Monday, July 30, 2012

HELL ON WHEELS Season 2 Is Almost Here!

On Sunday, August 12th, HELL ON WHEELS, AMC’s blockbuster Western series will return for a second ten episode season.  The series continues to revolve around a group of  people engaged in building the transcontinental railroad, and ‘Hell On Wheels’ refers to the portable town that follows along the tracks, servicing the workers.  The central figure from season one was former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), and the ‘cover’ of his railroad job as a means to track down and kill the Union soldiers who murdered his wife and son, a story that was concluded with the end of the season.

While I have promised AMC not to reveal too much (not wanting to have Colm Meany send Common to ‘handle’ the situation), I can safely say that everyone who didn’t die in season one is back for season two, although there have been changes.  Cullen Bohannon is back, but no longer works for the railroad, and Mr. Durant (Colm Meany).  The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), last seen being tarred and feathered, has returned, and is again with the railroad, but working in a far different capacity. 

Elam Ferguson (Common) is working his way up in the railroad, but his romance with Eva (Robin McLeavy) has derailed.  Lily Bell (Dominique McElligot), beautiful widow of the railroad’s original surveyor, is determined to keep in the game.  Reverend Cole’s (Tom Noonan) daughter Ruth (Kasha Kropinski – allowed to look much more attractive this season) continues to be drawn to Cheyenne Christian convert Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears).   And the increasingly cocky Irish McGinnes brothers (Phil Burke and Ben Esler) are determined to subvert railroad construction to their own goals. 

In addition to their frequent nemesises, the Indians trying to discourage the relentless progress of the iron horse, the railroaders are faced with a new enemy: train robbers!  The first episode of the new season, ‘Viva La Mexico,’ written by the series creators, Tony and Joe Gayton, is a particularly strong entry to return with, well-directed by David Von Ancken.  Gustavo Santaolalla’s theme music has deservedly been nominated for an Emmy.  Marvin Rush continues as cinematographer on the most strikingly filmed series on television, and it’s completely inexplicable to me that his work last season wasn’t Emmy-nominated, ditto the Laytons’ writing.       

Here’s a teaser trailer to get you in the mood.


Actor/director/writer and general wunderkind Mark Rydell had gone from directing GUNSMOKE to the D.H. Lawrence story THE FOX, to the good-naturedly nutty Steve McQueen period starrer THE REIVERS, and would soon go on to do the wonderful CINDERELLA LIBERTY and later the triple Oscar winner ON GOLDEN POND.  But in 1972 he had optioned – with the approval of his mother – a not-yet-published novel, THE COWBOYS, by William Dale Jennings. 

Rydell did not want John Wayne in the lead, but eventually the powers at Warner Brothers, and Duke himself, convinced the left-leaning director.  Although overshadowed by TRUE GRIT, Wayne’s Oscar winner, and THE SHOOTIST, his last, THE COWBOYS is certainly the equal of those fine films, and Wayne told director Rydell that it was his own favorite performance.  

John Wayne plays a cattleman who loses his crew to a local gold strike, and must hire schoolboys to move his herd.  As he tells the boys, drawing a rough map on the classroom blackboard, “Here’s the Double O.  This is Belle Fourche.  In between is four hundred miles of the meanest country in the west.”  The cast includes Roscoe Lee Brown, Bruce Dern, Colleen Dewhurst, Slim Pickens, and eleven boys from about twelve to sixteen, about half of them professional actors, and the other half professional rodeo riders. 

One of the professional actors was Nicolas Beauvy.  Nicolas had played King Arthur as a boy in CAMELOT, Trampas (Doug McClure) as a boy in a VIRGINIAN episode, and appeared with Gregory Peck in the Western SHOOT OUT, and an episode of BONANZA.  In THE COWBOYS, Nicolas plays Dan, the cowboy with glasses.  (In some of the promotional material his character is called ‘Four Eyes,’ but no one in the movie ever calls him that.)

All the young actors have plenty to do, and acquit themselves well, but Nicolas’ role is one of the most demanding.  In addition to all of the riding and roping, (SPOILER ALERT!) Dan is the boy kidnapped from the others by Bruce Dern, terrorized and damned near drowned.  He keeps the secret from Wayne and the others that they’re being followed.  And he has the trauma and guilt of losing a friend when the other boy tries to retrieve Dan’s dropped glasses, and ends up killed in a stampede.

As part of the National Day of The Cowboy festivities, Belle Fourche, South Dakota is celebrating with their CRAZY DAYS, Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th.  And since it’s also the 40th anniversary of the release of THE COWBOYS, it was announced that there would be a screening, attended by several of the boys from the cast.  I caught up with Nicolas, now a successful real estate agent in Pacific Palisades (“I got out of acting when I was 21 years old,”), before he headed to South Dakota.  I asked him who else was attending.

NICOLAS BEAUVY: Al Barker Jr. (Fats), Steven Hudis (Charlie Schwartz), and Sean Kelly (Stuttering Bob); I know they’ll definitely be there.  They’re picking up on the name Belle Feurche because that’s the name we used in the movie, but we did not shoot in South Dakota.  My understanding is that some of the kids – like Al Barker Jr. – have been back there six or seven times.  They’ve asked me to go in the past but it just hadn’t worked out with my schedule; but this year it did, and I’m excited to go back! 

HENRY PARKE: Where did you actually shoot?

N: We shot two months in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  And one month in Durango, Colorado.  And one month on the sound stages of Warner Brothers. 

H: How did you get the part of Dan?

N: Well, as a working actor – I was an actor from age six – you went out for the interview, and we had seven or eight callbacks.  And they probably interviewed a thousand kids.  Then they narrow it down to five hundred, to one hundred, to fifty -  that’s how they typically do these things.  And I was the one they chose, so I got very lucky. 

H: How old were you?

N: Thirteen. 

H: Then you were very well aware who John Wayne was at that time. 

N: Absolutely. Oh, it was wonderful!  He was a father-figure on the set.  Very nice.  A little bit reserved, but I had some nice scenes with him.  We had a good time. 

H: What memories do you have of other actor in the show?

N: Bruce Dern!  Bruce Dern was the gentleman that I did a lot of scenes with; he played the bad guy, and he and I had a real good rapport.  In fact, I was a real big sports fan and so was he, so even after the movie was finished, he’d invite me to a few Lakers games – we saw a few basketball games in Los Angeles.  He was a great guy.

H: How about Robert Carradine?

N: All the kids get along with everyone.  Robert Carradine was a little older than me, so he wasn’t hangin’ with me or anything.  He was 18, 19 when he did that movie – maybe twenty.  But he got along with everybody.  A Martinez the same way.  Good guy.

H: And Colleen Dewhurst? 

N: You know I really didn’t have any scenes with Colleen Dewhurst.  I got along with her very nicely, and we did talk a lot off the set.  And she’s the one who happened to recommend me, along with Mark Rydell, to George C. Scott; she was married, of course, to Scott.  Because the film I did right after THE COWBOYS was RAGE (directed by and starring Scott). 

H: What did you think of director Mark Rydell?

N: Wonderful director; worked beautifully with all the kids.  A pleasure to work with.  Just was a class, class man. 

H: You had a wonderful script by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., who also wrote HUD, HOMBRE and NORMA RAE..

N: Yes – great people worked on that movie.  John Williams did the music.  And Robert Surtees did the cinematography; two heavyweights there.

H: In 1972, now it’s clear in hind-sight that this was getting to be the end of the Western cycle for a while, but I don’t think that anyone sensed it then.  Were Westerns something special to you, or was it just another acting job?

N: Oh no; it’s very special, because you’re twelve or thirteen years old.  Other roles you’re just playing a normal kid in everyday life.  But here we are playing cowboys, and we get to wear cowboy outfits, and ride horses, and have guns in our holster.  It was a dream: it was living a dream. 

H: How much preparation time was there?

N: I want to say, if my memory’s correct, about four to six weeks.  We would go to a little stable in Burbank, and we would practice three hours every day after school; on the weekends about six, seven hours. 

H: And what did they have you practicing?

N: Just riding; riding a horse, holding a rope while you’re riding, just riding.  Just making us look as comfortable and natural and experienced as we could look. 

Nicolas Beauvy today

We’ll have more about Nicolas’ acting career in the near future.


On Sunday, July 15th, the Docents of Los Encinos Park in Encino celebrated their one-year reprieve with a living history day.  On the list of seventy parks slated for closure due to lack of funds, they were saved when an anonymous donor gave the park $150,000, their annual operating budget.  They celebrated with cake and punch, and a day of old-fashioned games, tours of the Rancho buildings, demonstrations of blacksmithing, music and other activities. 

With the attraction of its natural spring, which brings many breeds of ducks, geese and other birds on their migrations, it has seen human settlement for thousands of years, first with the Tongva people; it was taken over by the San Fernando Mission in 1797, and has passed through many hands since then – you can read about it’s rich history here:

Howard Harrelson, a docent who made a PSA for the park, was shooting interview ‘sound-bites’ at the event.  He told me, “I’m working on a ‘school tour’ video.  As you know, an anonymous donor donated enough money to keep the park open for this year.   But we want to get school groups and field trips here to the park, to keep it alive, and open, and green.”   Los Encinos has a Living History Day on the third Sunday of every month.     


Birmingham, Alabama-born character actor Robert Golden Armstrong has died at his home in Studio City, California.  An imposing figure, he played frequently in crime and horror stories, but is best remembered for his Western characters, especially preachers with feet of clay.  He was long associated with director Sam Peckinpah, who cast him in THE SHARPSHOOTER (1956), an episode of ZANE GREY THEATRE which would be a pilot for THE RIFLEMAN.  Peckinpah subsequently directed R.G. in two RIFLEMAN episodes, a WESTERNER episode, then RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, MAJOR DUNDEE, THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE and PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID.  He also starred with John Wayne in Howard Hawks’ EL DORADO.  With nearly 200 screen credits, his last Western and second-to-last screen performance was in the TV movie PURGATORY (1999).  Services are pending.    

Well pardners, that's a wrap for tonight!  Have a great week!

Happy trails,


All Original Contents Copyright July 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

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