Sunday, March 6, 2011


Three major new Westerns, two for the big screen and one for the small, are growing on the horizon! And all are based on historical fact!


will open on the day taxpayers crave a distraction most, April 15th. The story of a wagon train lost in the Oregon desert in 1845, the film stars the beautiful Michelle Williams of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN fame, fresh from her Oscar-nominated turn in BLUE VALENTINE. Co-starring is Paul Dano, who startled audiences by playing two roles in 2007’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and who will soon be seen in COWBOYS & ALIENS. Also in the cast is stuntman/actor Rod Rondeaux, whose legendary work with horses can be seen in almost every important Western of the last few years, and who played Roman Nose in INTO THE WEST (2005). The film is directed by Kelly Reichardt and written by Jonathan Raymond, whose previous collaboration, OLD JOY (2006) received strong critical notices. You can see the trailer for MEEK’S CUTOFF HERE.

(photos top to bottom: poster and still from Meek's Cutoff; poster and still from Conspirator; still from Hell On Wheels; National Day of the Cowboy poster; WestFest poster and two shots from last year's Rodeo; Kim Darby and John Wayne in True Grit; Kim Darby when I met her and she smiled real nice but still wouldn't give me an interview; Chief John Yellow Flower of the Utes; Chief Keokuk of the Sac & Fox)


Set to open on the same fateful day, and more to the point, the day in 1865 that the President succumbed to his wounds, is THE CONSPIRATOR, the story of the trial of Mary Surratt, one of those accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln, and the attempted murders of Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. Historians have never reached a consensus on Mary Surratt’s guilt or innocence (I think she was guilty as Hell). Directed by Robert Redford, who won the directing Oscar for ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), and was nominated for QUIZ SHOW (1994), the screenplay is by James D. Soloman, from a story by Soloman and Gregory Bernstein. The film stars Robin Wright as Mary Surratt, James MacEvoy as her lawyer, Rachel Evan Wood as her daughter, with Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkerson, Alexis Bledel and Danny Huston. To see the trailer for THE CONSPIRATOR, click HERE.


AMC, reportedly delighted with the pilot, has ordered a full season (with the pilot that makes ten episodes) of HELL ON WHEELS. The story is set just after the Civil War, during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad – the title refers to the make-shift, portable towns that sprung up along the way to service the railroad-workers’ needs. It stars Anson Mount as an ex-Confederate whose quest for revenge has led him to a job on the railroad. Rapper and DATE NIGHT star Common plays a freed slave, and also in the cast are Colm Meany of Star Trek fame (and also in CONSPIRATOR) and Eddie Spears of INTO THE WEST and the up-coming YELLOW ROCK. The series is being shot in Alberta, Canada, with financial help from the Alberta Film Development Program. The pilot is directed by David Von Ancken, who brought you SERAPHIM FALLS (2006). It’s created and written by Joe and Tony Gayton, brothers known for big action movies like BULLLETPROOF (1996) and FASTER (2010). An airdate has not yet been announced.


Another state gets with the program, designating July 23rd to be the National Day of the Cowboy. As Santa Fe campaign-worker Richard Beal reports, the events of Wednesday, March 2nd, “Representative Brian F. Elgof talked for five minutes about the history of NDOC and why he thought it was important. The clerk then read the resolution. About 20 legislators stood up and told storoies about how their grandfather had been a cowboy, or they were a rodeo queen back in the day, etc., and each thanked Egolf for doing this and honoring the many cowboys in New Mexico. At the end, they presented us (NDOC) with the official certificate and the entire legislation sang Home on the Range.” Incidentally, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering from the assassination attempt against her, has been a longtime supporter of NDOC.

On Monday March 7th, in Austin, Texas, the legislature will be meeting on the same matter. If you’d like to take part in this movement to make the National Day of the Cowboy an official national holiday, visit the official website HERE, and find out if your state is on board yet.


There’s going to be so much going on at the Palm Springs Convention Center from Thursday through Sunday that I hardly know where to begin. There will be a PRCA Rodeo every day – including bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding; the Twangfest musical festival; Western Design Expo; a rodeo parade; barbecue; chili cook-off; a carnival; a Gene Autry Film Fest; talks by Bob Boze Bell of True West Magazine; talks by John Wayne co-star Eddie Faulkner remembering the Duke…. So much more than I can’t begin to fit it all in here – and aside from the rodeo, admission to everything is just five bucks a day! Also, although they officially say Westfest starts on March 24th, their event schedule starts on March 20th. CLICK HERE to go to the official site and learn more!


Apparently I lack grit. When I met Kim Darby recently I snapped a picture (see left), and asked for an interview. She referred me to her manager, who just called and told me, “Sorry, but no. I just got off the phone telling U.S.A. Today the same thing.” I can’t really blame her – with the huge success of the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT remake, Kim has spent the last four months answering questions about the original film she made in 1969 with John Wayne and Henry Hathaway. She feels there’s nothing I can ask her about TRUE GRIT that she hasn’t answered a dozen or more times, and maybe she’s right. (I’ll try again later, with some really obscure and pointless questions like what kind of shoes Strother Martin wore, just to be different.) But if you’d like to get her take on the movie, CLICK HERE to visit her website, and follow the links to several recent interviews.



When Roy Rogers heard that Cole Porter had written a Broadway musical parody of B westerns, but couldn’t get it financed, he contacted Cole, and bought the theme song, which was the genesis of DON’T FENCE ME IN (1945), the story of reporter Dale Evans’ search for retired outlaw Wildcat Kelly. It also features great non-Cole Porter songs like The Last Roundup and Tumbling Tumbleweeds, and the cast includes Gabby Hayes, Robert Livingston, and one of the greatest of all screen gangsters, Marc Lawrence. At RFD-TV they pre-empted the Saturday morning airing, and the midnight one as well -- something with a title like The Country Family Reunion is returning to that slot, so the only time to catch DON'T FENCE ME IN is Thursday at 2:30 pm eastern and 5:30 western. I've sent an inquiry to the good folks at RFD-TV to ask, what gives?



Screenings as part of their Preservation Festival include, on Saturday, March 12th, a double bill of RAINBOW OVER TEXAS (1947) starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and HEART OF THE RIO GRANDE (1942) starring Gene Autry and the lovely Smiley Burnette. On Monday, March 14th, it’s THE FORGOTTEN VILLAGE (1941) from a screenplay by John Steinbeck, preceded by MEXICO IN THE HEARST METRONONE NEWS COLLECTION. And on Saturday, March 19th at 2:00 p.m. they will present the program BABY PEGGY: HOLLYWOOD’S TINY TITAN. The daughter of a cowboy and stuntman, Baby Peggy, co-starring with Brownie the Wonder-Dog, was a hugely popular star of Western child action comedy films in the 1920s. Few of her films have survived, but Baby Peggy has – she’s now known as Diana Serra Carey, and she will be present for the screening of several of her short films, and existing fragments of several more. (Here’s a historical note: a Baby Peggy film was the first movie to play at the Vista Theatre in Hollywood when it was opened in the early 1920s. The theatre was built at the intersection of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, where the Babylon sets for D. W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE once stood. Over the decades the theatre and neighborhood lost its luster, and the Vista became a gay porn theatre. When it was turned into a revival house in the 1980s, Baby Peggy, who had attended the original opening decades before, attended the new ceremony, where gay porn director Fred Halsted handed the theatre keys over to her.)


The historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood will play host on Saturday, March 19th to the Los Angeles Spaghetti Western Festival. This all-day event will feature live music, screenings, and some very special guest stars, leading men Robert Woods (GATLING GUN, read our review HERE -- read our interview with Woods HERE); Michael Forest (NOW THEY CALL HIM SACRAMENTO, read our review HERE); Richard Harrison ($100,000 FOR RINGO); Brett Halsey (WRATH OF GOD); Dan van Husen (LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING) and Jack Betts –a.k.a. Hunt Powers (DJANGO AND SARTANA), as well as actor, stunt coordinator and Western historian Neil Summers. The movies to be screened will include the one that started it all, Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, plus GATLING GUN (courtesy of Dorado Films – click HERE for their site) and DEAD MEN DON’T COUNT (courtesy of Wild East productions – click HERE for their site). A live musical tribute to Ennio Morricone will be presented by The Insect Surfers, playing music from the album FOR A FEW GUITARS MORE. You can save $10 if you register before February 28th, WHICH IS TOMORROW! For all the details, go to the official website HERE.


If you’re a reader of Westerns as well as a watcher, here is an event you should not miss! From 9:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. you can search the wares of dozens of book dealers from around the country. They run from the very rare and pricey to the battered and cheap. Serious paperback collectors go for unopened books in perfect condition, but I go for what are disparagingly called ‘reader copies,’ and have found dozens of obscure Luke Shorts and Zane Greys for a dollar or two each. Also, more than 45 authors will be signing their books, and unlike other autograph shows, THERE IS NO CHARGE! Most of the authors are sci-fi and mystery types – for a complete list and schedule, click HERE. The event is at the Valley Inn and Conference Center, 10621 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, CA 91345. For more information, call Tom Lesser at 818-349-3844 or Black Ace Books at 232-661-5052.


If you’ve ever wanted to write a western novel or story – of if you’ve written it, but don’t know how to get it published (my hand is raised), make plans to go to Out West, at 24265 Main Street in Newhall on Sunday, March 27th at 2:00 p.m. Author C. Courtney Joyner, the very talented and prolific screenwriter and western film historian, will discuss breaking into the western print market, agents, editors, networking, the changes at Leisure Books, ‘E’ publishing, university presses, contests, and publishers across the pond. Mr. Joyner knows whereof he speaks: in addition to a long string of screen credits, both as writer and director, he wrote the fascinating interview-book THE WESTERNERS (see my review HERE), and his excellent tale, The Two-bit Kill, is featured in the new western story collection, LAW OF THE GUN. The event is free. For reservations call 661-255-7087.


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. 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Well, March is sure shaping up to be a busy month for Western fans. Hope you're enjoying it!


All Contents Copyright March, 2011 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

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