Monday, November 16, 2015
WESTWORLD ROBOTS IN SUSPENDED ANIMATION! ‘POWDER BURNS’ SETS AIRWAVES AFIRE! PLUS GRIZZLY ADAMS REBOOT, COWBOY LUNCH & MORE!
‘WESTWORLD’ ROBOTS IN SUSPENDED ANIMATION!
Production on HBO’s WESTWORLD was abruptly halted last week, with only seven of the ordered ten episodes in the can. In production for more than a year, the HBO sci-fi-western series is based on the 1973 movie from writer-director Michael Crichton, produced by Saul David. It’s about a resort where people pay a lot of money to live out their fantasies in various eras including the old west, in a town peopled by human-seeming robots who are programmed to cater to their every wish. The original film stars Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as tourists, and Yul Bryner – looking exactly as he did in MAGNIFICENT 7 – as a robot who develops a mind of his own, and won’t let the humans outdraw him anymore.
Anthony Hopkins, seated
They’ve been very quiet about the new version, so it’s not known how closely they’re sticking to the original plot. Ed Harris has the Yul Bryner role, and looks great in the stills. The cast includes Anthony Hopkins – Oscar winner for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, as a new character, Dr. Robert Ford (don’t know if it’s a coincidence that it’s the same name as the man who shot Jesse James), James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and Evan Rachel Wood.
They’ve had Gene Autry’s old Melody Ranch locked down tight as a drum ever since DJANGO UNCHAINED left. While the order was for ten episodes, and seven have been shot, on Monday, November 9th, the crew was told that they’d e wrapping on Thursday, the 12th, to allow for reworking the last three scripts for the season. They’re scheduled to restart production in January. The series is set to premiere on HBO in February. Stand by for updates.
NEW RADIO WESTERN ‘POWDER BURNS’ SETS AIRWAVES AFIRE!
Dramatic radio was a wonderful medium for Westerns. Although they featured breathtaking vistas and violent action, the audience created all the visuals, so they cost no more to make than any other program. A horse was easy to create with a pair of syncopated cocoanut shells. For kids there was THE LONE RANGER, THE CISCO KID, and RED RYDER. For adults, GUNSMOKE starring William Conrad, TALES OF THE TEXAS RANGERS starring Joel McCrea, FORT LARAMIE starring Raymond Burr. Then audiences started drifting to the grey light-box, where you didn’t have to use your imagination – you just had to squint. Most of the shows segued to television, or simply disappeared. HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL reversed the process – starting on TV, starring Richard Boone, and then spawning a radio version starring John Dehner. GUNSMOKE had six concurrent seasons on both mediums, but on June 18, 1961, the last radio episode was broadcast. In October of 1962, the very last radio drama, SUSPENSE, played its final show. The era of dramatic radio was officially over.
For years, the old shows were only available on records, then cassettes. Now they’re on CDs and MP3 downloads. Once every major city in the United States had some OTR – old time radio – program somewhere on the dial; most of those are gone now as well. There have been sporadic new shows from time to time: TWILIGHT ZONE and its imitators. But I can’t think of a Western since GUNSMOKE.
Until now. David Gregory and his associates have created a new Western radio series – he calls it audio rather than radio – called POWDER BURNS. Burns is the name of the lawman it features, a lawman who’s recently gone blind. It’s recorded in New York City, in a cramped sound-booth where DORA THE EXPLORER started out. And they’re attracting some strong talent: Robert Vaughn, the original MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and the last man standing of THE MAGNIFICENT 7, guest stars in episode 4. You can hear the first 18 minute episode by clicking the link below. And you can read my interview with its creator, David Gregory.
HENRY PARKE: I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Have you not heard that dramatic radio died in 1962? And westerns are supposed to have been dead for years. Why did you decide to revive them both by creating POWDER BURNS?
DAVID GREGORY: I’ve always wanted to do a radio drama, because I grew up with them. I have sort of the same memories as my grandparents have of listening to these shows, because I was given some tapes and cassettes as a kid. I got so into it that it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I felt that in today’s very visually-oriented society, if we’re going to do another audio drama, we’ve got to really market it for today’s audience. And the only way I thought that would be doable would be to do it from the perspective of somebody who is blind, so the modern audience wouldn’t think that they were missing anything. I tried it in a few different genres first – the western was not the first one I went for. It’s my personal favorite genre, but I didn’t think this kind of a story would work as a western. I tried it as a sci-fi piece first, sort of like when Charlton Heston first wakes up in PLANET OF THE APES, and his crew is dead, he’s the only one alive, and he doesn’t know what’s going on. My initial idea was something like that, where all he’s got to talk to is the ship’s computer, and he can’t see, and he’s trying to figure out what’s happened to his crew. I actually wrote two episodes, and my computer crashed and I lost them. Then I tried it again as a private detective, and I got a couple of pages in, and I couldn’t figure out how to keep the longevity of the character going. The western was the third try, and I wrote four episodes in two weeks, and it just worked. Maybe because it was more character-driven – I didn’t over-analyze it, I knew it was working. So that’s where I approached it from, trying to make it where someone like my little brother (would listen to). We have different tastes in movies. He’ll go out and see TRANSFORMERS in the movie theatre. If we’re going to make someone like that listen to this, what’s our angle? It’s that you’re not missing out on anything, because he’s supposed to not see, and neither are you. That’s sort of the pitch.
HENRY: That makes perfect sense. I was wondering why you chose to make him blind, other than the novelty, but that makes perfect sense for an audience who is used to seeing everything. I can see you’re a young guy by the picture on the website. How old are you?
DAVID: I just turned thirty.
HENRY: What sort of radio shows were you given?
DAVID: I’ll never forget. The first one I was given was the first episode of THE LONE RANGER. My grandmother found it at a Cracker Barrel, and she told my mom, “You’ve really got to get this for David – I think he’ll really like it.” Because I grew up watching John Wayne movies. I wanted to be John Wayne.
HENRY: As you were growing up there weren’t very many westerns series on TV. Were there any that you watched?
DAVID: I do remember DR QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, very vividly. That was a big one. Obviously it was a strong female-character-driven show, which was unique, not only for the time, but still. But there was still something there for the guys. Sully, the lead male character, he had that axe that he threw in the opening credits. I just remember between the John Wayne movies and that, having an affinity for the genre.
POWDER BURNS table read - that's Robert Vaughn
in the red jacket
HENRY: How do you go about creating a dramatic radio show today? There’s not a Red or Blue or Mutual Network to take it to.
DAVID: I knew this guy who had done some engineering work. And I approached him because we both loved the old time radio shows. He’s 31, and I hadn’t met anyone else my age who I could mention someone like Virginia Gregg or John Dehner, and he’d know who they are. There’s nobody my age who knows who those people are. So I approached him with this script, and I said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, but I’d like to try it, I’d like to give it a shot.” This is about October of last year. And we thought, let’s try to raise some money and record a pilot. Which is frankly, a lot cheaper to do as a radio show (than a TV show), because you don’t have to pay for cameras or make-up or costumes. I did the pilot with friends of mine, so I guess I could have asked them to do it for free. But I think actors should be paid for what they do. And I wanted these particular actors to know that I was very serious. So I approached my cast, and everyone said yes, and we recorded it in February. And then used that pilot as a jump-start to do a Kickstarter campaign. And that’s how we raised money to do more (episodes), just to cover studio costs. I ended up approaching Robert Vaughn to do a guest star role. I wanted to make sure we had enough in the bank to offer him. To come to his manager with a legitimate offer, so that he’d know we were serious. Knock on wood, no one’s turned us down yet. It’s been pretty exciting.
HENRY: That’s great. How did you know Robert Vaughn?
DAVID: About four years ago, I was cast in an independent film that this woman, Donna McKenna, a casting director in New York, was putting together, (EXCUSE ME FOR LIVING - 2012). Part of the selling point for me was we’ve got Christopher Lloyd, we’ve got Robert Vaughn, we’ve got Jerry Stiller, we’ve got a lot of great actors in this movie. So I did the film, and a couple of months ago I approached her again. I said, Kat, I know you’re good at getting these kinds of names in small productions. I was wondering if you could help get Robert Vaughn for us. This guy’s old-school Hollywood. He doesn’t do emails, so I had to messenger a physical copy of the script, and wait with bated breath as he read it. I wrote him a little letter – I knew his father, Walter Vaughn, was a radio actor, who did GANGBUSTERS, and played a lot of heavies. I said I know this is some of your family’s legacy, and you’ve done some yourself, and would you honor us by jumping back in the saddle, to do this? And I can’t believe it, but he said yes. And I’m proud to say, when we did bring him in, we rehearsed him, got him in the booth first, and got him out with ten minutes to spare. And he said it’s the fastest and most efficient anyone’s ever let him in and out for a job.
HENRY: That’s terrific, and he’s certainly had all kinds of experience. And as you pointed out, he’s the last of THE MAGNIFICENT 7. How would you describe the premise of POWDER BURNS?
DAVID: POWDER BURNS is an original Western audio drama that takes place solely from the perspective of a blind sheriff, so the audience sees them as he sees them, without sight.
HENRY: And he’s got a very interesting backstory. He was a Confederate General.
DAVID: He fought four years in the war, and returns home pretty much unscathed. But it was a freak accident when he was hunting with his son that ends up blinding him and killing his son. So there’s the guilt of having to deal with the death of his son being his responsibility. And we’ll learn more and more in each episode what really happened. And then in the finale of our first season we’ll find out what actually happened on the day.
HENRY: You’ve already posted four 18-minute episodes. How many episodes will there be this first season?
DAVID: It’s going to be seven. They’re all written; they’re all ready to go. The idea is, it’s his last week as sheriff, and there’s going to be an election at the end of the week. So each episode represents a day as we go through the last week of his term as sheriff.
HENRY: Is your intention to continue with more seasons and more adventures?
DAVID: I’d absolutely love to. The show was born out of a desire to work. I was having trouble finding acting work at the time that I was putting it together. And it was sort of a way to keep myself busy, and it’s been a blessing. But we’re always at the mercy of these other actors. Nobody’s doing this show to make a living; we’re doing it out of the love for it. So as long as people are free and have some time, we’re going to record more episodes. But it’s becoming very difficult to get everyone in the booth (at the same time). John Wesley Shipp plays the sheriff. In the third episode, he and I carry the first half, sitting around a campfire. And because of scheduling, he and I were not in the same room on the same day. We luckily have a wonderful engineer/director, Noah Tobias, who put it together in such a way that you couldn’t tell. So I’m glad it worked out, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.
HENRY: Do you like to do it the traditional way, when everybody’s standing at microphones and doing it at the same time?
DAVID: Oh, I love that, and there’s a chemistry that happens when people are reading live, off of each other. We had an actor in episode two that wasn’t available, so we recorded him at least a month and a half prior, and plugged him in, and it worked, you really can’t tell at all. But I want to make sure that when we can, we get everyone together, because that is part of the joy of it, the experience of doing it together, just as if we were living in the golden age, and having everyone gathered in what is now a very tiny booth.
HENRY: Why did you decide to go for a continuing story instead of contained episodes?
DAVID: Initially I was going to do self-contained episodes, and I think the first two are sort of structured that way. Then I realized that the way things are done today are very very serialized. You look at the big shows like GAME OF THRONES and BREAKING BAD.
HENRY: Really everything that’s mattered since THE SPORANOS has been structured that way.
DAVID: I just felt that we had to make sure we had something that brings in the crowd that knows THE LONE RANGER and GUNSMOKE. And we’ve also got to have something to bring in the crowd that, when they think of a Western, thinks of DJANGO UNCHAINED. I had to find the elements, the best of the Western. The things I like to listen to. So the music is a little more Clint Eastwood than John Ford/John Wayne. And that, for some people, can be alienating. But at the same time I think the story structure, and the ultimate moral is a little more John Ford. It can be sentimental and old school, for a lack of a better term. And those are all things that excite me, and things that I grew up with. I actually had someone on Twitter the other day, recommending it to someone else say, “You’ve got to listen to Powder Burns. It’s the Lone Ranger meets Clint Eastwood meets the BBC.”
HENRY: That’s a great compliment. Age wise, what audience are you aiming for?
DAVID: I had someone send me a message the other day; they said they had two children, ten and
fourteen, who really enjoyed the show. And the ten year old really surprises me, because I thought we’d be over their head, just a bit. My rule of thumb, as my director was saying, is nothing I will write is anything you wouldn’t have in a John Wayne movie. There will be the ‘Hells’ and the ‘damns’, the western style –
HENRY: But it’s not going to be Tarantino dialogue?
DAVID: (laughing) Not in the least! I don’t know that we could get away with that, especially in an audio-only medium.
HENRY: Do you intend to keep POWDER BURNS as a strictly radio show, or have you contemplated other media, like film or TV?
DAVID: I’d love to do film or TV. It’s funny; the last couple of months I’ve been in L.A., and whenever someone asks me about it, they love the idea, and I tell them we’d be open to doing it as a limited series, or something along that line. But everybody thinks it’s a comedy. I had someone say, “A blind central character doing that doesn’t make any sense.” And I say, what about RAY? And SCENT OF A WOMAN? Those are two of the best written characters ever on the screen. I feel like Emmett Burns could be one of those. But what I get from Hollywood types is laughter. Part of the point of the show is he’s just as capable of doing his job without his sight, and maybe more so. Because I’ve worked freelance with the Healthy Eye Alliance back in the tri-state area, and part of the show is to illuminate to the sighted what it might be like to be blind. I’ve had people tell me they listen to the show and say they forgot he was blind. And that’s kind of the point; you should forget. Because he doesn’t go through the show saying, “I’m blind! I’m blind!” He’s owning his disability; the line from the opening episode is, “I’m blind, not a cripple,” and that’s sort of the thesis of the show.
John Wesley Shipp, Robert Vaughn, David Gregory
HENRY: It’s interesting. What you have is sort of a reverse fish-out-of-water story, in the sense that this is his water, this is his world. And yet his circumstance has changed so radically; he’s not someplace new, but the world has changed around him. That’s a really unusual premise, and I buy this in a way I wouldn’t buy it if he was a blind man running for sheriff.
DAVID: And that’s something he says in every episode, “Nobody wants a blind sheriff – me included. I’m not going to run for reelection.” We find out later the only reason his deputy is sticking around is because he says, “You’re not fit for command, sheriff. I’m just here so you can finish your term, and then we’re done.” I wanted to make sure that the crux of this season is, is he or is he not going to run for sheriff. And there’s something else that drives him to maybe run for sheriff.
HENRY: David, in your official bio at the site, it says, “David is known primarily for saying lines on TV in his underwear.” What’s that about?
DAVID: (laughs) I was on a soap opera, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, for three years, and I was rarely costumed. That’s actually how I met John Wesley Shipp, who plays the sheriff; he played my villainous father on the show. I sent to him an email saying I have this script. Would you like to take a look? He said, let’s do it. We hadn’t worked together in a while, and it was such a great excuse to get together and work together again. Florencia Lozano, who guest stars in episode two is another ONE LIFE TO LIVE alumnus, and it was the same thing. I called her up and said I can give you this amount of money, and here’s the script, and she said yes.
HENRY: In addition to creating and writing and producing POWDER BURNS, you also play Deputy Bell. You’re the boss – why didn’t you give yourself the part of Sheriff Burns?
DAVID: Actually, when we were trying to raise money to do the show, my initial plan was to do a six minute clip from the show to help sell it. John was not available at the time, and somebody said David, why don’t you do it? But it wouldn’t work. The quality of my voice, that’s not who he is. I know for a fact that this story works because we have a sixty-year-old man playing this war-torn sheriff. And he brings it – there is something very special to what he’s doing. And I know that I fit the best in the character I’m playing. And I almost didn’t play that part. I thought maybe I should just be on the technical end of things so I don’t spread myself too thin. But I thought no, it’s a part I want to play, it’s a part I know how to do, and I think I can bring something to. Everybody that’s involved in their specific role, I think they fit perfectly. It really makes quite a symphony of talent.
To learn more, and to hear the other episodes, go HERE.
WED. COWBOY LUNCH - SONS & DAUGHTERS OF THE WEST!
Dawn & Clayton Moore
On Wednesday, November 18, at high noon at the Autry’s Crossroads West Café, come for a delicious lunch, then enjoy Rob Word’s ‘A Word On Westerns’ discussion. This month, the topic is ‘Sons and Daughters of the West,’ and Rob has gathered a remarkable group of offspring: Roy Roger’s daughter Cheryl Rogers-Burnett; Clayton Moore’s daughter Dawn Moore; Joel McCrea and Frances Dee’s grandson Wyatt McCrea; John Mitchum’s daughter and Robert Mitchum’s niece, Cindy Mitchum Azbill; and child star Robert Winckler’s son William Winckler.
Find out what it was like to grow up in Hollywood’s golden years, as kids of some of your favorite Western stars! And If you want to be sure and get a seat, better come early – Rob’s events are always packed! The event is free (you’ve got to buy your lunch, of course), and the fun is priceless! JUST ADDED – Special guest star, the lovely Joan Collins!
GRIZZLY ADAMS REBOOT UPDATE!
Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams
In the December TRUE WEST MAGAZINE, I write about the Ten Best Mountain Man movies, in preparation for the Christmas release of Leonardo DiCaprio in THE REVENANT. On the list of course is THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, which starred Dan Haggerty, and became a very popular TV series. The rights to Grizzly Adams were offered for sale in June, which was surprising, since he was a real man, not an invented character. What they’re actually selling is the fictionalized version of the man, as it was developed by GRIZZLY ADAMS producer Charles Sellier. Last week the Abrams Artists Agency came on-board to represent all rights. The man behind the move to revitalize Grizzly Adams is Tod Swindell, who is now teamed with Michael Greenberg, exec producer on MACGYVER and STARGATE SG-1.
Why the sudden interest in the bear-lovin’ mountain man? The beard and the flannel – Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams – is the man that the hipster lumbersexuals are trying to be. The GRIZZLY ADAMS franchise brought in over $140 million in the 1970s – that would certainly be twice as much in today’s dollars.
By the way, Dan Haggerty was actually the second man to portray Grizzly Adams on film. The first? John Huston, in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, 1972, which Huston also directed, from a John Milius script.
‘JOHNNY GUITAR’ AT NEW YORK’S FILM FORUM THRU THURS.
If you’re in New York City, a beautiful new restoration of JOHNNY GUITAR is showing at the Film Forum through Thursday, the 19th. If you haven’t seen this western, it’s a real love it or hate it film. It stars Joan Crawford and Mercedes MacCambridge as dueling land baronesses. The male leads are Scott Brady as The Dancin’ Kid and Sterling Hayden as Johnny Guitar. The traditional sex-roles are reversed, with the men playing it ‘straight’ and the women chewing the scenery. It’s great nutty fun, with a great supporting cast -- Ward Bond, John Carradine, Ernest Borgnine. It’s directed by the great Nicholas Ray, who gave us REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, IN A LONELY PLACE, THE LUSTY MEN, and many others. When I was in college, at NYU Film School, I actually got to work with Nick Ray for one weekend. All I did was repair torn sprockets, but it was a thrill to just be around him and listen to his stories.
‘GUNSMOKE’ RADIO REENACTMENT AT THE VAN NUYS ELKS SAT. NOV 21ST !
Unexpectedly, I get to end with another Western radio item. This Saturday night at the Elks Lodge 2790 will kick off their annual Holiday Food Basket Drive to benefit families in the Van Nuys area with a night of Old Time Radio reenactments! I’ve been asked to take part! We’ll be performing episodes of GUNSMOKE, MY FAVORITE HUSBAND – on TV it became I LOVE LUCY, and a great Sherlock Holmes story, A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA. It’s open to the public, and admission is canned goods, food or cash donations. Dinner is at six, the play begins at 6:30. The Van Nuys - Reseda Elks Lodge 2790 is located at 14440 Friar St. Van Nuys, 91401. It should be a lot of fun – hope to see you there!
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Had a great time this Saturday at the Autry, introducing the screening of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, and even getting input from its costar, Sondra Locke! Thanks to the more than a hundred folks who came. I’ll have a feature on the making of JOSEY WALES in the Round-up very soon! And good news -- the folks at getTV have come aboard at The Autry as sponsors of their monthly ‘What is a Western?’ film series.
All Original Contents Copyright November 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved