Sunday, October 3, 2010

REPUBLIC PART ONE; TRUE GRIT VERSION TWO












When I asked a friend if he was, like I, surprised at the elaborateness of the Republic 75th Anniversary Celebration, he replied, “Surprised? I was flabbergasted!” I agreed, wholeheartedly and gratefully. The general community of Hollywood is infamous for its ignorance of, and indifference to, its wonderful history. So it was all the more delightful to attend an event so steeped in fun and history, and it was clearly a lump-in-the-throat thrill to those guests who once toiled under the proud banner of the Republic eagle.

The event took place last Saturday, September 25th, at what is now CBS Studios in Studio City, the San Fernando Valley City named after Republic Pictures. Or rather, the city is named after the facility that began as Mack Sennett Studios in the early sound era, and next became Mascot Pictures, before Herbert J. Yates, president of the film lab Consolidated Film Industries, called in the markers of a fistful of Poverty Row concerns, and combined them into an empire which became known aptly as The Thrill Factory.

(Pictures, top to bottom - Nudie clothes display, by the covered wagon trailer he made for Roy Rogers; gunslinger Joey Dillon's pistol defies gravity; Aissa Wayne, Diana Canova; Diana and Julieta Canova; Diana, Julieta and Jamie Nudie; Aissa Wayne; Julie Rogers; Chris Nibley; Jeff Connors shows off THE RIFLEMAN's gun; one of the Hollywood Trick Horses takes a bow)

I never heard a count on the number of visitors, but the event was very well attended – hundreds of western fans waited eagerly for the gates to swing open at eleven. When they surged in, clutching their beautiful, lavishly illustrated programs, many seemed overwhelmed by their choices of where to go first. There was continuous live western music, equine performances by Hollywood Trick Horses, gun spinning by champion Joey Dillon, trick roping by Linda Montana, and performances by the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures. For children, there was story reading, Native American story telling, and art, music and poetry workshops. In the screening room there was ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION, CAPTAIN MARVEL, PERILS OF NYOKA, the Three Mesquiteers – John Wayne, Max Terhune and Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan -- in THE NIGHT RIDERS (1939), and Wild Bill Elliot’s THE LAST BANDIT (1949), whose leading lady, lovely Adrian Booth, was present for the festivities.

There were indoor and outdoor displays of posters and stills and artwork, dealers of same, actors signing pictures and DVDs (much more on them later), and authors signing books, among the best, C. Courtney Joyner with THE WESTERNERS (see my review HERE); Joe McNeill with ARIZONA’S LITTLE HOLLYWOOD (CLICK HERE for details); Michael Blake, author of DANCES WITH WOLVES;AND...ACTION! by Stephen Lodge; and Peter Sherayko, whose new edition of TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS & GEAR will soon be available (CLICK HERE for details).

Best of all, there were the panel discussions which began at 11:45 in Carla’s CafĂ©, the old Republic commissary. And I’m glad I looked around at everything else before I went in, because there was so much interesting talk that, except for a ten minute break, I never left until the entire event was over. The first panel, Republic Pictures 2nd Generation, featured Roy and Dale’s granddaughter Julie Rogers; John Wayne’s daughter Aissa Wayne; sisters Diana and Julieta Canova – daughters of Judy; Jamie Nudie, granddaughter of the great western tailor; Chris Nibley, son of serial queen Linda Sterling and screenwriter Sloan Nibley; and son of THE RIFLEMANChuck Connors, Jeff Connors. Moderator Julie Anne Ream is the granddaughter of western character actor and musician Taylor ‘Cactus Mack’ McPeters, and cousin to singing cowboy Rex Allen and arch-villain and Longbranch bartender Glenn Strange. Among the fascinating tidbits that came out in the discussion: it’s well known that studios tried, without success, to turn John Wayne into a singing cowboy. But Julie Ann revealed that while the Duke was lip-synching, just off-screen the singing was being done by Glenn Strange.

Jeff Connors remembers, “They used to shoot THE RIFLEMAN at Republic, when it was Four Star Productions. I was in three episodes. In one of them I talked. It was called THE SCHOOLMASTER. My brothers were in it, my cousins were in it. Growing up as Chuck’s kids was just great. He never spoiled us. I get asked all the time what he was like, compared to the show. He was probably more strict, but one thing I remember, wherever we would go, he would always say, ‘It’s always about the fans.’ He’d do signings, and he would stay there until everyone was taken care of. The show ran from 1958 to 1963, and it’s a shame that we don’t have shows like that today for our kids. People tell me all the time, ‘I grew up with The Rifleman.’ And I asked a gentleman one time what that meant to him. And he said, ‘My dad was a drunk. And if it wasn’t for your father and Johnny (Crawford), I’d probably have ended up dead or in jail.’ I have no complaints. My dad passed away in ’92 – he had a ranch in Tehachapi. It was great.” And with a little cajoling, he swung up the original rifle from the TV show.

Chris Nibley, a director of photography, remembers growing up at the Republic lot, his mother starring in westerns and serials, his dad writing so many of the best Roy Rogers pictures. “Both my parents worked on this lot: they met here and married here. They had a one-day honeymoon, then they came back to work. I was born in ’48, so my mom took about five years off. Then she got sick of it and came back to work. So my very youngest memories of the lot are playing in the Republic caves. They had these very famous caves that were a permanent set, and were used in nearly every show. They were so well known that the other studios – MGM, Warner Brothers – would rent them. So I would play in the caves – I wasn’t supposed to, but I did.” There were attempts to push him in front of the camera as a child, but he was too shy, and eventually ended up behind the camera. “(My parents) knew cinematographers, and I was interested in photography, so I started out as an assistant cameraman on GUNSMOKE, on the 20th season, which was shot on this lot.” Chris remembered a story his father told him about where the L.A. River runs right by the studio. “Republic would use it all the time, as the Nile or whatever they needed, and this one time as an African jungle river. There used to be an alligator farm in Anaheim, and they just trucked in alligators, dressed people up like natives for the scene. When they were done they carted the alligators back, and it wasn’t until two weeks later that they counted the alligators and realized that one was missing. They found him living behind a restaurant.” “I should talk just a little about Yakima Canutt. He and my dad were great friends, and he actually directed my mother in the serials, when they would often have two directors. Yak had a little ranch up on Riverside Drive, and I would walk by and talk to him. He practically invented stunts. Before him, a stunt man was a cowboy who would fall off a horse and break his arm. And he figured if he could do it and not break his arm, he could do it again. He worked out a system.”

Jamie Nudie, granddaughter of rodeo tailor Nudie Cohn, remembers that he was the first one to put rhinestones on western clothing. “He would watch all the old-time westerns, and he wanted something where the cowboys onstage, their clothes could sparkle. They started in 1947 in a garage, with a ping-pong table as their cutting table. And they wanted to approach Roy and Dale, but they had to have a store, so they opened one up at Victory and Vineland in North Hollywood, and they were there for forty-seven years. Nudie was a character. He wore unmatched boots, rhinestone suits, and carried his money in his boot. He drove a big white Cadillac with (cow) horns and guns and silver dollars – it was his calling card. When they’d pull up to a stop-sign on Lankershim, he’d tell his driver, ‘Blow the stampede!’ (a recording of a cattle stampede), and watch to see the ladies’ dresses blow up. He did clothes for Roy and Dale, and from John Wayne to John Lennon. And Elvis Presley’s gold lame’ suit.” Her newest project, with Julie Ann, is the Noho (North Hollywood) Country Western Heritage Foundation.

Julieta Canova recalls her mother, hillbilly musical star Judy Canova. “Mom was no different from any other mother, except that she worked outside the home. She hated getting up early, so Mr. Yates would send an ambulance to pick her up when she had to go on location. I don’t think growing up in a show business family is any different from growing up in any other family, because you know nothing else. So it’s normal. It was normal to have Ernest Borgnine over for dinner, but a lot of people didn’t understand that. I think mom would be stunned to see what it’s (Republic) become, and she would have been pleased and proud to know that the entire entity is still functioning and still growing.”

Julieta’s sister, TV star Diana Canova, was born after their mother had stopped appearing in movies, but was still appearing at county fairs. “In our house there was always music. Her sister and her mother had been in vaudeville in the ‘30s and ‘40s, eight shows a day. When she was 12 or 13 years old, she was plucked out of that to come to Hollywood and do a movie, and never left. So the siblings would be over, and after a couple of drinks the musical instruments would come out, and that’s what I grew up with. My mom’s main gift to me was her voice. It was a wonderful childhood – she was a warm, loving mom, who just happened to be a slapstick queen and wore Army boots.” Turning to John Wayne’s daughter Aissa, she said, “I worked with your dad on a Perry Como special. And he was the nicest guy. He was a hugger, and he always made me feel so good about myself. A generous man, kind of big, kind of scary, but a total softie. And on my piano is a picture of the three of us – me and Perry and your dad – and it’s one of my most prized possessions.”

Aissa Wayne recalled , “I think one thing all of us on this panel appreciate is the stories from the generation of people that really started film. The cowboys came across the West and they didn’t know what they were going to find. It was the pioneer spirit – we can do it, we can find a better life. I want to thank my dad for instilling in me my pride in America. My pride that we still have liberty – that we can go east, we can go west, we can go wherever we want. In our home we learned about our freedoms. My dad didn’t really associate with Hollywood – we didn’t have Ernest Borgnine over for dinner.” Not that the Duke isolated his family from the business. “I did meet actors and actresses on the set. And I remember playing on sets in fake tepees. And one time there was a mock dead Indian, and he had been tied down, and there were ants going in and out of his mouth.” She also remembered a story her dad told her about trying out for a part. “The cowboy he was playing the scene with did not look very tough, and he’s supposed to hold out his hands and say, ‘I’ve been working very hard.’ But dad looked at the hands and (instead of saying his scripted line) said, ‘Those hands never worked a day in their life!’ And the studio head was there and said, ‘You’ve got the part!” Aissa Wayne, an attorney, was recently in the news for some generous pro bono work. Novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler died in 1959, his wife Cissie some years before. When it was brought to Wayne’s attention that, despite arrangements in Chandler’s will, their remains were not together, but in separate locations, she went through the legal steps to finally bring them together.

Julie Rogers remembers, “My grandparents never lost sight of who they were and where they came from, and why they were recognized – that it was because of their fans. They were always grateful, and they wanted us to be grateful. Roy and Dale were always the same, whether they were on or off the screen – they were always grandma and grandpa. And because of that, the lines between reality and show biz got blurred (for me). I didn’t know everybody else’s grandfather didn’t have a TV show. We would go every weekend to the house, and they’d put us on Trigger from mane to tail and give us rides. We’d roll up, and Nellybelle was always in the carport, and Bullet was one of the house dogs. They had Bullet, Bambi, Bowser, Bob and Mark. They were also a home for people who were going through a rough period in their lives. They would take in struggling actors, kids of their friends – as you know they adopted so many children. Every time they’d come home from a tour of an orphanage, they’d come home with another kid. It was a really great time to grow up. They were really wonderful grandparents to have.”

Julie Anne remembered an embarrassing time when she had to go home sick. Her grandfather had to pick her up from school, from the set of GUNSMOKE. “(They were shooting) an episode called MARRY ME. He was playing Pop Cathcart, with Warren Oates, and they were hillbillies. He was done up in his union suit – which is long red underwear. He came to pick me up at school, because I was sick. And the nurse wouldn’t let him in – she was going to call the police! I was just so offended! But it was one of the best days, because I wasn’t really sick, I just wanted attention. And he brought me home and let me read lines with him.”

Jamie adds, “My dad (Nudie) used to pick me up at junior high school in the Cadillac with the moo-horn! Can you imagine? He had that recording of a cattle stampede, and he’d drive up and play it. And kids would say, ‘That car’s honking,’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t know who that is.’ And then he’d call, ‘Jamie, get in the car!’”

Part Two of the Republic 75th Anniversary Next Week!

LONE PINE FILM FESTIVAL Oct. 8-10

This weekend, Western movie lovers will be heading for Lone Pine, the region of the Eastern Sierras that has been a favorite location for film-makers since the silent day. Every year Lone Pine celebrates with a weekend of tours of famous film locations, musical entertainment, star appearances, guest speaker panels and, of course, screenings of locally shot movies. I’ve been hearing great things about this event for years. For details, CLICK HERE!

TRUE GRIT TRAILER RELEASED!

Wonder how the Coen Brother’s reworking of Charles Portis’s novel is going to look? CLICK HERE to find out!


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.

If you get to Lone Pine, tell us about it!

Henry

All Contents Copyright October 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for covering this event so thoroughly. Wonderful anecdotes of a time that needs to be recorded before there's no one around to remember it.

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  2. Thanks Ron -- that's exactly how I feel as well.

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  3. Due to a prior appointment, I arrived at the event at 2:30 and was unable to get into any of the panel discussions. I am most grateful to you, Henry, for your detailed coverage of this very special moment for all of us that are western film, and Republic fans. Sorry I didn't get to see you.

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