Sunday, November 12, 2017
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON ON HIS WESTERNS, BRUCE DERN HOSTS THANKSGIVING WEST FEST, PLUS INDIAN ARTS MARKETPLACE, BE AN EXTRA IN ‘THE SON’ AND MORE!
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON ON HIS WESTERNS & THE HIGHWAYMEN
Status Media & Entertainment, the same folks who brought you 2016’s TRADED, where vengeful father Michael Pere was turning the Old West inside out to find his abducted daughter, have returned with a new Western, based on events in the early career of soon-to-be legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickok, entitled HICKOK, starring Luke Hemsworth in the title role. Back in the saddle is director Timothy Woodward Jr., cinematographer Pablo Diaz, production designer Christian Ramirez, and costume designer Nikki Pelley.
I was invited to visit the set on the second day of shooting, at Peter Sherayko’s Caravan West Ranch, and spoke to all of those fine folks – you’ll be reading that article very soon in the Round-up. But I was particularly excited to speak with the legendary actor, singer, songwriter and Rhodes Scholar, Kris Kristofferson, who would be playing the supporting role of Abilene Mayor George Knox. It was a busy day, and Kris was a busy man, but at around 7 p.m. I was invited to the make-up trailer to talk with Kris about both the current movie, and his career in Westerns.
HENRY: I was wondering what attracts you to Westerns? I know your first movie, THE LAST MOVIE, was more or less a Western, this one is, and you’ve done so many in between. What’s special about the genre to you?
KRIS: Well, I grew up in Brownsville Texas, down at the very bottom of Texas, and I had my first horse when I was five years old. And I had horses all the time until I was a teenager, and we moved to California. I’ve always felt comfortable riding a horse.
HENRY: Do you watch a lot of Western movies growing up?
KRIS: Yes, I did. We went to a Western movie every week.
HENRY: What particularly attracted you to this movie?
KRIS: Well, I liked the story, I like the script, and I like the guys that I’m working with, the director, Tim Woodward. And a Western is something we can have some kind of fun with.
Kris with his wife Lisa Meyers
HENRY: Of course, he directed you in TRADED, a very nice film, and you were very good in it.
KRIS: Thank you.
HENRY: You’ve worked with the very best directors – Peckinpah, Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorcese.
What makes a great director?
KRIS: It’s someone who knows the script, and knows the potential of the story, whatever it is. And never forgets it during the filming; doesn’t get sidetracked.
HENRY: Which is your favorite, of your Westerns?
KRIS: Boy, I don’t know. I loved working with Sam Peckipah, and we did a couple of things together. But there’s another, HEAVEN’S GATE. I think it was a really beautiful film that got clobbered.
HENRY: Why do you think it got beat up on when it first came out?
KRIS: I think it had to do with our director. It just seemed like that was not an uncommon thing, to get in a film, and all the rivals running it down in the papers and everywhere. And it was so long a production that there was plenty of time to get down on Michael Cimino.
HENRY: You’ve been joined both in music and onscreen with The Highwaymen.
KRIS: They were my heroes. And the notion that they would one day be my friends and working partners – I look back on it as probably the best ten years of my life. Willie (Nelson) and Waylon (Jennings) and John (Johnny Cash).
HENRY: Are you still close with Willie Nelson?
KRIS: (laughs) Oh yes! He’s a hero, and just a plain funny person. He’s probably the best musician I know. He plays the guitar like Segovia. And just a funny man.
HENRY: You all worked together on that 1986 STAGCOACH remake. I heard that it was originally supposed to be a musical – is that correct?
KRIS: I couldn’t tell you; I remember that it had a lot of trouble getting started, and we ended up in the stagecoach for most of it. I look back on those years with The Highwaymen as a real blessed time in my life. With my heroes; and we were really good together.
HENRY: You were wonderful together; I loved the music you produced, and I enjoyed the movies.
KRIS: Yeah, I did too. And everybody, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, were perfect all the time. I’m not saying they weren’t all crazy too. We had a wonderful ten years.
DON’T MISS ‘AMERICAN INDIAN ARTS MARKETPLACE’ SUN. AT THE AUTRY!
1st Prize - Buffalo Mask with intricate beeding
I’m just back from The Autry’s annual American Indian Arts Marketplace where over 200 artists from over forty tribal affiliations are showing and selling their art at the from 10 a.m. ‘til 5 p.m. Sunday, November 12th. The work is in every medium imaginable – paintings, sculpture, jewelry – wonderful silver work, pottery, beadwork, basketry, photography, paintings, textiles, wooden carvings, from very traditional to very modern.
There are also family activities, various demonstrations, informative talks – if you are interested in American Indian culture you don’t want to miss this event. I’ll have a full article in the next Round-up. Be prepared to walk a distance – the Marketplace, and the L.A. Zoo next door, attracted huge crowds today. And bring your appetite – the Indian Fry Bread is excellent as always.
EXTRAS CASTING FOR AMC’S ‘THE SON’ SEASON TWO!
If you are in the Austin, Texas area, and 18 or over, you might get a gig as an extra in season two of AMC’s terrific Western series, THE SON. It’s the story of Eli McCullough, founder of a Texas cattle and oil empire, seen in two different times in his life: as a young captive of the Comanches, played by Jacob Lofland, and as a grown man and head of the family, played by Pierce Brosnan. They are looking for all ethnic groups. Here’s a link to the BACKSTAGE casting notice:
Good luck, and please let us know if you get a part!
BRUCE DERN TO HOST A THANKSGIVING WEEK OF WESTERNS ON HDNET MOVIES!
Just in case you didn’t think you had enough to be thankful for, Bruce Dern, the wonderful actor who made a million enemies (and as many friends) when he killed John Wayne in THE COWBOYS, will be hosting sixteen Westerns on HDNET-Movies during Thanksgiving week, his introductions filmed at the Autry Museum. It’s a really delightful jambalaya of films – CHATO’S LAND with Charles Bronson, DUEL AT DIABLO with Sidney Poitier and James Garner, all three MAGNIFICENT 7 sequels, two Peckinpahs, DEATH RIDES A HORSE with Lee Van Cleef, HOUR OF THER GUN, COMES A HORSEMAN, THE KENTUCKIAN… My only disappointment is that they’re only showing one of Bruce’s own, POSSE, with Kirk Douglas.
They start on Monday, Nov. 20th, and run through Sunday, the 26th. For the full schedule, go HERE. And you can read my TRUE WEST article on the making of THE COWBOYS, featuring my interview with Bruce Dern, HERE.
‘GODLESS’ COMES TO NETFLIX NOV. 22nd!
In the 1880s, in the town of La Belle, New Mexico, a mining disaster abruptly wipes out the male population. And when word gets out that the town’s women are fending for themselves, it doesn’t take long for bad men to take notice. This six episode series from writer/director Scott Frank and exec producer Steve Sodergergh, stars Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary Crawley from DOWNTON ABBEY; Jeff Daniels; Sam Waterston; and Kim Coates from SONS OF ANARCHY. Check out the trailer!
‘YOUNG GUNS’ RELOADED?
Morgan Creek is considering rebooting the YOUNG GUNS franchise as a series and a feature. The original films, 1988’s YOUNG GUNS and 1990’s YOUNG GUNS II rejuvenated interest in the Western movie by focusing on the young Regulators of the Lincoln County War, and made stars of Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid, Kiefer Sutherland as Doc Scurlock, as well as Charlie Sheen, Loud Diamond Phillips, and Dermot Mulroney. Although not much is known about Morgan Creek’s plans, Deadline: Hollywood says talks are underway with a streaming service. Remarkably, a list of 48 episode titles have been released!
‘A WORD ON WESTERNS’ CELEBRATES ‘GUNSMOKE NOV. 21 AT THE AUTRY
On Tuesday, November 21st, at the Wells Fargo Theatre at the Autry Museum, producer, writer, historian and Western crazy Rob Word will host another of his A Word on Westerns events, this time celebrating arguably the greatest of Western TV series, GUNSMOKE! Among his guest will be actors Bruce Boxleitner, Charles Dierkop, Jacqueline Scott, Tom Reese, Jan Shepard, director Jerry James, and the man who guested more often on GUNSMOKE than any other, Morgan Woodward. 19 episodes, 17 characters, and Matt Dillon killed almost every one of them!
Admission is free with Museum admission, doors open at 10:30, the program starts at eleven, and the chatter continues afterwards across the courtyard at the Autry’s Crossroads West Café.
TUMBLEWEED TOWNSHIP FEST NEXT WEEKEND
The 2nd annual Tumbleweed Township Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, November 18th and 19th, at 3855 Alamo Street in Simi Valley, California. This is a Wild West living history re-creation run by folks who also run renaissance fairs. You are encouraged, though not required, to come in costume (not that superhero junk, Western costume!) and among the real-life characters you may find yourself interacting with are Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harriet Tubman, Joaquin Murrieta, Annie Oakley, Cole Younger, Calamity Jane, and Nat Love. For more information, visit the official website HERE. Tickets are $15 a day at the gate, and a buck less online.
THE WORLD OF LAURA INGALLS WILDER, THURS, NOV 16, IN BROOKLYN
When I was growing up, in Brooklyn as it happens, every girl I knew was reading Laura Ingalls’ Little House on the Prairie books. I was not – I was a boy after all (still am), and those cute Garth Williams illustrations with girls in bonnets holding dolls was too girly for me. I didn’t read one until I was thirty, and then I devoured them – it’s the best series of books about pioneer life that I’ve ever read. I’ve also grown to appreciate Garth Williams’ illustrations.
At the Old Stone House & Washington Park, location of one of the greatest battles of the American Revolution, at 3rd Street between 4th & 5th Avenues in Park Slope, Brooklyn, author Marta McDowell explores Wilder's deep connection with the natural world, following the wagon trail of the beloved Little House series. She'll discuss Wilder's life and inspirations, pinpoint the Ingalls and Wilder homestead claims on authentic archival maps, and talk about the growing cycle of plants and vegetables featured in the series. You can learn more, and buy $20 tickets, HERE.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
The new True West is out with my article on the Kinder, Gentler Side of Sam Peckinpah – I spoke with Mariette Hartley, L.Q. Jones, Max Evans, James Drury, about making RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE.
I spent much of this past week at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, where hundreds of independent producers and distributors and filmmakers from all over the world meet to do business, and I was thrilled to track down about a dozen new Westerns and Western projects that I’ll be writing about soon here, and in True West. Most are American, but not all – one rolled camera this week in Luxembourg!
P.S. - At the American Indian Arts Marketplace I ran into actor Zahn McClarnon, who was terrific in THE SON, playing Toshaway, mentor to the captive young Eli McCullough (Jacob Lofland). When I told him I thought it was his best role to date, he grinned. "Wait until you see the new season of WESTWORLD." Something more to look forward to!
Happy Veterans Day!
All Original Material Copyright November 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Sunday, October 8, 2017
JOHN LEGEND FIGHTS FOR UNDERGROUND, ZORRO’S HOUSE FOR SALE, PLUS ARNESS’ STUNT DOUBLE DIES, HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS REVIEWED!
JOHN LEGEND GOES ABOVE-GROUND TO REVIVE ‘UNDERGROUND’
John Legend, who has been relatively quiet on the subject since UNDERGROUND was cancelled this May after its second season, has come out swinging. Legend exec-produced the series about runaway slaves and abolitionists, and by all reports it was a hit, the biggest ratings success WGN America has had with original programming. But WGN America is owned by Tribune Media, which was acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group. They’re geared to less expensive reality programming, and the UNDERGROUND per-episode price tag is $4.5 million. Legend also claims that Sinclair has a policy of acquiring TV stations and shifting their news policies to the far right.
The series, while it was aired by WGN America, is produced by SONY, and has been shopped to a number of other possible venues, including BET and OWN, without success. In attempt to stir up interest, Legend has taken to social media, saying the following:
John Legend as Frederick Douglas
In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, America has had a conversation about history and memory, monuments and flags, slavery and freedom. We’ve had a debate about the Civil War and how we remember the Confederate leaders who provoked the War in order to perpetuate the evil institution of slavery. How do we tell the stories of this era? Who is celebrated? Who is ignored? Do we give hallowed public space to those who fought to tear the country apart so that millions would remain in shackles? Or do we celebrate those who risked their life in the pursuit of freedom and equality.
As storytellers, producers and creators of content for film and television, we have the power to take control of the narrative. As an executive producer of the critically-acclaimed television series Underground, we’ve been proud to celebrate those like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who were true American heroes whose legacy we can be proud of. Their words and their actions helped make it possible for my ancestors to be free. I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to make sure they are not forgotten. Along with the stories of historical luminaries, our series features fictionalized characters and plot lines directly inspired by the courageous real narratives of the first integrated civil rights movement in the United States, the movement to abolish slavery.
In its first two seasons, Underground was undeniably a hit series, setting ratings records for WGN America, receiving rave reviews and sparking conversation in the media. It was screened at the White House and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was acknowledged by the NAACP, NABJ, and many other highly respected institutions, and generated widespread engagement on social media as a trending topic during every new episode… yet here we are, still fighting for a future for the series.
How did we get here? WGN America was bought by media conglomerate Sinclair Communications. Sinclair has pursued a strategy of buying up local networks and moving their news coverage to fit their far-right agenda. In addition, they’ve bought Tribune Media, the parent company of WGN America and immediately turned away from high-quality original dramas such as Underground and Outsiders in favor of cheaper unscripted entertainment.
We know there is still an appetite for high-quality scripted dramas on network and cable tv and streaming services. We also know that, in this particular moment in history, there is an urgent need to tell the powerful story of the Underground Railroad. Even today – in the 21st century – we rely on a sort of underground network of individuals and organizations willing to put themselves at risk to help those who are not yet seen as equals in the eyes of the United States government. When our elected officials tell undocumented individuals who boost our economy, who strengthen our workforce, and who see the U.S. as the only home they have ever known, that they are at risk of deportation, those individuals are forced to live in the shadows. They may be sent to a land they can’t remember, that they fled in fear, or in some instances where they have never even set foot. Who will tell their stories when they are made to feel unsafe when they go to work, drop their kids off at school, seek medical help, or report a crime? Putting a spotlight on these types of stories creates an opportunity for recognition, understanding, discussion and learning, bringing a humanity and context that allows people to experience our past and present in a way that is not possible in other media.
For all of these reasons and more, the cast, producers and our studio Sony Pictures remain committed to a future for Underground because of a belief that this story is important and invaluable… and it remains our hope that not only is there a future for this show, but for many others like it.
Let’s #SaveUnderground so that we can continue to inspire and educate the American people about these true American heroes.
ZORRO’S CASA IS UP FOR BIDS! SOLD!
Casa Verdugo in 1910
No, this is not some clever plot by the Alcalde to force ‘the fox’ into the open. The home in Glendale, California where Zorro creator Johnston McCulley lived in the late 1930s and ‘40s, just closed escrow this week for $1.85 million. Built in 1907 in the Mission Revival style, the house on North Louise Street was recently designated historic by the City of Glendale, and Realtor Shannon Cistulli tells me there has been a proposal to declare the neighborhood an historic district, and name it after the home, which has long been known as Casa Verdugo.
Postcard of Casa Verdugo's Indian Room
The home was famous long before McCulley moved in, and was in fact named after a neighboring house. Legendary land speculators Huntington and Brand wanted to attract tract buyers to Glendale. They acquired a historic adobe mansion called Casa Verdugo, named after the original land-grant owners, and made it the end-of-the-line of their Redcar system. This was the time of an international literary obsession with Helen Hunt Jackson’s RAMONA, and visitors to Southern California were desperate for a taste of the early Spanish culture. A fine Mexican chef and restaurateur, Piedad Yorba de Sowl, was induced to give up her Los Angeles restaurant and turn Casa Verdugo into an elegant and very high-end eatery. It flourished.
Casa Verdugo today
Piedad and her husband acquired a neighboring tract of land and built their own home there. The restaurant was such a success that Brand and Huntington got greedy (I know, it’s hard to believe), refused to renew Sowl’s lease, and decided to run the restaurant themselves. Piedad turned her neighboring home into a restaurant and it became the new Casa Verdugo – she was foresighted enough to have registered the name, and successfully sued Brand and Huntington when they tried to reopen the adobe restaurant under that same name. In the first year of operation as a restaurant at the new location, it was a filming location for THE MANICURE LADY (1911), a one-reel comedy produced by D. W. Griffith’s BIOGRAPH company, directed by and starring Mack Sennett, with Vivian Prescott and Eddie Dillon. (I haven’t seen it, but it’s been shown on TCM.)
Visiting the ZORRO TV set. L to R Guy Williams,
Johnston McCulley, Henry Calvin, ?
When Piedad relocated the restaurant yet again – it would have six different addresses over the years – the place became a home again, and eventually Johnston McCulley’s home. Best known as a novelist, McCulley’s works, especially related to Zorro, would be frequently filmed, first notably in 1920, with Douglas Fairbanks in THE MARK OF ZORRO, and in many versions, here and abroad thereafter. His only credited screenplay was for the 1941 Hopalong Cassidy film DOOMED CARAVANS, but his stories for the movies included 1937’s ROOTIN’ TOOTIN’ RYTHYM for Gene Autry, as well as films for Bob Steele and Johnny Mack Brown. His story for the Duncan Renaldo Cisco Kid film SOUTH OF THE RIO GRANDE (1945) led to a writing collaboration with Renaldo, DON RICARDO RETURNS (1946); McCulley wrote the story and, using a pseudonym, Renaldo both co-wrote the screenpay and co-produced. Interestingly, DON RICARDO was shot in part at the historic Leonis Adobe, which still stands and is open to the public.
SERVICES FOR BEN BATES, JAMES ARNESS STUNT DOUBLE, MONDAY 10/9
Actor and stuntman Ben Bates, stunt double for James Arness in GUNSMOKE, has died. A former rodeo cowboy and one-time Marlboro man, Bates became best known within the industry when in 1972 he took over stunt-doubling duties for Arness, a job he would continue on Arness’ later series and movies, including HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE ALAMO: 13 DAYS TO GLORY, RED RIVER and MCCLAIN’S LAW. He also played Ranger Post in 1982’s LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, and Arcane Monster in THE SWAMP THING. His viewing will from 10 a.m. until noon, at the Miller Jones Mortuary, 26770 Murrieta Road, Sun City, CA 92586, 951 672-0777, followed by services at the church directly across the street at 1 p.m. A second service will be held in Texas this Friday, but we don’t have details yet. Close friend Julie Ann Ream adds, “Anyone wishing to contribute, no matter how small, to a 'Cowboy Wreath' which will be at the service in Texas, please contact me here or via e mail @ email@example.com. Your name will also be added to the card that will be going to his family. Val loved the idea that it will rest with Ben at his final resting place.”
HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS – THE FORGOTTEN INTERVIEWS, by Michael B. Druxman
The only digest-sized magazine people are familiar with today is Readers Digest – all the others have expanded, like TV Guide, or disappeared. But from 1936 until the mid-1970s, Coronet Magazine offered general interest stories in a pocket-sized magazine. In the ‘70s, publicist, screenwriter, playwright, and film director Michael B. Druxman wrote a monthly column for Coronet called Yesterday At The Movies, interviewing stars from the golden age of Hollywood.
Druxman has gathered the best of these interviews for HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS, and they mostly are people who rarely spoke on the record. Druxman is a skilled and knowledgeable journalist, and all of the interviews reveal thoughtful insights into the subjects’ lives, and often character. Among the stars discussing their careers are Jack Oakie, Claire Trevor, Paul Henried, Ann Miller, John Carradine, Howard Keel, Gale Sondergaard, several of the Our Gang kids, even the notoriously reticent Mary Pickford. Also included are interviews that never saw the light of day, including one with David Jansen that never ran, and a talk with Yvonne DeCarlo for The Enquirer, which they killed because she didn’t talk enough about her diet.
Best of all, without the inflexible word count required by the magazine, Druxman provides each with an introduction, providing a context to when and how and where the interview took place – he talked with Gale Sondergaard at The Brown Derby! Often there are moments that would have been unkind to include at the time, such as the actor’s wife who asked Druxman not to reveal how much her husband drank during their chat. And after each piece he includes quotes that there just wasn’t room for – often among the best stuff!
Druxman has written several non-fiction books about filmmaking, as well as one-man shows based on great stars, including Clara Bow, Orson Welles, Clark Gable, Al Jolson and Errol Flynn. Culled from the research for these projects, the second half of the book includes an array of quotes from actors, producers, writers, and editors he interviewed. Among the directors alone are Herb Ross, Edward Dmytryk, George Sidney, Gordon Douglas, Raoul Walsh, and Howard Hawks. HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS is published by BearManor Media, for $19.95 in paper and $29.95 in hardback.
…AND THAT’S A WRAP!
All Original Contents Copyright October 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Sunday, September 24, 2017
NEW FEATURE ‘BLOOD COUNTRY’AND NEW WEB-SERIES ‘C-BAR’ SHOOT UP THE SCREENS, PLUS GENE’S AUTRY’S B-DAY, NEW SHOWS ON INSP!
‘BLOOD COUNTRY’ REVIEW
Tough and elegant, set in Mississippi after the Civil War, and shot in a mix of eerie swamps and in many historical sites in that state, BLOOD COUNTRY is based on a real murder between brothers, and its spiraling aftermath for all those involved or in the vicinity. From the start, the filmmakers fill the screen with a quiet but troublingly intangible sense of menace. The troubles begin, incredibly, over the disputed possession of some cabbages, and soon a man is killed, a hearing is held, and a pair of black men who were unwilling witnesses find themselves in greater danger than the accused.
Written and directed by Ecuadorian-turned-Arizonan filmmaker Travis Mills, he and cinematographer Nicholas Fornwalt fill the screen with clever and often beautiful compositions and intriguing faces. Strong on mood, style and atmosphere, there are gaps in the story – why the cabbages?
While the shots are beautifully composed, most scenes are shot in a single long set-up, meaning that the camera rarely gets close enough to the characters to sense what they’re thinking, and to identify with them. The only characters we are truly invested in are the two witnesses (Markeith Coleman and Aspen Kennedy Wilson), and a reluctant lawman (Cotton Yancey). Further, by having no cutaways to other angles, there is no way to pick up the pace within the scenes. There is a good deal of killing, but it is shown so obliquely that the hoped-for Western action doesn’t really start until an hour in.
BLOOD COUNTRY, from Running Wild Films, will be in theatres October 7th. Here’s the trailer.
You can learn more at the official BLOOD COUNTRY site HERE.
C-BAR II – A TALE OF THE WILD WEB WEST
Mark Baugher, who’s been everything from a ferrier (horse-shoer) to a stock-broker, retired at 65 to pursue his life’s desire: move to Arizona, and write a Western novel. A college film student, Patrick Ball, liked what he read on his Kindle, and suggested they make a movie of it. After 38 days of shooting over eight months (when you’re not paying anyone, you’re at the mercy of everyone’s schedule), the movie C-BAR arrived in 2015. Baugher himself starred as Dockie, an old lawman who must go back to his outlaw roots to see justice done. (You can read my ROUND-UP review and interview with Baugher HERE. You can read my TRUE WEST B article on Indy Westerns including C-Bar HERE)
Mark and Patrick are back in action, continuing the saga, now as a web-series, and the first chapter of the new adventures is online. Badman John Doe (Charlie LeSueur), either by bribe or muscle, has escaped en route to Yuma Prison, and Dockie and company must track him down. Here’s the link to chapter one.
Below is the trailer for the original C-BAR feature.
You can learn more and see more, and get Mark’s novels, at the official C-BAR site, HERE.
‘HIGH CHAPARRAL’ 50TH ANNIVERSARY AT THE BURBANK MARRIOTT
On Friday and Saturday, September 15th and 16th, cast, crew, and about 150 dedicated fans of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL, the beloved family Western series of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, gathered, perhaps for the last time, to honor the series, and the folks who made it. While in recent years, gatherings have celebrated anniversaries of BONANZA, THE VIRGINIAN and GUNSMOKE, the dedication of HIGH CHAPARRAL fans is unique – hundreds of them have been gathering annually for several years now in Arizona at Old Tucson, the Western movie town where the series was shot, and where the Cannon family home still stands.
Camille Mitchell, Henry Darrow, Cameron Mitchell Jr.
The hosts for the two days of fun and nostalgia and stories were the delightful couple, Kent McCray and Susan McCray. He was the production manager of the series – and for BONANZA before it – and as Michael Landon’s partner went on to produce LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN. She was the daughter of series composer Harry Sukman; she started on CHAPARRAL as a receptionist and worked her way up to casting not only the series, but HAWAII 5-0 and the Michael Landon shows.
Kent & Susan McCray at the banquet
The McCrays pulled out all the stops, not only providing the promised two elegant banquets, but hosting elaborate breakfasts and lunches as well. Among the series regulars who attended were Henry Darrow, who starred as Manolito; Don Collier who played top hand Sam Butler; and Rudy Ramos, who played Wind, the half-breed teen adopted by the Cannons in the final season. Linda Cristal had intended to come, but suffering from vision problems, sent her son Jordan Wexler. Representing deceased cast members were relatives of Frank Silvera, Rudolpho Acosta, Robert Hoy, Ruberto Contreras, and Jerry Summers. Cameron Mitchell was represented by his daughter and son, Camille Mitchell and Cameron Mitchell Jr.
Also present was frequent series guest Marie Gomez, who played Manolito’s girlfriend Pearlita; Bo Svenson, who guessed in the well-remembered episode TRAIL TO NEVERMORE; and representing Yaphett Koto, who couldn’t get there from Manila in time, was his lovely daughter Mirabai Kotto. Yaphett’s episode, BUFFALO SOLDIERS, is the favorite of many, including Kent McCray.
This was not a ‘stars only’ event, with plenty of attention paid to folks whose identities are hidden, like attending stuntmen Neil Summers and David Cass, who both went on to be important stunt coordinators – Cass has directed several Western and non-Western films. I was personally delighted to meet Jackie Hummer Fuller, who doubled for Linda Cristal, and Steve DeFrance. I hadn’t seen either of them since 1978, when they worked on the first film I wrote, SPEEDTRAP, where Jackie doubled for Tyne Daley and Steve double for Richard Jaekal. It’s a small world!
There were many fascinating panel discussions, and I had the chance to interview all of the principals – I’ll have much more soon in The Round-up, and in TRUE WEST MAGAZINE.
INSP ADDS ‘BRANDED’ AND ‘MEN OF SHILOH’ SAT. SEPT. 30TH!
The INSP channel, which is currently presenting the remarkable reality series THE COWBOY WAY: ALABAMA, is adding two very interesting and rarely seen series to their weekend Western line-up, BRANDED and MEN FROM SHILOH.
Chuck Connors has his buttons torn off.
BRANDED (1965-1966) starred Chuck Connors in his follow-up to the legendary THE RIFLEMAN. He plays Jason McCord, the only survivor of the Civil War Battle of Bitter Creek. Branded (like the title) a coward, court-martialed and kicked out of the Army, he travels the West trying to escape his infamy, and to learn what really happened. Created by Larry Cohen, it looked likely to crash and burn until producer A. J. Fenady, who had created THE REBEL with Nick Adams, was brought in to take over, and fashion some logic into the story. Fenady remembers meeting the famously volatile Chuck Connors. "And I said, ‘Look Chuck, I just want to ask you one question. We go into production, who’s the boss?’ He said, ‘You are.’ I said, ‘Okay, just remember one thing: you came to see me; I didn’t go to see you.’ And you know what? Chuck was, in many ways, crazy. But he was also intelligent. You could sit down and talk to him. And if he had a point of view, and you had a point of view, and you’re point of view was better, he would acknowledge that. He’d say, ‘Alright, we’ll do it.’ I loved working with him, and I loved him." (You can read my whole interview with Fenady about BRANDED HERE.) It’s a very entertaining series, probably better for audiences right now, with their fascination with conspiracies, than it was in the 1960s.
THE VIRGINIAN, at eight seasons, had outlived most of its competition, but it couldn’t go on forever. As television Westerns had become less and less violent, in response to government pressure, the series were losing their audience to movies, especially the action-filled Spaghetti Westerns. The decision was made to reboot THE VIRGINIAN in the Sergio Leone mold. From the original show, only James Drury and Doug McClure were retained, and their wardrobe and whiskers changed considerably. Lee Majors, fresh from THE BIG VALLEY, was added. The title was switched to THE MEN FROM SHILOH, and a new theme was composed by Euro-Western maestro Ennio Morricone. And in the wise old man role that had started as Lee J. Cobb was movie star Stewart Granger as a retired British military officer.
As he revealed at the VIRGINIAN 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, James Drury and others liked the changes at the time, but in hindsight, he didn’t. “They gave the show a new look, and everybody kind of signed on to it. I got myself a new horse and a longer gun. From a 5 ½ inch barrel to a 7 ½ inch barrel. Longer sideburns. Much bigger hat. A sense of accomplishment or…a sense of entitlement – let’s put it that way. I smoked cigars on the show. And I just mowed down anybody with my firearms. But the thing is, we all thought it was a good idea at the time; it was a terrible idea. And the worst of the terrible ideas was putting Stewart Granger in the same position that Lee Cobb had occupied, that John McIntire had occupied, Charles Bickford had occupied; that John Dehner had occupied. These were truly great western actors. Stewart Granger came in and decided that he was going to be the big star of the show: fired my crew, fired my Academy Award-winning cameraman, got all new people. He pissed off everyone in the entire organization. And he sunk the show. So thank you, Stewart, wherever you are.”
Granger’s casting was in one way a savvy move – though they were rarely released in the U.S., Granger had become a big Western star in Europe, starring in a series of German Westerns based on the novels of Karl May. His presence undoubtedly made the show more saleable overseas. The series actually holds up quite well, and what probably did it in was the title change: fans simply didn’t know that THE MEN FROM SHILOH actually was THE VIRGINIAN. The new title is more suggestive, at that time, of a spy series, like THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
If you’d like to know more, HERE is a link to my review of THE MEN FROM SHILOH from when it was brought out on home video.
HAPPY 110TH BIRTHDAY GENE AUTRY!
Friday, September 29th, is the 110th anniversary of the great singing cowboy Gene Autry’s birth! Drop by the Autry Museum to celebrate, and if you’re among the first 110 visitors to enter, you’ll receive a free DVD of Gene is SIOUX CITY SUE. Even if you’re 111 or after, you’ll get a slice of birthday cake!
BOYD MAGERS ‘GATHERING OF GUNS’ SIGNING AT THE AUTRY
Come to the Autry on Saturday, September 30th at 9:30 a.m., and enjoy a Q&A with one of the most knowledgeable people in the world of Western film & TV, and author of Western Clippings, Boyd Magers. Maxine Hansen, Executive Assistant to Mrs. Gene Autry, will be interviewing Boyd about his new book, A GATHERING OF GUNS: A HALF CENTURY OF TV WESTERNS (1949-2001). After, he’ll be signing the book at the Autry Museum Store.
BEN TURPIN IN ‘YUKON JANE’
Grapevine Video, my primary source for high quality silent Westerns, posted this very funny silent (with music and sound effects) one-reeler starring the great cross-eyed comic Ben Turpin as a lawman trying to rescue a kidnapped damsel. Back around 1980, I met a fellow who grew up in Hollywood, and drove a beautiful 1956 T-Bird he’d bought new – I wish I could remember his name, but it’s been too long. A boyhood friend of his was future movie star Frankie Darrow, and when they were kids, they’d hitchhike to and from Malibu to surf. One time, heading back, Ben Turpin gave them a lift, and when he saw that they were nervous about his crossed eyes, he took pleasure is weaving all over the road.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
All Original Contents Copyright 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved