Sunday, May 15, 2011
AUTRY CURATOR JEFFREY RICHARDSON
Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard Jeffrey Richardson introduce at least a half dozen movies at the Autry. This is a job which, when done correctly, looks deceptively easy, but the truth is, it’s a difficult balancing act. A few years ago they had a lady introducing all of Gene’s movies by listing all of the songs, ruining all of the jokes, and telling how the picture ends.
What Richardson does is tell you enough to intrigue both the beginner and the old hand, without making watching the movie seem redundant. I always learn things at his talks, even at the recent MAGNIFICENT 7 screening, where I thought there was nothing much I didn’t know. But introducing screenings is a tiny part of Jeffrey Richardson’s job as the Autry’s Curator of Western History and Popular Culture. Frankly, I’m surprised that such a young guy knows so much about the west, and western movies. I asked him if they were important to him growing up.
JEFF: Actually, to be quite honest, they weren’t. I grew up at a time when there weren’t westerns on television or on film, and weren’t a part of the larger popular culture at all. My father enjoyed westerns, the ones that I would see were with my father, on Saturday afternoons. I’d ask him, ‘What are these?’ He replied, ‘Good movies they don’t make anymore.’ But I really didn’t appreciate them. To me they all seemed to be the same. But when I made my way to graduate school, getting my PHD in western history, I really started to understand the larger role of the American West, not only the actual historical west, but the mythic west, the west onscreen. As a result I came to appreciate the western genre in all its complexities, and its very unique history, not only in the entertainment world, but in relationship with the American people, and people throughout the world. So I came more to appreciate westerns now today; they’re certainly one of my favorites.
HENRY: Speaking of Westerns, I notice you’ve grown a beard – it looks right in tune.
JEFF: (Laughs) It works out here, and it gets rid of that baby-face, too.
HENRY: Do you remember any westerns that your dad particularly enjoyed?
JEFF: Like most people of his generation, it was John Wayne and Gary Cooper. He appreciated all the stars that were popular in the middle of the century.
H: You mentioned your PHD in western history.
J: Technically it’s in American cultural history, from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. They have a strong western history program, (which) was one of my major focuses. I actually grew up in the South, I bounced around from Georgia to Florida as a child, where I did a lot of southern history, the other region that has the kind of historiography that the American West does, but when I came west, to Vegas, I really immersed myself in academic Western History. It’s is very interesting – how it’s evolved over the years.
H: How old were you before you knew who Gene Autry was?
J: I think I knew who Gene Autry was as an entertainer, as the singing cowboy when I was in high school; didn’t really again think much of it. Like most people from my generation, I kind of dismissed it: cowboys don’t dress like that! They don’t sing like that! As a big sports fan I knew him more as a result of the Angels than anything else.
H: How did you become involved with the Autry Museum?
J: When I was at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the Autry used to have a fellowship program. One of the problems you have in most museums is there are individuals that have a lot of academic training, but don’t have a lot of practical real-world experience of what it’s like to work in a museum. So they had a program which brought graduate students, either Master or PHD, to the Autry for a significant amount of time, from three months to nine months, to come and immerse yourself in the larger meaning of what museums did. I came here for one of the nine month fellowships, and during that nine months I came to appreciate and better understand what museums do. Like most people in graduate school, your think, I’m going to teach: it’s the logical profession for people who have been in graduate school for as long as I had. Working in a museum was not something that I actually thought much about. But I was able to appreciate the type of history that is done here, using artifacts to tell stories, and I really came to fall in love with this profession. As a result of my fellowship I was able to get hired at the Autry. I started out as a curatorial assistant, worked my way up the ranks, and now I really enjoy what I do, and can’t see myself doing anything else.
H: You’re currently curating the ‘What Is a Western?’ film series. And you’ve selected a wonderful group of films. Now, is it called ‘What is a Western?’ because it’s an interesting subject to debate, or are you trying to teach people that really don’t know?
J: What we’re really hoping to do with this series – and this series is going to go on indefinitely – is for people to come to understand not only what the western genre is, what it means, what its historical role has been, influencing and mirroring larger trends in American history, but we also want to show how the Western genre has evolved throughout the 20th century. To where, nowadays, you don’t see a lot of pure westerns onscreen, but you see a lot of other films that take from the western. And we want to explore that issue, and just as we do at the Museum, we want to show that there are a variety of ways of looking at the west, that don’t just involve cowboys or Indians, or Monument Valley or those types of things. With this years’ schedule we really wanted to have a baseline, to look at some classic western films that people think of when they think of the American West. So we have THE MAGNIFICENT 7, THE SEARCHERS, TOMBSTONE, UNFORGIVEN. But next year we’re going to take it a little bit further, and (ask), how has the western genre evolved? For example, looking at space westerns, or WESTWORLD, science-fiction westerns. To look at how, when the western genre decreased in popularity, the themes, the actors, these individuals still remained, they just shifted their focus. We want to look at films that tell a distinct story of the American west, that aren’t westerns – for example, the Beach Party movies of the 1960s that really painted a very clear picture of the American west coast, but they’re not Westerns. But they do tell a very distinct western story. So this year we really set that baseline of traditional western films, but next year, and the following years, we’ll intersperse with larger westerns, other movies that tell us a lot either about the western genre or the American west.
H: I noticed that Saturday, August 13th, is listed as ‘To Be Announced.’ Why in particular is there not a film for that date yet?
J: The real issue, and one of the unique things about the film series, is all of our movies are 35mm. Just showing a blu-ray, a DVD, anyone can do very easily. What we want to do is create an experience for the visitor at the museum; they can see a film as it was intended, on the big screen, in 35mm, something that they can’t replicate at home. But what we have come to find is that 35mm prints are very difficult to obtain. The studios themselves have them, but they’re starting to tell us that they are no longer making 35mm prints, and when they wear out, they’re not redoing them, they’re really just focusing more on a digital world. So we’ve had a very tough time securing a variety of 35mm prints. We have some 35s that are not on this year’s schedule – we’re holding them for next year. In some instances we’ve actually found 16mm prints, but we really want to focus on 35, and the other issue if of finding 35mm prints that are of high quality. You do see a lot of them out there, but they’re very very difficult to watch. I think on that particular open day we might be showing GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL. And that should be interesting, because the following month we’re showing TOMBSTONE, to really show how these two films, which obviously look at the same subject, same individuals, but do so in a dramatically different way. One of the most obvious ways is that in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, the gunfight takes a significant amount of screen time, between ten and fifteen minutes, where in TOMBSTONE it’s much more accurate in the length of time, where it’s more like 30 seconds.
H: Are you going to be continuing to show the Gene Autry double-bills on the first Saturday of the month?
J: Yes, we’re really trying to replicate the idea of people going on a Saturday afternoon and getting that double feature, a short, maybe a newsreel. And we want to make sure that Gene Autry’s presence here in the museum is continuing to be felt. What we do is show an early Republic movie with a later Columbia picture, and the theme and the content of the two is often very different, so people have the opportunity to come and see two very interesting films – some people like the Republic and don’t like the Columbia and vice versa. We’re trying to give everyone a bit of something that they like.
H: Any chance of moving those to the Wells Fargo Theatre?
J: We’re in discussion to do that. One of the issues is logistical. We have other activities that often go on in Wells Fargo – our Native Voices theatre productions, Book Talk, we have a lot of other educational activities that take place in Wells Fargo, so what we hope to do is either move the double bill to the Wells Fargo or get some more comfortable seats for the Western Legacy Theatre. Right now we just have those wooden benches, because they were designed to watch a five-minute introductory film that is normally showing there during the week.
H: I understand you’ve got an upcoming exhibition about the Colt Firearms Company.
J: It’s The Colt Revolver And The American West, and we’re looking at the role that the Colt revolver has played in history, both on the actual American frontier, and in the contemporary west, and in the mythic west. We want to show the history of Colt from 1835, up until the present. The Autry has one of the finest Colt collections in the United states, which is the result of several key acquisitions, a very generation donation of individual pieces from museum supporters and members, and we hope to help people understand why the Colt revolver is often referred to as ‘the handgun that won the West.’ This exhibition will feature over one hundred revolvers, but it will also feature art, artifacts, and a variety of different objects relating to the Colt revolver. It won’t just be a large collection of guns. It’ll be that, but it will be much much more.
H: Are there particular items we should be looking forward to seeing?
J: We have several pieces that I think are quite amazing. We have Teddy Roosevelt’s single-action Army. Roosevelt had it opulently engraved, ivory grips with ‘TR’ on them, ‘TR’ engraved on the recoil-shield. This firearm, unlike a lot of opulently engraved pieces, was actually used by Roosevelt – he took it with him when he made his way to the Badlands in the 1880s, he used the gun, he fired it. It’s a very significant piece of American history, and really gets at the role that the American West played in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That’s one of my favorite pieces in the entire exhibition. We have an entire case devoted to the single-action Army. We have the first single-action Army ever made, in 1872, a year before the revolver went into mass-production. We also have guns related to The Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Monte Hale, we have cutaways that show how the actual internal functions of the guns work. We have pieces that were presented by Samuel Colt himself to Governors, to military officers. We have Samuel Colt’s original coat of arms. The collection is really going to (create) a technological understanding of the role that the revolver played, an aesthetic understanding of the role the revolver played – it will look at all of the ways the revolver has been associated with the American West for almost 200 years.
H: When does it open?
J: It’s going to open on July 23rd, which is the National Day of The American Cowboy, the celebration that takes place every year. Last year was the first year that the Autry recognized the celebration, and it was very, very popular with visitors. It was quite well attended, we had a lot of activities going on, and we’re going to have more activities this year. We’re also redoing two cases that look at Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. A lot of our really great Billy the Kid/Pat Garrett artifacts, including a Whitney-Kennedy rifle that Billy the Kid owned, a watch that was given to Pat Garrett in honor of him killing Billy, by grateful citizens, these pieces will be on display along with a little special section that looks at the Colt Gatling Gun.
H: Anything else we can look forward to?
J: We also have a few other film activities going on. We hope to celebrate Roy Rogers’ 100th anniversary this year. In May we’re actually adding a case to the Imagination Gallery with pieces that the Autry Museum acquired from the recently closed Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri, and before that in Victorville. A lot of people wanted to know what the Autry Was going to do when the Museum closed, and we were able, due to the generosity of Museum supporters, to acquire several key pieces. Roy’s plastic Rose Parade Saddle, a very opulently engraved pair of boots that Roy owned, Roy Rogers’ first guitar – this was one he’d gotten as Leonard Slye, before he became the King of the Cowboys. This guitar was presented to Roy on This Is Your Life. And we also acquired the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans archives, the business records of two of the most popular entertainers in 20th Century America. We’ll have two key pieces from the archive in display, to let the general public know not only what we did to help to save the legacy of Roy and Dale, but lets them know in general what museums do to preserve the past, not only caring for artifacts, but also to allow people to view these artifacts.
H: What are your favorite westerns?
J: I get that question a lot, and the thing is, I’ve seen so many westerns in such a short period of time. The one I think of more than anything else is HIGH NOON. I think because of its significance to the genre, Gary Cooper winning an Academy Award for that role, for what it meant to Hollywood at that particular time, the blacklist and communism, it’s a unique film for so many different reasons. And I’m always surprised at how little action there is in the movie, but you’re on the edge of your seat the whole movie, wondering what’s going to happen, what he is going to do. I think, more than any other, that film resonates with me. But more recently, with the westerns that I did see in the theatre, growing up, I would have to go with TOMBSTONE. It does have a lot of action throughout it. I also remember seeing UNFORGIVEN with my father, when it came out. For pure enjoyment, I think TOMBSTONE, but for everything it is, I’d say HIGH NOON.
H: Do you like spaghetti westerns?
J: I enjoy the spaghetti westerns. I think not only Leone, but Peckinpah at the time made very interesting westerns, and I think for those individuals who don’t like the western, that think, oh, it’s not something for me, showing them a Leone or a Peckinpah film is really the way to go. Those films have a more modern sensibility than your earlier 20th century Western. At times they’re a little excessive in some instances, but as a result of their pacing, their use of dialogue, they hold up really well today.
H: We’re going to be in a documentary together – the same crew from Turner Classic Movies that interviewed you last month interviewed me later that day.
J: One of the reasons that TCM came here is that they’re going to do a Singing Cowboy Month, I believe some time this summer, so everyone should look forward to that.
H: Who is your favorite singing cowboy?
J: I would be a fool not to say Gene Autry. What I like about Gene’s films, not that you can’t find this in the westerns of other singing cowboys, is that in a Gene movie you can get just a little bit of everything. You have your action, you have your drama, you have your music, your comedy – so it’s really a complete package; something that was unique to its era. And you can really understand why people in the 1930s and early 1940s, when they were faced with so much difficulty around them, whether it be economic, political, military, it was so refreshing to be able to go into a theatre and escape for an hour or two. I understand now why people have such a connection to Gene and to Roy, and why it meant it meant so much to them. And why, when they come to the Autry Museum, they are taken back (to that time) by what we’ve done in preserving that legacy for future generations. We’re also going to be doing a ‘cameo’ exhibition later this called Gene Autry’s Angels, celebrating this year, the 50th anniversary of the Angels franchise, and Gene’s role in bringing American League baseball to southern California.
HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY HARRY CAREY JR!
Monday, May 16, 2011, is actor Harry Carey Jr.’s 90th birthday. The son of two stars of the silent screen, Olive Carey and the great Harry Carey Sr., Harry, nicknamed Dobe – short for ‘adobe’, for the color of his hair – he lent his earnest, unaffected presence to countless Western movies and TV episodes. I always think of him in the John Ford westerns, first 3 GODFATHERS, then two thirds of the Cavalry Trilogy. No one, not even the Duke, looks better in a cavalry uniform. But he also worked extensively for Howard Hawks and other great men of the genre, and co-starred with his great friend Ben Johnson more than a dozen times. I had the privilege, between fifteen and twenty years ago to see Carey and Johnson, both in their 70s, team-roping at a charity rodeo in Burbank.
He developed a whole new following running the dude ranch in SPIN AND MARTY on the original MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, and even went to Spain for the spaghetti western TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME. He takes his work seriously, but not always himself. Maybe five years ago on this date, I shot him an email wishing him a happy birthday, and mentioning that my wife and I always know that a Harry Carey Jr. movie is always worth seeing. Within moments I received his reply: “Obviously you haven’t seen BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA.” Carey has a website, HERE, where you can learn more about his career, and purchase his excellent memoir of his experiences working for John Ford, A COMPANY OF HEROES, when it’s back in stock. And if you haven’t watched the trailer to 3 GODFATHERS lately,HERE it is.
Happy birthday Dobe!
UCLA HONORS ROBERT MITCHUM WESTERNS!
In July, UCLA and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program will honor that villain of Hopalong Cassidy movies, Robert Mitchum with a month of screenings at the Billy Wilder theatre. The ten films featured in the retropective are PURSUED (1947) BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), THE LUSTY MEN (1952), THE SUNDOWNERS (1960), TRACK OF THE CAT (1954), RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954), THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY (1959), WEST OF THE PECOS (1945), RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), and EL DORADO (1966). Details as it gets closer.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Also, AMC has started showing two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN on Saturday mornings.
That'll have to do for this week. I spent too many hours at Pierce College today watching them re-fight the Civil War (the North won). Check out our Facebook page to see what else is happening.
P.S. If you like the postcard showing Gene Autry's house, I found a website with a great collection of Movie Star Home Postcards. Check it out HERE.
All Contents Copyright May 2011 by Henry C. Parke -- All rights Reserved.