Sunday, August 22, 2010
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF DUNCAN RENALDO!
After I ran my review of THE CISCO KID radio shows (CLICK HERE if you missed it), I received a nice e-mail from Harlan Zink of Radio Archives. Modesty forbids my quoting his compliments, but he added… “One correction: the original Cisco series, starring Jackson Beck in the title role along with Louis Sorin as Pancho, originated out of WOR New York and was aired live for about a year. The subsequent series, from which our CD sets were taken, was produced by the Frederick Ziv Company out of Cincinnati, Ohio but was recorded in Hollywood.”
(Photos: top left, Warner Baxter, top right, Cesar Romero, below, Duncan Renaldo as Cisco at Monogram, Gilbert Roland, Duncan with producer Philip Krasne, Duncan with Marcia Mae Jones, Leo Carrillo and Duncan)
Actor Duncan Renaldo, the man almost everyone thinks of at the mention of The Cisco Kid, had one of the most amazing roller-coaster careers of any actor in Hollywood. After making a big impression in THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY (1929), he was cast as ‘Peru,’ the young friend of Harry Carey in MGM’S TRADER HORN (1931), which was the first talking-picture shot on location in Africa, directed by W.S. “One-take-Woody” Van Dyke. Duncan and the female lead, lovely Edwina Booth, attended the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. He was lucky he got to attend, because he’d been arrested a few days earlier.
Duncan and Edwina both were married when they left for Africa, but both were quickly divorced shortly after their return. Actually Edwina managed to have her marriage annulled on the grounds that she was under-age when she married in 1927 – a good trick, considering that she was young, but only underage if you go by the fake studio biography that claims she was born in 1909, not 1904.
In September 1930, Suzette Renaldo, now divorced from Duncan for six months, filed a $50,000 alienation of affection suit against Edwina. Duncan countered by threatening to have ex-wife Suzette declared mentally unfit to be custodial parent to their four-year-old son. Then Suzette played her trump card: she informed U.S. Emigration that Duncan had entered the U.S. illegally.
Suzette’s case against Edwina went nowhere: there was no proof against her. The sanity hearing against Suzette would be funny if it were not so tragic: she claimed under oath that Duncan was a member of a Chinese gang, and that his grey fedora possessed occult powers. And sadly, Duncan, as he would later admit, was guilty as charged. Orphaned at an early age, he had no memory of his parents or where he was born, but he believed it was Spain or Romania. A merchant marine (I’ve been unable to find out from what country) from the age of 13, the ship he was on burned in the Baltimore harbor in 1921. He simply stayed here. To make matters worse, he falsely testified that he was born in Camden, New Jersey, and was additionally charged with making false statements to obtain a passport. He was sent to prison.
According to Philip Kranse, producer of all the non-Fox Cisco Kid films and the TV series, Duncan credited his salvation to an unnamed U. S. Prosecutor. Poking through files out of idle curiosity, the prosecutor stumbled upon the case, and saw a great miscarriage of justice. He went to bat for Duncan, and his pleas eventually reached First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Duncan was freed after eighteen months, and instead of being deported to God knows where, F.D.R. declared him an American citizen by Presidential Proclamation!
Now a free man, Duncan went to the studios looking for work, and found it: as a janitor. But he started picking up bits and supporting roles in mostly poverty row pictures, and at least one at MGM. The real turning point came when Herbert J. Yates, President of Republic Pictures, heard about his situation, and placed him under contract. Renaldo called Yates, “The man who saved my life!” Soon he was playing ever-larger roles in Republic Serials, Red Ryder films, and co-starring in Three Mesquiteers Westerns.
The role of the Cisco Kid came to Duncan Renaldo in the midst of World War II. 20th Century Fox had made three ‘A’s with Warner Baxter in the role, and six ‘B’s with Cesar Romero, the last in 1941. Though popular in many quarters, the Romeros were not that popular amongst fans of traditional Westerns, because too much time was spent on romance that could be better spent shooting and fighting. But the objections in Mexico were far greater – they despised the films, finding the general portrayal of Mexicans insulting, and complaining that Romero dressed more like a ballet-dancer than a caballero. Incredibly, in the midst of World War II, these films, and the idea of making more of them, had actually strained international relations at a time when it was crucial for The United States, Mexico, and the nations of Central and South America be united in their fight against fascism.
Philip Krasne had obtained the rights to Cisco Kid from 20th, and sent Duncan, who had signed on as an associate producer, to Mexico, to meet with the Inter-American Relationship Committee. According to Duncan, after days of fruitless discussion, he’d been inspired: he wanted to base Cisco and Pancho on Cervantes’ DON QUIXOTE, and Sancho Panza – ‘Pancho’ actually be a combination of syllables from that name. The idea was that, rather then being bandits out for themselves, they were out to good-naturedly right wrongs – while not being crazy like Quixote. Duncan pitched this idea to the group, and they bought it. This was not the first Duncan had been involved in writing stories – under the names Duncan Renault and Renault Duncan he had scripted several Western films.
Krasne set up the Cisco Kid films at Monogram, signed Martin Garralaga to portray Pancho, and made three Ciscos with Duncan in 1945. And here, the story gets a bit more mysterious. In 1946, the fine actor Gilbert Roland took over the role of Cisco for the next six movies. Then in 1948, Duncan Renaldo returned to the role, as Krasne moved the series from Monogram to United Artists, and added Leo Carrillo as Pancho. So, why did Duncan Renaldo suddenly leave the role he’d fought so hard for? Nobody’s saying. But if you can lay your hands on a VHS double bill from RKO, DON AMIGO (a.k.a THE GIRL FROM SAN LORENZO) and STAGE TO CHINO, a George O’Brian western, the films are preceded by Duncan Renaldo’s narrated telling of the history of the Cisco Kid films. After describing his dealings with the Inter-American Relationship Committee, he says, “During the war I was busy working for the government, so Gilbert Roland played in five (actually six) pictures for Monogram.” What work for the government? Considering he’d had to bow out of starring in a half dozen movies, after all the trouble he’d been through with them, it must have been something important, but I can find no reference to that work anywhere. If you know anything about what government work Duncan Renaldo was doing, PLEASE put it in a comment or e-mail me!
If you want to hear Duncan in his own words, DON AMIGO/STAGE TO CHINO double-bill is available for rent in VHS at Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee. Eddie’s is the unofficial film and TV archive that all the studios rely on. They’re at 5006 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, CA 91601. 818-506-4242. They’re open Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you'd like to read more about the Cisco Kid or Duncan Renaldo you can visit the excellent site THE OLD CORRAL at B-WESTERNS.COM, CLICK HERE. And if you'd like to read the O. Henry story that started it all, CLICK HERE.
DVD REVIEW – CLASSIC TV WESTERNS
If you want to see GUNSMOKE or BONANZA, you haven’t got a problem. They’re shown every day on TV-Land and other channels. Other popular Western series like HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL and THE VIRGINIAN are available on DVD. But most Western series are a lot harder to locate, especially those in dreaded black and white. SHOKUS VIDEO, long a purveyor of quirky fare, especially television from the 1950s, has a series of ‘sampler’ western DVDs entitled CLASSIC TV WESTERNS which will, depending on when your childhood happened, either bring back fond memories, or introduce you to some of the best of children’s television – from when children’s television involved a lot of riding and fighting and shooting bad guys.
Volume I features episodes from four different series, and two of them, THE RANGE RIDER (1951) and BUFFALO BILL, JR. (1955), come from Gene Autry’s FLYING ‘A’ stable. Range Rider stars Jock (here credited as ‘Jack’) Mahoney as the title character, and Dickie Jones as his youthful sidekick Dick West. Jock, who had graduated from stunt-doubling Gene, John Wayne and Errol Flynn (and being the romantic interest in Three Stooges shorts) plays a much revered cowboy detective. After 78 episodes Jock would leave and become first YANCY DERRINGER, then one the of the screen’s most athletic Tarzans. Dickie, 23 when the series started, but small, and playing younger, had been the voice of PINOCCIO, and was an accomplished trick-rider and athletic stuntman. One of the real pleasures of watching Jock and Dickie in action is that the camera is up close because no one had to double either of them, and their riding and fighting are a joy to behold. This particular episode, about the fight to keep a freight contract, features crotchety Raymond Hatton, whose screen credits started in 1909, and ended with 1971’s IN COLD BLOOD, plus villains Kenne Duncan (the tough) and Jim Bannon (the suave) – the last of Hollywood’s Red Ryders. It’s directed by John English, who, with William Witney, directed the finest of Republic Serials – he definitely makes the show MOVE.
In BUFFALO BILL JR., Dickie has become Dick Jones, turned 27, but still convincingly plays the teen older brother of a girl named Calamity (Nancy Gilbert), both of them watched over by kindly-but-gruff Judge Ben ‘Fair-And-Square’ Wiley (Harry Cheshire). This episode features a re-telling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and stars Walter Reed as Wyatt Earp and James Griffith as Doc Holliday. Directed by action whiz Ray Nazarro, Dick is more athletic than ever, doing running mounts, fighting and endlessly diving through windows!
THE GABBY HAYES SHOW (1951), is an interesting novelty of early TV. Opening with impressive footage of everyone’s favorite toothless sagebrush raconteur riding through the desert, Gabby is next seen sitting on a porch, telling a tall tale directly to camera. He then introduces a story about a town that doesn’t have a bank – and suddenly we are smack in the middle of a movie starring Buster Crabbe, Al St. John and Kermit Maynard! Each episode of The Gabby Hayes Show would take a feature-length PRC Western and cut it down to about 22 minutes, ending with Gabby summing up the plot and telling another tall tale. Although obviously truncated, here you can at least follow the plot of the movie-within-a-movie -- which was not always the case with this series. Although, in preserving the plot, they’ve let a lot of action go by the wayside. When characters say, “Don’t you ever hold up the stage-coach with me on it – you might have shot me!” or “Thank you for saving me from that run-away horse,” you wish you’d seen those scenes.
Finally, Bill Williams stars in THE ADVENTURES OF KIT CARSON (1951) with Don Diamond as his Pancho-like sidekick, El Toro (best remembered as Crazy Cat on F-TROOP). To the best of my knowledge, this series had nothing to do with the actual historical Kit Carson, but Williams is a solid actor, with a Hoppy-like smile, and good with the action. This story involves the challenge of keeping an outlaw in custody in a town without a jail-cell.
CLASSIC TV WESTERNS III will really bring back the memories, as it contains not only four shows, but all of the original commercials – if you’re trying to introduce young kids to early TV, they usually get a big kick out of the ads.
First up in another KIT CARSON (1952), this one featuring guest star John Dehner, radio’s Paladin, and a very popular western guest star. The Pepsi ads feature a bunch of well-dressed, pop-guzzling teens being regaled with Western lore by frequent movie sidekick William Fawcett. Next up is THE ROY ROGERS SHOW (1954), with all of the Post Cereal ads, and featuring Roy, Dale, Pat Brady, Bullet and Trigger, and their attempts to saved an innocent man who’s been framed. For my money, Roy will always be the King of the Cowboys, and his show tops them all. THE CISCO KID (1952) stars Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo as Cisco and Pancho, and their attempts to help a New York cop save a woman from being swindled out of her property. Although CISCO was one of the first series to be shot in color, this is a black and white TV print, from the days before TV could in fact show color, but it has its Weber Bread ads, and even a neat PSA with Cisco and Pancho at the end! Finally, WYATT EARP (1955) rounds out the set, and is the only show not specifically aimed at kids – although it features the kid-friendly story of Earp, played by Hugh O’Brien, getting roped into judging a beautiful baby contest. And the guest star is Touch Connors, who later became Mike Connors, the star of MANNIX.
Shokus Video offers two other CLASSIC TV WESTERN volumes, for $14.95 each, as well as volumes of THE CISCO KID, BUFFALO BILL JR., THE GABBY HAYES SHOW, and several volumes each of ANNIE OAKLEY and ROY ROGERS. CLICK HERE to go to their western page. They also offer a wide variety of mystery and comedy shows, and their SHOKUS INTERNET RADIO -- CLICK HERE -- is a 24 hour mix of music, comedy and interview programs: my favorite is Stu Shostak’s daily interview show from 4 to 6 p.m.
IDA LUPINO FEST AT MOMA
From August 26th through September 20th, under the title ‘MOTHER DIRECTS’, the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, will present a large variety of films either starring or written by or directed by that unique talent, Ida Lupino. Although there appears to be only one Western in the bunch, LUST FOR GOLD (1949) showing Friday August 27th ay 4:30, and again Saturday September 4th at 5 p.m., there are a slew of noirs that are well worth seeing. LUST stars Lupino and Glenn Ford, was directed by S. Sylan Simon from the Ted Sherdeman, Richard English screenplay from Barry Storm’s novel. For more information, CLICK HERE.
3D FESTIVAL AT FILM FORUM, NEW YORK CITY
Jumping on the 3D bandwagon, the Film Forum is having a two week festival of many rarely seen films in 3D, and a surprising number of Westerns are included!
WEDNESDAY 8/25 INFERNO (1953) Directed by Roy Ward Baker, and starring Robert Ryan as a millionaire dumped in the desert by his scheming wife and her lover. And as an added attraction...you know Harold Lloyd as a great comedy pioneer, but did you know he also pioneered 3D photography? Mostly of women sans clothing! Between showings of INFERNO, a selection of Harold Lloyd's 3D nude slides will be shown! I wish I was in New York right now!
THURSDAY 8/26 SANGAREE (1953) directed by Edward Ludwig, set in post- Revolutionary Georgia, starring Fernando Lamas as a doctor during a plague outbreak, and Arlene Dahl is the beautiful heiress. New 35mm 3-D print courtesy Academy Film Archive. Color; Approx. 94 minutes, plus 10-minute intermission. 5:30, 9:45, AND ARLENE DAHL WILL ATTEND, AND PARTICIPATE IN A Q&A FOLLOWING THE 5:30 SHOW!
And coming in September, during the Film Forum William Castle retrospective, a 3D Western and a 3D Eastern: Friday & Saturday, 9/3 and 9/4 JESSE JAMES VS. THE DALTONS
(1954) Brett King believes he’s the son of the notorious bandit, and hooks up with the Daltons to try and learn the truth. But 3-D’d sexpot Barbara Lawrence is raison d’être enough for this Castle oater. Color; Approx. 65 minutes. 6:30 ONLY
Sunday & Monday 9/5 and 9/6 FORT TI (1953) Rare French and Indian War Eastern, with colonial George Montgomery teaming up with the Redcoats as they go toe-to-toe against those Frenchies at Fort Ticonderoga. Color; Approx. 75 minutes. 6:30 ONLY
FREE WESTERNS ON YOUR COMPUTER AT HULU
A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.
The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.
AROUND LOS ANGELES
THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. Currently they have THE ART OF NATIVE AMERICAN BASKETRY: A LIVING TRADITION, through November 7th. I've seen the show three times, and am continually astonished at the beauty and variety of the work of the various tribes. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.
WELLS FARGO HISTORY MUSEUM
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.
TV LAND - BONANZA and GUNSMOKE
Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.
NEED YOUR BLACK & WHITE TV FIX?
Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run THE LONE RANGER at 1:30 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.
I'll have some more stuff tonight or tomorrow, and coming soon, interviews with Earl Holliman and Ty Hardin! But for now, Adios!
All Contents Copyright August 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved