Monday, May 2, 2011
WYATT EARP BACK AT THE (PARAMOUNT) RANCH
Paramount Ranch in Agoura has a long and illustrious history, which began in 1927, when the studio purchased 2,700 acres of the old Rancho Las Virgenes. For the next quarter of a century, Paramount used the wonderful rural setting for everything from China (for ADVETURES OF MARCO POLO) to New England (for MAID OF SALEM), but naturally it was used mostly for westerns. Many films starring Bill Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Buster Crabbe, Ken Maynard, Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Clark Gable, Buck Jones and Gary Cooper were shot there. It was a prime location for comedies as well – many of the finest works of W.C. Fields, Bob Hope and Preston Sturges were lensed there.
In 1953, Paramount, no longer needing the facility, sold the southeast portion to William Hertz, who decided to rebuild the crumbling location. At the same time Howard Hughes, who owned RKO, decided to sell off his western town, built for CIMARRON, at the intersection of Burbank and Louise in Encino. Paramount Ranch historian Marc Wannamaker explains, “Hughes dismantled it, and Hertz purchased pieces of the RKO Ranch and brought them to the Paramount Ranch. The current western town at the Paramount Ranch was the RKO western town.”
This may be the first movie about Earp to be shot at the ranch. Some sources say GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORALL was shot there, but it’s not on the official lists. Shooting days number six through nine for THE FIRST RIDE OF WYATT EARP took place in March at the Paramount Ranch. I was there the first day. It was a delightful surprise for me – the only time I’d been there before was more than twenty years ago, and there had been almost nothing left to hint that Paramount Ranch had once been an exceedingly busy Western film location. I remember a single cabin, a bridge, and crumbling foundations.
But in 1993, Paramount Ranch became the home of DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN (which I tried to like, but found to be a sappy re-tooling of the far superior PARADISE), and with the work of historian Marc Wannamaker, the Hertz/RKO version of the Western town was rebuilt, and stands today (okay, for that I’ll say I like DR. QUINN).
(Photo captions:Paramount Ranch western street; series of shots, porch-sitter spots Matt Dallas as Bat Masterson,Levi Fiehler as Bill Tilghman, Scott Whyte as Carlie Bassett, Daniel Booko as Spike Kenedy, Shawn Roberts as Wyatt Earp, riding into town; Ned Buntline presents Earp w/Buntline Special - director Mike Feifer w/ball cap; costumer Nikki Pelley distributes hats; Daniel Booko; Dave Bourne;David Booth; four Buckaroos take a break - Wes Coffee, ?, Karin McKechnie and German Peter; Biff Wiff; Eric Tolzmann; Make-up Katherina Ramirez and costumer Pelley make sure Charlie is bloodied and bandaged; Samantha Perry; Bat waits for next set-up; Katherina handcuffs Spike; Second unit, horses in tall grass; Martin Santander waiting for his cue; Martin smiling; Dir. Feifer tells Sheriff Fowler he's going down; Fowler awaits death; Shawn Roberts as Wyatt)
When I arrived Mike Feifer was directing the return of Wyatt Earp and his fellow lawmen, with their quarry, being greeted by the Mayor, and legendary writer and character Ned Buntline. It was a complicated scene, involving many characters riding in, others walking and running from all directions, and converging in the center of the street, and it was covered from several angles. Typically, the parts were shot out of sequence. First, the people stood in a knot in the street and talked. Next, Earp and the others got off their horses and the crowd of people grew about them. Next, a man sitting on a porch saw them coming into town and alerted the Mayor. Finally the men rode into town. A lot of characters were somewhat the worse for wear, especially Steven Grayhm as Sam Kenedy, and Daniel Booko as his brother, Spike Kenedy. Between takes, I asked Daniel why he wasn’t looking his best. “Well, Spike Kenedy was an outlaw in 1878; a cold-blooded killer. I get hunted down by Wyatt Earp and his posse, we do a big fight scene, and I end up getting stabbed in the eye with a horn, I get shot in the arm, I get shot in the torso, and then they bring me into town, to the sheriff, to get arrested.”
Daniel has been busy, appearing in episodes of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, MEDIUM, NUMBERS, and iCARLY. “And I just shot a feature with Tim Allen and Ray Liotta and Sigourney Weaver, called CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE, and now I’m shooting THE FIRST RIDE OF WYATT EARP. This is my first Western, and so blessed, so grateful – not a lot of actors can say they’ve done a western, so we’re having a blast doing it.” Is it a genre he’s always enjoyed? “Absolutely, TOMBSTONE is one of my favorite movies of all time, but I love the old ones too, and UNFORGIVEN, so it’s been a great opportunity. (At that moment, director Mike Feifer and actor Steven Grayhm walk by, Grayhm calling out, “You’re a daisy if you do!” -- the endlessly reinterpreted comment by Doc Holliday during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Daniel points out Grayhm.) That’s my brother Sam, who in this film is the only thing I care about, the love of kin.
I asked him if he felt differently about playing a real person rather than a fictional character. “Absolutely, there’s so much more research that goes into it. It was tough to find a lot of stuff on Spike Kenedy; he was not a very celebrated person in history. But I’m the kind of actor that loves preparation, loves the kind of work that goes into it. I just hope I do a service, playing a real character.” Anything else that we should know about him? “I’m originally from Michigan; I’ve lived out here for six years now: came out to act, and loving every minute of it.”
Peter Sherayko, who plays Sheriff Fowler, is also stunt coordinator and western consultant; his company, Caravan West, supplies gun and costumes and props, and The Buckaroos, the ‘atmosphere’ people who are crucial to a period film. They’re the ‘old west’ equivalent of Civil War reenacters, and usually it’s a sideline. Pianist Dave Bourne, who I spotted, incongruously, on a cell phone, is a good example. Starting playing saloon piano at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1958 (his website is www.saloonpiano.com ), he spent a lot of time in the smoky gin-mills of DEADWOOD. “For the first ten episodes I was just a bad-man for Powers Booth in the Bell Union Saloon. On the 9th episode he got a piano in the Gem Saloon, and for ten, eleven and twelve I played piano in the Gem, which was a huge thrill and a great part. It was a good cast, a good crew on that show; it was a lot of fun. They used sixty-three (of my) songs over all three seasons. And they’re still showing all over Europe, Romania, Bulgaria, and I get royalty checks from all over the world. Can you imagine what the subtitles look like? All X’s and O’s and exclamation points for all the language on that film! I had a nice scene with Powers Booth in the fourth episode; he calls me over and says, “Go guard number eight – nobody in or out!” Got a nice full face-shot when he was in three quarters, so that was a pretty nice deal.”
David Booth, similarly, plays a townsperson. “My character is one of background that gets around the main characters, and listens in intently.” He’d done a lot of theatre as a child, “Then in 1976 I started working in film, as a special effects apprentice on TWO MINUTES WARNING, doing stunts and special effects. I used to produce for ESPN Sports, channel 13 news in Los Angeles, and Channel 4 in Palm Springs.” And in 2003, he started acting again. I asked him to spell his last name, Booth, for me. “No ‘e’ like Powers, just like John Wilkes.”
Peter Menyhart, known as German Peter, makes a substantial impression as a town official. He was involved in western reenactments in Munich before he came to the United States twenty years ago. “People always wonder why so many Germans are into the old west. Wherever you go – Calico Ghost Town or those places, there’s always Germans. Because when we were boys, there was this writer, Karl May, who wrote about 110 novels about the old west, and this fictitious character name Old Shatterhand who befriends this Indian named Winnetou. And it just instilled in us the love for the old west, just like BONANZA and GUNSMOKE did for every boy my age in America. German Peter has taken his enthusiasm even further: he built his own western movie ranch, White Horse Ranch in Landers, near Palm Springs. To take a look, go HERE.
An actor with the unlikely name of Biff Wiff plays the famous Ned Buntline, a role that is more indicated than written in the script. “I had a good time, it was fun – I know a little about this guy, but not a whole heckuvah lot. It was fun having a chance to just come in and wing it and go for it. I’ve done a couple of Westerns characters, nothing anyone would recognize. Last thing I was in was THE MENTALIST, right around Christmas time, playing Santa Claus. I’ve done DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and a bunch of them. I can’t remember my resume’, that’s why I write ‘em down. I’m getting old! (laughs)” Is he a fan of westerns? “Oh, definitely. I like all Clint Eastwood stuff. UNFORGIVEN is one of my top ten movies ever. It all starts from THE WILD BUNCH. That set the mold for what it’s all about. Brilliant movie; saw it three times in a row the first time I saw it.”
Actors weren’t the only people on the set who felt a person connection to the genre. Eric Tolzmann, best boy electric (2nd man in the electric department) explains it this way. “It’s been a great time, because no matter how old you get, how professional you get, you can’t escape the boyish fascination you have with the old west, and horses and cowboys and sheriffs and gunfights -- those sorts of things. There’s something inherent about them that’s just enjoyable.”
There was someone else present on the set, not to work behind the camera or in front of it, but to keep an eye on the horses. Samantha Perry works for the American Humane Association. “To make sure no animals are harmed during the making of this production.”
HENRY: How have they been doing so far?
HENRY: Have you worked on many westerns in this capacity before?
SAMANTHA: I worked a little bit on TRUE GRIT, just for one scene. There was somebody there every day on-set, but I went as a learning experience for the river-crossing scene, because it’s considered very extreme action to have a horse literally swimming across a river.
HENRY: I heard that Hailee Steinfeld actually did her own riding in that scene.
SAMANTHA: Yes, she did. For the swimming there was a stuntwoman, but she did her own riding. They did close-ups of her coming to the riverbank, but when you actually see a person riding into the river, that was her stuntwoman.
HENRY: When you’re not doing a Western, what kind of shows are you doing?
SAMANTHA: Everything: commercials, TV and film. (We protect) anything, from ants to zebras. We’re there from maggots and cockroaches to horses and elephants. Tigers, you name it, we’re there. Before this job I used to work at the Los Angeles Zoo. I was what’s called a demand keeper, which means I fill in when someone gets sick or takes vacation or jury duty, so every day was generally a different animal.
I strolled down to the end of the western street, passed the trail depot, and found the 2nd unit crew. They were shooting ride-bys, and horse-back conversation scenes. Sitting on his horse, waiting for his cue, was Martin Santander. Like the great Jack Elam, he segued into screen villainy from the mundane world of accounting. “My role is Sanchez, a Mexican killer. Menacing tough-guy, a gunman hired to work for the gang of Spike against Wyatt Earp.” This is not his first western, and he would like to do more. He has another project in mind, and in that, he would not be the villain. “I would play Joaquin Murietta, set it in north Sacramento. I’m working on the script right now; intend to get it financed.”
Lunch was called, and after everyone had eaten, some of the cast and crew moved around the corner from the main street to another section that would play another town in the middle of the picture. Daniel Booko, who had been so bloodied before, was all cleaned up. Martin Santander was checking his gun. I had a feeling that one of them would soon be shooting Peter Sherayko as Sheriff Fowler, because he was trying to find a soft place to fall.
Shawn Roberts, who plays Wyatt Earp, wasn’t in this scene, so I finally got a chance to talk to him.
SHAWN: This is my first western,
HENRY: Are you enjoying it?
SHAWN: Something I’ve wanted to do since I was eight years old, so absolutely.
HENRY: Prior to becoming him, did you have a favorite Wyatt Earp in movies or TV?
SHAWN: Nope, I can’t say that I did. This is my own take on Wyatt Earp.
HENRY: How do you feel playing a famous historical character?
SHAWN: It’s an honor; it’s nice to know that there’s a certain following out there for the character. I’m happy to be doing it.
HENRY: Did you do a lot of research on Earp?
SHAWN: Wikipedia was very helpful; the internet’s got a lot of answers. Did I travel around the countryside? No, I did not. I had all of two days to prepare for this, so here I am.
HENRY: This production was pulled together that fast?
SHAWN: Very quick, very quick and dirty.
HENRY: What have you been in recently?
SHAWN: Most recently, this past year EDGE OF DARKNESS came out, and RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE.
HENRY: The RESIDENT EVIL films are very effects-heavy. This is not. Does that make it a very different process?
SHAWN: Any of the effects on a big-budget studio movie like that happen after the fact, in a dark little studio somewhere, so this is very hands-on: anything we’re doing, we’re doing for real, on the day. It’s a little more personal, I guess, when you do it this way.
HENRY: I understand Val Kilmer will be playing you as an old man.
SHAWN: That was some of the earliest footage that was shot in this movie – Val Kilmer as Wyatt Earp in San Francisco. It’s an honor to be in a film with him.
JEFF BRIDGES SIGNS TO PLAY DEAD GUNSLINGER IN R.I.P.D.
Following in the ever-growing line of comic-book based comic-book supernatural pseudo-westerns that started with the disastrous JONAH HEX and continuing with July’s (hopefully not disastrous) COWBOYS AND ALIENS, next up is R.I.P.D., this one from Dark Horse Comics, written by Peter M. Lenkoy. It’s about the Rest In Peace Department, a ghost police force, and Ryan Reynolds stars as a recently slain cop. Jeff Bridges will play his Old West gunslinger partner, for Universal. Director Robert Schwentke has lately helmed the Bruce Willis actioner RED and Jody Foster suspenser FLIGHT PLAN. Screenwriting team of Phil Hay and Fred Manfredi have scripted CLASH OF THE TITANS and other effects-heavy actioners.
TRYING TO PICK A POSTER FOR ‘STARDUST’
Back in November I covered the production of a Western comedy pilot, shot in Old Tucson Studios, called STARDUST AND THE BANDIT. (To read the article, go HERE) The premise is that a mob accountant is placed by the witness protection program in a western theme park. It looks like a lot of fun. They’re trying to select the best poster – they have three slightly different one’s they’re considering. If you’d like to take a look, and cast your vote, please visit their Facebook page HERE.
HERITAGE AUCTIONS OFFERS EARP, CODY, HICKOK, CUSTER ITEMS
On May 21st, in Dallas, Heritage Auctions will put up for bids some fascinating items. A summons served by the lawman and signed ‘W.S. Earp, Const.’ has an estimate of $20,000-30,000. Several items that belonged to George Armstrong Custer, relics from The Little Big Horn, and his horse blanket – once his father’s – are offered. To me, the single most interesting item is an autograph book. A theatergoer who attended a production of the famous play SCOUTS OF THE PLAINS got signatures from the play’s director, various performers, and the two stars, Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody! It contains autographs of various politicians, and dated 1899 by Sidney Toler, who gained fame in the 1940s as Charlie Chan. To learn more, go HERE.
AMERICAN BANDITS UP FOR SIX ‘B-MOVIE’ AWARDS
Fred Olen Ray’s AMERICAN BANDITS: FRANK & JESSE JAMES, has received six nominations for the Indy Film Co-op’s Best in B Movies awards, in conjunction (I think) with the Annual B Movie Celebration in Franklin, Indiana. Fred is nominated for his screenplay, direction, and Hall of Fame. Jeffrey Combes is nominated for Best Leading Man. Theo Angell is nominated for cinematography, and the film is nominated for Best Picture. To read my interview with Fred, go HERE. To read my review of American Bandits, go HERE. And most importantly, to vote, go HERE.
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.
Finally, we noted last week that the Western movie lost one of it’s finest voices with the death of Kevin Jarre. To read a beautiful tribute by his friend, Lloyd Fonvielle, go HERE.
That's about it, except for a few more pictures I'll get up later. And next week I'll tell you of my adventures at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival at Melody Ranch!
All Contents Copyright May 2011 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved