Sunday, October 24, 2010
REPUBLIC 3, BIG VALLEY 2
(Photos, top to bottom:Jane Kean; Tommy Cook, Jane Withers, James Lydon; Jane Withers, James Lydon, Colleen Grey; Marjorie Lord, Theodore Bikel, Tommy Cook; Robert Easton, Marjorie Lord, Theodore Bikel)
If you missed part one of my coverage of the Republic Pictures 75th Anniversary Celebration, CLICK HERE. If you missed part two, CLICK HERE. If you’re up to date, read on!
James Lydon, star of the Henry Aldrich series, was just passing the microphone to Jane Withers when someone in the audience called out, “Jim, tell ‘em about closing up Republic!” Lydon turned silent and solemn for a moment. “I don’t think I want to say that, because it was a very sad event. But I will tell you that I was responsible for closing Republic. Because I was the Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild at that time, and you may remember that Ronald Reagan was the President. And we had to close Republic – I’ll tell you about it some other day. It’s sad.” If any readers out there know the story – please fill us in!
“That really brightened up the day,” joked panel moderator Jim Taffel. Then he announced, “If you’ve never heard her at any event, you’re missing the treat of a lifetime: Jane Withers!” 84-year-old Jane took the mike. “I’m tickled to be here – and thank you all for coming! I’m hoping you’re having as much fun as I am! I’ve seen so many friends from so many years ago. You know, there’s not too many ladies that start working at the age of two and a half years old. I had that privilege, and I’ve been goin’ ever since: Whoopee! I love what I’m doing, and I can’t think of anything better than show business to give you the opportunity to meet wonderful people in all walks of life. Right now I have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and vertigo -- believe me, that’s a challenge! Anyway, back to Republic. After I finished at (20th Century) Fox – I did forty films there, and I did a radio show in Atlanta, Georgia when I was four – and I had met Mr. Yates at one of those big conventions they had once a year. And he’d said, ‘Jane, if you ever get tired of 20th Century Fox, here’s my private number. Call me.’ Well, (at Fox) they weren’t giving me the kind of pictures I wanted: they wouldn’t let me grow up. They still had me in pigtails, and I was developing…in all different areas. So I went in to talk to Mr. Wurtzel, who was the head of the B pictures, and I said, ‘I think I’ve had it here at Fox, and I think I’m going to go over to Republic.’ Because I love westerns – I did four when I was growing up.” She did four pictures at Republic: JOHNNY DOUGH BOY (1942), MY BEST GAL (1943), FACES IN THE FOG (1944) and AFFAIRS OF GERALDINE (1946) – not a western in the bunch.
“The first movie I did at Republic was JOHNNY DOUGH BOY, which starred Jimmy Lydon, who was my favorite leading man of all time. And the Williams Brothers, and it was the first movie they ever did.” She told how a friend from her church introduced her to the brothers, and she asked Herbert Yates to put them in the picture. “Andy Williams did work with the Williams Brothers for a very long time, then went out on his own. Dick Williams, his brother, was here (earlier)in the day, but he had a medical appointment that he had to keep. He said to tell you all ‘hello’ – he sure had a good time meeting all the people he did.”
Jane told the story about how, as a girl at Fox, she got to make a movie with her idol, Gene Autry. She’d pitched the idea to Fox, and was told it just wasn’t possible. So she called Mr. Yates at Republic, and he told her, “That’d be box-office dynamite!” She brokered a loan-out deal, where Fox let Republic have three of their stars in exchange for Gene Autry. “Because of that, Gene Autry and I were buddies until he passed away. And Roy and Dale – we were neighbors for fifteen years, and our kids grew up together. It was great joy and honor to work with everyone here!”
Next up was Tommy Cook. “It’s wonderful to be here with this wonderful group of people on the dais, especially my buddy Robert Easton, the original Quiz Kid. We grew up in radio together, with Arch Obler. As you know, Robert’s the world’s greatest dialect coach. We’re going to be doing a SPERDVAC Convention at the Beverly Garland Hotel in the beginning of November; we’re going to recreate some of the old-time radio shows. Anyway, in 1940, I was the original Little Beaver in THE ADVENTURES OF RED RYDER, the original 12-episode serial. And of course a couple of years later my good buddy Bobby Blake, as he was then called, did some Red Ryder films with Wild Bill Elliot, then Don Reynolds (a.k.a.) Little Brown Jug, did the last Red Ryder films, I think, with Jim Bannon Jr. Such memories! The western towns, Fat Jones’ ranch that supplied all of the horses, and of course my little pinto, Papoose. William Whitney and John English were the directors of that film. And about a year or so later I did another serial here at Republic, JUNGLE GIRL, with Tom Neal and Frances Gifford. And Whitney and English directed that. And then I was featured in THE SONG OF ARIZONA, with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Gabby Hayes. Great times. And right about that time I did a film here at Republic called THE KID FROM CLEVELAND. One of the great ‘B’ lists of stars: George Brent, Lynn Bari, Rusty Tamblyn and myself. We went to Cleveland itself and made the film with the world champion Cleveland Indians. I have such great memories -- I don’t (recognize) the studio now, besides shooting in the western town back here, and in Chatsworth and going around the (San Fernando) Valley to shoot locations.
“I was invited a few years ago to a western film festival in North Carolina. I took my son. My mother kept my Little Beaver outfit. I put it on my son, and we went there. And they’re showing episodes of Red Ryder in 16mm, and I’m there for Q&As. So they’re getting ready to show the next episode. And a lady in the audience said, ‘Tommy, would you say something (about doing the serial)?’ And I went blank, and tears started coming down. And I started to think of the world’s greatest stuntmen who were with us on Red Ryder – Dave Sharpe, Yakima Canutt – still the greatest of all time. And all the fun, and the way everyone treated me as a little ten-year-old. I finally came through, and I said, ‘I apologize, but those were the most wonderful days of my life.’ Republic Studios: we loved you. Thank you.”
Theodore Bikel spoke next. One of the earlier panelists had stood during her speech, to make sure that the folks in back could see her. Not Theodore: “I’m not going to stand up. If you have difficulty in seeing me in back, I want to assure you that my appeal, such as it is, is not, strictly speaking, visual.” And when the laughs died down, “It’s sexual. I love this nostalgia feast that we have here, and it puts me in mind of a song Abe Burrows wrote, which went something like this: ‘I’m walking down memory lane, with not a God-damned thing on my mind.’ I’m a New York actor. I was shuttled between New York and Hollywood. New York to me was live theatre, and Hollywood was film. And you learned from both experiences. Now in New York, when you do theatre, you say to yourself, ‘It’ll be better tomorrow.’ In Hollywood it’s got to be better today, because you don’t get it tomorrow. Unless you get a very benign director who’s willing to do a set-up over, and that was rare in the days when they started to hurt a little bit for money. I did several pictures and other things here on this lot. I can remember very fondly most of them. You remember them fondly when the people at the gate recognize you as you drive in. You know you have arrived. And if you have a dressing room that’s allotted to you – also very nice. We had been doing a picture directed by Sam Peckinpah, and seven eighths of the entire film was just two actors, Charles Boyer and me. (Note: ‘The Prison,’ a 1962 episode of DICK POWELL THEATRE) It was on a desert island: he was a prisoner, I was a guard. This was very concentrated acting. This was things that we both did intentionally. There were none of these waiting periods where you went to the honey-wagon – why do they call them the honey wagons? – to lie down, or you go to the craft table to have a snack. There was no time for snacks or lie-downs: we were working. And that was the best. And it renewed my faith. I like it when people remember what you did on the stage. And they tell you that they saw you in a certain performance, the town, etcetera, etcetera. In the movies, they can actually relive the emotion, relive what they saw twenty years ago, and some people actually have this strange notion – you know, someone came up to me and said, ‘I saw that movie you made twenty-eight years ago: you have grown!’ Movies are what they are: they are frozen in time, just as a painting is, or a sculpture. But they are also movies – they move. There is an emotion to them that is almost tangible. The great movies become greater with time, and the duds become bigger duds. I am grateful for my life in the theatre, and I am grateful for my life in film. And I’m grateful that I’m here, alive, to tell you about it.”
The lovely Marjorie Lord was the next to speak. To folks my age she’ll always be Danny Thomas’ wife in MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY. She actually starred in a serial, THE ADVENTURES OF SMILING JACK (1943), but she didn’t mention it, perhaps because it was made not by Republic, but by Universal. “It’s very interesting to hear the background of a lot of these people. I too started on the Broadway stage, sixteen (plays), including a Pulitzer Prize winner with Judith Anderson, before coming to Hollywood. But I always came back to the theatre. And I don’t think he remembers it, but I just realized today that Jimmy Lydon and I did a play. We played a brother and sister together at the New York World’s Fair (1939). This was a tough time in my life: I was down to fifty dollars. I didn’t know what I was going to do then. Then overnight, with the help of God, this (play) opened up, and we worked for four weeks together.”
“I remember it very well,” Jimmy chimed in.
“There’s a DVD of that whole Fair, somebody sent it to me, and we’re in it. But I loved live theatre – I always shuttled back to New York when I wasn’t too busy here. And almost everything that happened to me in films came out of a play: when RKO picked up my first play and hired me; when I signed my contract at Universal, I was doing a play. And even the DANNY THOMAS SHOW -- Danny saw me in a play in New York and flew me out here. After my contract at Universal, I was offered a part here at Republic, in a film called SHANTYTOWN (1943). And one of the reasons I wanted to do it was because my husband, at the time, was John Archer, and he was doing it, and we were fairly newlyweded, and I wanted to do it with him. And it was a very nice little picture. The marriage didn’t last, but we did produce a beautiful daughter, who you may know better than me: my daughter’s Anne Archer. I did another film here, DOWN LAREDO WAY (1953 with Rex Allen). I can’t remember much, but I remember it was about a horse, because I love animals – that’s mostly what I remember. I also did a film with Colleen Grey, RIDING HIGH (1950, D: Frank Capra).” And when Colleen Grey called out, “It’s about a horse!” she got a large laugh from the audience. Ms. Lord finished by saying, “It’s been a nice reunion in many ways. Thank you so much.”
The last to speak on the panel was the Henry Higgins of Hollywood, actor and linguistic coach Robert Easton. “By way of coincidence, so many of the people that Marjorie Lord just mentioned were people whose lives were intertwined with mine as well. Years ago she was doing the lead on a HALLMARK HALL OF FAME, it took place in the old west, and I had a part in it. One time I did a television show called NAVY LOG (1955), and her husband John Archer was my commanding officer, and to use a little Navy slang, every time I screwed up, he chewed me out. And then I’ve coached Anne a number of times. It’s all family-family-family. People used to ask me, ‘In show biz, do you think it’s all nepotism?’ I always said, ‘I don’t know: I’ve never had any nepots.’ George Brent was mentioned earlier. In the 1920s, my mother was the leading lady of a repertory company, and the leading man was George Brent. When I started in the business, I had several major problems. One, I had a strong Texas dialect, that used to hold me back a whole lot. So I overcame that and learned how to do other dialects in self-defenses, and people saw that and got the idea that I could do other things. Second of all, I was too tall, at a time when most leading men were not too tall. They didn’t like to work with a big kid. It even happened one time at a Warner Brothers interview with Michael Curtiz. I got the part. It sounded wonderful – the scene where I’d be walking along the dirt road having a wonderful two-shot, doing a scene with Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper, very nice man, came over, introduced himself. Then Michael Curtiz looked over and said, “Mein Got, the kid is taller than Gaddy Coopah! We can’t use a kid taller then Gaddy Coopah! Too bad, kid.” That was it. I found a lot of the leading men did not want to work with someone who was very big, because the audience could see that they weren’t as tall as they’d like to be portrayed. One time with (Steve) McQueen, I was supposed to come riding in on a horse, he rides in on his horse, we ride side by side having a long wonderful dialogue, going back and forth from horse to horse. Then he realized that every time he looked at me he’d be looking (up), and every time I looked at him I’d be looking (down). He said, ‘It’s a hot day. Why don’t you have him sit on the ground, against a tree. And I’ll ride up and I can talk to him from my horse.’ Years later I was working with him on a movie called THE WAR LOVER. He was the pilot, Bob Wagner was the co-pilot, and I was the turret gunner. They used to have big guys for gunners, so they’d be standing on the floor, and their head and shoulders would go up into the turret. ‘Enemy planes coming at eleven o’clock!’” To keep from getting squeezed out of group shots, he learned to position himself in the background, where his comparative height wouldn’t be noticeable. “The smartest actor I ever worked with, in terms of handling that problem, was Brian Donlevy. Remember a series he did called DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT? (laughs) I don’t even remember. I got there on the set that first day, opening scene of dialogue. He looks at me. ‘Let’s rehearse this a bit. We’ll just add a couple of lines here, and have some fun.’ We do the scene, I say, ‘Mah name is Tennessee.’ He says, ‘You must be seven feet tall!’ I say, ‘Pretty near, pretty near.’ We went ahead and did the whole film, did not re-block anything. I didn’t have to stand in the gutters, like I always had to do with Charlie Bronson. Because he was smart: he established me as seven feet tall, so he had to be six four.
“Then a very nice thing started happening. They started bringing in leading ladies who were tall. And they had the power to say, ‘I don’t want to work with that shrimp, so-and-so.’ So I really lucked out on that one. I worked with practically every tall actress in town. Had really great love dialogue. ‘Yer just as purty as a bucket full o’ hog liver.’ ‘Look at them stars! More of ‘em then flies on a hog’s back!’ I did all of that love talk. I learned to adjust to what was going to get me work. I was very lucky -- I did lots and lots of comedy. Red Skelton was very kind to me – I worked for him as a stooge comic for over twenty years. I had a running part on the BURNS AND ALLEN SHOW, I worked with Jack Benny, Danny Kaye – you name them, I’ve worked with them. One day Red Skelton had a very distinguished English actress on the show, and he loved to go off the script. So they had everything on idiot-cards for everybody. And then he’d go off the script. We’re doing the dress rehearsal, and (in the sketch) he tells his girlfriend, ‘You’ve got lips like petals.’ She said, ‘Rose petals?’ He said, ‘No, bicycle pedals!’ Huge laugh. But she said, ‘I don’t unduhstand why they loffed so much.’ I said, ‘It was a brilliant pun.’ She said, ‘Rose petals and bicycle pedals – those are not puns.’ I said, ‘For you folk, they’re not. To us, they are.’ ‘Oh yes, now I see. Frightfully clevah.’ And that was her introduction to American comedy.”
And coming up in part IV, I’ll have the highlights of the final panel, which includes Joan Leslie, Ben Cooper, Adrian Booth, Michael Chapin, Peggy Stewart, Dick Jones, Donna Marten, Anne Jeffreys and Hugh O’Brien.
‘BIG VALLEY’ FEATURE ROLLS CAMERA MONDAY!
The movie, based on the tremendously popular 1960s series starring Barbara Stanwyck, was first announced as going to camera back in late July, but if all goes well, the crank should start turning tomorrow, October 25th, in Louisiana. If you’ve been following the Round-up, you know there have been many changes in the announced cast. As of now, Victoria Barkley will be played by Jessica Lang. Son Jarrod, played on television by Richard Long, will be Stephen Moyer. Jason Alan Smith will take on Nick Barkley, originally played by Peter Breck. Audra Barkley, played on TV by Linda Evans, will be Sara Paxton. Heath, the bastard son played by Lee Majors will be Travis Fimmel. And in a wonderfully ironic twist, Tom Barkley, the never-seen-on-TV father of all the kids will be played by his own bastard son, Lee Majors. Also in the cast are three fine actors who appeared in the series: Bruce Dern, Richard Dreyfus and Buck Taylor. John Savage and Aidan Quinn are also featured.
The film is written and to be directed by Daniel Adams. Producer Kate Edelman is the daughter of A. I. Bezzerides, who created the original series. For exteriors, they will be filming at the Rosedown Historic Plantation in West Feliciana Parish. Interiors will be shot at the Greenwood Plantation in St. Francisville.
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 DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 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.
Later today, or sometime tomorrow, I'll add pictures from the Republic event. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
All Contents Copyright October 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved