Andrew J. Fenady is a writer and producer who will not stop working. On Saturday night, when I offered him a draft of this article for his comments, he asked me to FAX it to his office, as he’ll be going in to work at 9:00 a.m. – on Sunday! When I asked him what he’d been up to, he said he’d just sent 73,000 words of his new western novel, DESTINY MADE THEM BROTHERS, to his publisher, Kensington. He told me it’s about three great men who cross paths: U.S. Grant, George Armstrong Custer, and Johnny Yuma – the character he created for Nick Adams 53 years ago for THE REBEL.
A.J. Fenady, Nick Adams, Irvin Kershner
A. J. Fenady has been creating exciting and thought-provoking entertainment for the small screen, big screen, stage and page since he started as a self-described ‘stooge’ on the documentary series CONFIDENTIAL FILE in 1953. He went on to create, write and produce THE REBEL, to rescue and revamp BRANDED, to adapt John Wayne’s movie HONDO into a TV series, and to write and produce the Duke in CHISUM. And the movies he’s made for theatres and TV include RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE, BLACK NOON, THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE, THE HANGED MAN, TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM, and many more. I was grateful that he took some time off to talk to me about his career for the Round-up.
Andrew: I just fired up my favorite cigar, Romeo Y Julietta Cedro #1, so fire away.
Henry: That’s Cuban, isn’t it?
A: No, no. It’s Cuban seed, but
. I’ll tell you, those Cubans are so damned
strong. When we were shooting up in Dominican Republic ,
the prop me gave me a box of Cuban cigars.
After I smoked a few of those damned lung-cloggers I said, “Go back to
the station and get some American cigars: these things are killing me!” Canada
H: What were you shooting in
A: We shot a lot of things there. The first thing was a two-hour TV movie with Bob Hope and Don Ameche, A MASTERPIECE OF MURDER. It’s the only TV movie that Bob Hope ever did, and it did very, very well, and Don Ameche was just a wonderful man to work with. And after that we did YES
, THERE IS A
SANTA CLAUS. We also did THE SEA WOLF
with Charles Bronson up there. VIRGINIA
H: Did you always love westerns?
A: Yes. When I was a young fellow I had an old broom, and I sawed the end off, and I would ride around the neighborhood. And that stick was Tony, and I was Tom Mix. So it goes back to that. And in those days there were two tiers of Western movies, of western stars. The Saturday matinees and the serials – there were people like Bob Steele and Buck Jones and Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard. And then on Sunday – well, at first John Wayne was in the lower tier, but then he graduated with STAGECOACH. And then there were people like Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea and the Duke. So we had the 60 minute cheapies, and we also had things like THE PLAINSMAN, and UNION PACIFIC to go to on Sundays. There was a movie theatre in
called THE REX, and
the admission price was a nickel. And I
went there one day and put down my nickel, and she said, “Ten cents.” And I said, “What?!” I was shocked, shocked, as Claude Rains would
say. Twice as much money to see the same
damned picture. Toledo
H: You’ve had a very extensive career as both a writer and a producer. Which do you think of yourself as, primarily?
A: You know, I am what they call a hyphenate. A hyphenate wears two hats. The old saying is two heads are better than one, but that’s only true when one head knows what the hell the other one is doing. But the billing is writer-producer because of the saying, first comes the word. Well, that’s really not true either. First comes the idea. Words come from ideas, not ideas from words, so you’ve got to have some kind of a concept or some kind of a character. And for many years I had the advantage of being the writer, which means you might as well be living up in a cave, cloistered, and putting down your thoughts. Then, when you become a producer you pick up the phone and say, “Let’s get together.” And forty-seven guys come in and say, “What, chief? What what what what?” When I felt kind of cramped (as a writer), then I got to be the producer and we were in the wide open spaces.
H: You’ve done movies and TV shows in a wide range of genres, but more westerns and crime stories than anything else. Why do you think you focused there?
A: I’ll tell you. I really started out in this business with Paul Coates’ CONFIDENTIAL FILE. I started out sort of as a stooge, then did some parts in the documentaries. Then I started giving them some ideas, and making outlines of what we were going to shoot. A lot of it dealt with crime, with dope, counterfeiting, and used car rackets – I mean, we exposed every racket in the world except tennis racquets. So crime was sort of my beginning and my background in documentaries. And the first feature that we did, STAKEOUT ON DOPE STREET (1958) was about three kids who find a quarter of a million dollars worth of heroin, and they don’t even know what it is. So the mob is after them, the cops are after them, and other kids are after them. But the switch to Westerns was because as a kid I was interested in Westerns – who the Hell wasn’t? We all had those six shooters and caps, and Westerns were the rage on television.
H: How did you get together with Nick Adams?
A: I got the rights to THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK, and we had it all set up. Niven Bush and I were going to co-write the screenplay, Irvin Kershner was going to direct it – this was after we’d done some pretty good things. And Paul Newman said he wanted to play it. Well, I get a letter from Nick Adams saying, ‘Look Mr. Fenady. I know you’ve got Paul Newman, but if anything should happen to him, I should play Eddie Slovik. Eddie Slovik was Polish – I’m Polish. Eddie Slovik was from
– I’m from .’ The Polish part was true, the Detroit part wasn’t, but
it didn’t matter. He said, ‘Can I buy
you lunch? I’d like to meet you.’ I said
okay, fine. We had lunch, and I paid for
it. But then he kept pestering me. He’d come over and say, ‘Listen, do me a
series – I want to do a series.’ I said,
‘Well Nick, what do you want to do?’ He
said, ‘I do a great Jimmy Cagney.
Something like a JOHNNY COME LATELY.’
I said no. He said, ‘How about
something like Cary Grant on GUNGA DIN?’
No, no no. Well, eight of the top
ten shows on television were westerns, at the time. GUNSMOKE and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL and all of
those. I said to him and Kershner,
‘Boys, if we’re gonna do a television series, we’re gonna do a Western.’ So I sat down and wrote the damned
thing. We took it to Dick Powell, who
was a friend of mine; we were going to do a feature once. And he’d said, if you ever want to do
television, let me have a look at it first.
He looked at the script for THE REBEL and said, ‘We’ll do this on ZANE
GREY THEATRE next year as a pilot, like we did WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE,’ and a
couple of the other things that he sold.
Great! Now this goes back to how
we got involved with Goodson Todman Productions. While I was preparing a feature at Detroit , Kershner did a
PHILIP MARLOWE (episode) – that was the first project they had that wasn’t a
quiz show. They only did thirteen
episodes. We were pretty hot – our names
were in the paper all the time. And a
fellow that worked there, a vice president, Harris Katleman, who is still
around, said, ‘Do you and your partner have any westerns? We’d like to do a Western.’ And Kershner said, ‘Well, we do, but we’re
going to do it with Dick Powell.’
(Katleman) called me. I said THE
REBEL’s already promised to Dick Powell, but take a look at it, and if you like
it, I’ll write another one for you. So
he read it, called me back and said, ‘How much would it cost to shoot this
picture?’ I didn’t know how much. I grabbed a figure and said, fifty thousand
dollars. He called me back and said Mark
and Bill will put up fifty thousand up front: fifty-fifty. We’re partners if you want to do THE REBEL,
and we’ll do it now. I said, we
can’t. He said, I don’t think Dick
Powell would stand in your way. Why
don’t you go see him? Dick Powell said,
God bless you, go ahead and do it. Who
the Hell knows what’s going to happen between now and next year. Give ‘em Hell. So that’s how the association with Goodson
Todman came about. We shot the damned
thing in four days, and the irony is that at ABC there was only one half-hour
left. And it was between a Four Star
pilot (Dick Powell’s company) that they did with Michael Ansara, and THE REBEL,
and THE REBEL beat out the other pilot.
And the first one to call was Dick Powell, and he said, hey, we’ve got a
lot of pilots. You only had one. I’m glad that it turned out this way. And after this if you want to see me any time
the door’s wide open. Paramount
H: Now Irvin Kershner is quite a director. All of the serious STAR WARS people always say that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is the great Star Wars movie. What was he like as a guy?
A: Well, Kershner and I were like brothers – we lived together for years when we were doing CONFIDENTIAL FILE. We were joined at the hip and in other places. (laughs) So we truly got along. Now Kershner always had kind of a hesitation at the beginning of each day. All he needed was a, ‘Come on Kershner!’ A kick in the ass, really. And once he got going it was in a fury. He was terrific. But when you ask, what kind of a director was he? Well, he was a silent picture director. Because CONFIDENTIAL FILE was silent. We did 150 episodes, and we only had dialogue in about five of them. So it was a silent picture technique. The story was told in pictures, but when someone spoke, it meant something. That’s the way that we worked.
H: Very interesting. I’ve never been able to find any CONFIDENTIAL FILE episodes.
A: Well, they’re around. We did one on capitol punishment. He and I and a fellow named Gene Petersen – that was the entire staff – we went up to San Quentin, and I’m the only one who sat in one of those two chairs in the gas chamber, got strapped in, and got up and walked out. I played the part and wrote the narration and produced the damned thing. You can’t find that kind of experience today. You can’t buy it. One day we do that and the next week we do the John Tracy Clinic, or we do blind children, and then we do homosexuals; so in 150 episodes we did every kind of picture that was imaginable.
H: Getting back to Nick Adams, did he really co-create the REBEL?
A: Oh, that’s another story. He read the thing and he said, ‘Let’s say that we co-created this.’ And I didn’t care. Hell, I figured I was going to go on and do a lot of other things. If this helps the kid out, that’s okay. If you look at him, he wasn’t a leading man. But put him in that damned costume and he’s suddenly a leading man; and he was a talented fellow, and he was the most cooperative kind of a star you’d ever want. Just a prime example is, we’d shoot a day out on location, out in
or Vasquez Rocks, and Nick bought a house out there in the Valley. We’d have a stretch-out, be on the way over
there, and he would (meet us) in a gas station, already be in his outfit, be
standing there waiting for us, and this is sometimes in the bitter cold of
December, January. We’d slow down the
stretch-out, he’d hop in and – zoom -- out we’d go, do the day’s work, and on
the way back we’d dump him off at the same place. There weren’t many guys like that
around. There weren’t then, and there
aren’t now. Another thing about Nick
was, if we were running behind, I’d save his close-ups and not shoot ‘em, and
say, ‘Nick, we’ll do this later.’ And
sometime later on, two or three episodes after that, when we were ahead, I’d
say okay Nick, we’re going to do all your close-ups from all the shows. He’d say, ‘Okay, who are you?’ I’d read the lines offstage. ‘I’m Agnes Moorehead.’ He’d take a look at the script – ‘I remember
that one. Let’s go.’ And we would shoot the close-ups for that
one. Then we’d shoot the close-ups for
Carradine, or whoever the Hell else that we weren’t able to get. That’s the kind of a guy he was, too. Thousand Oaks
H: It’s so sad, he died so young. Do you think he would have gone on to be a big leading man?
A: Well, I don’t know about the leading man part. But I think that he was the kind of a guy that, as he grew older, he would settle into more character parts, and be very comfortable doing that. So I think he had a future. No doubt about it in my mind.
H: The character of Johnny Yuma is a Confederate veteran with ambitions to be a writer, which is not the goal of your standard western hero. How much of Johnny Yuma was Andrew Fenady?
A: I didn’t tell this to Nick until the second season. I said, ‘Nick, you know what we’re doing, don’t you?’ “Yeah, yeah – we’re doing THE REBEL.’ I said, ‘Nick, we’re doing Jack London. We’re doing a story of a young man who had a limited education, who had fought a war, only not with guns and with bullets, but against poverty. He wanted to be a writer, and he realized that you couldn’t write it unless you lived it. So he did everything he wrote about. He was a sailor, he was a miner, he was a farmer, he was a fighter, and this was my inspiration for THE REBEL; it was Jack London.’ And how much of that is Fenady? Well, I don’t know, maybe 90% is Jack London, or maybe fifty fifty, half Jack London and half Fenady.
H: Now you couldn’t write them all yourself. Who were the best writers you were working with?
Nick Adams with Strother Martin
A: The best writers I ever worked with – are you ready? – were Emily Bronte, Jack London, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. I once said to my son, who is a writer, ‘My boy, if you’re ever going to get a collaborator, get a dead one. They’re the best kind. They don’t give you any damned trouble at all.’ It’s true that a lot of the stuff that I did is based on classics. RIDERS TO MOON ROCK, that’s a western version of
H: THE REBEL was your first series as a creator and producer. And you made 79 half hours in two seasons, which would be four or five seasons now. The pace must have been grueling. How did you get it all done?
A: Well, I’ll tell you how: because I was young, ambitious and ignorant. (laughs) That was the whole thing. The first 26 years that Mary Frances and I were married I never took a day off including Saturdays and Sundays, until we did THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE, and they sent us to
. And I said, ‘Mary Frances, we’ve been doing
this all wrong!’ Listen, in those days
it was easier. You could talk to
somebody who had some authority. You
know, these days it’s all corporate. No
one person can take the credit or will take the blame. When we did THE YOUNG CAPTIVES, I wrote a
script, we went over to see D. A. Doran at Cannes , and he could greenlight any
picture up to $250,000. Well he liked
the script, and he said, ‘Boys, how much can you make this for?’ I said, ‘D.A., we’re going to make this one
for $215,000.’ He said, ‘Shoot it!’ Well, you can’t get that kind of a go-ahead
H: Where was THE REBEL shot?
A: We shot it in three days. We were in profit right from the first day. We got $40,000 for each episode the first year. And I made ‘em for 38, 39 thousand dollars. And every once in a while I would do what I called a DESPERATE HOURS or a PETRIFIED FOREST, an episode that only took place in one place. Some of them went down to $29,000. But what we would do is we would shoot one day on location. Vasquez Rocks, and a lot in
. And the
second day we would shoot on the lot; the (western) street at Thousand
The third day we would do the interiors, whether it was someone’s house,
or a shack, or a hotel or a jail. A
sheriff’s office. So that was really the
formula: first day out, second day on the street, and the third day
H: I know you used some other western towns, because I’ve seen still of you shooting in Corriganville.
A: Oh, well that was where the pilot was shot. Wonderful place. And also we shot out at
that (John) Ford built. We shot the
third episode I wrote out there; it was called YELLOW HAIR. Fort Apache
H: In THE REBEL and later in BRANDED you attracted a remarkably high level of actors, who didn’t usually do half-hour episodics. John Carradine, John Ireland, Joan Leslie.
A: Well, what my plan was, I didn’t want to pay people a lot of money. But on the third episode, I rewrote this thing; it was a strong woman’s part. And I sent it over to Agnes Moorehead. Now I knew her slightly. And everybody said, ‘Jesus Christ, she wants more money than we really should pay anybody. Andy, why are you paying her so much money?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you why. Because if Agnes Moorehead does a REBEL, I can’t think of many actors who would turn it down.’ I could always say, ‘Agnes Moorhead did it, fellows. Now here’s how much money we’ve got. You want to do it?’ And I would say 99% of the time the actor wanted to do it. Of course the scripts were good, too.
H: They sure were. And the one with Aggie was particularly good.
A: Yeah, Bob Steele was in that, too.
H: Who were your favorite actors that you worked with in guest roles?
A: On THE REBEL? Well, John Carradine of course. We got to be very good friends. He was in the pilot. I’ll tell you about that. Stallmaster-Lister were so-called doing the casting, and when I wrote the pilot, I said, ‘Look, I wrote this part for John Carradine,’ though I’d never worked with him. They said, ‘Ahh, you don’t want him. We’ve had some bad experiences with him, and he’s done those horror movies, and blah blah blah.’ So finally they convince me; J. Pat O’Malley was going to play that part. He’s good, but he’s not John Carradine. Well, the good Lord or an angel must have been looking over my shoulder, because I get a call from O’Malley, and he says, ‘I know I’ve got a contract, and I’ll honor it, but I’ve got a chance to do a feature. Could you excuse me from this?’ And I said, ‘You bet.’ I called Stallmaster-Lister and said, ‘Get me John Carradine, and I don’t want to hear any buts. This was meant to be.’ So he did that, and after that we did a dozen things together. And a real pro, always prepared, just a gentleman. You know I went to his funeral, and Harry Townes, the actor -- he was in the pilot for THE YANK, and I used him in BRANDED and several other things. And I go to the funeral, it’s an Episcopal Church in
and who is the priest but Harry Townes.
And he performed the ceremony. Hollywood
RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE
H: I have the feeling that Michael Rennie must have been a favorite, because it’s so unusual to see him in any Westerns but yours.
A: That’s right. We got Michael Rennie to do that (BRANDED), and we became not real friends, but we had respect for each other. And then, when RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE came along, I thought Michael Rennie, and he did the part and was very, very good. Another pro.
H: Were there any actors that you wanted to work with that you didn’t get?
Chuck Connors in RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE
A: Not there. But I’ve never worked with James Garner, and I would have loved to do something with him. And Clint Eastwood and Clint Walker. As a matter of fact, I may as well tell you this now; when I got RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE and wrote the script, I wrote it for Clint Walker. Because (the character) was supposed to be a big, strong fellow. And I like Clint; we were pals. Never worked together. And I took it to Joe Levine, the sonuvabitch. And he said, ‘Great, we’ll do it. You’ve got a deal.’ Then he calls me up and says, ‘I don’t want to do it with Clint Walker. You might as well do it with King Kong.’ So that fell apart. But in the meanwhile, I did BRANDED, and Chuck Connors, who is a terrific actor, is also a thief. One day I had a script for RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE – it was called NIGHT OF THE TIGER then – on my desk, and it was missing. And I said to my secretary, ‘Erika, did you take that script?’ ‘I didn’t take it.’ Well in walks Chuck Connors a couple of hours later. He slams the script on the desk and said, ‘Goddamnit, I’ve got to do this picture!’
COMING SOON – PART TWO, featuring A.J. Fenady’s memories of BRANDED, HONDO, and John Wayne!
It’s about the last place you’d expect to have a
when you think about it, it makes sense.
Dallas' TEXAS FRIGHTMARE WEEKEND, to be held at the Hyatt Regency at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, is a
gathering of horror movie stars and their fans, but there is a lot of crossover
from genre to genre, and Signing Convention Agent Scott Ray had three clients
attending who were, in addition to being in horror flicks, all TOMBSTONE cast-members. Dana Wheeler-Nicholson plays Wyatt’s
opium-addicted wife Mattie Earp; Joanna Pacula is Doc Holliday’s paramour Kate;
and the great Buck Taylor plays Turkey Creek Jack Johnson – Buck has never done
an autograph show before, so getting him is something of a coup. In addition, also attending will be Michael
Rooker, who plays Sherman McMasters, and Michael Biehn – unforgettable as
Johnny Ringo. Although the details
aren’t set yet, there’s sure to be autographs, photo opportunities, and a panel
Scott Ray tells me that he hoped to get in a few other
names, but the
event managers were very strict, and only approved those with legit horror bona fides. I’m hoping it’s a big success – if it is,
Scott is already talking about getting more TOMBSTONERS together for a TOMBSTONE show. California
Among the non-TOMBSTONE attendees who will be of interest to Western fans are Ernest Borgnine, Kim Darby, Michael Madsen, Piper Laurie (okay, maybe she hasn’t done a Western, but she’s a great actress) and author Michael Druxman. For more info, go HERE.
A tip of the Stetson to Leonard Maltin for recommending, on his REELZ show, this New Zealand Western that’s just opened on the East Coast. Starring newcomers Cohen Holloway and Inge Rademeyer, the Kiwi Western is directed by first-timer Mike Wallis, and the trailer looks great. Strangely, there is no writer credited either on the official website, or the IMDB listing.
I’ll be getting more details about when the rest of us can see GOOD FOR NOTHING, but in the meantime, check out the trailer.
VS. ZOMBIES has wrapped in LINCOLN , and
the folks at Asylum are hard at work preparing it for its May 29th
direct-to-video release, not quite a month before the release-date for the much
larger-budgeted ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Written and directed by Richard Schenkman,
who first made a splash with THE POMPATUS OF LOVE, the picture stars Bill
Oberst Jr., a popular movie villain who will be portraying the Great
The Asylum takes pride in slick-looking productions, and the glimpses in the teaser-trailer look good. I’m including the trailer, but I warn you that it is a zombie movie, after all, and pretty bloody.
That's all for right now!
All Original Contents Copyright March 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved