, to Austria. I was waiting there for four months for American visas. Then I went to the United States, they gave us green cards and social security cards like political refugees, and they said good luck and that was all, no help at all. So, like I said, I was working like a cowboy and in western movies and western shows, and like a security agent, like a body guard, like a bounty hunter."

Tell me about being a cowboy - how did you become a cowboy?

"It was not actually like a cowboy, I was not working with cows but we were preparing horses for tourists and we were riding with them, things like that. From there I started working for a western show. I can ride a horse, I can use a lasso, I'm a really good shooter."

You also said you were a bounty hunter - did you ever get into any dangerous situations?

"Well, I don't know if I should say that...once I had to shoot one guy. It was me or him."

Could you tell us more about the situation?

"It was very easy. Me and a friend of mine caught him in a motel room and he drew his revolver and started shooting at us. I'll tell you the truth, when I was a hunter - but I mean hunting animals - I was more sorry for the animals than for this guy. Because he was a killer and it was me or him, so I was not sorry for him."

When you say also you were a bodyguard, whose body did you guard?

"Well, everybody. Over there, you must go through tests. First of all you must know how to ride a motorcycle, how to drive a car - which means go and make this turn on the street, you've seen it in movies - riding a horse and be a good skier. Once I had a client and we were in Aspen, so I couldn't stay down in the lodge. I had to ski with him."

What kind of people did you protect?

"Not very famous, just businessmen and people like that. I would lie if I said movie stars, just businessmen."

Have you ever met any movie stars?

"I met Elvis Presley, he shook my hand. He was a very nice guy."

Where did you live in America? Only in California or did you move around?

"First of all I lived in New Jersey for nine years, and the weather is terrible there, because during the summer it's 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 95 percent humidity. And my daughter had a problem with her breathing and the doctor said you should move someplace else, to Arizona or California. And I had a friend in California and I move there and from that time I was there for another...twenty years or something like that. I love California."

Was it a kind of culture shock for you to move from Prague to America in the late 60s?

"Well, it's a completely different life. The culture over there is different. But, I tell you the truth I love America and I love American people. Because I've got a lot of friends who escaped to Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden...and all of them told me the people there took them as foreigners. But in America, since we came over there, all of the people...when I started speaking English I talked with the guys and I told them you are taking me like I was one of you. And he said my great grandfather came from Denmark, his grandfather came from Germany, all of us are actually immigrants. Only Indians are natives, so I don't know why we should not take you like one of us. People are festive, they are not jealous, they are not envious. Here in the Czech Republic people are jealous...he's got more than I...there if I bring every week a new car my neighbour says oh, you got a new car, that's fine. But over here...I say the American people are so friendly. When we got there I had fifty dollars. Neighbours started coming and brought me an old refrigerator and an old TV and some mattresses and things like that. I love American people."

During your time in America did you pay much attention to what was happening in this country?

"Of course. I did. We had over there (US-based) Czech newspapers. So I was interested about everything that was going on over here. And the first time I came here it was 1985. My wife, she's an American, and when we came here I said let's go to see some pubs where I was going when I was young. We came there and she ordered a wine. And she said but it's warm, tell him to bring me some ice. I said darling, please, forget it, they don't have ice over here. She went to the ladies' room, she came back and she said I'm sorry, let's go home, I cannot use it, it's dirty, there's not toilet paper there, nothing. So that was our first experience. But after 1989, when everything changed now, it's a completely different situation."

Was it hard for you to get used to living here again after being in America so long?

"I was born here. I lived there 27 years. I don't know actually which is my home, over here or over there. I love America but I love Prague and...I really don't know!"