Wednesday, August 10, 2016



One of the true pleasures of home video viewing is discovering a hidden treasure-trove from a series you thought you knew completely.  Fess Parker, fresh from his success playing Davy Crocket on Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, starred as DANIEL BOONE for six TV seasons, from 1964 to 1970.   There were 165 episodes in all, and you can catch one daily on INSP.   But you can’t catch the first season – no one airs it because it was in black and white!  Now that entire first season is available from TIMELESS VIDEO, and it’s not only entertaining, it’s something of a revelation.  

Just as the black and white GUNSMOKEs are a different animal from their color descendants, these early BOONEs, while as warm as the later tales, are tougher, more historically based adventures.
While most Western series and movies center around the post-Civil War era, the real Daniel Boone lived from 1734 to 1820, and that’s the time period the plots are drawn from.  These stories have the novelty of an earlier time, when relations with different tribes varied, and where the English and the French were still involved.   In the pilot episode KEN-TUK-E, Daniel is sent by General Washington to build a fort, soon to be known as Boonesborough, in the Kentucky Territory (not yet a state), located to hopefully prevent several Indian tribes from joining forces  with each other, and with the British.  Here he rescues and befriends Mingo (Ed Ames), an Oxford-educated Cherokee half-breed who will be Dan’l’s closest friend throughout the series.  (While I always thought the Oxford business was pretty random, I suspect the idea was to have an Indian character that didn’t speak like Tonto.)  

At the end of the pilot, Dan’l is joined by his family; his wife Rebecca Boone (beautiful Patricia Blair), daughter Jemima (Veronica Cartwright) and son Israel (Darby Hinton).  It was scripted by the brilliant Borden Chase, who wrote WINCHESTER ’73 (1950), and was Oscar-nominated for adapting RED RIVER (1948) from his own short story. It was directed by George Marshall, one of the all-time great studio directors, who started out making Westerns with Harry Carey Sr. in 1916!  A master of Westerns, comedies, and noirs, he directed some of the best work of Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and directed both James Stewart and Audie Murphy as Destry.  His skill at combining good-natured humor with serious danger was ideal for Fess Parker’s personality and talent.  With the pilot, Marshall and Chase set the adventurous tone for the series – and they set the bar high. 

The second episode concerns a white girl, stolen by one tribe as a child, rescued by another tribe later on.  In what world does she truly belong?  In succeeding episodes Daniel deals with a Welsh family trying to escape indentured servitude, an accusation of murder against Mingo, a French river pirate who was once a friend, a seemingly minor injury that gets infected, leaving daughter Jemima to have to protect her father against outlaws.  There is a powerful sense of home just under the surface, which makes the adventures of the Boone kids that much more compelling.  One of my personal favorites is the Val Lewton-like, atmospheric DAUGHTER OF THE DEVIL, which was broadcast in April, but is ideal around Halloween. 

Albert Salmi with Fess

The talented Albert Salmi plays Yadkin, Boone’s often blustery right hand aside from Mingo, but only in the first season.  Dal McKennon, who runs the fort store, a very busy voice-actor in cartoons, was in the show from the first season to the last.  So were Patricia Blair and Darby Hinton, but Veronica Cartwright only lasted a few episodes into season two, and another brother didn’t survive the pilot – read my interview with Darby to find out why.      

Interestingly, while Ed Ames was in until the last season or two, Mingo changes quite a bit.  In season one he is surprisingly, and cheerfully, bloodthirsty, always eager to slay one or many Shawnee, enemies.  And his weapon of choice is a bullwhip!

The set from TIMELESS MEDIA/SHOUT FACTORY contains all 29 hour-long episodes from season one, as well interviews with Darby Hinton, Veronica Cartwright, Ed Ames, and the late great man himself, Fess Parker.  Of particular fun are the kids’ memories of working with animals on the show, especially bears, panthers, and Israel’s pet goose, Hannibal.  The set is available exclusively from Walmart, either in-store or HERE.


Fess and Darby

Looking at the muscular, handsome bearded man who plays George Donner on The Weather Channel’s THE DONNER PARTY, and who portrays Texas’ first president in the blockbuster mini-series TEXAS RISING, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that said man was once a tow-headed sprite named Israel on DANIEL BOONE, back in the 1960s.  But they’re both Darby Hinton, an actor before he was a year old, and an international TV star before he was 7. 

When I made contact with Darby, to discuss Fess Parker, the series, and his career since, he was in the midst of putting together an awards banquet.  I asked him who it was for.

DARBY:  It’s called Looking Ahead.  It’s an organization I’ve been involved with since the beginning – over a dozen years.  It looks out for young performers in the business.  We make a nice little community; we take them down to community service, and take them paint-balling.  Child actors can be very isolated, and feel left apart, so this is an organization that tries to do things for them to make them feel better, and then we look ahead and see what they might want to do after acting.

HENRY:  That’s a terrific cause, because as you say, child actors do get very isolated, and it’s not a kind business when they get a little older. 

DARBY:  I know, because I’ve lost quite a few friends, so that’s why I’ve gotten involved, and glad to do it.

HENRY: I talked to Paul Peterson (note: Jeff Stone on THE DONNA REED SHOW) about his organization, A Minor Consideration, about similar concerns.

DARBY:  I’ve been a member of that for a long time.  As a matter of fact, Paul Peterson will be at my table for the awards on Thursday night, along with Tony Dow (note: Wally Cleaver on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) and some other fun people.  

Darby today

HENRY: What was the earliest show you remember doing?

DARBY: I started when I was six months old.  The earliest one that really stands out was a MR. ED (1963) I did, because I remember watching the show, and I was a little disappointed to learn how they made Mr. Ed talk (note: pulling a nylon string under Ed’s lip made him appear to talk).   I remember when I did BROTHERS GRIMM (1962), they had a fake snow-machine, and they kept saying, “Don’t look up at the snow.”  So of course I would look up at the snow.  And I would have to keep going to the nurse because I would have these plastic pieces of snowflake stuck in my eye.  (LAUGHS)  So I guess it’s those painful things that stick out. 

HENRY:  Before DANIEL BOONE, you did a couple of episodes of Western series, WAGON TRAIN and BIG VALLEY.  Were you a fan of the genre as a kid?

DARBY:  Oh sure, I still am.  I think it’s great; I love being a cowboy.

HENRY: Do you remember how you got the part of Israel Boone?

DARBY: Yeah.  My mom came and picked me up, said “Come on, we’ve got an interview at Fox.  It’s for a movie.”  And she dressed me up in lederhosen and knee-high socks, and all the way to 20th she had me singing ‘Edelweiss’, because it was for THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  In the original (story) the youngest one was a boy, and that was what they were casting.  And my mom, God bless her, was always late to everything.  We were late to the interview, we got to the casting building, and she said, “Quick, go run in there!   They’ll be waiting.  I’ll park the car and I’ll come right in.”  I ran in; saw a line of kids, so I jumped in that line.  I saw the secretary, and she saw me, and she must have cracked up.  All of a sudden she took me to the front of the line, into a room full of adults.  “I think you might want to see this guy.”  And that was it.  Fess was in there.  They didn’t really even have a part for me.  I had an older brother called Israel Boone, and they wrote a part for me for the pilot, called Nathan Boone.  I came out of there, my mom saw me in the hall, and was upset.  “What are you doing?  They were just looking for you!”  I said, “I don’t know, but whatever’s in there, I just got that!”  And that’s how I got the DANIEL BOONE SHOW.  I’m sure I made a sight in lederhosen.  

HENRY:  What happened to your older brother?  I don’t remember him.

Fess, Darby, Veronica Cartwright, Patricia Blair

DARBY:  It’s really funny.  Now thanks to DVDs you can see all this.  If you watch the pilot, the last shot, Daniel’s walking out of the fort with his family, he’s got two kids (Israel and Jemima) in tow.  But in the very beginning, there’s two boys (and the girl).  George Marshall was the director – he was one of those old-time directors who yelled and screamed at everybody.  I liked him; we got along great.  Anyway, he got to like me, and halfway through it he added a scene to the pilot, where a flaming arrow goes into a powder-keg, and I run out, grab the flaming arrow, pull it out, stomp on it, put the fire out, run back to Becky, who goes, “Awww!”  They saw that in dailies and said, “We don’t need the older one.  The little one seems able to handle all this stuff.  Let’s just go with him.”  So right in the middle of the pilot, Daniel went from having two sons to having one son.

HENRY: You were certainly involved in a lot of action.  Was that a plus or a minus?

DARBY:  Loved it!  Are you kidding?  That’s all the fun of it.  I remember when I did that BIG VALLEY (BOY INTO MAN 1967) you were talking about, Richard Dreyfus was my older brother.  They had asked him, can you drive a team of horses?  He said, “Oh sure I can.  No problem.”  (LAUGHS) He was a New York actor just out here: he didn’t know which end of the horse to feed.  We got on the set to do the scene, we’re on the wagon.  There was a little girl between us, playing my sister, and I was on the outside.  Ricky had the reins, and when they said ‘action’, he only had to go a three or four feet, pull up, and stop.  But when they said action, he did the only thing he’d seen in the Westerns.  He yelled “Yee-haw!” and they took off!  That was quite a stunt scene, even though it wasn’t supposed to be.

HENRY: After the first season, the show went from black and white to color.

DARBY: I remember everyone as very excited about it.  They knew it was a real tip of the hat by NBC because we were one of their first to go to ‘living color.’

HENRY: How old were you when the show started?

DARBY: For that pilot I was five and a half.  By the time we started shooting the full lot of thirteen, I had just turned six.

HENRY: Did you attend school at the studio?

DARBY:  Three hours a day with my tutor.  It was interesting.  You know, Veronica (Cartwright) was my sister for a couple of years, so I had her.  But then she left the show, and it was just me and any young kid guest stars.  So it was good one-on-one education, but I kind of missed the sports, being with the kids, playing on a playground and having that kind of fun.

HENRY:  So you weren’t with a group of kids from other shows or movies.

DARBY: We filmed out at Sunset and Western Avenue, which was the smaller lot for Fox.  So there was LANCER and HIGH CHAPARRAL and 12’OCLOCK HIGH, but nothing else with kids, so any time we were shooting there it was just me.  Now if I was off the show for a number of days, then they would have me come to the Fox lot (in Century City), and I went to the schoolhouse there, with the teacher who taught everyone from Shirley Temple on up.  And at that time there was Billy Mumy, Angela Cartwright, Veronica’s sister, doing LOST IN SPACE.  All the young actors at Fox came through there.   Tammy Locke with THE MONROES was another.  

HENRY: Did you have kid friends who were not in the business?

DARBY: One; there was one guy who lived down the street for a while, and we got along really well.  But there was just no time. 

HENRY: What was your schedule like on an average week?  How long did it take to shoot a show?

DARBY: I believe they could work me – was it eight hours?  And one hour off for lunch.  Once we were on location we had an hour and a half for lunch.  Then it just depended what we were filming.  I might be there all day to shoot one shot.  The teacher would go out with me, and I might have school in the back of a car, or on a walk, or in a trailer somewhere.  That’s the thing about the business.  You never know what you’ll do – there is no normal.

HENRY: Looking back, are you satisfied with the education you got?

DARBY:  Oh sure.  I’m dyslexic, and back then they didn’t even know what that meant.  But it actually served me to be able to have a teacher to work with one-on-one.  Because I could communicate and learn and study, but when it came to getting something from the chalk-board to the paper, that’s where it gets tricky, and I didn’t have to do that so much.  And my mom is also a schoolteacher, so education was always important to her.  And as I got off (the show), I went to a junior high school, found out what real life was like, got beat up and everything.  Then I got myself to Switzerland, so I graduated high school from The American School in Switzerland.  I came back and went to college on World Campus, which was the floating college that went around the world.  You’re only supposed to go once but I loved it so much I went three semesters on that.  Then I studied at Pepperdine under Cousteau with Project Ocean Search.  I kept my studies up at UCLA.  I still consider myself learning. 

HENRY:  That’s terrific.  Because I’m sure you’re aware, when you speak to former child actors, they often missed out on a lot of education.  You said that you shot in the Fox lot in Hollywood.  Was that for interiors or exteriors? 

DARBY: Both.  They had two sound stages, and one was the Boone cabin interior, and the Cincinnatus interior; all the interiors.  And the other soundstage was for all the exteriors.  And when they needed bigger exteriors we would got to the Fox Ranch out in Malibu.  We shot some of the pilot and one other episode in Kanab, Utah.  And we went to Fraser Park up in the snow a couple of times.

HENRY:  What was the best part of doing the show?

DARBY: I think Fess, and the family that I just kind of had there.  You know, I lost my father when I was a year old.  I only had my mom and two older sisters, so I really liked the male influence.  One of the prop guys was an Eagle Scout leader, so when we worked together he would show me knots.  So when you talk about education, it might not all have been calculus and reading, but I had great pyrotechnics teaching me about gun powder and all different kinds of weapons.  Indian history I always found fascinating, and I got to spend time on Indian reservations.  I look on it as a rounded thing more than the academics. 

HENRY: What was Fess like to work with?

DARBY: Fess was a lot like what you saw on the screen.  A great family guy – look how long he was married to Marcie all thorough his successful career.  Two great kids.  Ron Ely, who was a great friend of his, spoke at his wake right before I did.  And one of the things that got me was he said, “When I came to visit on the BOONE set, I couldn’t believe that it was a working set.  Nobody was yelling at anybody, there were no tempers flaring, there were no drama queens.”   And that was all Fess.  You did your job, we had fun, and that was it.   

HENRY:  Were you close with Fess after the show?

DARBY:  Yes, I was.  There were a number of years in between when I didn’t see him as much.  We would run into each other and it would be great.  But towards the end, I started going up to Santa Barbara a lot and having fun up there – Ely, his son, and Ashley I really enjoyed.  I know it sounds weird, but on Marcie’s birthday, I just woke up and I told my wife I have to go up and wish Marcie a happy birthday.  She said, were you invited?  I said no, but I just feel that I really need to go up and wish Marcy a happy birthday and give her a kiss, and see Fess.  And she said if you feel that strongly, go do it.  I’m driving up, and just as I’m at the spot where you hit the Pacific Ocean, Ashley called me up and said, “Darby, I just wanted to tell you before you hear it on the news that Fess just passed away.”   I said, “You know what? I’m driving up there now.  Is it okay if I just swing by?”  She said, “We’d love to have you.”  So yes, we were close.

HENRY:  You mentioned Veronica Cartwright, who played your sister Jemima.  What was your relationship like?

DARBY: She was a lot of fun.  You know I had sisters, so I didn’t need any more of them.  (laughs)  I still see her today, and we have fun doing things.   I think she’s a wonderful actress.

HENRY: Why did her character disappear after the second season?

DARBY: (laughs) For all these years, I was always told that she left because she asked for too much money.  It wasn’t until Fess has us up when he got the DVDs released, and he had a big party at the vineyard.  We tried to get everybody back – we had Ed (Ames) and Rosey (Grier), and a lot of people; it was fun.  I sat down with Veronica, hadn’t seen her in ages, and we started talking about that.  And she laughed, and said, “Darby, we didn’t ask for too much money.  We were thrilled to be on the show – that’s not what happened.”  (On one episode), a young Robert Logan was flirting with her; actually gave her a kiss.  Evidently Pat Blair said, “No! No! No!  I don’t have a daughter old enough to be dating, and becoming a love interest.  Either she goes or I go.”  And that’s why, Veronica told me, she was off the show.  But they told my mom she had asked for too much money, so Mom didn’t ask for any more money.

HENRY:  Over the years there were several players that came and went, and I was wondering what they were like to work with, starting with Ed Ames.

DARBY:  Wonderful.  Saw Ed not too long ago.  He sang at Fess’s internment up on the hill in Santa Barbara. He broke into Amazing Grace, and it was just spiritual.  His voice is still that dreamy; wonderful.  Great guy.

Fess and Ed Ames

HENRY: Rosey Grier?

DARBY:  Fabulous guy; talked to him not too long ago.  You know he’s a pastor now, doing wonderful things.  Actually I shouldn’t say anything, because it was one of the world’s worst movies, but we did a thing called (THE TREASURE OF JAMAICA REEF, and we got Rosey to come down to Jamaica for that.

HENRY: Jimmy Dean?

DARBY: Jimmy was fun. Evidently they had warned him, ‘There’s a minor on the set; you’ve got to watch your humor.’  I could tell he was a little like – uh-oh, it’s the kid.  So I just came out with the dirtiest joke I knew at the time.  It cracked him up, and we had a little thing every morning in make-up, where we would trade dirty jokes with each other.  Which I’m sure didn’t make the school teacher happy, but it was sure fun.  Jimmy was a great guy, great talent.

HENRY: Dal McKennon?

DARBY: Dallas was great fun.  He did a lot of voicework, Archie and Jughead, lots of cartoons.  He’d always get me cracked up telling me stories in the different cartoon voices – it would just come alive in front of me.  We used to have the stretch limo, and he would get in the back, and he could do such a great police siren that he kept pulling the driver over.

HENRY: Did you have favorite episodes? 

DARBY: ‘THE OLD MAN AND THE CAVE (1965) is one.  I liked the one with Vincent Price (COPPERHEAD IZZY, 1969), because there were a lot of other kids; that meant I got to hang out with a lot of kids for that week.  One was Butch Patrick; he went on to do THE MUNSTERS, and we’re still friends today.  We had great guys that did come through: Kurt Russell, Ron Howard.  Jodie Foster was going to be Jimmy Dean’s adopted daughter if the show had gone another year, because I was getting too old to be the kid in danger any more – I’d hit my teens.  So they brought her in and a young boy, in one of the last episodes, where Jimmy had found them in the forest and was going to adopt them.

HENRY:  I remember one with you and Michael Dante as a Shawnee Chief who’s kidnapped you.  You’re really the center of that one, working one-on-one with a very interesting actor.  

Neville Brand with Darby

DARBY: I remember that one; that was a lot of fun, and the one where Neville Brand kidnapped me.  That was a really great one – I loved working with Neville.  I did a show called HERO’S ISLAND (1962) with him when I was maybe 3 ½ or 4.  Then we worked on DANIEL BOONE together.  Then I did two or three for Greydon Clark that Neville was in.  It was fun that I got to touch base with him all along the way.  It kind of amazes me: I’ll go back and see some of the DVDs and I forget that I worked with Dick Sargent, Darrin from BEWITCHED, and all these people who went on to do other things. 

HENRY: Did you have any favorite directors? 

DARBY:  George Marshall, who directed the pilot, and for a couple of years after he would just pop and in out (of the series) a lot.  I got along with all of them.  Like I said , I got along with adults really well; I grew up in an adult world, and learned to take direction early.

HENRY:  In the late 1960s there was a lot of pressure to tone down the violence on TV. Were you aware of that?  Did that affect DANIEL BOONE?

DARBY:  Absolutely: I think it’s what killed BOONE.  Once Martin Luther King was shot, there were no more gunfights on the show.  There was no more shooting Indians – there were no more heathen savages either; there were just Indians.  Couldn’t call them redskins, couldn’t say anything derogatory.  You took all the gunplay and Indian fighting out of the show, and it basically became a family show, and for that they had FAMILY AFFAIR, and other places to go.    

HENRY: What was the work schedule like?  How many days did you have to shoot a show? 

DARBY: Usually we did it in a week, which means the five days.  Occasionally it would go over to six days, but usually you’ try to get it wrapped up in a week.

HENRY: What was working at Fox like compared with other studios?

DARBY: Well, the smaller lot was like my back yard; I knew everything there.  The big Fox lot was fun because Friday was ‘arts & crafts day’, so we’d go where we wanted.  It was huge!  We’d go to the metal shop and use the welders.  Or the wood shop.  I loved going into make-up – I helped make the masks for all the PLANET OF THE APES movies.  I used to have a great collection of everyone, all the way down to the mutants.   VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA also had great sea monster that we would make masks for.  That always seemed like home because I grew up there.  Disney was fun; I did things there.  I love a movie lot: once you get behind the guard gate, it’s a very freeing feeling for me. 

HENRY:  I’ve asked you about the best part of doing the show.  Was there a worst part?

DARBY:  No; I could harp on some bad things, but it was great!  I was a very lucky kid, and I feel very blessed that I had that opportunity, so I don’t spend any time visiting the negatives. 

HENRY: Between 1964 and 1970, 165 episodes were produced, and eventually folks run out of ideas.  Some of the ‘lost civilization’ episodes were kinda out there.  Did you feel there was a point when DANIEL BOONE jumped the shark?

Patricia Blair

DARBY:  You know it’s funny.  I think Pat (Blair) was the one who first pointed it out to me.  “We just did this script two years ago.  All they did was change the names.”  I guess that’s what happens. 

HENRY: You all had a good, long run, but after 6 seasons, the series was cancelled.  Were you surprised, or did you see it coming?

DARBY: No, I didn’t see it coming.  Mom just said, it looks like we’re not going back there to work.

HENRY: How old were you then?

DARBY: I was twelve.

HENRY: At that point, did you want to keep acting, or did you want to do something else?

DARBY:  I was very curious to see what school was like.

HENRY: Having been so visible for so long as Israel Boone, did you have trouble with typecasting?

DARBY: I got to do THE BOLD ONES: THE NEW DOCTORS (1970).  I got to play a young drug addict in that, which was a lot of fun, and helped me to shake that image.  Then of course on DAYS OF OUR LIVES I was ‘The Salem Rapist.’ I guess I kind of had the gamut of characters.

HENRY:  You mentioned earlier about going to school and getting your ass kicked.  Was that just average school rough-housing, or was it the problem of being a well-known kid star?

DARBY: Oh no; I got my nose broken a couple of times.  As I said, I only had two sisters, so I didn’t have any brothers to rough-house with.  I grew up in an adult world, so I did what I was told.  I kind of identified with the teachers more than I did the kids.  And you know, kids can be bullies.  ‘Let’s see if you’re as tough as you are in DANIEL BOONE,’ or, ‘My girlfriend thinks you’re cute.’  And they pushed me, and I didn’t know to fight back.  But it was great; it led me on a quest to learn martial arts.  Which lasted quite a long time, so I was very happy with it. 

HENRY:  How did you get involved?

DARBY: On the Fox lot, one of the sets I liked to visit was THE GREEN HORNET (1966/67).  I used to love to watch this little Kato (Bruce Lee). They told him, you need to slow down your attacks; the camera isn’t catching it.  He said, “I don’t slow down my attacks: you slow down your camera.”  That was one of the first times they started using slow motion for fights.  He intrigued me so much that I went to Hong Kong, found out who he studied under, which was Grand Master William Chung, who’s now in Australia.  We became good friends.  Then out here Danny Inosanto, who was Bruce’s number one student – I studied under him for many, many years.

HENRY: I don’t know if you have kids, but if so, would you want them to act?

DARBY:  I have five kids, and one of them is at Cal Arts; he’s an actor getting ready to open in a play.  All my kids, I told them, if you want to do it, that’s great, but you’re going to wait until you’re sixteen, so you’re old enough to drive yourself to the interviews.  I’m a lousy stage mother.  But he’s the only one who’s got the acting bug and pursued it.

HENRY: You attend a number of film festivals and western events.  What are these events like?  What is it like to meet fans?

DARBY: Oh, it’s fun; I love that.  That’s how Dan Haggerty (GRIZZLY ADAMS) and I became such good friends.  I shied away from doing those for a long time.  Then somebody invited me to go, and all of a sudden it was all the kids I knew, and all the actors I’d grown up with.  It was like having a school reunion, and I never had that, because I never stayed in one school long enough.  During the day, meeting everyone’s lots of fun.  It’s nice to be appreciated, and people are coming up to you and appreciating you.  And the fun really starts afterwards at the bar, when we sit down, trading war stories and talking shop.

HENRY: Last year you were in the blockbuster mini-series TEXAS RISING, playing Texas President Burnet.  How did that come about?

DARBY:  I’d taken a lot of time off from making movies and doing things that kept me away from home, because I’d be ten weeks in Romania, and off to Bulgaria, and my kids started having birthdays and stuff that I was missing.  I had my four boys, and then my littlest, my little girly, when she came around…  Without stating it, I started backing away, except I kept doing a play that I love, that I do in Beverly Hills, called THE MANOR, which is up at Greystone Manor, and all about the Dohenys, and we get to actually do it in the Doheny Estate.  It’s such a wonderful, fun, dynamic play that I enjoy doing that.  That’s the only thing I did to keep the acting chops up, that and commercials that are done locally.  This casting director I love came to see the play, and then she came back a couple of nights later with the producers.  They said, we have this thing that we think you’d be great for.  Would you like to go down to Mexico and do it?  And I said, you betcha!  Because now my daughter’s old enough where she’s got her driver’s license and ‘see ya’, so now I’m having fun getting back into it.  And I’ve just done THE DONNER PARTY.

HENRY:  I was just watching that.  It’s very good, and you’re excellent in it.  You’ve played a lot of real people – Israel Boone, the first President of Texas, George Donner.  How do you feel about playing real people over invented characters?

DARBY: It’s great, because I love history.  I’d heard about the Donner Party in school, but I didn’t read up on it, because it was gross, and who cared? So I didn’t appreciate it back then. But to go up there and live it for a few weeks, oh my goodness!  As soon as I knew I was going to play the role I read three or four books and did the homework.  It’s fun to keep this alive and show it in a way that people might really get it.  What it took to come out here and settle this.  We should be so grateful that we’re already here.   Think of that every Thanksgiving, as we overeat, and here’s people stuck in the snow that didn’t eat for four months.  When I’d heard about the cannibalism before, I thought that’s terrible.  Until you realize that the little girls are there; six, seven, eight-year old daughters.  You’re going to watch them starve?  I think it’s great, any time you can bring a thing to life like that, shine a light on it, that people haven’t seen. I think it’s a good thing.    

HENRY:  Did working on a period piece again spark a lot of memories?

DARBY:  Oh yeah; it’s all fun.  The equipment is a lot different from when I was a kid, that’s for sure, but a set is still a set.  It’s the circus comes to town.

HENRY: What’s next on the horizon?

DARBY:  We’ve got things in the fire.  Nobody likes to talk about those things until they’re done.  I just voiced a video game I can’t talk about until it’s released.  But my kids’ll be happy about that because they’ll be playing it.  We just move onward and upward, and are grateful for each day. 


Fess Parker’s final film performance came just two years after the end of DANIEL BOONE’s run, after which he devoted himself fulltime to his business interests.  Available from the Warner Archive Collection, CLIMB AN ANGRY MOUNTAIN (1972), a made-for-TV movie, is a modern-day Western.  It’s a variation on TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE, of two years earlier, which starred Robert Redford and Robert Blake as white lawman and Indian escaped killer.  In this version, shot in and around the beautiful snowy peaks of Mt. Shasta, Fess is Sheriff Elisha Cooper (Elisha was Fess’ real middle name), a pre-LONGMIRE lawman going after Indian acquaintance Joey Chilco (football legend Joe Kapp), an escapee convicted of manslaughter. 

Chilco is planning to scale the highest mountain in the range, following his peoples’ belief that if he does so, his sins will be forgiven.  And he wants to meet his baby son, and see his wife Sheila (Stella Stevens).   The Sheriff must track him, at the same time dealing with snow-related problems, and an intrusive New York City cop (Barry Nelson), who lost Chilco in the first place.

A feature-length unsold pilot for a TV series, there are extraneous characters who would no doubt have become regulars, the most welcome being Western stalwart Arthur Hunnicutt as housekeeper and babysitter to the widowed Sheriff’s two kids.   One of the writers, Sam Rolfe, had already created THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and co-created HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. 

While it seems contrived that, of all possible kids, it’s the Sheriff’s son that Chilco happens to be forcing to help him climb the mountain, it’s all played with sincerity. Stella Stevens is memorable as the wife who doesn’t want Chilco there, but can’t bear to keep saying no.   While it didn’t go to series, the movie works fine as a stand-alone, and is a cut above most TV movies of the period.  CLIMB AN ANGRY MOUNTAIN is available from Warner Archive as a made-on-demand DVD HERE.


The Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills, part of the Laemmle family of theatres, was recently the venue for two Western premieres, TRADED and OUTLAWS AND ANGELS.  This Friday, Saturday and Sunday they’re celebrating a Western weekend as part of their Anniversary Classics series.  On Friday night at 7:30, they’ll be showing THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, celebrating its 50th anniversary. Saturday at 2:15 pm, DANCES WITH WOLVES, 25th anniversary, will screen, and star Mary MacDonnell will be a guest speaker.  That night at 7:30, they mark the 50th anniversary of THE PROFESSIONALS.  Sunday at 2:15 they’ll mark the 60th anniversary of THE SEARCHERS, with Lana Wood, the little girl kidnapped at the beginning, as a guest speaker.  Then at 5:30 pm, it’s the 55th anniversary of THE MISFITS.  All films will be introduced by Hollywood Reporter film critic Stephen Farber.  To learn more, and order tickets, go HERE.


In the next Round-up I’ll have details about a whole slew of new and returning Western and Westernish TV series on the way!

Happy trails,


All original contents copyright August 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I rarely update a Round-up post, except to correct errors.  But as the movie OUTLAWS AND ANGELS has just become available on YouTube, Vudu, Google Play Movies & TV, and iTunes, and having just had the opportunity to interview two of its stars, Frances Fisher of TITANIC and UNFORGIVEN, and Francesca Eastwood, 
incidentally the daughter of Frances Fisher and Clint Eastwood, I’ve decided to front-load my interviews and review onto the current Round-up post. 

The OUTLAWS AND ANGELS cast at Sundance

Written and directed by JT Mollner, OUTLAWS AND ANGELS is the story of three on-the-lam villains, led by Chad Michael Murray, who hole-up in the home of a frontier family, the Tildons.  Ben Browder is the father, Teri Polo the mother, and the daughters are Francesca Eastwood and Madisen Beaty.  Frances Fisher plays Esther, the aunt of one of the outlaws. 


Francesca Eastwood

HENRY: Most of us don’t start life with a pair of movie stars as their parents, and acting as the family business.  Have you always wanted to act?

FRANCESCA:  I’ve always been aware of it, and I grew up going on location with my parents and visiting them on set.  I always loved it and admired it.  I had a vivid imagination as a child, and I loved playing pretend.  I wanted to act, and my parents used me in a couple of things when I was younger.  Then I didn’t want to act, and they were very supportive of that.  I came back to it on my own when I was about eighteen.  I was twenty-one when I shot OUTLAWS AND ANGELS, and I feel like it’s the first of hopefully many films. 

HENRY: Do you have any interest in following your father’s footsteps behind the camera? 

FRANCESCA:  I do have interest behind the camera one day.  Some people would probably say I’m annoying to work with because I ask questions about things  -- how cameras work, and how this works and what that means.  This is a great learning experience, and hopefully I can take that with me and maybe one day, if I feel I need to tell a story, I can do something behind the camera.

HENRY: There’s probably nobody alive today that knows more about Westerns, on both sides of the camera, than your dad.  Did he give you advice?

FRANCESCA:  I didn’t really emphasize to him that it was a Western! (laughs)  I didn’t really look at it as a Western, going into it.  I looked at it as a family drama.  I just looked at it as a character, and I’m going to tell the story as best as I possibly can.   I don’t remember exactly what my parents said at the time, but probably something embarrassingly positive. (laughs)

HENRY: When you’ve worked with your mother in other films, like STARS FELL ON HENRIETTA (1995) and TRUE CRIME (199), you were a little kid.  What’s it like working with her as an adult?

FRANCESCA:  It was really cool getting to go to work, see her do her thing, that I’ve seen her do so many time, but to do it on a project that I was actually involved with separately.  It was really cool to sit behind the monitors.  That was the first time I saw any of what the film looks like.  And I thought it looks so cool, and really reminiscent of the films of the 70s and 80s, and I loved it.  It was very cool to see that, and to see her working with characters that I was also working with.   

HENRY: You don’t have scenes together in the film.  Did she give you any advice?

FRANCESCA:   Yes.  She’s given me so much advice over the years, and so much guidance.  She also gave me space to do my own thing, to make my own choices.  To tell the truth, and to focus.  To always know what you want, and how many ways you’re going to try and get it.

HENRY: I’m almost afraid to ask; are you much like your character, Florence?

FRANCESCA: (laughs) I think there are some similarities.  This project, for me, was very similar to what she was going through, so far as starting a new chapter in her life.  I feel like this was a new chapter for me, and it was empowering for me, to do a project that I really believe in. I feel like I got to be an artist, for lack of a better way to say it.  It was very much beginning of her life as an adult, and that’s how I kind of feel this project was for me.  But (laughs), I think that’s the only way that we are similar. 

HENRY: To try and get into your character’s head a little, Florence lives in a family with a degenerate father, an enabling mother, and a hateful sister.  But she’s isolated – no close neighbors, to let her see what ‘normal’ looks like. 

FRANCESCA:  Absolutely.  Reading the script, or as an audience member, you see so clearly that this is wrong.  I think there is a deep hatred for her family, but there’s also love.  You know, that’s all she knows.  So it’s still frightening, and what she goes through is a hard decision.  I don’t think she knows fully what she’s going to do until right before a lot of the time.  There’s only a small amount of calculating that she did.  And playing her love for the family, even in a situation like that was important.

HENRY: Who did you particularly enjoy working with?

FRANCESCA: I loved working with everyone.  Madeson was really wonderful.  And we got along so well, I think it really made it work that we didn’t get along so well on camera.  Teri Polo was amazing.  And I was very impressed how she could go from Teri to (her character) Ada, so different, at the drop of a hat.  She could turn it off and turn it on quickly.  Ben was incredible, and Chad really took me under his wing and encouraged me to do my best work.

HENRY: Are we likely to see an OUTLAWS AND ANGELS 2?

FRANCESCA:  I think no. (laughs) It’s the beginning of a new life for my character, so I definitely think it would be interesting.  I hope to do more Westerns, and I’d love to play a character, maybe her, older, or in times past.

HENRY: Did anything about making a Western surprise you?

FRANCESCA: It was all a new experience; I’d never been on-set of a Western before.  My parents did that before I was born.  Actually no, I was in HENRIETTA, technically, but I was one year old.  It was all very new and very special.

HENRY: What’s your next project?

FRANCESCA:  Well, my next feature is called THE VAULT, and I have two more lined up, but I can’t talk about them yet. 


Frances Fisher in UNFORGIVEN

When you acted with your daughter in the past, in THE STARS FELL ON HENRIETTA and TRUE CRIME, she was a little kid.  What is it like working with her now as two grown-ups?

FRANCES:  Well, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to actually work with her (in the same scenes), but hopefully we will in the future.  But watching her work was wonderful; her concentration was amazing.  She was so friendly, and amenable to everything going on around her.  She was such a professional, and I was so proud of her.  When she first started out I would help her with auditions, so we’ve acted together like that – reading her lines with her, and helping her make choices.  She’s good, she’s got it, you know?

HENRY:  She’s very good.  I enjoyed her work in the film.  She and I talked a couple of days ago, and she told me she gave up acting for a time, and then came back to it.

FRANCES:  I always knew she was going to be an actress.  Because I saw how she’d played dress-up in the house, and imitate characters.  She would make me play out scenes from TITANTIC incessantly, because she was obsessed with Kate Winslet.  (laughs) So I had a feeling she would go into the family business.  Then she said she didn’t want to because everyone assumed she would.  But then she did a couple of jobs, and she really got bit by the bug, as they say.  She didn’t take any acting lessons when she first started; she has since studied with people like Larry Moss, and taken scene classes and things like that, but she’s got a natural ability that is great.

HENRY: This is your third Western that I know of, following UNFORGIVEN (1992), and an episode of YOUNG RIDERS (1991) –

FRANCES:  -- Oh my God -- YOUNG RIDERS!  I forgot all about that one!

HENRY: What do you think of the genre, after the third time?

FRANCES:  I think there’s more to explore, and I think JT Mollner does a terrific job of bending some of our perceptions of what Westerns are.  Because of some of the scenes he wrote are so unusual, I’ve never seen anything like them in Westerns.  I think it just something that’s in our consciousness.  It’s our American history, the Western, and I don’t think anyone’s going to get tired of seeing a good Western, when everyone walked around with guns, everyone could open-carry, you know?  (laughs)

HENRY: Did you grow up with Westerns? 

FRANCES: Not particularly.  I actually grew up overseas, and I didn’t really see any movies or any television until I moved back to the States when I was eleven years old.  I didn’t have much exposure to anything like that.

HENRY: You were born in Great Britain?

FRANCES:  Yes.  I was only there for a year, and then we moved.  Because my father built oil refineries and steel mills all over the world.  The job took him to many, many countries, and he just took the family along.  I’ve been on location all my life.

HENRY: Do you have any favorite actresses in Westerns? 

FRANCES:  I think about the old Westerns, even though they were shot in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and everybody had on full make-up, and hair done up like they’d walked out of a beauty parlor.  But Amanda Blake, Miss Kitty from GUNSMOKE, of course: I loved Miss Kitty.  She was great.     

HENRY: You’ve starred in films with tremendous, deserved acclaim – TITANTIC (1997), UNFORGIVEN – and tremendous budgets.  And you’ve also done small budget films, like OUTLAWS AND ANGELS.  How do you choose your projects, and how different is the experience in a low-budget film?

FRANCES:  Well, I choose the project by what the role is; obviously the role is the most important thing.  And I like a challenge, like the one in OUTLAWS is a very different character than I’ve ever played.  And also the people involved; if they’re people I admire, obviously that makes a different.  I just love to work, you know and pretty much, I’ll take anything that’s not a horror movie.  If it’s something that sparks me, I’m connecting with the character, if I feel that I understand who she is, so I can play her authentically, that’s the most important thing.  (SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YET, SKIP THE REST OF THIS ANSWER) And the difference between working on a big budget or a low budget?  Well! (laughs).  You know, low-budget movies, everyone’s scrambling.  Everybody’s helping each other do all the jobs.  On OUTLAWS I was helping the prop kids make the bloody heads that Francesca puts on the horse at the end.  I was helping make them look more authentic, because they were too little.  I would say to them, “You have to look at Keith Loneker’s head.  You see how big his head is?  You’ve got to put a big head in the bag.”  So we were running around getting stick and rocks and dirt to fill up the head bag and make it look bigger.  It’s fun, because it just takes you back to your roots.  And it’s great working on a low-budget movie because mostly it’s young people, who are just starting out in the business, and everybody’s working so hard, they’re enthusiastic, and that’s a great feeling, to be on the set with people who are really excited about what they’re doing. 

HENRY: You have one key scene in OUTLAWS AND ANGELS, you’re wonderfully passionate in it, and not to give too much away, but you take a lot of abuse.  Was it hard to shoot?

FRANCES: Not really, no.  We worked out all the stunts, the moves.  It wasn’t difficult; it was fast, because we were losing the light of course – we always do that.  So we didn’t get many takes. It’s the kind of thing where, on film, you have to be ready to go.  You do a quick rehearsal, work out the moves, roll the dice, and see what works.  That whole thing with going into close-up, wasn’t really supposed to happen that way.  But my passion really got a hold of me, and fortunately the DP was so good he was able to keep focus on me when I came in close on the screen.   That worked out really well – I think we only did it once or twice before we had to move on.  It turned out really, really good.  I’m very happy with it.

HENRY: You’ve done many historical films of different periods.  Do you feel you have a special affinity for period movies?  What are your favorites?  Do you have a favorite period in history?

FRANCES: You know, but I was just looking at some photographs of Francesca when she was visiting me on the set of THE AUDREY HEPBURN STORY (2000), and going into another period of time is fun, because there’s so much research you can do.  I just love being able to transform into another character; and being able to go into another time period is great also.  I’m going to work on something next week that takes place in 1963, Birmingham, when those four little girls were blown up in that church.  So I’m looking forward to doing more research.  I’m well aware of it, but I’m going to refresh my memory of that time period, and go back into 1960s hair and all of that. 


By Henry C. Parke

OUTLAWS AND ANGELS has a wonderful premise – take Joseph Hayes’ THE DESPERATE HOURS, and set it in the Old West.  In Hayes’ novel, play and screenplay, the latter directed by William Wyler in 1955, a trio of escaped convicts terrorize an innocent family whose home they’ve invaded.  While the police are searching for the bad guys, the family members must rise to the occasion and defend themselves, or they’ll surely die. 

First-time feature writer and director JT Mollner has upped the ante by making the outlaws (Chad Michael Murray, Steven Michael Quezada and Keith Loneker) not escaped convicts, but the perps of a startling and bloody bank robbery.  The opening scene is wonderfully abrupt and upsetting, and you know just how bad these guys are when they arrive at the home of the unsuspecting Tildon family.  The family is isolated to begin with, and with tuberculosis sweeping through the nearby town, casual guests are not wished-for. 

And here is where Mollner gets too cute for his own good.  Instead of a normal family fighting evil, he decides to make the family as creepy as the outlaws.  The father (Ben Browder) is a degenerate.  The mother (Teri Polo) is his cliché-Christian enabler (and by the way, why is it that outside of faith-based movies, nearly every religious character is a hypocrite or a fool?).  The older daughter (Madisen Beaty) is a hateful bitch, and her younger sister (Francesca Eastwood) is…well, a younger and somewhat less hateful bitch.  So who do you root for?  You don’t care about anyone, and the least-worst characters gets worse as it goes on. 

A pair of aunt and uncle abettors, played with wonderful verve by Frances Fisher and Luce Rains, make a dynamic impression early on, but are quickly dispatched, again in a way that destroys empathy for other characters whom we’re meant to care about. 

And of course, while the endless night is happening, the outlaws should be relentlessly pursued by a posse.  But the posse is lead by the lethargic Luke Wilson, who plays his entire role of disinterested tracker for comedy, seemingly modeling his performance on Gene Wilder’s in BLAZING SADDLES.  He creates anti-suspense.

Chad Michael Murray and Francesca Eastwood are the eerie Romeo and Juliet of the piece.  He mostly plays straight-man to the screwyness around him.  Eastwood has the most to do, and carries her role with surprising confidence, beauty, and a quirky style that is enjoyable to watch in spite of the odd things she’s asked to do.

Cinematographer Matthew Irving (WAITRESS, 2007) does wonderful things with the Santa Fe locale – much more than just making it beautiful.  Mollner knows how to direct actors, and he knows how to write smart dialogue and scenes that will appeal to actors; but he doesn’t know how much to trim them – some sequences go on endlessly.  And even Tarantino didn’t try so hard or so long to get laughs out of threatened sodomy.   I look forward to better things from everyone involved.  

THE TIMBER – A Film Review

Josh Peck and James Ransome

Gregory Peck starred in every kind of movie imaginable, and brought his dignity, magnetism, sly amusement, and projected sense of honour to all of his roles.  Best known for his Oscar-winning performance in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), he did equally well in romantic comedies like ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), thrillers like MIRAGE (1965), and he particularly made his mark in Westerns, starting with THE YEARLING (1946) (more about that from Claude Jarman Jr. in the TCM article), DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), THE YELLOW SKY (1948), THE GUNFIGHTER (1950), ONLY THE VALIANT (1951) and many more, all the way to BILLY TWO HATS (1972) (check out my review in the July issue of True West), and playing Lincoln in the BLUE AND GREY (1982) miniseries. 

So Gregory’s grandson Josh Peck has some major shoes to fill in his first Western, THE TIMBER, directed and co-written by Anthony O’Brien, and available in DVD and Blu-Ray from Lionsgate. 
Set in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898, Samuel (Josh Peck, of the RED DAWN remake) and Wyatt (James Ransome of SINISTER and THE WIRE) are brothers whose family farm is about to be taken by the bank.  In a last-ditch effort to save the place, they make a deal with the banker, (Julian Glover of GAME OF THRONES) to act as bounty hunters with a very unusual quarry: their own father.  It seems that the old man (David Bailie – ‘Cotton’ of the PIRATES OF THE CRIBBEAN franchise) got gold fever, went prospecting in the mountains, went a bit mad and killed some folks, and never came back.  A bone of contention between the brothers arises almost immediately: the warrant says ‘dead or alive.’  Family man Samuel plans to bring his father back to stand trial; Wyatt, less forgiving for his father’s abandonment, has no qualms about bringing him back dead. 

Most of the picture takes place as the brothers climb ever higher into the snow-covered mountains, arguing, making friends or enemies with the lawman and mountain men they meet, and gradually losing all of their equipment and animals in this quest which they are clearly not equipped for in any sense of the word.  

Despite O’Brien’s skill as a director, and the interesting characterizations by Peck and Ransome, monotony begins to set in.  We know Wyatt is the bad brother because he tells us he is – there is far too much telling and too little showing throughout.  Conversely, with very sparse data the audience is supposed to divine an awful lot about Samuel’s relationship with his wife (Elisa Lasowski).  The mountain men and/or prospectors are all insane and all indistinguishable. Samuel’s dream sequences are more confusing than revealing.  The snowy mountains are beautiful, but unchanging.  THE TIMBER was shot at the MediaPro Studios in Bucharest, and knowing that the Yukon Mountains were in fact the Carpathians, one wonders if the mad mountain men were influenced more by gold fever or Vlad the Impaler. 

THE TIMBER is a solid audition for the cast and crew for better-plotted films – the performances are good, action is exciting and brutal, and the production design and look of the film are admirable. THE TIMBER is available on Amazon Video, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play Movies & TV, and on BluRay and DVD.


The first weekend in May, Turner Classic Movies held their TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, in and around Sid Grauman’s fabled Chinese Theatre.  As always, it is the place and time for film loonies from around the world to meet, and gorge on the world’s finest films seen under the best circumstances imaginable.  Each film is introduced, whenever possible by someone with a connection to that film.  For instance, Elliot Gould introduced M.A.S.H.; Marlee Matlin introduced CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD; Eva Marie Saint introduced THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!; and Gina Lollabrigida introduced BONA SERA MRS. CAMPBELL.   While there was not a great focus on Westerns this year – only four were shown – their participants were among the very best.

Not a great picture of Keith Carradine,
but at least it's in focus

Keith Carradine, who every Tuesday and Wednesday in July is hosting ‘SHANE’ AND 100 OTHER GREAT WESTERNS on TCM, introduced SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949).  “Thank you all for being here, for supporting this extraordinary film festival, the only one of its kind that I’m aware of, that celebrates the legacy of our extraordinary industry, that started here 100 plus years ago.  It’s so important that we are able to preserve these films for future generations, so that they can understand the beginnings of this craft; so they can see the masters of this craft when they were at the top of their game.  I believe that this was the sixth time that Ford and John Wayne collaborated, the sixth out of fourteen altogether.  This is one of my favorites, and according to the Duke, it was one of his favorite performances.  It’s kind of a travelogue of Monument Valley.  Which Ford used to great effect in so many of his films, but in this one he seemed dedicated to showing every corner of that place.  Kayenta (Arizona) is probably where they all hung out when they were filming.  There isn’t much there now; I can’t imagine what was there in 1948, when they were filming this.  

"Extraordinarily beautiful, vivid Technicolor cinematography by Winton Hoch is beyond compare.  And by this time, John Ford’s stock company is fairly well established, and most of them are here, including my late and dear friend Harry Carey, Jr., the incomparable Victor McLaglen.  Ben Johnson, somebody who made a few Westerns; he was a serious ham, as they say.  That guy, nobody sat a horse better then Ben Johnson and you can see Ford made full use of that in this film.  You will see a lot of Ben Johnson doing some major horseback riding.  There’s one shot in particular that --  Bobby, my brother,  and I were watching it, and we had to smile and turn to each other and say, ‘Did you see that?’  Because (Ben Johnson) came from behind camera, and he rode off to do a hard ride across the countryside, but just as he got into the camera, when he was full-frame, he turned to look back, so you know it was him.  That’s an actor.  Thank you for supporting this festival, and enjoying SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON on this glorious screen, the way it should be seen.”

Claude Jarman, Jr. & Margaret O'Brien

You had to be tough to handle the next pair that was screened nearly back-to-back:  THE YEARLING (1946) and OLD YELLER (1957).   Both beautiful pictures, but both heartbreakers about children, beloved pets, and tragedy.  YEARLING, the story about a rural farming family, and their son’s love for a young deer, starred Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, and Claude Jarman Jr. 
After the movie, Jarman, who played the son, spoke with interviewer Kerry Beauchamp about the film.
“Clarence Brown, who directed the film, was determined to find someone from the South, who had not been in pictures before, to play that role.  And he toured the Southern cities.  He would go into each city, to the board of education, and identify himself, and say he wanted permission to go to the different grammar schools, and if he saw anyone he liked, he wanted to talk to them.  And if he didn’t, no one would ever know that he’d been there.  He came to my school in Nashville, Tennessee on a Friday afternoon, I was in 5th grade, saw me, and the rest is history.  I was sent to the principal’s office.  They introduced themselves, but didn’t say who they were, said they wanted to come back to my house and take some pictures this afternoon.  I told my mother that I didn’t know what these strange men wanted.  My sister said, ‘They were building inspectors, because they came to my room.’  I said this is crazy; I’m not going to pursue this any further, so I left.  And they came out and I was gone.  They called my mother, so she called and got me home, and then we talked a little bit about it.  Was I interested in it?  Well, I’d never read THE YEARLING, but the strange thing is I was interested in acting: community theatre and school plays, I always had an interest in it.  We met for the next few days.  Then they said, we’re moving on to Knoxville, and you’ll hear from us.  You know the old saying – Don’t call us, we’ll call you.  Nothing’s going to happen with that.  Next thing we know, next Monday, they call and say, be ready to go to California in a week.

“We started filming in April.  The picture came out the following December.  So it was almost eighteen months.  My father went out with me, basically as a vacation. We never did test for it.  We ended up testing with people they were testing to cast for the mother.  Clarence said to my father, quit your job; he’s got the role.  So I literally spent eighteen months with Clarence Brown.  Ended up making another picture with him a little later: INTRUDER IN THE DUST (1949).  It’s a William Faulkner story about race relations in Mississippi.  And a lynching.  After THE YEARLING I went to the MGM school for five years, and it was one of the most interesting times that I ever had.  I went to school with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Powell, and someone that’s here, that I want to acknowledge, Margaret O’Brien.” 

Margaret O’Brien, easily recognizable from when she played Tootie in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), then joined Claude on the stage, saying, “And he was my first crush.”

Jarman then continued, “Anyway, it was a great experience.  I spent five years at MGM; I ended up making eleven films in all.  I made about seven of them at MGM in five years.  You always worked – everyone worked on that lot. Then I left in 1950; the whole business changed, as you know.  When I got there, there were twelve people in the MGM School.  When I left, there were none.  So it all changed.  I moved back to Tennessee, went back to school. 

“I worked in the summer; I did RIO GRANDE (1950) with John Wayne, where I played John Wayne’s son.  I really had a wonderful time.  I don’t regret leaving.  I’ve been reflecting on it because I’m trying to write a book.  I’m trying to review all of this, so next year I’ll have the book.  The thing that really impresses me about THE YEARLING is that it’s one of those films that an actor gets only one time in a lifetime: that’s when you’re in every scene.  There was a lot of pressure.  It was a movie that was very, very difficult to do, because you were working with animals that you could not train.  People say, ‘What was it like working with Gregory Peck?’  He was the most generous, calm – I never heard him get angry about anything.  Normally, in a scene like we did in RIO GRANDE, John Ford would take us, make a shot, do it like three times at the most.  The average take in this picture was twenty.  And the most we ever had was 150 times.  That was when we were waiting for the deer to follow me.  I’d be running through the forest, and the deer had to come behind (me).  149 times.  So there was a lot of pressure to do it right, because if it played, you really didn’t want to be the one to screw up the scene.  It was the most difficult year and a half I ever spent when I was making film.  Everything else was a piece of cake.” 


(SPOILER ALERT – major plot elements are given away in this interview)
 Next there was OLD YELLER (1957), the story of another rural family, made up of Fess Parker, Dorothy Malone, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, and their dog.  Beverly Washburn, who plays Lisbeth, the neighbor, and romantic interest for Tommy Kirk, was interviewed by actress and film historian Illeana Douglas, who said it was still heartbreaking to watch at times.

Beverly Washburn & Illeana Douglas

BEVERLY: I know, it’s a tearjerker, and I haven’t seen it myself in maybe six, seven years.  And I’m a huge animal lover, so when I went on the audition for the role of Lisbeth I just really, really wanted this part, because I love animals.  And Old Yeller, his real name was Spike, and they got him out of an animal shelter.  So there was only one of him.  Like with Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, there were several Collies and several German Shepherds to do whatever it was that needed to be done.  But because they got him out of a shelter, he did everything, and he was just a wonderful dog.  He had a big dressing room; bigger than mine.  Back then the Weatherwax family were the ones that trained all the dogs, and what they could do with just a hand-signal!  Watching some of these scenes, it was hard to watch, because you wondered if they were getting hurt.  But they always had someone from the Humane Society on the set, and they were very careful that the dog was never hurt.  People have asked me if in between scenes we were able to play with him, toss a ball or a Frisbee or whatever.  Because they took such good care of him, when he finished his scene he would go into his dressing room and have his water and his treats.  And then the three of us, Tommy and Kevin and I, we were minors, so we would have to go to school for three hours.  So we were allowed to pet him, and he was just the sweetest, but we couldn’t really play with him.

ILLEANA:  You can feel in the film there really was a family atmosphere on the set.

BEVERLY:  Dorothy Maguire was just the loveliest lady.  You could tell with this character how she just exuded warmth; and that’s just exactly how she was in real life.  We filmed it actually in ’56, so it’s 60 years old.  You know, it’s sad to look back on this film and realize that it’s so long ago that there’s only two of us still alive from this film.  Tommy Kirk, who played Travis, is unbelievably talented and gifted, and he and I are still really really good friends.  And sadly, Kevin Corcoran, who played the adorable little Arliss, some of you probably know that he passed away this last October from cancer.  He was just such a sweet guy, and I feel so blessed to say that we remained friends all these years.  And Tommy and I still remain friends and have dinner together.

ILLEANA: You and Tommy had a little off-screen chemistry, from what I hear.

BEVERLY: For about a week and a half.  I actually had a crush on him when we were doing the film.  So we met one Saturday afternoon to go to a movie and to lunch.  And he was the first boy that I ever kissed.  And he gave me this very romantic ring (to show) that we were going together: it was a skull and crossbones.

ILLEANA:  In the pivotal scene, which is so upsetting, where Travis has to kill Old Yeller, how do you even prepare for that, especially for a child?

BEVERLY:  It was traumatic just to watch it.  That scene where he’s in the pen, and the fire and everything, that was actually filmed on-set, on the stage.  It was supposed to have taken place in Texas, but we never went (there).  It was all filmed at Walt Disney Studios, and then we went on location, past Ventura to a place called Lake Sherwood.  As we get older, we get to an age where our memories get a little foggy, and we go into the next room, and can’t remember why we came there.   And yet there are still some memories that are forever embedded in our heart.  And I have to honestly say that having been a part of OLD YELLER is a memory that is so dear to my heart.  And I feel so blessed just to have been a small part of that movie.

ILLEANA:  Did Walt Disney ever come on to the set?

BEVERLY: He would come on the set daily.  He was hands-on, and he wanted to look over everything, and talk to us.  But he never interfered.  He let the director direct and the producer produce.  He was just very nice.  One of the things that was fun for me especially is it was back in the days when they were doing the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, with Annette, the lovely, sweetest woman in the world, and all the Mouseketeers.  So Tommy and Kevin and I would have school every day in this big red trailer with all the Mouseketeers.  And I’m still friends with many of them.  Sharon Baird she and I are best friends; we’ve known each other sixty years.

ILLEANA:  You said that even though you didn’t have any scenes with Fess Parker, you met him years later, and he remembered you.

BEVERLY:   He did.  You know, we really didn’t have a scene together; I met him of course on the set in the last scene, where I’m walking away.  Maybe ten years ago they had a Disney anniversary in Orlando, and they were nice enough to invite me.  I went there and I was sitting with Sharon and some of the Mouseketeers, and I said, ‘Oh look, there’s Fess Parker.’  And she said, ‘You should go over and say hello to him.’  I said, ‘Oh gosh, it’s been fifty years, he won’t remember me.’  I had no sooner gotten over to his table when he stood up and gave me a big hug, and said, ‘Beverly!’  And I was so overwhelmed that he remembered me.  He invited me to come to his vineyard, where he has the best wines.  Just the sweetest man.  And the whole cast – I know it sounds cliché, but we filmed that for three months, and it really truly was like a family.  It’s a memory that I just treasure.

Beverly Washburn

ILLEANA:  I wanted to talk about some of the other greats that you worked with.  You worked with Kirk Douglas, Loretta Young, and Jack Benny.

BEVERLY:  When I was seven or eight it was the first time I ever worked with Jack Benny.  They had me planted in the audience, and while he’s doing his monologue, I come up out of the audience, and the orchestra pretends they’re trying to stop me, and I go up on stage and ask for his autograph.  And it turns out my name is Margaret Truman, that was the gag.  It’s in the days of live TV.  When you’re a child you’re fearless.  But looking back, he really took a chance on me, because today there’s always a tape delay, so you if something’s said that shouldn’t be, you can cut and do it again, but back then it went on as we did it.  So he took a chance with me, and it all went smoothly, and so we stayed in touch until the time he passed away.  And he was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known in my life.  As we all know, he played the stingy tightwad, but he was anything but.  He was wonderful; and I toured with him all over the East Coast, appeared with him at The Hollywood Palace, and the Sahara in Tahoe and Vegas.  And I feel so blessed because, when you’re a child, and you’re directed by Cecil B. DeMille and George Stevens and Frank Capra and Stanley Kramer, I had no idea, I had no concept.  And it was not until I was an adult that I realized how truly blessed I was.  

ILLEANA:  You had a specialty, as a child actor that you named your book after.  

BEVERLY:  I don’t know why, but for some reason it seemed that just about every role I was cast in, I had to cry.  My brother used to tease me, ‘Oh, you cry at supermarket openings.’  It was just easy for me to cry for some reason, because I was overly emotional.  And so my book is called REEL TEARS. 

REEL TEARS is available in paper and audio from Bear Manor Media HERE.   
To learn more about Beverly Washburn, visit here website:


I’m always excited when there are new releases from Alpha Video, because you never know what they’ll come up with.  Their Westerns run the gamut from silent William S. Hart classics to forgotten B series to live TV dramas.  They put out TV series in 4-episode volumes, and have just released Vol. 6 of HAWKEYE AND THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1957).  If you’ve always thought of John Hart as merely the actor they tried to switch for Clayton Moore in THE LONE RANGER, you have a pleasant surprise coming.  Hart, who plays Hawkeye in all 39 episodes, is a solid performer in his own right.  He is joined by Lon Chaney Jr., who brings a joyful exuberance to his role of Chinachgook, the last of the Mohicans that the title refers to.  If not much is drawn directly from James Fennimore Cooper’s stories, these shows are in the spirit of the tales. 

Though filmed in Canada, and with somewhat smaller budgets, the shows are very much like the other Western kid series of the period: if you enjoyed ANNIE OAKLEY and THE CISCO KID, you’ll probably enjoy these as well.  All but one were directed by Sam Newfield, the king of PRC, whose 282 directing credits include THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN (1938), the only Western featuring an all-midget cast.  One notable pleasure in this series is the frequent appearance, as a hateful villain, of John Vernon, who would later be hateful in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976), and most hateful of all as Dean Wormser in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978).You can find all six volumes HERE.  

Two volumes of BRAVE EAGLE – CHIEF OF THE CHEYENNES (1955) have been released, and though only 26 episodes were made, this unique series is a must-see.  The only series produced by Roy Rogers other than his own THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, BRAVE EAGLE was the first TV series ever to feature an American Indian as the lead character.  I don’t know if the fact that Roy’s great grandmother on his mother’s side was Choctaw in any way motivated him to make the show, but regardless of what triggered it, BRAVE EAGLE is a fascinating, and often successful, experiment.
Keith Larsen, who three years later would have his most memorable role as Robert Rogers on the series NORTHWEST PASSAGE, played the wise, patient and strong Brave Eagle, who was trying to preserve his peoples’ traditions while helping them to coexist with the white man.   While Larsen was of Nordic background, the actor who portrayed his adopted son, Keena, was Hopi Anthony Numkena; and Brave Eagle’s romantic interest, Morning Star, was played by a Sioux, Kim Winona.  Her father, Brave Eagle’s half-Indian medicine man/advisor Smokey Joe, a smart side-kick, was played by Bert Wheeler, who had once been half of the comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey.  The plots by and large are nothing like the plots of most Westerns series.  A few revolve around the problems of dealing with white men in general, and soldiers in particular.  But most are about conflicts within the Indian community, many of whom are shown as remarkably warlike.  Particularly memorable in volume one is SHIELD OF HONOR, where Lee Van Cleef plays a Pawnee Chief eager to enlist the Cheyenne in his war against a third tribe.  When persuasion fails, Lee tries to manipulate Brave Eagle through his son Keena.  Many plots center around Keena, a boy who is likable, but at times so callow that he’s not above stranding another boy on a mountain if he thinks Brave Eagle likes him too much. While the print quality varies widely, and the shows may have their awkward moments, their sincere attempt to tell original Western stories from a native point of view is striking.  Both volumes are available HERE.

And now, for something completely different, there is JOHN CARRADINE GOES FISHING.  Made in 1947, shot in home-movie beautiful Kodachrome, this is the nearly hour-long story of a Wisconsin fishing trip, with inexperienced angler Carradine  learning the ropes from pros Tubby Toms and Stu Pritchard.  While long John gamely tries to keep things lively, it often feels like you’re watching folks fish in real time.  Tubby and Stu try to promote some humor, but they are no Abbott and Costello – more like Brown and Carney actually.  (Too obscure?  Okay, the guys from ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY.)  If you can make it through to the end, it’s worth it to hear John’s speech about how much he’s learned about both the sport and sportsmanship, adding, “Most of all, you’ve taught me the principals of conservation,” while all the time holding a fish that’s gasping desperately. 
Also included is an episode of Forrest Tucker’s first series, CRUNCH AND DES (1956), about a pair who run a fishing boat, and three vintage fishing shorts.  You can find it HERE.  


Ruta Lee

Once again Rob Word brings his ‘A Word On Westerns’ program to the Autry.  Usually they begin with lunch at the Crossroads Café, but the event has become so popular that lunch will come after: they’re beginning instead with interviews in the Wells Fargo Theatre – doors open at 10:30.  The topic will be, ‘What makes a good Western?’  Providing the answers will be several guests, including the lovely Ruta Lee, who has alternated good girls and femmes fatale on GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, MAVERICK and many others.  She will be joined by the also lovely BarBara Luna, who has been the fiery senorita on ZORRO, HIGH CHAPARRAL, FIRECREEK, and many more.  They will be joined by cowboy and singer Rusty Richards, stuntman and director Mic Rodgers, and the sagebrush musical stylings of Will Ryan and the Saguaro Sisters.  Don’t miss it!

BarBara Luna


It’s hard to accept that on Saturday, July 23rd, the final episode, #57, of HELL ON WHEELS, will air.  I personally think that Joe and Tony Gayton created the best Western series since the days of GUNSMOKE.  The current revival of interest in the Western started with DEADWOOD, but the sustained quality of story-telling on HELL is what has led to the now happily frequent appearance of new Western features, big-budget and small, and TV series and mini-series.  After the final show, I plan to drink a toast to Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), a toast to ‘Doc’ Durant (Colm Meany), one to Eva (Robin McLeavy), one to The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), one to Elam Ferguson (Common)…  I won’t be driving for a while.  Unless it’s a wagon.  Thanks for the memories! 

Happy Trails,


All Original Content Copyright July 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved