Thursday, March 15, 2018



YELLOWSTONE, the new contemporary Western series starring Kevin Costner, will premiere on the new Paramount Network on June 20th. The creation of writer and director Taylor Sheridan, Costner stars as the head of the Dutton family, who own the largest private ranch in the country. It’s right on the doorstep our nations’ oldest National Park, and under siege by developers and an Indian reservation. Will the Duttons, and their ranch, survive?

Taylor Sheridan has accomplished a remarkable hat trick: in three years he has given us three remarkable contemporary Western crime films: SICORIO (2015), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and WIND RIVER (2017) – he wrote all three, and WIND RIVER is his directorial debut.  Check out the teaser trailer:


BIG KILL, the new Western from writer-director Scott Martin and Archstone, was recently lensed in Old Tucson. It tells the story of a tenderfoot from Philadelphia, a pair of gamblers on the run, a deadly preacher (Patric), and his colorful gunslinger Johnny Kane (Phillips). They all have a date with destiny in a boomtown gone bust called Big Kill.

Here’s the first peek, featuring Lou in a role so different from his usual.


Kent McCray over Bob Hope's shoulder

Kent McCray has had a remarkable career in television from its earliest days.  His association with Westerns began when he became Production Manager on David Dortort’s BONANZA. When Dortort followed that hit with HIGH CHAPARRAL, McCray became Production Manager on both series, and on the latter met future wife Susan Sukman, who was involved in casting, and was daughter of the show’s composer, Oscar-winner Harry Sukman.

When both series folded, McCray would partner with BONANZA star Michael Landon, and together would produce LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, FATHER MURPHY, and other series and TV movies.  With Marianne Ritter-Holmes, Kent has written his autobiography, KENT MCCRAY – THE MAN BEHIND THE MOST BELOVED TELEVISION SHOWS, and will be speaking and signing his book this Saturday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, at The Autry. The event will begin at 9 a.m., and the Q&A will be hosted by one of McCray’s LITTLE HOUSE stars, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder. Also attending will be other LITTLE HOUSE stars, including Matt Labyorteaux, Stan Ivar, Pam Roylance, Katherine Cannon from FATHER MURPHY, and Michael Landon’s daughter, Leslie Landon Matthews.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kent and Susan McCray at the HIGH CHAPARRAL 50th Anniversary Celebration, and got to speak with Kent at length about his career. At such length, in fact, that below I present Part One of my interview with Kent, which focuses on his years in live television, prior to his Western work.  Are Part Two and possibly a Three are on their way!

Henry Parke:      First I’ve got to tell you how much I enjoyed the High Chaparral 50th Anniversary.   Thank you so much for including me; it was just terrific.

Kent McCray:     The response we've gotten from most of fans is that they really enjoyed themselves. I think it's the last one that will ever take place, so we wanted to make it special.

Henry Parke:      Well, you certainly succeeded.  You were one of the pioneers of early TV, live TV, and your father was a pioneer early radio.

Kent McCray:     That's correct.

Henry Parke: Did his career have a large effect on your career choices?

Kent McCray:     Well, in some ways, yes. During the early '30s, when I was ten years old, he was program manager for WGIC, the radio station of Travelers [Insurance] in Hartford, Connecticut. Every night he listened to the radio, to make sure everything was done properly, so I just laid down on the floor and just listened to radio. And radio is in your mind; you have to envision where they are and what they're doing. And so I kind of got that into my head at a very early age.  He was behind me 100% in whatever I wanted to do. Except the one thing he didn't want me to do was work for NBC. (laughs)

Henry Parke:      Which, of course, you did end up doing.

Kent McCray:     That's right. It all blew over after he realized I was on my own, and he was not part of it. But he helped me with the initial letters and calls to a TV station in Hollywood, not NBC. And that was the initial call that got me into thinking about television

Henry Parke:      Before that, as a young man you wanted to act on stage and study at Yale, but a special opportunity introduced you to a very different part of the theater.

Kent McCray:     That's correct.   What happened, the Julius Hart College of Music, which is now part of the University of Hartford was a separate music college, and my dad used a lot of their professors and string quartets on the radio. So the head of the art school and his family became very close to my family through the years. I was acting in a play in prep school up in New Hampshire, and my dad asked me if I liked that end of it. I said I liked I like being an actor, but I liked the backstage work best. I thought that Yale was the best opportunity for theater art. And my dad suggested that I talk to Dr. Nagy, because he had taught at Yale and might have some pointers. I was on a spring break, working in a flower shop, and went down and talked to Dr. Nagy one afternoon. I had a very nice chat with him. I liked him, and he suggested some books. I went back to work. I got a call a few days later. He said, I need to talk to you again. I have a deal for you you won't refuse. Well that kind sparked my interest.  I got off work early, went down and talked to him, and he said, I will teach you the course I taught at Yale, all your other courses at the college will be free. But, you have to work for me as many hours as I want you. In a sense you are my slave.   I said I can't ask for a better deal than that. So that's how I went to the art school and music. And I was there four years. I couldn't get a degree in theater arts because that's not one of the credited courses that the school had at the time; I was the only person that ever did that, and they didn't have one after I left.

Henry Parke:      You were there at the right time.

Kent McCray:     Yeah. He was a very clever, clever man, very artistic, very precise. He wanted everything done in his way of thinking. He didn't turn on the light with a switch, he turned it on with a dimmer, very slowly, and kept tempo with the music. I learned everything about stage from him.

Henry Parke:      And how did the things you learned from him prepare you for your future career in live and filmed TV? 

Kent McCray:     Stage work is stage work, and whether it be live or now television, it's pretty much the same. You need scenery, you need lighting: all those things I learned to do on a stage with opera. My final year with Dr. Nagy, we were doing an opera. He turned to me and he said, “You light it.” I said, “What?” He said, “I'm not going to tell you where to put up lights. You put them where you think they should be.” I did and he critiqued that, he changed things, but he let me learn. I never had a class with him. We'd be in the car and he'd start asking me questions. He'd say give me 200 or 300 words about that. That's how I got my education. I couldn't ask for anything better.

Henry Parke:      When you moved on to live television, you were working on the Colgate Comedy Hour, which is just something I'm crazy about. And you worked with great stars. Martin and Lewis, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor, and Abbott and Costello.

Kent McCray:     Yeah, there were two shows.  The All-Star Revue was on Saturday night, and Colgate Comedy Hour was on Sunday.  Most of the stars in those days were great. Now television was being done in New York. The stars had to fly to New York, stay there for a few weeks, disrupt their family life. Then with the advent of the coaxial cable, which was put in place in 1951, you were broadcasting on a phone line from here (California) to New York. So, if we went on out here at six, they could see the show at 9:00 in New York, live. Of course, the recording we could get out of it was called a kinescope, an electronic copy of the show which quality-wise was very poor.

Henry Parke:      Don't stand up much to rebroadcast.

Kent McCray:     When my dad was on radio, he was asked to go to Florida by an agent to look at this comedy (act) routine, which was Martin and Lewis. He put them on NBC radio and they were doing fairly well, but they're ratings started to drop off. So, he put through a memo to the lawyers to cancel their contract. But in their initial contract, if they weren't notified of cancelation by a certain date, they were automatically picked up for another year. Well, the lawyers goofed up somewhere along the line, and Martin and Lewis were on the radio two more years, and then made the move to television.

Henry Parke:      They probably did better work on television in the movies.

Kent McCray:     Ah, well, it's a different format. They loved live television. Jerry Lewis was great. If they had a gag that didn't work, he'd walk off the stage and bring the prop man onstage to fix it live on the air.  It was a great time. I loved live television -- other than the fact that you were bound by the clock. If you had an hour show, and you went on at 6 o'clock, you were automatically cut at seven.  We had to do what we called back timing on a lot of things that were in the show, and the credits were always the first things to go, to be cut.  Once on the Red Skelton Show, he opened with the closing credits. He said, "These are the people who were cut. Their names were never seen last week because I ran too long.”

Henry Parke:      What sort of work were you doing on these shows? 

Kent McCray:     I was hired by a gentleman named Earl Reddick, who was head of production for NBC Television. He said we like what we see on paper, but we know nothing about you. We'll put you on, on a week to week basis. I said okay. I can't ask for anything better. I never got a day off until May! NBC only had one theatre big enough to do a variety show, and that was the Palace Theatre, then called the El Capitan, which they rented. It was right across the street from Capital Records Building on Vine Street.

For both shows to air, one on Saturday, one on Sunday, they rehearsed at the rehearsal hall during the week. On Wednesday and Thursday, I did all the sets for the All-Star Revue in the Palace, so on Friday morning they could rehearse on camera. Friday night all those sets were taken out in big trucks, and we would bring in the sets for the Colgate Comedy Hour. They would rehearse on Friday, we’d take out the sets that night, on Saturday bring in the All-Star Revue sets, and go on the air with that, and the sets would go down to the scene dock, and we'd bring back the Colgate Comedy Hour, so they could be there on Sunday night. That was one of my first assignments, juggling these sets going in and going out. They only had one engineering crew that did both shows.

Henry Parke:      What was it like working with Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life?

Kent McCray:     Well, Groucho Marx's company had been shooting the show for a number of years and they weren't happy. They wanted a different studio, closer to Vine Street because that's where all the people congregated, around Hollywood and Vine, to get onto TV shows. NBC had converted an old radio studio into a television studio, and I was in charge of following through with the design. We had to take seats for the band, had to put in a grid above for the lights, all the equipment had to come in. Groucho Marx was one of the funniest men I've ever worked with, and I've worked a lot of talents. (For You Bet Your Life), the writers and the director would interview a contestant.  There were no teleprompters in those days, but you remember in the old days, in bowling alleys, when you would write your score, and it would be projected above? Well, the director would put a one-line thing up there for Groucho to ask the contestant. He would ask the contestant the one line, and he would take off, and it was all ad-lib -- there was no script. I thought he was very clever.

Henry Parke:      You went on to be associated with Bob Hope for quite a while and did big Christmas shows at military bases all over the world. How did you link up with Bob and what was he like to work with?

Kent McCray:     Well, I had just finished up a show on film called Matinee Theatre, and I was told that Bob wanted to film a show in Alaska. He asked if I could put a show together, and I said, Hell yes! I went up on a survey to see what the facilities were like. Put a crew together, we took off. We did five or six shows in Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It was quite an experience because of the weather -- it was colder than Hell, and always dark. Bob decided he wanted to enter stage pulled by a sled dog.  So, I had to go find somebody who had a sled-dog who could pull Bob through the (saloon) batwing doors. After that, the gentleman who had been associate producer with Bob Hope for a number of years wanted to make a change. Bob hired me.  Well I can't say enough about him. He was a wonderful, caring person. We had a few cross words, but very rarely. He was always very pleasant. One night we were going over things at his office. It was dinner time. "Come on over and have dinner with us." I sat down at the table with his family and he was just like a father. "What did you do today? What did you learn in school?" He was a completely different character. He wasn't telling jokes, he wasn't trying to be funny, he wanted to know, truly, how his kids were doing.  He had a friend, Charlie Cooley, who was with him in vaudeville, When Bob moved to California he brought Charlie Coooley out here, bought him a house. And then Charlie got quite ill. Lots of times Bob would walk over to his house, and he didn't like to walk alone. I would walk over with him. The association with him was wonderful.

Henry Parke:      He sure cared about our soldiers and sailors around the world.  

Kent McCray:     Did he ever. It all started in the '40s, during the war, when one of his writers had a buddy posted at March Air Force Base in Southern California.  He says, why don't we take the show and do it up there? They're dying for entertainment. Well that sounded terrific.  He started doing the radio shows at different camps, and then took them overseas. When he did the radio shows, it was just he, a piano player and a drummer and a singer. It wasn't a big crew. When we sat down to plan the first Christmas show to the Orient, we ended up having 76 people in the crew.

Henry Parke: That’s quite a jump!

Kent McCray:     This was all very sudden: I got a passport in one day, because it was Bob.  Anyway, from Travis Air Force base we flew out, and after an hour we lost a motor and had to turn back, and then we lost the second motor, and slid into Travis Air Force Base. 

Bob Hope was just wonderful. All the comedians were different. They learned radio, but their background was vaudeville, so they understood timing. They knew how to tell a joke, and their jokes weren't dirty. They were double entendres, a couple of them, but very rarely was there ever a dirty joke out of one of the comics at that time.  Bob couldn't sleep at night. He never slept a full night. He would call, say I think we should do this or do that. I'd had a pad of paper by my bed to write down what he was saying. He called me one time, told me a joke, then said how did you like that joke? I said, I'll be honest with you. I don't think it's very funny. And all he said is, 'wait.' I wait. We did the show, and with his timing, with his pauses, with his look, it brought down the house.  And all he did was look at me, and point his finger, like, 'I told you.'

When I left to go overseas, there were two other gentlemen who went with me. We left the day after Thanksgiving, we went to all the bases we were going to perform at.  The choices came out of Washington, the USO, we had nothing to say in the matter. 

We loaded into 21 different bases, Okinawa, Korea. We had to have transportation, food for people, lodging for people, the stage set up, the platforms for the cameras, platforms for the lights – it was quite a chore to get everything organized. For that one month, when I was in the military, my civilian rank was one-star general. They told me, when you’ve got to get a good place to sleep, you’ll get the best. If you started getting in trouble with anybody, flash them your orders. If some sergeant doesn’t want to do something for you, flash him your orders: it’ll get done. I only had to use them a few times, but I always had that piece of paper in my pocket.  What we basically did was a two-hour stage show, and I had to get everybody on with the right cue – that was just a side job I did. We did 21 shows in fourteen days, including travel. All the generals, of course, always wanted Bob Hope to come out to their house for dinner. I think it was to show off. But Bob told me going in, “I don’t go to any house for dinner. If they want to throw a party for the 76 of us, that’s fine. But no one in this group works any harder than the boy who puts out the music for the band. We’re all working our tails off to get it done. And I will not go to anybody’s house by myself.” He really loved performing. The writers would hit every base, they were making fun of this General or that Colonel, drop somebody’s name, and the troops went nuts. One of the other things I had to do was to make sure at every base where we had a refueling stop, that Mr. Hope had a car and driver waiting, to go to the base hospital, to see the men who couldn’t get to the show. And he would walk through the wards – I went with him a couple of times, but it was too heart-wrenching. I couldn’t take it. These guys – it was after the Korean War. And all these guys with lost legs, busted arms, all kinds of things, all laying in bed, with scowls on their face. But by the time Bob left, they were all laughing. I always respected him for that. He was gentle.

Henry Parke:  Nicer than Dinah Shore?

Kent McCray: (laughs) You can say it, but I won’t. We referred to her as the chocolate-covered black widow spider. That kinda gives you a clue, doesn’t it?

Kent McCray Part Two, The Western Years, coming soon!



In Bufort, Texas, in the summer of 1958, two men who feel they have nothing to lose, meet by chance. Harland Cain is an aging small-time rancher with a medical death sentence and nothing to look forward to. Dodger is a cripple-legged teenager living with a useless, drunken mother and her violent boyfriend, and sees no hope. They meet up while trying to end it all, and when Harland takes the boy under his wing, they each start having something to live for. But when their horses are rustled during an overnight campout, trailing the stolen animals into Mexico sets dramatic wheels into uncontrollable motion that will leave you breathless to finish the adventure. 

D.B. Jackson, whose previous novels include the fine UNBROKE HORSES and THEY RODE GOOD HORSES, has created strikingly real characters whose personalities and problems draw you in. Dodger is the adolescent who’s smart enough to think things through, but whose youthful impatience leads him to deadly mistakes. Harland is a man whose pride and sense of honor won’t let him walk away and cut his losses even when it’s the far safer path.  
With a publication date of May 15th, from Turner Publishing, it will retail for $17.99.  You can order it HERE 


About eight years ago, when I first started writing the Round-up, a woman took issue with a positive review I gave a movie, commenting, “I don’t consider a movie a Western if there isn’t even one saloon fight.” She has a point – there’s nothing like the vicarious thrill of a knock-down, drag-out fight to bring a smile to one’s face.  If you like on-screen fighting, you’ll love Gene Freese’s new book, CLASSIC MOVIE FIGHTS – 75 YEARS OF BARE KNUCKLE BRAWLS, 1914-1989.  Arranged chronologically, whether your taste runs to John Payne vs. Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand in KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, Alan Ladd vs. Ben Johnson in SHANE, Ronald Reagan vs. Preston Foster in LAW AND ORDER, or The Filling Station Brawl in IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, they’ve got you covered, with plenty of biographic and filmographic details about the on-screen participants, fight choreographers, stunt doubles, and production notes. The more I read, the longer my list of movies to rewatch grows. The amount of detail Freese imparts in his breezy style is astonishing.

The reason he chose to start with 1914 was for that year’s THE SPOILERS, and the first great movie fight – there was no such thing as stunt fighting, and stars William Farnum and Tom Santschi just beat the living hell out of each other on-camera. Why does he stop in 1989? Because by 1990, the rise of CGI, flashy cutting and purposely shaky cameras made it hard to even watch a fight on-screen. CLASSIC MOVIE FIGHTS is published by McFarland, costs $45, and can be ordered HERE  or ordered by calling 800-253-2187.


When a set of movies has such a generic title, and at $24.98, such a reasonable price, there’s a tendency to assume it’s a bunch of public domain, hard-to-watch cheapies. Nothing could be further from, the truth. This is a remarkable selection of Columbia Pictures Westerns on six discs, and the quality is first-rate. Included are many Randolph Scott films, including all of the fabled Ranown/Scott Budd Boetticher films with the exception of 7 MEN FROM NOW, which was a Batjac, Warner Brothers picture.  There are several titles starring Glenn Ford and William Holden, including ARIZONA, the movie they built Old Tucson Studios for. If your taste runs to Bs, there are Charles Starrett DURANGO KID films, and even two Tim McCoys and a Buck Jones that all feature a young John Wayne. To get the complete list, and to order collection, go HERE.


In the next Round-up I'll have details about a TOMBSTONE 25th reunion that'll take place June 30th and July 1st in the actual town of Tombstone, Arizona!

Happy Trails,


All Original Material Copyright March 2018 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 15, 2018




Okay, he’s not the King yet, but maybe the Kaiser of the Cowboys? The body-building champ, movie star and former Governor of California, whose only previous Western was Hal Needham’s 1979 comedy THE VILLAIN -- in which he played Handsome Stranger to Ann-Margaret’s Charming Jones, and Kirk Douglas’s Cactus Jack -- will be heading to the Amazon West, to star in the series OUTRIDER, for Producer Mace Neufield, who previously produced GODS AND GENERALS.

Set in the late 1800s, when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory, the story centers on a deputy assigned to capture a famous outlaw, with the help of a ruthless Federal Marshal (Schwarzenegger). As the tale progresses, alliances will shift, and the demarcation between hero and villain will be obscured.  The show will be co-written and exec-produced by Trey Callaway and Mark Montgomery.


As Superbowl fans learned last Sunday, WESTWORLD will be starting its second season, on HBO, on April 22nd. The teaser trailer, seen below, doesn’t give too much story away, but it does confirm that it will be a western WESTWORLD, not the eastern Samurai variation last season’s ending hinted at (Whew!). As with season one, HBO remains tight-lipped. So fasten your seatbelts!


As part of the Autry’s long-running ‘What is a Western?’ film series, they will be screening John Ford’s classic Western courtroom mystery, 1960’s SERGEANT RUTLEDGE. Tremendously daring for its subject matter even today, and one of the high points of Woody Strode’s career. He star as a Buffalo Soldier on trial for the rape and murder of a white child. The film also stars Constance Towers and Jeffrey Hunter.  I wrote an article on RUTLEDGE, and other Buffalo Soldier films, for True West Magazine, and had the privilege of speaking to both Ms. Towers, and Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson, who played a Buffalo Soldier in the film. To read ‘Ford Set The Bar High’, click HERE.  The film will be introduced by Jared Moshé, director of the current Western THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN. The program in the Wells Fargo Theatre begins at 1:30 pm, and admission is free with your museum admission. 


In two weeks the L. A. Italia Festival, the 13th annual celebration of Italian culture and especially Italian cinema, will begin on Sunday, February 25th, at the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood, and run for a week, through Saturday, March 3rd, Oscar eve. This year’s festival will be dedicated to legendary Italian directors Franco Zeffirelli and Lina Wertmuller.  There are screenings of dozens of Italian movies, both new and classics, all free, on a first come, first seated basis. There are also special programs that require reservations, and the red carpet is often packed with stars. The schedule of films was announced last night, and there is just one Italian Western on the bill. On Saturday, at 4:50 pm, TWO BROTHERS IN A PLACE CALLED TRINITY, starring Richard Harrison, will be screened. The program notes, “Harrison wrote, produced and directed the film, and understandably, it is his personal favorite among the Italian westerns he appeared in.” It doesn’t say whether or not Harrison will attend; I’ll try to find out. To find out about all of the films being screened, and their times, go HERE.


I was surprised to find this shot of me and Shirley
Jones on the Red Carpet at the TCM site!

The annual TCM Classic Movie Festival returns to the Chinese Theatre Complex and elsewhere around Hollywood, starting April 26th, and running through the 29th. This year’s theme will be that all-too-often ignored aspect of movies, the written word. According to TCM, “From original screenplays to unique adaptations to portrayals of writers real and imagined, we will celebrate the foundation of great film: the written word.”  The Fest will open with a screening at the Chinese IMAX of THE PRODUCERS, with writer/director Mel Brooks attending. Other guests already announced include writer/director Robert Benton, and actress Marsha Hunt.  

Dick Cavett introducing a film

Last year, although the number of Westerns featured was small, what there was, was choice. DAWSON CITY – FROZEN TIME is a fascinating documentary by Bill Morrison. A boomtown in the heart of the Yukon Gold Rush that started in1898, Dawson’s movie theatres were not only the hub of entertainment, they were the end of the line for movie prints that had made their way around the world. In 1978, a construction crew bulldozed an old sports club, and found hundreds of reels of film buried, some of them preserved, in the permafrost, most of them films thought to be lost forever. And that’s only the beginning of the story. The film is available from Kino-Lorber.

A frame from POLLY OF THE CIRCUS (1917)
partly decomposed, from DAWSON CITY

1952’s THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE was re-premiered at the Fest, not just restored, but seen in 3-D for the first time since its release. This lively movie from Paramount’s famous ‘Dollar Bills’, Bill Pine and Bill Thomas, was the first 3-D musical. It stars Gene Barry, Rhonda Fleming, Agnes Moorhead, and a bevy of singers and dancers, including the Bell Sisters, one of whom, to the audience’s delight, attended. It tells the story of a family of women that head to -- you guessed it -- Dawson City during the Gold Rush to be entertainers. This one is also available from Kino-Lorber. With their story overlap, I’m surprised REDHEADS and DAWSON aren’t offered as a set. 

Paramount Studio Head Archivist Andrea Kalas presented a talk, and clips from dozens of Republic Pictures in all imaginable genres. Paramount has acquired the entire Republic Library (minus, I assume, Gene Autry’s films, as he acquired all of them), and have for seven years been restoring them at the rate of 100 a year. Needless to say, this left all the Western fans in attendance salivating, but at the moment, no definite plans for releasing the films has been announced.

Peter Bogdonovich and Illeana Douglas

And speaking of things not yet announced, thus far only eighteen films have been announced for this year’s Fest, and there’s not a Western in the bunch. But last year they showed 83 films, so there’s plenty of space to squeeze in some oaters. Stand by for updates as we get closer to the event.


Kent McCray with High Chaparral stuntwoman
Jackie Fuller

On Saturday, March 17th, Kent McCray, who produced or production-managed BONANZA, THE HIGH CHAPARRAL, and THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, will be au the Autry, speaking about his career, and signing his new autobiography, KENT MCCRAY: THE MAN BEHIND THE MOST BELOVED TELEVISION SHOWS. A Q&A will be hosted by Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on LITTLE HOUSE, and other guests from McCray shows are expected. In addition to his extensive Western work, McCray spent years managing Bob Hope’s travels to entertain our troops around the globe. His friendship with Michael Landon, developed on the BONANZA set, led to a producing partnership on LITTLE HOUSE and HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN.
My next Round-up will feature an interview with McCray. And HERE is a link to the current True West Magazine, about McCray’s recent celebration of HIGH CHAPARRAL’s 50th Anniversary.


A Book Review by Henry C. Parke

It’s not so surprising that a young man’s early association with Western actor William S. Hart would inspire him to become a real-life western lawman. It’s not the first time a man changed his name in tribute to his idol – magician Eric Weiss dubbed himself Harry Houdini after French illusionist Robert-Houdin. The stunner is the name that he changed: lawman and prohibition agent Richard ‘Two-Gun’ Hart had been Christened in Sicily as Vicenzo Capone, and his brother, Al Capone, would make quite a name for himself on the other side of the law!

Jeff McArthur tells a fascinating, and entirely fresh, story of a man who reinvented himself totally, yet could never totally escape his family’s influence. Hart was a remarkable complex man, and his successes and struggles throughout the Great Depression are, by turns, inspiring and infuriating.

As a teenager, I was obsessed with Depression-era gangsters, and I devoured every word I could find on Al Capone. There is more information on the life of Scarface Al, and insight into his character and personality here, than I have ever seen before, and with a good reason. For the first time, the Capone family has opened up to an author, and granted unprecedented access to MacArthur.

Whether your interest is in lawmen, criminals, or simply humanity, you will be astonished. TWO-GUN HART is published by Bandwagon Books.               


Tom Tyler had a few standout sympathetic roles, as Captain Marvel in the Republic serial, and as Stony Brooke in some of the THREE MESQUITEERS entries. But most of his other outstanding, and best remembered roles were villains: Luke Plummer, the man who killed John Wayne’s brother in 1939’s STAGECOACH; King Evans in William Wyler’s THE WESTERNER (1940); and as the seemingly soulless gunman in POWDERSMOKE RANGE (1935). Likable, strong-jawed Kermit Maynard was as good an actor, and handsomer, than his superstar brother Ken Maynard, but no one else could do what Ken could with a horse. Kermit played countless drovers and henchmen and stagecoach drivers.  But once in a blue moon, these supporting players got a chance to shine, and in a new double-bill from Alpha Video, each man proves that he could carry a movie on their own.

In RIDIN’ THRU (1934), Tom Tyler and sidekick Ben Corbett come to the aid of a rancher-turned-dude-rancher friend whose horses are being rustled, and determine they’re being led away by a mysterious white stallion. In FIGHTING TROOPER (1934) Kermit Maynard stars as a Mountie sergeant whose superior, and personal antagonist, is murdered. While undercover, investigating a likely suspect, fur trapper LeFarge (LeRoy Mason), he grows to suspect LeFarge is being framed.

Also from Alpha is the long-thought-lost B Western DESERT MESA (1935), starring Wally West, a stuntman-turned-actor who pretty quickly turned back to stuntman. It's a story about two men, West and an old rancher (William McCall), whose paths cross as both seek the same man, who ruined their lives by killing West’s father and McCall’s wife. Not a great movie, but a surprisingly good print, it’s curious to note that as late as 1935, some poverty row Westerns felt almost like silents, between the stilted performances and West’s mascara. One of the more natural performances, as an unbilled sidekick named Art, is the film’s producer and director Art Mix, real name Victor Adamson, who was sued by Tom Mix to stop borrowing his last name.  It’s double billed with THE TEXAS TORNADO, aka RANCH DYNAMITE, from 1932, starring Lane Chandler as a Texas Ranger who takes on the identity of a Chicago gangster to infiltrate a gang. Master stuntman Yakima Canutt plays a henchman, and does stunt doubling in the spirited fights. It’s written and directed by Oliver Drake, who decades later would co-author Canutt’s excellent autobiography, STUNTMAN.

…and that’s a wrap! 

For your amusement, here are a few not quite 2” by 3” Swedish gum cards. My favorite is the one that identifies our most decorated soldier of World War II, and a fine Western actor, as Audrey Murphy. Things get lost in translation.

In the next Round-up, I’ll have my interview with Kent McCray, and a look at two upcoming Spaghetti Westerns from the folks who brought you 6 BULLETS TO HELL! And I’ll be updating this Round-up as titles become available for the TCM Classic Movie Festival.

Happy Trails!


All Original Contents Copyright February 2018 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 7, 2018


Christian Bale

HOSTILES – A Film Review 

A decade ago, Christian Bale played the reluctant temporary deputy escorting outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crow) to a train in the remake of Elmore Leonard’s 3:10 TO YUMA. In HOSTILES, he’s more than reluctant; he’s defiant. A heroic, much-honored veteran of both the Civil War and Indian Wars, Cap. Joseph J. Blocker (Bale), is ordered to escort captive Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his homeland in Montana, presumably to die. Having lost many friends at the hands of Yellow Hawk and his men, Blocker refuses, and it is only the threat of court martial, and loss of his pension, by Col. Briggs (Stephen Lang), that induces Blocker to transport Yellow Hawk and his family through deadly territory.

Jonathan Majors & Wes Studi

The movie becomes, in a sense, a ‘road picture’, with Blocker and Yellow Hawk gradually coming to grips with their intersecting pasts and their terrible memories. There are chance encounters along the way. En route they meet up with Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike, Oscar-nominated for GONE GIRL), a settler whose husband and three daughters have been piteously butchered by Comanches. Her mind shattered by her pain, she is brought along, and begins healing along the way. Soldiers and Cheyenne must do battle with Comanches, enemies of both. They’re also asked to transport a soldier to a court for trial and presumably a hanging – Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster) hacked a family to pieces with an axe. Wills has a history with Blocker – they soldiered together – and Wills is eager to convince Blocker that his crimes are no worse than Blocker committed, and that they’re a pair of angels next to Yellow Hawk. Interestingly, Foster, who all but walked away with last year’s HELL OR HIGH WATER, as the bank-robbing brother with no off-switch, has a history with Bale, as he played Crow’s obsessively-loyal right-hand in 3:10 TO YUMA. Come to think of it, he all but walked off with that movie as well.

Rosamund Pike

HOSTILES, written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart, an Oscar-winner for 1983’s MISSING, is a deeply felt story, peopled by soldiers, Indians and civilians who express their feelings with utmost caution.  Despite the familiar premise, the flow of the story, and the people who populate it, are happily unfamiliar. The cavalry soldiers assisting Blocker include a young Frenchman (Timothee Chalamet – currently starring in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME), a sergeant recently treated for melancholy (Rory Cochrane), and a loyal black corporal (Jonathan Majors) ironically in charge of chaining the Indians. It’s full of both quiet passages, and jarring, unflinching violence – in some ways it’s the SAVING PRIVATE RYAN of Westerns.  

Christian Bale & Adam Beach

Scott Cooper made CRAZY HEART with Jeff Bridges, but his Western credentials go back further, to his acting career, in GODS AND GENERALS, with Stephen Lang, and the excellent miniseries BROKEN TRAIL. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who also shot Cooper’s BLACK MASS, makes full, beautiful use of the New Mexico and Arizona locations, and at times effectively thrusts the viewer deeper into the action than we want to go. There is also frequently a classical look to the images – his doorway compositions are not merely an homage to John Ford, but a jumping-off point.
My one disappointment is that the excellent Adam Beach, who plays Yellow Hawk’s son, has virtually nothing to do. But with a performance by Bale that runs from barely contained fury to understated grace, and a story that is frequently grim, but never without hope, HOSTILES is one of the finest Westerns in several years. From Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, it opens in theatres on January 19th.

TOMBSTONE – RASHOMON – Alex Cox at the O.K. Corral!

There is probably no more polarizing incident in the Old West than the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral or, as those involved demurely referred to it, ‘the difficulties.’ 132 years after the Earp and Cowboy factions faced each other, all that can be agreed upon is that 30 seconds after it started, Billy Clanton, and Frank and Tom McLaury were dead.  There is no consensus as to whether or not it was avoidable, and who was at fault.    

“I was a kid at grammar school in England, and in the school library was a copy of Stuart N. Lake’s book, WYATT EARP -- FRONTIER MARSHALL,” remembers wildly-independent filmmaker Alex Cox – whose previous Westerns include 1986’s punk neo-Spaghetti STRAIGHT TO HELL and ‘87’s classical WALKER. “I read that, and of course it’s a total hierography of Earp. But it was well-written, entertaining, and it got me interested in the subject.” His favorite of the films on the subject is John Ford’s 1946 MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. “It’s so beautiful. It doesn’t have a lot to do with the events; it’s a made-up story, for the purpose of entertaining and myth-making.” He also liked 1971’s DOC, “the anti-Earp version. And I kinda like TOMBSTONE – it’s a bit long, but it tells a bigger version of the story, so you know who Johnny Behan is, and Curly Bill Brocious, and all these guys who don’t normally make it into the story.”

Christine Doidge as Kate, Eric Schumacher as Doc 

To tell his own version, Cox took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON, 1951’s Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner. The story of a crime is told repeatedly from several different perspectives, and it’s up to the viewer to decide what to believe. RASHOMON, whose title refers to the gate of a walled city, was remade as a Western, THE OUTRAGE, in 1964, starring Paul Newman in the Toshiro Mifune role.

The premise is explained in the film’s opening title: “On 27 October, 1881, a time-travelling video crew arrived in Tombstone, Arizona, to film the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Realizing they were a day late, they started interviewing the survivors.”

Adam Newberry as Wyatt

Cox’s research is as journalistic as his premise is whimsical. The various tellings come directly from Judge Spicer’s hearings, and the coroner’s report. Those who testify include Wyatt Earp, Ike Clanton, Johnny Behan, and saloon-owner Roderick Hafford. Cox also uses newspaper interviews with Doc Holliday, and a letter ‘Big Nose Kate’ Haroney wrote to her niece. Talking-head interviews lead to filmed versions of each participant’s memories, which overlap, and oppose each other. Among events leading up to the shootout, Wyatt offered Ike Clanton a reward for turning in three men for stage-robbery and murder. But their versions of the proposed deal, and involvement of Doc Holiday, differ radically.  And when it comes to the walk-down, and Sheriff Johnny Behan’s words, do we believe Wyatt’s version, that Behan said he’d disarmed the Cowboys, or Behan’s version, that he said he was there to disarm them?

The casting-for-resemblance is striking: Adam Newberry as sulky Wyatt, Eric Schumacher as manic Doc, and Benny Lee Kennedy as Ike seem to have emerged from the pages of The Tombstone Epitaph. Kennedy’s Ike is unexpectedly sympathetic, but Christine Doidge, as Kate, walks off with the movie as a character who is by turns hilarious, tragic, savvy and innocent. Doidge recalls, “Alex had given (Kate) a real space to be herself. Which is great, because he could have easily written this film without her, or with her in one scene; I think having Kate’s perspective is important.”

Hafford's - Richard Anderson as Hafford, 
Benny Lee Kennedy as Ike

It wasn’t a film easily put together. After a “disastrous” crowd-funding campaign, Cox spent a month preparing at Old Tucson, accomplishing the impossible. “We shot a five-week movie in a week.” Having recently taught a learn-by-doing film-production class at University of Colorado Boulder, making the feature BILL THE GALACTIC HERO, he hired several ex-students as crew. 

The real Hafford's Saloon

Cinematographer Alana Murphy remembers, “I was an assistant camera for HERO.  I suppose I made an impression. When I graduated in 2015, Alex said, hey, I’ve got a project I might want your help with - very mysterious.” A year later she was cinematographer on her first feature. She loved working with Cox. “He starts with a lot of inspiration; he gave me a lot of homework, a lot of films to watch, that inspired. That’s how I got to know him, through the source material.”  The biggest challenge?  “The heat. We were having technical issues with batteries not lasting very long. And we were working on a bigger scale then I’m used to.”

Production Designer Melissa Erdman marveled at Cox’s ability to pull it off. “Alex really had great planning skills in the way that the film was structured. So we had an ‘A’ unit and a ‘B’ unit operating pretty much the entire shoot: the B unit was doing the interviews, and the A unit was shooting the various reenactments.” Recreating the interior of Roderick Haffords’ Corner Saloon, famous for hundreds of pictures of birds on its walls, required major planning.  “We had a pretty limited team – it was me, and my art director, who helped to construct the inside of Hafford’s. We had two days of load-in, and most of the stuff came pre-painted, and then putting the bar together, and then getting all the birds put up. I had three people cutting out birds for two days.”

Cox, like Kurosawa, has no intention of telling the viewer if any version of the shoot-out is the unvarnished truth, but he gives each speaker, without pre-judging, a chance to state his or her case. While some differences are flagrant, some are surprisingly subtle. Doidge remembers that after the shootout, as Kate remembers it, “When Doc comes back, grazed by a bullet, I’m there, and I’m horrified.  And in Doc’s version he’s just sitting on the bed by himself. I’m not there.”
TOMBSTONE – RASHOMON will be available on video in 2018 – stay tuned for details!


For years The Autry has had their monthly ‘What is a Western?’ screening series – they’re showing STAGECOACH on January 20th -- and every second month they screen a Gene Autry double feature. They’re now adding a new film series, The Silent Treatment, featuring silent Westerns with a live piano accompaniment by Cliff Retallick, starting on January 27th with James Cruze’s epic, THE COVERED WAGON (1923). 

Also at the Autry, on Tuesday, January 16th, Rob Word’s Cowboy Lunch and Word on Western series, Rob will look at the role of women and children in Western films, and Rob always gets terrific guests.


I don’t mean to brag, but like Ralphie’s old man, I just won a Major Award. I won first place in the Western Writers of America’s ‘Tweet Us A Western’ contest, where you were challenged to write a complete Western story in 280 characters or less – the length of a tweet.  My winning entry was as follows:

“Eureka!” shouted the old sourdough, sluicing the last of Columbia River silt from his pan to reveal the glitter of color. He straightened.

'Thwack!' The Indian's arrow pierced his back between the shoulders. For a moment he knew his gold rush was over. Then he knew nothing.


...and my New Years resolution is to get the Round-Up out a lot more frequently in 2018. I've got a huge backlog of stories and interviews, and books and movies to review, and I'll get to them as soon as I can. In the meantime, please check out the February 2018 True West, where we asked readers to help us choose the Most Historically Accurate Westerns. And in my column, I take a look at continuing popularity of  The High Chaparral series. Have a wonderful 2018!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright January 2018 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved