BLUE UNDERGROUND has again flattered C. Courtney Joyner and myself by inviting us to do a commentary track on their new version of Sergio Corbucci’s ‘COMPANEROS’. Great fun, watching a one of Corbucci’s finest works, with flawless picture and audio quality, clever plotting, and terrific actors like Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey and Iris Berben.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
This past Tuesday, ‘DOC HOLLIDAY’S REVENGE’ was released for rent and sale, and streaming on Amazon Instant Video. It’s from producers Barry Barnholtz and Jeffrey Schenck, who previously brought you ‘WYATT EARP’S REVENGE’, and while it’s not a sequel, they are somewhat interrelated – think how Lippert Films teamed I SHOT JESSE JAMES and I SHOT BILLY THE KID, or JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER and BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA. On second thought, don’t think of that second pair.
Actually, HOLLIDAY and EARP share some of the same real characters, and both movies focus on documented but not well-known incidents in the lives of their subjects. But it wasn’t the history that initially suggested the story to screenwriter Rolfe Kanefsky. It was current events. Kanefsky, who has 37 writing and 22 directing credits, had just completed his script of BONNIE & CLYDE: JUSTIFIED, for the same producing team, and director David DeCoteau, when the HOLLIDAY story occurred to him. His original title was STAND YOUR GROUND.
ROLFE KANEFSKY: It deals with Doc Holliday, the events after the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and the killing of his brother, Morgan Earp, which led to the hunt for the men responsible, on Wyatt Earp’s vendetta run. It follows two stories that parallel and then interconnect. Frank Stilwell, Pete Spence, Indian Charlie and a few others were charged with the murder (but were currently at large).
Frank Stilwell in real life had some brothers and sisters. What I created was a story where his long-lost sister and brother and father are trying to get together with him for a family reunion at Pete Spence’s ranch in Arizona. Frank Stilwell is on the run, and gunning for Wyatt Earp. When the family meets up, trying to reconnect, Indian Charlie, on the run after the murder, shows up at Pete Spence’s place, wounded, and they bring him in; but they don’t know who he is or what’s going on. And Doc Holliday shows up to kill Indian Charlie, and get information on where the rest of the gang is. At that point the family has to decide who is the good guy, and who is the bad guy, and do they give Indian Charlie up. And is Doc Holliday working for the U.S. Marshall’s office, because there’s a posse looking for Holliday at this point. Is he acting as a lawman or a vigilante? We know Indian Charlie is a bad guy, but who makes the decision of what’s right and what’s wrong.
The reality is Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp got Indian Charlie to confess before they killed him. In many ways, the story is symbolic of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Trayvon Martin thing that (happened) in Florida, the whole ‘use of deadly force’ question. I took a fictionalized but real account in the history of the old west, and made it a contemporary analogy for what’s going on today. William McNamara plays Doc. His most famous role, he starred in CHASERS, the Dennis Hopper (directed) film with Tom Berenger. He was the killer in COPYCAT, with Sigourney Weaver. He was also in Dario Argento’s OPERA – he’s the guy who gets stabbed through the throat. Eric Roberts is playing Frank Stilwell’s father. The young actress who was sort of introduced with BONNIE & CLYDE, Ashley Hayes, she plays the young sister of Frank Stilwell. For a western, she winds up being the strongest character in the whole piece; sort of the focal point, which is unusual.
The scenes with her and Doc Holliday are really where you get into what’s right and what’s wrong. At one point he says to her, “Sometimes the only way to stop a bad man with a gun, is a good man with a gun.” And she says, “Yeah, but who gets to decide who’s the good man and who’s the bad man?” “In this situation, it’s me.” And you can take whatever side you want on the issue. It does imply that the legal system doesn’t always work. And, especially in the old west, if more people were convicted of certain crimes they couldn’t hold them on, then people might not have taken these personal vendettas, and there wouldn’t have been so much bloodshed. I think (the story) became much more powerful, definitely influenced by the events that were going on at the time. And it’s the first time I’ve ever written a western.
When I discussed the project with Rolfe, it was several months ago. The film was largely in the can (on the chip?), but there were still a few more days to shoot, and one major role had yet to be cast. I spoke to director David DeCoteau just a week before the film’s release. David is an astonishingly prolific director, with 115 feature films to his credit. He’s best known for his horror films like CREEPOZOIDS and PUPPET MASTER III, but he’s also done tons of crime films, family pictures, campy comedies, Christmas romances, and a couple of talking animal films.
DAVID DECOTEAU: I’m really proud of the movie; I’m really proud of the whole project.
HENRY PARKE: How long did you shoot it?
DAVID DECOTEAU: (Laughs) I’m really not supposed to say. But call it a Monogram or P.R.C. shooting schedule, and I’m sure the people who read the Round-up will probably know what that means.
HENRY PARKE: I know you’ve often given credit to a pair of legendary producers for helping you start your career, Roger Corman and Charles Band. How did you meet them, and how did they influence you?
DAVID DECOTEAU: I was writing fan-letters to Roger Corman when I was a teenager (in Portland,
Oregan), and his assistant at the time was Gale Ann Hurd, who went on to be a big-time producer( TERMINATOR, ALIENS, THE WALKING DEAD). She said, “Look, if you ever come to Los Angeles I’ll set up a meeting – you should really meet Roger.” I came down to L.A. when I was 16, and he took a meeting with me, for a couple of hours. He was very sweet, very helpful. I think he was impressed with me. He said, ‘Whenever you I move to L.A. I’ll put you to work.’ I ended up moving to L.A. when I was 18. He put me on a movie called GALAXY OF TERROR as a production assistant. It was an interesting group of people. Bill Paxton (TITANIC, APOLLO 13) was a carpenter on the set. James Cameron (director of TITANIC, AVATAR) was the art director. We were all just starting our careers. I was only with him for four or five months. To move up you had to work there for years. So I moved on, and worked for Wim Wenders, Ken Russell. Then I got some money together and directed my first feature, which was DREAMANIAC (1986). It was a nice little first movie, but it was enough to get me going. It was during the VHS explosion. They needed you to make a lot of movies back then, and I did. Not just horror movies; I worked in all the genres. It was Charlie Band who cofinanced that movie with me, and it worked out quite nicely. I worked with him on and off for several years with various companies.
I did direct an all-female (sci-fi)western actually, called PETTICOAT PLANET (1996). Which I shot in Romania on the sets of OBLIVION (1994)which my friend Sam Irvin was directing – we shot on the same sets. It was funny and sexy and campy, and a lot of fun. They still had western props and wardrobe from a western made in the ‘70s. It’s interesting how there have been so many westerns made all over the world. Obviously Spain, Italy, Israel. I’ve worked with a lot of actors who’ve done western in the past. I directed James Coburn in a film called SKELETONS. And just recently the western genre has really taken off. I don’t know if I’d callBONNIE & CLYDE: JUSTIFIED a western…
HENRY PARKE: It’s got a lot of the same rural appeal.
DAVID DECOTEAU: I did it for Lionsgate, and Barry Barnholtz seemed happy with it, and they
offered me DOC HOLLIDAY’S REVENGE. But I had developed the script on my own as a very small, contained western drama. I didn’t want a lot of action. I wanted a character piece with a very small cast. We had the role of the judge that still needed to be shot. We’d shot everything with Eric Roberts and Robert McNamara, and some young actors, Ashley Hayes, Oliver Rayon, Randy Burrell, all actors I’ve worked with. But I still needed the judge, so I called Merle Haggard. So I closed the deal with Merle Haggard, but then there was a death in his family, and he really could not find the time to do it. Which was unfortunate because I had grown up on Merle Haggard’s music. So I ended up going to Tom Berenger. I shot Tom Berenger’s scene in South Carolina. The majority of the film was shot at the old Cecil B. DeMille movie ranch. It’s now called Indian Springs Movie ranch, but it’s an old movie ranch from the silent days. I spent another day shooting with William McNamara in another movie ranch in Canyon Country; did a lot of wide vista shots.
HENRY PARKE: I did see the Vasquez Rocks come in there.
DAVID DECOTEAU: Yuh, we had a couple of shots of Vasquez Rock and Bronson Caves as well. I tried to populate the movie with as many iconic western locations as I could find.
HENRY PARKE: I’d talked to Rolfe Kanefsky a few months ago, about how the Trayvon Martin case was the impetus for DOC HOLLIDAY, which was originally STAND YOUR GROUND. How did one real event influence the dramatizing of another real event?
DAVID DECOTEAU: It’s all Rolfe. Rolfe is a very gifted writer, who does a lot of research, especially with telling true stories. He’d just come off BONNIE & CLYDE, where he’d had to do a lot of research there. And he found this story, and it just rang true to him, because what was going on in the news was the whole Trayvon Martin story, and it was shockingly similar. And even though it was a period western, he thought it was timely to tell this story. I thought it was a clever idea as well.
HENRY PARKE: Despite the ‘all characters are imaginary’ boilerplate at the end of the movie, Doc Holliday, the Stillwells and Florentino Cruz, alias Indian Charlie are certainly real, and the plot is based on fact. Why did you choose to tell this story out of Doc’s life?
DAVID DECOTEAU: Well, we had not seen it before, and we thought it would be clever. And I wanted to do something intimate, rather than an epic western. Rolfe is a director as well, and he always writes movies from a director’s point of view. And especially from working in independent, modestly budgeted genre pictures, he knows how to write something that’s do-able.
HENRY PARKE: It was an interesting choice, having Berrenger’s Judge narrate the story on-screen, so the story is told almost as an interview, or in the context of a law-school lecture. What made you think to do it that way?
DAVID DECOTEAU: That was Rolfe. I wanted to incorporate a judge into the movie as more of a story-teller. And Berenger has had his experience playing real characters over the years, and he just had that kind of authority, that gravitas, to make that work. We did rewrite that a little, so he had more to say and more to do once we had Berenger.
HENRY PARKE: And it was great to get him just coming off his HATFIELDS & MCCOYS Emmy.
DAVID DECOTEAU: It was a real coupe. He really liked the material; he really liked that I was coming to him, so he didn’t have to get on a plane. He had just finished SNIPER 5 in Bulgaria, and really didn’t want to get onto a plane anytime soon, and I made the offer, “Hey, I’ll come to you.” It was tough for him to say no, and we went right out to South Carolina, where he lives. We shot him there, with his judge’s robes, and the glasses are from when he played Teddy Roosevelt in ROUGH RIDERS. He brought them with him, and said, “These seem appropriate. What do you think?”
HENRY PARKE: I think this is your eighth time directing Eric Roberts.
DAVID DECOTEAU: Eric and his wife Eliza are good friends of mine. I worked with Eric like twelve years ago on a movie called THE WOLVES OF WALL STREET – not to be confused with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. And we had a great time working together, so whenever I have anything appropriate for him, I give him a call. He’s a really nice guy, a solid actor. I loved him in STAR 80 and RUNAWAY TRAIN – just really great performances. Same thing with Willy McNamara – we’ve done a lot of films together, and he’s happy to be there.
HENRY PARKE: Ashley Hayes, a stunning redhead, is the only woman in the film.
DAVID DECOTEAU: She was my Bonnie in BONNIE & CLYDE, and I like working with her. She’s an up-and-comer, relatively new, and I want to help her any way I can, because she’s a star, and will probably be taking off soon. I got her two Lionsgate movies. She’s also managed by James Garner’s daughter, Gigi Garner, a very good friend of mine. One thing about Ashley is she’s timeless; she doesn’t have a modern look. That’s why I thought she would be great for that part.
HENRY PARKE: Almost all of the action takes place in one location, the farm, over a brief period of time – there are obvious parallels to THE PETRIFIED FOREST, DESPERATE HOURS or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. What are the pluses and minuses to that sort of structure?
DAVID DECOTEAU: It becomes more of a play, especially if there is more dialogue and less action. Your canvas is smaller, more contained. But that hotbox environment can be used dramatically, too. It’s also helpful because I was very familiar with that location, because I’d shot a few films there. And as Rolfe was writing, he was also familiar with it, so he could write for it.
HENRY PARKE: Did you grow up with westerns? Which were your favorites as a kid?
DAVID DECOTEAU: You know, I was not necessarily a huge fan of westerns, although I did see the classics on television. My father was actually a full-blooded American Indian. (Chuckles) But he was a John Wayne fan, and whenever he was seeing a cowboy and Indian movie, he was always rooting for the cowboy. And he loved Gene Autry movies. That’s the household I grew up in.
HENRY PARKE: What is your tribal affiliation?
DAVID DECOTEAU: My father, who passed away on New Year’s Eve at the age of 88 was Chippewa. I am an adoptee which qualifies me as 50% native America. My birth heritage is Scandinavian.
HENRY PARKE: Do you have any favorite westerns today?
DAVID DECOTEAU: I love John Wayne. I loved RED RIVER because it’s interesting and complicated. I love SHANE. I love Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN. I even like some of the more exploitive ones like CUTTHROATS NINE. Because I like to mix the genres a little, and I like when something becomes more than one thing. I liked anything with Lee Van Cleef. Jimmy Stewart. I like Leone, especially casting Henry Fonda as a bad guy – that was brilliant. I like it when it’s unexpected and complicated and androgynous. The genre is so open and so different that you can wrap a western around any story. That’s why I want to make more westerns. I did a western, a very quick micro-budget western called 1313 BILLY THE KID, and I really enjoyed it. But the original plan was to shoot that in Almeria, Spain. And if I am going to do another western I would like to do it in Almeria’s standing backlots. It’s nice to make those movies on sacred ground; it kind of makes everyone get into the moment.
HENRY PARKE: It’s like going to Monument Valley.
DAVID DECOTEAU: Exactly!
SPAGHETTI WESTERN LUNCH CRAMS ‘EM IN LIKE PEPPERONI!
Robert Woods, Brett Halsey, Robert Forster
This past Wednesday’s ‘A Word on Westerns’ luncheon at the Autry drew an overflow crowd to eat pasta – and the occasional pulled pork sandwich – and to listen to the fond memories of stars of the genre . After a greeting by Maxine Hansen of Gene Autry Enterprises, host Rob Word introduced Robert Woods and Brett Halsey, who reminisced about their days in the Almeria sagebrush. Woods is known for films like STARBLACK (1968) and EL PURO (1969) Read my interview with Robert Woods HERE .
Rob Word with Robert Woods
Brett Hallsey starred in TODAY WE KILL, TOMORROW WE DIE (1968) and ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK (1970) among others, and recently starred in the excellent SCARLET WORM (read my review HERE . )
Both men, already established actors in the U.S. when they went overseas in the 1960s, had trouble hanging onto their identities, or rather, their names. Robert kept seeing his last name change from Woods to Wood and back again, at the whim of the filmmakers. Brett, disappointed in a movie, appeared under the pseudonym Montgomery Ford, and when the movie was a hit, Montgomery Ford became his name on everything. The discussions were all videotaped by Rob Word’s crew, and you’ll be seeing clips here as soon as they are posted.
If things go as planned, come September both men will be back in Almeria, Spain, to shoot RESURRECTION OF EL PURO. Woods would also soon be in Italy to film THE SONS OF NICHOLAS Z, a ‘romanzo Calabrese.’
Also speaking were Tom Betts of the site Westerns…AllItaliana, discussing the challenges on tracking down movies that were often never officially released in the U.S. Bill Lustig, president of Blue Underground described his adventures acquiring and restoring the best of the genre – on Saturday Courtney Joyner and I were providing commentary for his newest release, COMPANEROS from Sergio Corbucci. The last man to take the microphone was Martin Kove, of KARATE KID fame, an actor passionately committed to the western who will soon be seen in SIX GUN SAVIOR. Though never having made westerns in Europe, he told a very funny story about meeting Sergio Leone, and another about the lengths he went to interest Israeli filmmakers in doing a western.
Top row - Martin Kove, Rob Word, Robert Woods, Brett Hallsey
front - Tom Betts, Bill Lustig
Also in the audience were Robert Forster, Darby Hinton, who played Dan’l’s son Israel in DANIEL BOONE, and is soon to be seen in TEXAS RISING, and Butch Patrick, little Eddie Munster, who also did DEATH VALLEY DAYS, BONANZA, RAWHIDE and two GUNSMOKES. July’s Third Wednesday of the Month will focus on comic books and Westerns, and I’ll have details as the date gets closer.
JUST BACK FROM ‘COMPANEROS’ COMMENTARY
BLUE UNDERGROUND has again flattered C. Courtney Joyner and myself by inviting us to do a commentary track on their new version of Sergio Corbucci’s ‘COMPANEROS’. Great fun, watching a one of Corbucci’s finest works, with flawless picture and audio quality, clever plotting, and terrific actors like Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey and Iris Berben.
THAT'S A WRAP!
It's three A.M.! I'm hittin' the hay!
All Original Contents Copyright June 2014 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved
Sunday, June 15, 2014
ALMERIA FEST CANCELLED! PLUS NEW LIFETIME WESTERN, SPAGHETTI WESTERN LUNCH, AND WIN TIX TO ‘RED HOT RHYTHM RUSTLERS’!
ALMERIA WEST FEST NO MORE – TABERNAS MAYOR STEALS NAME!
This would happen the year I’m invited to be a judge. I’ve just learned through Tom Betts’ Westerns… All’Italiana that THE ALMERIA WESTERN FILM FESTIVAL, created and run with great success for three years by Danny Garcia and Cesar Mendez, has effectively been stolen by Tabernas Mayor Mari Nieves Jaen, who went behind the Fest creators’ backs and registered the festival name himself. He intends to have the festival, or rather a festival of the same name, run by others more simpatico with politicians who are more interested in having their pictures taken with actors than actually having a film festival. You can read much more here: http://westernsallitaliana.blogspot.com/2014/06/duel-in-sun-for-almeria-western-film.html
LIFETIME WESTERN ‘DELIVERANCE CREEK’ A BACK-DOOR PILOT!
On September 13th, Lifetime, a network never-before associated with Western fare, will premiere the two-hour movie DELIVERANCE CREEK, from the phenomenally successful author of THE NOTEBOOK, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, A WALK TO REMEMBER, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE and so many more, Nicholas Sparks. This is the first show he will be producing for television. As you can see from the trailer, this one has a lot of potential. Best of all, it’s both a stand-alone movie, and a back-door pilot, so if it meets with success, it could lead to a series.
Starring red-headed beauty Lauren Ambrose, a busy feature and TV actress who made her bones on SIX FEET UNDER, the revenge tale takes place during the Civil War, which finds her a young window with three children, doing whatever it takes to protect them. Also in the cast are Christopher Backus of YELLOW ROCK, Riley Smith of GALLOWWALKER, Barry Tubb of LONESOME DOVE, LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE and many others, and Skeet Ulrich of INTO THE WEST and RIDE WITH THE DEVIL. Director Jon Amiel has marshaled a wide range of TV and features, including the groundbreaking BBC series THE SINGING DETECTIVE, actioners like ENTRAPMENT and COPYCAT, comedies like THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE, and recent vid-dramas like THE TUDORS and THE BORGIAS. Screenwriter Melissa Carter previously scripted vidmovie MISTRESSES, and episodes of JANE BY DESIGN and LYING GAME.
LAST CHANCE TO WIN TICKETS TO SEE ‘THE RED HOT RHYTHM RUSTLERS’!
I CAN’T MAKE IT ANY EASIER FOR YOU TO WIN! I’ve been getting complaints that my questions are too tough! This time I’ve included some visual aids. THIS THURSDAY, June 19th, The Red Hot Rhythm Rustlers will take to the stage of the Repertory East Playhouse at 24266 Main Street in Newhall, CA 91321. This concert, like all the concerts in this series, are sponsored by Jim and Bobbi Jean Bell, the great folks who run the Outwest Western Boutique and Cultural Center – click the link at the top of this page to learn all about them.
Mystery comedy team with Johnny Mack Brown
Marvin O’Dell, who this year won the Will Rogers Award from the Academy of Western Artists for his song, ‘Don Edwards For President’, and the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, leads the Western Swing band that is the Rustlers, which also includes Audrey McLaughlin, Gale Borre Rogers, Dawn Borre Pett, and Tom Boyer. Their harmonies are excellent, their playing first rate, and they play a mix of classics, new material, and songs from the great B-westerns. Here’s the Rustlers performing Arizona Song for the WMA last year.
Mystery cowboy star in RIDE HIM, COWBOY
And that brings us to how to win a pair of free tickets to the show, again courtesy of Outwest! I was thinking there was a movie called RIDE, COWBOY, RIDE, one of the band’s best songs, (whose song was it originally?) but there’s no feature by that name. But there are two features with similar titles, RIDE ‘EM COWBOY (1942) and RIDE HIM COWBOY (1932). The first stars a famous comedy team, backed by Dick Foran and Johnny Mack Brown, and the second stars a man who, ironically, rides a horse named Duke. To win the tickets, send an email to email@example.com, and include the names of the stars of both movies, your name, address and phone number, and be sure to put Red Hot Rhythm Rustlers in the subject line. The winner will be randomly selected from all correct entries in the next day or two!
SPAGHETTI WESTERN LUNCH WEDNESDAY @ THE AUTRY!
On Wednesday, June 18th, as he does on the third Wednesday of every month, Western historian, filmmaker and raconteur Rob Word will be leading a lively discussion about Spaghetti Westerns, after a delicious lunch. In addition to the previously announced Euro-western stars Brett Halsey and Robert Woods, also on the dais be Tom Betts, who writes the fascinating and informative blog Westerns… All’Italiana ; and Bill Lustig, director of MANIAC and VIGILANTE, and President of BLUE UNDERGROUND, a video company that restores and releases the crème de le crème of Spaghetti Westerns – for proof, Courtney Joyner and I will be working for him later in the week, doing commentary for Sergio Corbucci’s COMPANEROS, starring Franco Nero, Tomas Milian and Jack Palance. Lunch is at 12:30, the event is free, but you buy your own grub – and in honor of the special occasion, the menu will include spaghetti and buffalo meatballs in a garlic tomato sauce! And get there early – at last month’s John Wayne salute, the restaurant was packed, and some attendees were in the courtyard, listening to the p.a. system.
Here’s a clip from a recent luncheon, with Donna Martell recalling working on TV’s KIT CARSON and SHOTGUN SLADE.
‘MAN WITHOUT A SOUL’ TO SHOOT IN LAREDO WESTERN TOWN IN KENT, ENGLAND!
Until Kelvin Crumplin contacted me from across the pond, I had no idea there was a complete Western movie town in Kent, twenty-five miles from the center of London! The Laredo Western Club has been around for about forty years, and judging by the photos on their site, their facilities are most impressive. There are 28 standing buildings on and around main street, a mining camp, cemetery and apparently access to rolling stock and horses!
Begun by John Truder and run by his daughter Jolene and her husband Mark, Laredo is a popular location for celebrations and corporate events, music videos, commercials and, most importantly, Western movies like DARK COUNTRY has been filmed there,
Now Australian Kelvin Crumplin, producer of the recent thriller FRAGMENT, will be directing and producing MAN WITHOUT A SOUL in part at Laredo. Based on a pulp novel, Kelvin tells me, “It’s about a government- paid assassin who lets his high profile target live and then turns his guns on the men that hired him.” It won’t be shot entirely at Laredo. “This is just (for) the opening stormy night time sequence of our film. The rest will be shot in Almeria, Southern Spain, the birthplace of the Spaghetti (Euro) Westerns. Or of course in the USA.” The script is by Australian Jim Davis, and the British producer on the picture is Danny Potts. Stand by for more details.
Trailer for DARK COUNTRY, shot in Laredo
THAT'S A WRAP!
I hope all you fellow dads had as nice a Father's Day as I did. Have a great week, all!
All Original Contents Copyright June 2014 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved
Monday, June 9, 2014
THE HARVEY GIRLS – OPPORTUNITY BOUND
A Documentary Film Reviewed
Katrina Parks’ documentary, THE HARVEY GIRLS – OPPORTUNITY BOUND, tells the story of entrepreneur restaurateur innovator Fred Harvey, and the story of the more than 100,000 Harvey Girls who braved the wilds of the American frontier starting in the 1880s and continuing for about a century. And she tells their tale – their many different tales – in the ideal way: in their own voices. Parks’ film features on-camera interviews with what must be a couple of dozen ladies who were Harvey Girls in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and the 1960s.
Many people are aware of the girls, and the Harvey Company through the delightful 1946 MGM musical THE HARVEY GIRLS, starring virtuous Judy Garland, wonderfully wicked Angela Lansbury, and uncivilized males like John Hodiak, Preston Foster and Ray Bolger. But the true story is even more entertaining.
Fred Harvey had come from England as a lad, and learned the restaurant trade working in New York establishments. He married, opened a restaurant, had two children – and then is a series of bitter tragedies lost his wife and children to disease, lost his business, and had to start his life again in his thirties. He began working for railroads, and became aware that food service at train stops ran the gamut from spotty to awful to toxic – the knowledge that a customer had to eat in minutes and be back on a train made the food providers indifferent to the eater’s welfare.
Harvey’s bold vision was to create a network of clean restaurants providing healthy and tasty food efficiently served at all the stops along the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Further, the food was to be served by attractive young women of high morals. The opportunity he provided for these young women was a remarkable one, starting at a time when options for women were startlingly limited. A woman who went to work could be a teacher if she had the education, a house servant, a waitress, or…that was pretty much it.
Harvey offered them the chance to be trained – a month to six weeks of serving food Harvey’s way, to travel – rarely were Harvey Girls assigned to their local restaurants, and to be protected. There were dormitories for the girls, with a den mother to look after them. And they earned a good living. Also, there was opportunity to marry: getting hitched to a customer was so common, some folks called the Fred Harvey Restaurants wedding factories. And notably, while here or there a negative incident is described, none of the women interviewed has anything bad to say about the Fred Harvey Company.
Harvey Girls relaxing with longnecks
The Harvey company was very selective in who they hired; one Harvey Girl recalls that on her day, nine girls were interviewed, and only she and one other got the job. The Harvey company stressed that their employees were ‘Harvey Girls’ and rarely used the term ‘waitress.’ In fact, a woman with previous experience as a waitress was unlikely to be hired: it was felt that they’d have too many bad habits to unlearn. And speaking of ‘habits’, the Harvey Girl uniforms were so modest and covering that, as one of the Harvey Girls describes it, they were dressed like nuns. But I would add, very cute nuns, and I can’t recall any nun’s habit that included a bow in the hair.
The stories of the individual Harvey Girls, and the eras each represents, are fascinating and revealing of the changes in America. With the coming of The Great Depression, being a Harvey Girl offered hope for young women who were often their family’s sole support. During the Second World War, the Harvey Girls became an integral part of the war effort. With members of all forces criss-crossing the nation, no one was prepared and situated better than the Harvey Company to serve literally millions of quality on-the-go meals.
Once-shuttered train-stops were re-opened, and whole hotels were taken over by the military. And as one Harvey Girl remembers, the servicemen were so generous with their tips that when her husband returned from the War, she’d saved enough for a down-payment on a house!
The inclusion of Hispanic and American Indian women in the work force gave them opportunities they wouldn’t have elsewhere, and as one expressed it, made them ambassadors to mainstream America.
Editor Thaddeus Homan has done an elegant job of interweaving a wealth of historic footage and illustrations with the interviews and other new footage lensed effectively by Lara Sievert. One of the unexpected and charming aspects revealed about the Fred Harvey company is a sort of whimsy. When they expanded their empire to include hotels, even though they were brand new, they were created with a backstory. At the beautifully restored La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona, where much of the new material is filmed, the story is that it was once the rancho of a wealthy Spanish family, now converted by their descendants to a hotel.
Director Katrina Parks at Union Station for her screening
THE HARVEY GIRLS – OPPORTUNITY BOUND runs its 57 minutes at a comfortable, steady pace, much like the Santa Fe Railroad. Just last weekend it was screened in Los Angeles, at the normally shuttered Fred Harvey Restaurant in downtown’s Union Station, and attracted an unexpectedly large audience – over 450! – who were very enthusiastic. Yesterday night it played in Dodge City, Kansas, and on Wednesday, August 2nd, it will be screened by the Santa Clarita Historical Society. If you would like to buy or rent this film, or arrange a screening, please go to this link: http://www.harveygirlsdocumentary.com/
If you have had any connection with the Harvey Girls or the Fred Harvey Company, that link will also take you to a place to share your memories.
WIN TWO TICKETS TO SEE ‘THE RED HOT RHYTHM RUSTLERS’!
On Thursday, June 19th, The Red Hot Rhythm Rustlers will take to the stage of the Repertory East Playhouse at 24266 Main Street in Newhall, CA 91321. This concert, like all the concerts in this series, are sponsored by Jim and Bobbi Jean Bell, the great folks who run the Outwest Western Boutique and Cultural Center – click the link at the top of this page to learn all about them.
Marvin O’Dell, who this year won the Will Rogers Award from the Academy of Western Artists for his song, ‘Don Edwards For President’, and the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, leads the Western Swing band that is the Rustlers, which also includes Audrey McLaughlin, Gale Borre Rogers, Dawn Borre Pett, and Tom Boyer. Their harmonies are excellent, their playing first rate, and they play a mix of classics, new material, and songs from the great B-westerns. Here’s a favorite of mine, the Rustlers performing Ride, Cowboy Ride at the Autry last year.
And that brings us to how to win a pair of free tickets to the show, again courtesy of OutWest! I was thinking there was a movie called RIDE, COWBOY, RIDE, and there is a short, featuring a young George Reeves before he started sidekicking for Hoppy (and before he became TV’s Man of Steel), but no feature. But there are two features with similar titles, RIDE ‘EM COWBOY (1942) and RIDE HIM COWBOY (1932). The first stars a famous comedy team, backed by Dick Foran and Johnny Mack Brown, and the second stars a man who, ironically, rides a horse named Duke. To win the tickets, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include the names of the stars of both movies, your name, address and phone number, and be sure to put Red Hot Rhythm Rustlers in the subject line. The winner will be randomly selected from all correct entries.
‘ROUTE 66 – THE ROAD AND THE ROMANCE’ OPENS AT THE AUTRY
Opening today at The Autry, ROUTE 66 – THE ROAD AND THE ROMANCE tells the story of the trans-continental road that changed the way Americans travel. The push started in the 1880s with THE GOOD ROADS MOVEMENT, a campaign to replace the haphazard sprawl of roads and paths that tenuously connected our nation with something safe and efficient . For forty years, big and small businessmen, bicycle enthusiasts and many others saw its value. Among its biggest champions was the U.S. Postal Service: with the coming of RFD – rural free mail delivery becoming a legislated right of all Americans – some way to get the mail to them was pretty crucial.
In 1926, Route 66 began taking shape, linking Chicago to Los Angeles, dead-ending at the Santa Monica Pier, at the Pacific Ocean’s edge. The road was new, but the route wasn’t: it largely followed the path of the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869, which in turn had followed stagecoach roads, which followed centuries-old Indian foot-paths.
The timing was crucial. The coming of the automobile, the internal combustion engine, and Henry Ford’s assembly-line to speed up production and lower the cost, gave Americans a freedom to travel that they had never known, or perhaps even dreamed of. Henry Ford famously said that if you’d asked Americans what they wanted, they wouldn’t have said automobiles – they’d have asked for faster horses. The change the mass-produced car brought is mind-boggling: in 1900, there were 4,000 cars on American roads. By 1930, there were twenty-seven million.
The large and comfortably spread-out exhibition touches on many aspects of the fabled route through the years. In art, both before and after it’s building, Route 66’s path is portrayed by artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Maynard Dixon, and Jackson Pollack – such early Pollack that you can tell what it’s supposed to be!
The various businesses that sprung up along the way are also noted – obviously gas stations, but also restaurants, gift shops, and other roadside attractions. No surprise, Fred Harvey is here too, expanding their reach beyond the railways to promote their Indian Tours.
Among the famous names associated with Route 66, one of the surprises for me was Will Rogers – shortly after his fatal plane crash, as many souvenirs and flyers demonstrate, 66 was re-named The Will Rogers Highway to attach a bit if stardust. Another Rogers associated with the route was Roy Rogers, who traveled it on his way to Hollywood. That was during the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, when Okies who’d lost everything loaded family in their jalopies and took to what John Steinbeck described in THE GRAPES OF WRATH as, “…the mother road, the road of flight.”
Much related to Steinbeck and GRAPES OF WRATH is on display. So are objects belonging to Woody Guthrie, who like Steinbeck documented the lives and suffering of those on the road in search of work and food and hope. You’ll see Woody’s guitar, hand-penned lyrics, and even sketches.
Woodie Guthrie's guitar
The image of Route 66 took on a very different vibe in the post-war years, a cool jazz vibe epitomized by the King Cole Trio’s version of Bobby Troup’s song, ‘Get Your Kicks on Route 66,’ which would be covered by the Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Mel Tormé, the Stones, Depeche Mode, and hundreds of others.
The single most astonishing artifact in the show relates to ‘beat’ author Jack Kerouac. His most famous novel, ON THE ROAD was written while driving cross-country with friends, much of the time on Route 66. I’d long heard that, impatient with endlessly having to change paper in his typewriter, he’d adapted it to type on a continuous roll of paper. Hearing it is one thing, but it’s something else to see the original manuscript of ON THE ROAD – all 120 feet of it – written on a single ‘page’ and unspooled so you can read a couple of yard from the middle!
Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD manuscript
Some of the negative aspects are the most fascinating – one cabinet displays ‘colored’ guidebooks and maps showing where African Americans travelers were welcomed to eat and to stay, and by unspoken implication, where they weren’t. Street signs warned that Negroes are only permitted within town limits until sunset. With seeing American Indians being a huge tourist attraction, there are some embarrassing items of that sort as well. I remember as a kid staying in a motel room shaped like a tepee, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I don’t know if a nearby Indian kid would have been equally thrilled to stay in a novelty version of a Brooklyn apartment, and I guess I never will.
If I have one disappointment, it’s that my personal connection with the idea of Route 66 goes back to the TV series of that name, which from 1960 to 1964 followed Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis) as they drove cross-country, trying a new job in every town they entered, trying to find a place for themselves. One small wall cabinet features a TV Guide, board game, a still and a toy Corvette. I’d like to have seen more. Then again, there is that big, beautiful real Corvette.
They road was decommissioned in 1985, and started deteriorating immediately – one novel display features chunks of asphalt from different decades, revealed by potholes. Happily, there has been a revival of interest in Route 66 due to, of all things, an animated movie. CARS, the Disney film centered on a deteriorating Route 66-like alternative universe peopled by cars, and voiced by Paul Newman and George Carlin in their last film roles, Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt and Larry The Cable Guy, has ignited interest in the can’t-drive-yet generation.
Whether you can drive or not, you’ll enjoy ROUTE 66 – THE ROAD AND THE ROMANCE. In connection with the exhibit, starting in July, several films will be screened, including John Ford’s adaptation of the Steinbeck novel, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, starring Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell, which won Best Director and Best Supporting Actress Oscars; BOUND FOR GLORY, Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, starring David Carradine, which won Best Cinematography and Music Oscars; and you guessed it, CARS. Lear more here: http://route66.theautry.org/
OTHER HAPPENINGS AT THE AUTRY
‘THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD’ SATURDAY JUNE 14th
As part of the ongoing monthly ‘What Is A Western?’ series, this 2007 film, at the beginning of our recent revival of Western film interest and production, is the series’ third Jesse James film in a row, following Henry King’s 1939 JESSE JAMES, starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda as Jess and Frank; and Walter Hill’s 1980 THE LONG RIDERS, starring James and Stacy Keach as Jesse and Frank. This one is written and directed by Andrew Dominik, and stars Brad Pitt and Sam Shepard as the brothers, and Casey Afleck as the dirty little coward, who shot Mr. Howard, and laid poor Jess in his grave, Lord, Lord; who laid poor Jesse in his grave. And if you consider that a spoiler, you’re reading the wrong blog.
The film, which screens at 1:30 in the Welles Fargo Theatre, will be introduced by series curator Jeffrey Richardson, Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms.
COWBOY LUNCH @ THE AUTRY: THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN!
Robert Woods by one of his posters
On Wednesday, June 18th, as he does on the third Wednesday of every month, Western historian, filmmaker and raconteur Rob Word will be leading a lively discussion about Spaghetti Westerns, after a delicious lunch. Rob always manages to get famous and talented actors and other-side-of-the-camera talent for these events, and this time will be no different: Spaghetti Western stars Robert Wood and Brett Halsey will attend, and who knows who else! Stand by for more details next week! By the way, lunch is at 12:30, the event is free, but you buy your own grub – and in honor of the special occasion, the menu will include spaghetti and buffalo meatballs in a garlic tomato sauce!
Brett Halsey as Johnny Ringo
SHOWTIME PRESENTS – A SUMMER-LONG CELEBRATION OF FOOD, MOVIES & MUSIC
Kicking off last night with an outdoor screening of RUSHMORE, this is a series of free screenings at several Southern California locales. At the Autry they open their doors at 5:30, have a live musical performance at 7, and a movie at 8:30. More than a dozen food trucks are at each event. This is outdoors, so bring your own blanket. Movies being show at the Autry are JAWS on July 5, AMERICAN PSYCHO on July 19, BLAZING SADDLES (an actual western!) on August 2, PURPLE RAIN (not a western, as I recall) on August 16, and DJANGO UNCHAINED (definitely a western) on August 30. To learn more about these screenings, and others in the series at other venues, go here: http://eatseehear.com/event-schedule/#.U5T3IfldUxF
THAT’S A WRAP!
Next week I’ll have news of a new Western TV movie, possibly a series, from a very unexpected source, and the story of a new Western about to film at a Western street in Jolly Old England! Have a great week!
All Original Content Copyright June 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved