Monday, April 10, 2023

Richard Dreyfuss Goes West to Yellowstone City!

His thoughts on Murder at Yellowstone City, his other Westerns, American Films in General, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in Particular

By Henry C. Parke

Richard Dreyfuss, an Oscar winner for The Goodbye Girl, beloved for Jaws, American Graffiti, Close Encounters and so many more, has finally made a Western movie.  It’s about time: after all, the American history enthusiast is a Civil War reenactor.  “Why wouldn't I be? When you realize how heavy their packs were, and what they did with all that weight on them, it's astounding. We made America to build a different and better country than any other country had ever tried. I have a great deal of pride, however badly we might have done it. I call it an imperfect miracle.”

Isaiah Mustafa and Richard Dreyfuss

In Murder at Yellowstone City, a forlorn former goldrush town in Montana gets a sudden influx of hope when a man dynamites the old mine, and creates a new gold strike!  Then a freed slave (Isaiah Mustafa) arrives in town just as the gold striker turns up dead.  Gabriel Byrne is the law, Thomas Jane is the pastor, and Anna Camp is his wife. Richard Dreyfuss is the Shakespeare-quoting saloon proprietor. Produced by RLJE Films, distributed by AMC, Murder at Yellowstone City is available on AMC+, for rent or sale through Prime, and on DVD and Bluray.  “What appealed to me about the film was that it was a kind of metaphor for America,” Dreyfuss explains. “About people who had come to America, who were being given a second chance.”  It’s actually Dreyfuss’ third chance at a Western; the first two were for television.


Svetlana and Richard Dreyfuss on the red carpet

The Big Valley episode, Boy into Man, was a star-turn for young Dreyfuss as a boy trying to protect his younger siblings when his mother disappears.  And in addition to the Big Valley stars, his mother was Diane Ladd, and he was directed by Casablanca star Paul Henreid.  “I worked with Barbara Stanwyck, and that's no small thing: she's part of my innermost fantasy of what it's like to be a movie star. And when I got to work the first morning, she had been there since 4:00 AM, and the crew made it crystal clear to me that they were Missy's crew and they were proud of it. And they didn't want to hear any criticism of Missy. And I had seen every film she'd ever made. So my tongue cloved to the roof of my mouth for most of the time that I was on that show.”

Richard Dreyfuss, Lee Majors, Darby Hinton 
and Margot Jane on The Big Valley

“I walked in and there was Paul Henreid, and I said, ‘Oh my God, it's an honor to meet you, Mr. Henreid.’ And he then asked the question, which is always answered with the actor's oath. The question was, do you know how to ride a horse? And I said, ‘I was raised on a ranch outside of Las Vegas: of course I do!’” Actually, he grew up in Brooklyn. 

There was a scene where Dreyfuss had to drive away in a buckboard with his younger brother and sister beside him.  On the day of the shoot, Dreyfuss pulled the wrangler aside, “And I said, ‘Excuse me, how do you do it?’ And he went, ‘Oh my God, this is really hard, and you've got two little kids sitting next to you on this wagon.’  So I was terrified, and I put the two kids on the buckboard and they yelled, Action!”

Darby Hinton, the boy in the wagon, remembers, “He only had to go three or four feet, pull up, and stop.  But when they said action, he did the only thing he’d seen in the Westerns.  He yelled “Yee-haw!” and they took off!” 

Dreyfuss recalls ruefully, “And away they ran!  Cut! Cut! Cut! I was out of control,” he remembers with a laugh.  “They were afraid that I was gonna kill these kids.”  The wranglers eventually caught up with the wagon, got control of the horse, and brought them back.” Henreid was furious with me. And he said, ‘Do you know why you got this part from me?’ I said, ‘I did a good reading?’ And he said, ‘No!  It is because you said it is an honor to meet you Mr. Henreid!’”

Dreyfuss got through the show somehow, “And at the end of the show, Barbara Stanwyck came up to me and she said, "You know, you're the best actor that's ever guested on this show." And walked away. And I believed her, and I did something I'd never done before, or since. I invited my family and my friends to watch it with me. And I realized, as we all were watching, that what Barbara Stanwyck had done was to say to herself, ‘If I don't say something nice to this kid, he's gonna blow his brains out because he's such a terrible actor.’ So she said this nice thing, and I watched that performance, and I wanted to chop my tongue off. But it certainly did provoke me into being better.

“I did the first Jewish Gunsmoke.” “This Golden Land” won the Mass Media Award from The National Conference of Christians and Jews.  Hal Sitowitz’ script was nominated for a Writers Guild award for Best Episodic Drama. Dreyfuss plays a Russian-born Jewish son who is furious with his father for refusing to bring charges against the three cowboys who killed his brother. Here he gets to ride horses and fire shotguns. It felt good to play a Jewish character in a western, “in the sense that, yeah, I'm Jewish and I like being Jewish. And so it was an opportunity to kind of flaunt my being Jewish. But I didn't think it was a particularly subtle, well-written script.”

Growing up, Westerns were not Richard Dreyfuss’ primary focus. “I was a fan of movies, sound American films. What my daughter disdainfully calls ‘black and whites’. I had probably seen every movie ever made by an American studio between 1931 and ’60, I knew everything about everyone. I used to set my alarm for three o'clock in the morning and watch A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy. And I would sit this close to the TV so I could keep it quiet, but my mother would inevitably wake up and come down the hall looking very much like the Wreck of the Hesperus. She would say, ‘What are you doing?’ And I would say, ‘Spencer Tracy.’ And she said, ‘I'll get some cheese.’ And we would sit there together and watch Tracy, and [Charles] Laughton movies, and wow: they do not make them the way they used to.

“You know the story about when the Germans occupied Paris? They said to the film theater owners, we’ll give you a week to play anything you want. And then the German films will come in. And every theater in Paris played Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And at the end of the occupation, every theater in Paris again played Mr. Smith. You know why and I know why.  I once was the keynote speaker to a room of about a thousand people, and Jimmy Stewart. And I described Jimmy Stewart as a metaphor for America, that he was the perfectly innocent American before the war. And I was specific about saying, in Mr. Smith, there's this scene when he meets Claude Rain's daughter. And he's so nervous, he keeps dropping his hat. It's hysterical. And then he went to war, a very real war. His war was from the sky. And when he came back, he never made another innocent American film again. And he never made a film that blamed the Indians for everything. He was a complicated guy. At the end of that luncheon, I was on my way out, and his daughters ran up to me and said, our dad can't talk to you right now because he's crying. But he wanted you to know that he never knew that anyone had ever watched him that closely. And I thought, God, this guy's been a star since 1934. And he didn't know that people watched him that closely.”


I hope to see many of you good folks starting this Thursday at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood! It has the best Western representation in years, beginning at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, with the premiere of the restoration of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo! And yes, the lovely star Angie Dickinson will be there! They'll also be showing the great noir Western Blood on the Moon, the great musical Western 7 Brides for 7 Brothers -- Russ Tamblyn will be there (!), plus the great silent Western Clash of the Wolves, plus The Wild Bunch, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre!

And the following weekend, it's the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival! It's a wonderful free event -- if you'd like to attend, go HERE for the official website. And be sure to visit the Buckaroo Book Shop at the Festival, where you can meet your favorite Western authors, and hear their presentations.  Click the  Rendezvous with a Writer Facebook Page link to get the details!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright April 2023 by Henry C. Parke. All Rights Reserved


Monday, November 28, 2022




By Henry C. Parke

On Monday, November 28th, at 10 p.m. Eastern time, the second of INSP’s County Line movies starring Tom Wopat, County Line: All In, will play on INSP.  It’s also streaming on Vudu, and is available to purchase on Amazon.

No disrespect to Waylon Jennings, there’s nothing wrong with being a good ol’ boy, but fans who know Tom Wopat by his portrayal of rural characters in movies like County Line and series like The Dukes of Hazzard may be surprised to learn that he’s also a major Broadway musical star. Tom certainly has his country credentials, growing up in Lodi, Wisconsin, “On a farm.  Every other farmer had a little dairy farm.”  But his goals would soon draw him beyond his state’s border, and he credits Wisconsin’s education system for preparing him.

TOM WOPAT:  Back in the sixties. you remember when Kennedy said we we're going to the moon in nine years?  We did, you know. I think that our schools in Wisconsin were exceptional, in that decade especially. And I was fortunate enough to have really fine music teachers, even when I was a little kid.  The local music teacher kind of took me under her wing and encouraged me to learn songs and do solos. And then a guy from North Carolina came to the University of Wisconsin, and he, again, took me under his wing and taught me. I sang opera, I sang German Lieder art songs. I had a really wonderful musical education in our little high school.

HENRY PARKE: So you were first attracted to music, rather than acting?

TOM WOPAT: Definitely. I did my first musical when I was 12.  I kinda learned acting just in self-defense (laugh). I started getting better and better parts and, when I went to the University, (I did) West Side Story, and Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar -- I played Judas in that. It was amazing. And also there were guys that, again, took me under their wing. I was directed towards the summer stock theater in Michigan, where I could get my [theatre actors’ union] Equity card. After I got my Equity card, I took my ‘68 Chevy and 500 bucks and two guitars and drove to New York.

When I got to New York, it was pretty quick. I got there in the fall of ‘77, and by the spring of 78 I was in an off-Broadway musical. I left that one to go to D.C., where I played the lead character in The Robber Bride Room, the Bob Waldman musical. I left that to go back to Broadway and replace Jim Naughton in I Love My Wife. So within six or seven months of being in New York, I was on Broadway in the leading role.

HENRY PARKE: When you were doing so well on Broadway, why did you go to Hollywood?

TOM WOPAT: To quote Larry Gatlin, they made me an offer I couldn't understand (laugh). It was shortly after I finished an off-Broadway run in Oklahoma. I read for Dukes, and that afternoon they called and said, you want to fly to LA and do a screen test? I said, I guess so. I don't know (laugh), I'm just a farm boy from Wisconsin. So I packed up a few things in a paper bag and got on a plane. And 10 days later, we were shooting in Georgia.  I mean, I went from Wisconsin in the fall of '77 to New York, and was on Broadway in the summer of 78. And in the fall of 78 we were making the Dukes of Hazzard.

Tom Wopat and John Schneider

HENRY PARKE: That's amazingly fast.

TOM WOPAT: Yeah, it was a bit of a whirlwind. When I found out I got the part, I was more frightened than relieved. I had just put my toes into the water in New York City, doing Broadway, and then all of a sudden I gotta go and do a role in an action series. I had no idea how to approach television. It's a different ballgame than being on stage.  But I figured I'd make a little money and go back to Broadway, but not so: Dukes was a big hit immediately. So then I moved to LA for a few years.

HENRY PARKE:  You mentioned going to Georgia to shoot. I thought the series was shot at Warner Brothers in Burbank.

TOM WOPAT:  We shot five shows in Georgia, and it was a little grittier, a little more adult show than what it ended up being. They started preaching to the choir a little bit. And some of the scripts got fairly cartoonish for a while. We even had a visitor from outer space in one episode (laugh), which is really bizarre.

HENRY PARKE:  How did you get along with John Schneider? 

TOM WOPAT:  I’ve got six brothers, but I count John as number seven.  I really, really enjoyed my time. I enjoyed our cast. Our cast was very close and still is, really a nice bunch of people.

HENRY PARKE: You worked with two of my favorite actors in that regularly, Denver Pyle as Uncle Jesse, and James Best as Sheriff Rosco Coltrane.

TOM WOPAT: Terrific actors, terrific. And Sorrell Booke [Boss Hogg] might have been the best of the bunch.  Denver and Jimmy probably had more visibility, but Sorrel was kind of ubiquitous for a while. He's in What's Up, Doc? He was on M.A.S.H. And he was a really, really talented guy. All three of them were very talented and very helpful to the younger crew.

HENRY PARKE:  Why did you and John Schneider famously walk out?   

TOM WOPAT: Well, they [the Dukes producers] sell all the dolls and the cars and all that merchandise stuff, and we were supposed to get a pretty good taste of that.  But the way they did it is they had a series of shell companies.  So they would buy the company that made the toys, they would buy the company that licensed everything. They were making half a billion dollars a year, and we were getting a check for a couple of grand. So we thought we were being cheated. And unfortunately, that's the word we used in our lawsuit, and they took umbrage to that and then sued us. In retrospect, it might not have been the best bunch of decisions that we made. However, it was the first time that two stars of a show had walked out together, and that meant something to other actors in the business.  We didn't really get a raise (laugh). They just dropped all the lawsuits. And we did get a couple of new writers, and I was able to direct a half a dozen episodes. I very much enjoyed that.  We had a little more control of the artistic input into the show. I mean, that could be an oxymoron for Dukes of Hazzard, but John and me, we had a lot of skin in the game. We were out there every week doing this stuff, and they kept shortening the shooting schedule.  And they wanted to use miniature cars and barns and stuff. They were doing stunts that weren't stunts, filming stuff with toys and presenting it like it was real. And that was kind of an insult. So, for one of my last episodes, I took out all the miniature stunts that they were gonna do, and I put in footage from earlier shows, different angles of jumps and crashes that we did that weren't used.  We had this huge backlog of stuff like that, and I put it to good use. And John got to direct; John directed the final one. In retrospect, we may have shortened the life of the show a little bit with our walkout, but you know, hindsight's 20-20. We moved on and had a lot of success. I started making records, and from 1991 until 2013, I was probably in a dozen different shows on Broadway.

HENRY PARKE:  Including your first historical Western role, as Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun. 

Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat

TOM WOPAT:  We had so much fun!  Bernadette Peters is the perfect leading lady, and I worked with her for almost two years.  That's really the high point of my Broadway career.   Then Glengarry Glenn Ross opened up a whole different territory of parts to me. People were not aware that I had any range. They're used to seeing me as the big dog in a musical. And in Glengarry, I was the patsy, I was the one who got taken advantage of. That was interesting; that was hard. Because I'm so used to playing the hero.   Playing somebody that gets skunked, it's not a feeling I wanna walk around with all day (laugh), but I've had other interesting parts. I did a thing with Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful. That's the last time I was on Broadway.

HENRY PARKE:  And you played Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.

TOM WOPAT: Oh man, what a dream cast. Nathan Lane was Nathan Detroit, Faith Prince was Miss Adelaide, Josie de Guzman was Sister Sarah.  One of my favorite parts is playing Billy Flynn in Chicago, because he shows up late and leaves early, and he wears one outfit.

HENRY PARKE:  In 2010 you did the film Jonah Hex, which is certainly an edgy Western --somewhere between historical and steampunk.

Tom Wopat in Django Unchained

TOM WOPAT:  It's like, metaphysical.  I read for it and they decided I could wear a dental prosthesis and (laugh) pull it off. That was kind of a complicated situation. I think they went through three directors getting that thing filmed.  We worked in Louisiana.  I enjoyed it. It wasn't the most fun I've had; I'll tell you the most fun I’ve had doing a Western was Django Unchained. Oh my gosh. That was great. Basically, my part [as a U.S. Marshall] is kind of a one- trick-pony, but what I did in the movie is exactly what I did in the audition.  Tarantino was very, very gracious. People don't know, but Tarantino used to study acting with James Best. [Tarantino] would take a bus up from Torrance, and he would have a class on Thursday night, and then Jim would let him sleep in the classroom.  Then he would come over to Warner Brothers the next day, I think he's 18, 19 years old, and hang out on the set being one of Jim's guests. So now he has a habit of using TV stars in his films; like Don Johnson was so super in Django. I enjoyed Longmire, another Western.  I'm playing kind of a villain in a sense. It's always implied that I'm taking money from the oil companies to let them do what they want in my county. That was a quality organization. And one of the producers was the daughter of one of the people that worked on Dukes at Warner Brothers.

Tom Wopat in Longmire 

HENRY PARKE: You shot Django at Melody Ranch.

TOM WOPAT:  Right, the Gene Autry place.

HENRY PARKE:  As a singer, did you feel any Gene Autry vibes there?

TOM WOPAT:  No. But you feel the vibes of his horse that's buried there standing up -- you know that?  He buried Champion standing up. We had a good time. One notable thing that Tarantino does is, when you go to the set, you check your phone. There's no cell phones on the set.  Which I thought was genius, and it's not brain surgery to do that.  You want everybody focused on what they're supposed to be doing, not checking their email.

HENRY PARKE: Right. And there's way too much of that on sets these days.

TOM WOPAT:  When I was doing A Catered Affair one time, there was a kid down in the front row and he was looking at a cell phone and I was like six feet away.  I'm sitting at a table right at the edge of the stage and I just looked down there and I just shook my head back and forth and he put the phone away.

HENRY PARKE:  I was surprised to realize that the first County Line movie you made for INSP was four years ago.

TOM WOPAT: Yeah, it was a while back, and it was actually their first action movie. Their previous movies had largely been romcoms, maybe with a little bit of drama to them.  Ours was the first action one. I had so much fun. I had such a great time. And then, they asked if I wanted to do two more, two sequels back-to-back. I said, yeah, you bet. So we filmed them down in Charlotte and around there. And again, a lot of fun, the most fun, really, I've had since Django or Dukes. Because in these shows I'm kind of the big dog, the leader of the pack and I enjoy being able to set the tone on the set, and making sure everybody has a good time. So I take the cast and crew out bowling, or I'll bring in a big pot of chili that everybody has to have a taste of, or make ribs for everybody. I enjoy that kind of hosting situation, and being the alpha male.  It's not probably the most attractive thing to be the alpha male, but (laugh) I enjoy it.

HENRY PARKE: And you need one.

TOM WOPAT: Usually there's a leader on the set. When we were doing Dukes, the leader on our set was a director of photography, Jack Whitman, may he rest in peace. He set the tone. He had come from shooting Hawaii 5-0, so him and his crew had all come from Hawaii. And there was a certain vibe on the set that was focused but gentle. And erudite. He was a real leader in a very soft-spoken way. He was a good guy to learn from.

HENRY PARKE: For folks who haven’t seen the first County Line movie, and don’t know your character, Sheriff Alden Rockwell, what does the title refer to?

TOM WOPAT:  There’s a café, basically a diner, that sits on the county line, on the road.  There's a line that runs down the middle of the café, a line drawn across the table exactly where the county line is, so if I have a beer, I have to put it in the other county, because we don't drink in my county.  There was cooperation between me and the sheriff in the next county [Clint Thorne, played by Jeff Fahey], and we had actually served together in Vietnam as Marines, so we’re heavily bonded. 

HENRY PARKE:  I don’t want to give away too much, because it’s a good mystery as well as a rural crime story.

TOM WOPAT:  It's a little bit like Walking Tall. 

HENRY PARKE:  Yes. Alden Rockwell became a widower in the first film.  And the diner’s proprietress, Maddie Hall, is played by Patricia Richardson. 

Patricia Richardson

TOM WOPAT:  And Pat Richardson has a really nice quality. It gives you a sense of comfort to see somebody that you know and recognize. I mean, being kind of my girlfriend and also running a diner and looking after my health, there's a comforting part of that. I think one of the real attractions of Dukes to families is that it's about family, and it's about taking care of your family, and making sure that nobody comes to harm. And when we're talking family, we talk extended family. So if Boss or Rosco got their tail in a crack somewhere, Jesse would make sure that we helped them out of it. I liken it to The Andy Griffith Show.

HENRY PARKE:  Oh, I can see that immediately. In the County Line films Abby Butler plays your daughter, and it’s a very interesting and very unusual relationship between you two, with her as a recently returned Iraq War vet. 

TOM WOPAT: Well, she's a pistol, man! She didn't take any guff off me. I'm proud of her for joining the service, but I'm frightened for her at the same time.


TOM WOPAT:  There's that one scene in the original County Line where we're out on the porch and breaking down pistols that we've just taken from a bunch of nefarious dudes. And I asked the director, I said keep this in a two-shot. Because it really works, and any cuts back and forth would be more of a distraction than a help. If you look at old movies, a lot of the really good scenes are shot in a two shot.  They let you decide who you want to watch for the reactions and who you want to listen to. It's not like [single close-up] ‘talking heads’, which television in the eighties got into a lot. We had a lot of fun making County Line and we had just as much fun making these two new movies.

Tom Wopat and Kelsey Crane

HENRY PARKE:  Someone who’s new to the mix is Kelsey Crane, who plays Jo Porter, who is now the sheriff across the county line.

TOM WOPAT:  She's terrific. She's got a lot of talent and she also has the moxie to know how to work a set and how to let people do their jobs without getting in their stuff. Cause a lot of actors will kind of try to be the center of attention all the time. And that gets pretty old.

Tom Wopat and Denim Richards

HENRY PARKE:  If there are going to be more County Line movies, or possibly a series, the determining factor will probably be how audiences relate to your character.  Why do you think viewers will keep coming back?

TOM WOPAT:  Because Alden is the kind of a guy who, if he sees an injustice, he's gonna try and do something to make it right. Whether he really has the power to do that, the agency to do that, that doesn't matter. He's going to do what he can, legally, mostly.






NOTE: The videos you’ll see embedded throughout the article are not merely clips, they are complete films, some running just three minutes, others nearly half an hour.

While most film biographers and historians set out to teach you more about the films and personalities you’ve already grown to love, educator, historian and author Andrew Erish has set himself a more ambitious task: he seeks out the film pioneers who have been undeservedly written out of the histories.  The depth and detail of his research is astonishing, and his prose is accessible and entertaining.  With his previous tome, the fascinating Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood, he told of the life and work of a film pioneer whose name belongs alongside D.W. Griffith, Jesse Lasky, and Cecil B. DeMille.  He wants to save Vitagraph from the same sort of obscurity. 

The output of this initially Brooklyn-based movie studio was remarkable.  “They were leading the way,” Erish explains.  “From 1905 on, they were producing more movies than anyone else in America. They were the first to consistently release a film a week; then it became two films a week until, by 1911 or 1912, they were releasing six shorts and one feature every week. It's just an astounding output, and covering every kind of movie imaginable.”

The men who formed Vitagraph were unlike any of the other movie moguls.  Sam Goldwyn was a glove salesman. Louis Mayer was a nickelodeon theatre operator. They all came to movies from business.  But not Vitagraph’s J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith.  “They started out as vaudeville entertainers.”  Both English immigrants, who arrived in America at the age of ten, Smith was a magician, ventriloquist, and impressionist.  Blackton was a cartoonist and quick-sketch artist.  “They understood the aesthetic that ruled vaudeville, which was a variety of entertainment that would appeal to the widest possible audience, with something for every segment of the audience. And understanding firsthand what audiences reacted to, as stage performers, they had insight that really no mogul coming after them had; they had experience.”

Erish makes a convincing case that Blackton created the first animated films.  “There's absolutely no doubt about it,” he asserts. “A lot of history books mistakenly credit, a Frenchman named Emile Cohl, but Cohl's first animated film was made after Blackton had already made four or five. And Cohl's very first film is actually aping a film which Blackton had made a year earlier.”

Below is Blackton’s wonderful 1907 film, The Haunted Hotel. 

The Haunted Hotel – 1907 dir. Blackton

While Blackton was pioneering animation, “Smith, on the other hand, was very interested in making action-oriented films, and great with moving camera ideas and staging dramatic moments and action to their greatest effect, in real locations, so that these stories would appear more real. And if he was staging something at a steel mill, he would photograph at real steel plants, and put real steel workers mixed in with his lead actors, and it all looked real.” 

They excelled in Westerns, eventually. “The very first Westerns Vitagraph made were in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. And they're really bad, there’s just no getting around it. But they had a great story guy named Rollin Sturgeon, who they promoted to director. The guy had such a strong story sense and such a strong visual sense, and they sent him out to Los Angeles to open up a second studio, primarily to make Westerns. He made a film about the Oklahoma land rush called How States are Made.  When the starting cannon is fired, he covers everything in an amazing, extraordinary wide-angle shot that starts with an empty hill.  And you start to see the crest of the hill is covered in these little dots.  Then they start to move down the hill and you realize these are people on horseback, covered wagons, the horse-buggies -- they're all coming towards the camera. That shot lasts over three minutes and it's absolutely stunning to let it play out in real time in a single shot.”

How States are Made -- 1912

While Thomas H. Ince is credited with “inventing” the Western, and the studio system (and for dying on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht while sailing with Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin), his younger brother Ralph Ince was one of Vitagraph’s finest Western directors. “I think Ralph Ince is second only to [D.W.] Griffith (for) his contributions to the language of cinema.  In The Strength of Men, with the two guys shooting the rapids with no protection, and then fighting in the midst of a real forest fire! It's in front of your eyes, the way it would be if that dramatic story were really happening for real.”

The Strength of Men – Ralph Ince -- 1913

Vitagraph also excelled in comedies, creating the first great movie comedian with John Bunny, here seen assisted by fourteen-year-old Moe Howard!

Mr. Bolter’s Infatuation – John Bunny -- 1912

Another huge comedy star was cartoonist-turned-actor Larry Semon.  Although his hilarious sight-gag comedies are forgotten in America today, “Around the world, Larry Semon's movies have been shown, non-stop to this day on TV in Spain, Germany, throughout South America, and Italy.” 

You can watch Semon perform with a yet-to-team Stan Laurel…

Frauds and Frenzies – Larry Semon, Stan Laurel --1918

… and Oliver Hardy.  If you’re offended by black-face jokes, you can skip Hardy.

The Show – Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy – 1922 Norman Taurog

While the story of the demise of the Vitagraph company is by turns infuriating and heartbreaking – they barely survived into the sound era -- their influence on film is inestimable.  Many of their discoveries went on to notable careers both in front of and behind the camera.  “Edward Everett Horton made his first movies at Vitagraph, and became a big silent star. Adolph Menjou started at Vitagraph, playing suave, debonair characters. Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard of Oz, got his start in Vitagraph movies, as a much younger man, back in the teens. And Larry Semon hired a young guy who had directed one or two films, a kid named Norman Taurog, to be his co-director and co-writer. And Northern Taurog went on to have an illustrious career. He directed Bing Cosby and Bob Hope, he directed six Martin and Lewis movies, he directed nine Elvis movies – he was Elvis' favorite director.”

Vitagraph is the winner of the 2022 Peter C. Rollins Book Award and received an award from the Popular Culture Association as one of the best books of 2022.  It’s available directly from The University Press of Kentucky, in hardcover and paperback, here:

It can also be ordered from independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.


I am thrilled to announce that I am writing a book for TwoDot Publishing!  Tentatively entitled The Greatest Westerns Ever Made, it will feature many of my articles from True West magazine.  It’s the perfect Christmas gift – but not this Christmas.  It will be in book stores in the spring of 2024.  


Just about a year ago, the very fine folks at The INSP Channel, whom I’ve known for a decade, and written for a little bit, hired me to write a couple of articles about Westerns for them every month.  I’ve been having a great time doing it, although between writing for them, and being the Film and Television Editor for True West magazine, I am sure you can understand why The Round-up has been appearing less frequently than it used to. 

One really exciting thing that has come from this was to chance to interview John Wayne’s son, Ethan, on camera.  I’m including below a link to that interview, and links to several of my INSP articles enjoy!









What better possible way to follow up my interview with Tom Wopat?  I’ll be talking with John Schneider about Dukes of Hazzard, his Westerns, and his new movie, To Die For.  Please check out the December 2022 issue of True West, with my article on the best mountain man movie ever made, Jeremiah Johnson!  And if I don’t get to post before the holidays, have a very merry Christmas, a happy Chanukah, a happy New Year, and a joyous anything and everything else that you celebrate!

Happy Trails,


All Original Content Copyright November, 2022 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


Sunday, May 15, 2022




It’s been over two years since Western historian, master interviewer and host Rob Word has held a live A Word on Westerns event at The Autry!  And he returns right on time this Tuesday, May 17th, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic John Wayne Western, The Cowboys.   Western fans know that May is the month of the Duke’s birth, and Rob has always found a new Wayne theme for the Word on Westerns celebration, but he’ll have a hard time topping this one.  For anyone who doesn’t know the film, when Wayne’s ranch-hands run off after a gold strike, the only way he can bring his herd to market is to hire a dozen school-boys for his cattle-drive.  Few boys, or men who once were be boys, have ever seen the film and not ached to be a part of it.

Cowboys stars scheduled to attend include:  Robert Carradine, who plays Slim; Nicolas Beauvy, who plays Dan, the kid with glasses that Bruce Dern terrorizes; Alfred Barker Jr., who plays Fats; Steve Benedict, who plays Steve; Stephen R. Hudis, who plays Charlie Schwartz; and Sean Kelly, who plays Stuttering Bob.  A Martinez, who plays the outsider cowboy Cimarron, planned to attend, Word explains, “But he got a job in Vancouver, and he said, ‘I’m really anxious to get back to work.’ The COVID has been tough for everybody. So he came to the house and we shot an interview,” part of which will be shown at the event. 

And don’t think Rob has taken the last two years off.  With no live events, he became even more committed to posting weekly videos on his Word on Westerns YouTube page, interviewing so many Western filmmakers from both sides of the camera.  And all through COVID, “we've never missed a Sunday, and it's been over a hundred shows now.  I'm using more clips and more stills. It takes 30 to 40 hours a week, every week. There is no break, there is no vacation.”

And the fans are appreciative.  His 9 Stars Over 90 Share Hollywood Secrets has been watched more than 279,000 times since posted.  Among his many great ‘gets’, Rob has recently posted an interview with the great actor – and villain of The Comancheros – Nehemiah Persoff, “and then he passed away in April. But I'm so lucky to not only have talked to him, because he was a wealth of wonderful memories, but he got to see the episode. He’d written his autobiography, and at the end of the Zoom, he says, ‘Hold that book up one more time!’ And so I held it up.  Then he calls and says, ‘I sold 150 copies that day!’  He was just thrilled. I'm so glad that he saw that.”

The celebration of The Cowboys will be Tuesday, May 17th, at The Autry, in the Wells Fargo Theatre.  Doors open at 10:30, and the program begins at 11 a.m.  I hope to see you there!

Here’s a link to the Nehemiah Persoff interview, which will lead you to over 100 more!


The movie town located in the San Bernadino Desert, where hundreds of Western films and TV episodes were shot, will play host to the Pioneertown International Film Festival from Friday May 27th through Sunday May 29th.  The first of what is planned as an annual event, it was an unavoidably long time in the making.  “It's been about five years since we started this idea,” festival founder Julian Pinder recalls.  “We did all kinds of legwork, launched a website and announced the festival; and about a month later, suddenly the whole world was shut down. We're really happy that we survived COVID.”

Back in 1946, Western movie villain Dick Curtis, Roy Rogers, and the band Sons of the Pioneers pooled their resources and bought the 32,000 acres of desert that started out to be the movie town of Rogersville, before it was decided to name the ranch after the band.  Unlike other movie towns, this one was built with not just facades, but practical buildings, and real motel accommodations, so crews could actually live there during production rather than commuting.  Hopalong Cassidy wing-man Russell Hayden joined in, and soon he was shooting the Judge Roy Bean series, Gene Autry was shooting The Gene Autry Show, and Duncan Reynaldo and Leo Carrillo were filming The Cisco Kid on the lot.

Nearly 70 years later, the joint is once again jumping, and featuring a remarkably eclectic mix of Western films and entertainments.  Events will be happening at five venues: The Desert Willow Ranch, The Historic Soundstage, Pioneertown Motel, Historic Red Dog Saloon, and the Super X Ranch.  Among the films being screened are a double bill of “Acid Westerns” directed by Monte Hellman and starring Jack Nicholson, and presented by their daughters; Buck and the Preacher, starring and directed by Sidney Poitier and co-starring Harry Belafonte; the premiere of a documentary about the Durango Kid films; and From Dusk Till Dawn, introduced by producer and special effects creator Robert Kurtzman. 

Pinder notes, “The traditional classic westerns obviously were made to be seen on a big screen.  We really wanted to reintroduce folks to these great classics like they should be seen. So we partnered with Paramount to screen some of their recently restored westerns.”

There are plenty of new films as well.  Inglorious Serfs is a Ukrainian Western that was made in the last couple years. And the director, because of the war he's been exiled in the U.S., so he's able to come.”  There will even be the premiere of the much-anticipated The Last Manhunt, produced by Jason Momoa.  Inspired by the same events that were the basis of Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, this version is based on the oral history of the Chemehuevi tribe and, Pinder notes, “The Last Manhunt was shot actually all around Pioneertown.” 

And in a wonderful sort of homecoming, there will be a performance by the current Sons of the Pioneers, fronted by Roy’s son Dusty Rogers, and peopled by sons of the sons.  And if that isn’t your musical taste, there will also be a performance by The Dandy Warhols.

For tickets and information, go here:



On Saturday, May 28th, from 4 ‘til 6 p.m., Hollywood Film Historian Dennis R. Liff will share a Powerpoint Presentation about the movie-making history of the San Fernando Valley.  Joining him will be special guest Darby Hinton, a busy and talented actor, and so well-remembered for playing son to Fess Parker on Daniel Boone.   To learn more, go here:


I hope you’ve been enjoying the Duke Days of May on INSP, but if you’re a little late to the party, you happily have two more weekends left in May, including Memorial Day Weekend, and 14 more John Wayne movies to watch on INSP.   And there are quizzes and contests going on.  Check out their Facebook page for details!


Obviously, it’s been a long time since I wrote a new Round-up – last July, to be specific.  This has caused some readers to ask questions like, “Hey Henry, did you fall off a cliff or something?”  Happily, no.  The fact is, in addition to writing the Round-up, I’ve been the Western Film & TV Editor for True West magazine for about seven years, and starting this past September, the INSP Channel hired me to write regular articles for their blog.  So, while I haven’t been writing the Round-up much, I’ve been writing about Westerns elsewhere. 

I’m going to be updating this Round-up post next week, and I’m going to add links to all of the articles I’ve written for True West, and INSP in the last six months or so, as well as links to the Writer’s Block podcasts, where I do an update on the Western film biz on the first Thursday of every month.

Happy Trails!


All Original Content Copyright May 2022 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 11, 2021



For two seasons, former Harry Potter portrayer Daniel Radcliffe, and co-star Steven Buscemi have starred as an odd pair of angels in the series Miracle Workers.   It’s about angels that are sent down to Earth to perform miracles, and convince God not to destroy the planet. It’s based on the novel What in God’s Name, by Simon Rich.  It sure sounds to me like It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Horn Blows at Midnight, which are two of my favorite comedies. 

The first season was set in heaven.  The second season was set in Europe during Medieval times.  And happily, season three is set in the Old West, on the Oregon Trail!  Incidentally, this is Steve Buscemi’s first Western since Lonesome Dove.  The new season premieres this Tuesday, July 13th, on TBS.  Here’s a peek!


Idris Elba is a Brit, but he surely must love Westerns!  In 2017 he starred as a gunslinger in Stephen King’s futuristic Western THE TALL TOWER.  In 2020 he starred in the contemporary Western CONCRETE COWBOY.  And this fall he’ll be starring in his first historic Western, THE HARDER THEY FALL.  He plays Rufus Buck, and when his sworn enemy, Nat Love, played by Jonathan Majors, learns that Buck is getting out of jail, he pulls his old gang together to run Buck down.  Most of the characters are based on real people – in addition to Buck and Love, there’s Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), Cherokee Bill (LaKieth Stanfield), Jim Beckworth (R.J. Cyler), and Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves.  When I posted about this on Facebook, I got some angry responses from readers who assumed that heroic figures like Stagecoach Mary, Bill Pickett and the great Bass Reeves are portrayed as members of Nat Love’s gang.  I don’t know if they are or they aren’t.  Here’s a peek.

Incidentally, Harder They Fall is directed by another Brit who must love the Western genre.  Jeymes Samuels, who has many film music credits, previously directed the 2013 Western, They Die By Dawn.  While, at 49 minutes, it’s short by today’s standards, that’s close to the average running-time of Western Bs of the ‘30s and ‘40s.  For some reason, I'm not being allowed to upload the link, but the whole movie is available on Youtube under its title.  


There was great excitement at the Cannes Film Festival for Dead for a Dollar, a new Western in   pre-production, co-written and to be directed by Walter Hill, and to star Willem Dafoe and Cristoph Waltz!  Hill, a marvelous writer and director whose previous Westerns have included The Longriders, Geronimo, Wild Bill, and the pilot for Deadwood, has not made a Western since his excellent 2003 miniseries for AMC, Broken Trail.

Dafoe hasn’t done a Western since his uncredited role in 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, but Hill directed him in Streets of Fire.  Waltz will be making his second Western, his first being Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and just like in Django, Waltz plays a legendary bounty hunter.  Willem Dafoe is his sworn enemy.  I gave a brief summary of the plot on Facebook:  "Waltz is hired to go to Mexico and rescue the kidnapped wife of an important industrialist," and though I gave no more details, many readers cut to the chase and said it sounds very much like a remake of Richard Brooks’ The Professionals.  The more you know of the plot, the more it does.  But Walter Hill is a great and original talent, and I am sure he will do something wonderful with it.


STARDUST TRAIL – by J. R. Sanders

A Book Review By Henry C. Parke

I love STARDUST TRAIL, the new mystery novel by J. R. Sanders.  It’s his first in a series featuring private detective Nate Ross, and I’m happy to say J.R. is already hard at work on the next one.  It belongs to that sub-genre, the Hollywood murder mystery, which is exceptionally hard to write.  That’s because in addition to all the already necessary skills for a mystery writer and a novelist, one must also write knowledgably about the film industry, specific studios, and particular real-life characters at a chosen moment in time.  Stuart Kaminsky, with his Toby Peters books, and Andrew Bergman, with his two Hollywood and Levine mysteries, have succeeded where most have failed.  J.R. Sanders has joined this select group, as he strides confidently into the world of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

And, in an exhilarating change of locale, Sanders has placed Stardust Trail not at any of the seven Majors – MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, et al – but at Republic, the greatest of the Minors, the thrill factory where Gene Autry and Roy Rogers reined (or should that be reigned?)!  It’s where John Wayne made his name, and the Duke actually makes a guest appearance in the novel, not the Stagecoach star Wayne, but a younger star in the beloved B-Western series of films, The Three Mesquiteers. 

It’s 1938, and former L.A. cop, and current private detective Nate Ross stumbles upon a crime in progress.  When he rescues Republic’s most wooden performer (prior to Sunset Carson) from kidnapping, the power that be – studio head Herbert J. Yates – agrees that Ross is just the guy they need.  A screenwriter name Prince has gone AWOL during the production of what is meant to be Republic’s biggest Western to date, Stardust Trail.  Ross finds him alright, and is soon in a swirl of gunplay, Hollywood nightspots from the ritzy Sardi’s to the henchman-friendly Hackamore Club, fabled locales like Vasquez Rocks, Fat Jones’ Stables, various movie ranches, and Gower Gulch, where B-Western actors and riding extras hope to pick up a day’s work.  The writing is breezy and smart, and Nate Ross, and ex-cop who is hated by cops, and hates Hollywood, has considerable dimension.  The supporting characters are realistic and not overly familiar.  The plot is complex, but comprehensible, the dénouement satisfying.  Stardust Trail is available from Amazon in paper for $16.95, and for Kindle at $5.95. 

I recently had the chance to talk to J.R. about Stardust Trail.


Author J. R. Sanders


I’m a sucker for a well-written Hollywood mystery anyway, but you really had me hooked the moment that I realized the kidnap victim was Max Terhune’s ventriloquist dummy, Elmer Sneezewood,


That was a lot of fun to tinker with that. Actually, it's a supposedly true story. Years ago I was touring the Autry Museum in L.A., and they had Elmer on display down in the movie and TV Western section. And there was a little placard next to it that told that back in the ‘30s, someone had stolen Elmer and sent either sent, a ransom note and supposedly the ransom was paid. $500 is the figure that sticks in my head.


I read your previous book, Some Gave All, about real Western lawmen. And knowing that you've been a law man and a private detective, I figured you were mainly a true crime writer. So I was surprised to see that you'd written a novel.


I've never really tackled (fiction) before, other than a children's book years ago, that I don't really count as a serious fiction. But it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do, and particularly a detective story. That's what I enjoyed reading over the years and I always thought it would be fun to take a shot at it.


Your detective, Nate Ross, has a very interesting background. Was he inspired by any real person?


Not at all. I just wanted to do a character in the vein of the old classic Chandler, Hammet sorta detective, but go with a little harder edge and maybe a little bit more backstory.


Has your law enforcement and detective background been helpful in writing the book?


I guess maybe, in the broad brush strokes. But really policing was so very different back in the ‘30s that I actually had to spend a lot of time looking at old law books and police manuals and things like that from the ‘30s, the California penal code from the ‘30s, just to get an idea of how different things were, both in terms of the law, in terms of police procedures, how crimes were approached.  It's a lot more sophisticated nowadays. Policemen worked a lot less with ready access to backup back in the day. So in some ways it was more hazardous. Although in some ways it’s more hazardous now: just different hazards.


You mentioned some already, but what writers have influenced you, whose mysteries have you enjoyed?


Well, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet, any of the old Black Mask writers from back in the day.  Most of those names are pretty much unknown to the average reader now, but people like Lester Dent, Raoul Whitfield.  James Ellroy, he's kind of a, an industry unto himself. He's got a definite signature style and he's always interesting reading, always entertaining; I always learn something. I'm a big fan also of Michael Connelly. I'm about halfway through the Bosch books now. Not as far as I should be, but I've watched the entire Harry Bosch series. It's phenomenal. It's for my money, the best police series that's ever been made.


Why did he decide to set your Nate Ross mystery at Republic Pictures?


Most of my writing background has been based in or around old west history because it's just always been a fascination of mine. It's always been a topic that I've studied and been interested in. So I just thought that it would be neat to sort of combine the traditional detective story with a Western story, or at least a story with Western trappings and setting it in the ‘30s, in the era of the B westerns. It just seemed like a natural to go with Republic. Republic, isn't usually dealt with in those stories. Republic was never exactly poverty row, but it wasn't MGM either. It was kind of a farm team in a lot of ways.


With most Hollywood behind-the-scenes stories, whether it's books or movies or TV, my main gripe is that the writers either don't care or really don't know their turf; what the studios were like, how filmmaking actually works. But your stuff is spot on. Did you do a lot of research?


Well, thank you.  I did. I had to, because I'm far from an expert on any of that. I've watched the movies, but as far as the technical aspects of movie making, especially in the ‘30s, I didn't really know a whole lot going in,


It was a kind of a thrill reading the book and imagining myself at places like Fat Jones’ Stable, or Gower Gulch, when the Columbia Drugstore was there, and the movie ranches.  Did you actually visit any of those locales?


I did.  I’ve been to Vasquez Rocks many times over the years, but made a particular visit just with this book in mind.  Not much has changed other than the freeway blasting by it. With Gower Gulch, there's nothing left. Although there is a nice little strip mall that they've actually named Gower Gulch; with sort of a Western false-front look to it.


I didn't know there was a Sardi's on this coast. So that was very interesting to find out that you hadn't made that up.  But how about the Hackamore Club? Is that your invention?


Well, yeah, just complete fiction. I had read about a couple of honky-tonk type bars that the B-movie Cowboys frequented, but there wasn't really anything on the scale of a full-blown nightclub, but it just seemed like a neat touch that,  if there wasn't a place like that, there should have been.


I thought the movie within the novel, also called Stardust Trail, was just right, because it was just the sort of overreaching kind of thing that Herbert Yates would do for a while. Those overblown musical westerns, where you wanted to yell at the screen, "Enough dancing! Shoot someone!"


Since it was going to be set in late ’38, I had wanted from the beginning to deal with the making of Stagecoach (1939).  But again, not wanting to get into the major studio sort of a milieu. I didn't want Stagecoach to take center stage, and deal with all those name actors. John Wayne dropping him in as sort of a peripheral character, I enjoyed it. I would not have wanted to, probably wouldn't have had the audacity, to try and make him a central character,


But he contributes. And it's such a nice choice to put him in there when he was a Three Mesquiteers star and on the verge of being something big. I liked that a lot.


Well, thank you. I enjoyed that probably as much as anything in the book, because it was just such a different view of John Wayne than you typically get. I've seen him portrayed in fiction here and there over the years, but it's always John Wayne, the icon, and it was kind of fun to go back and deal with him at a time when he was really still Duke Morrison.


What's up next for Nate Ross?


Actually, I'm sitting here as we speak working on the second Nate Ross novel.  In this book dealing with film piracy, chasing a gang of bootleggers who are duplicating Hollywood films and selling them over the border in Mexico. It’s called Dead Bang Fall.  And it's due out in March.


As a Republic fan, do you have a favorite B Western star or a series?


It's in the book; The Three Mesquiteers.  John Wayne and Max Terhune, those were just such fun movies.  Fluffy and nothing you could take too seriously, but they're just a kick to watch.


One last question.  Where did the title Stardust Trail come from? 


There was a quote I ran across in my research from (Gene Autry’s sidekick), Smiley Burnett. In his later days, he was out at one of these events, signing 8 X 10 glossies, selling them for ten bucks a pop. Somebody criticized him for that. And his response was, "You can't eat stardust."


L.Q. Jones portrait by Steve Carver
from Western Portraits

Please check out the July/August 2021 issue of True West, featuring my article and interview with one of the nicest bad guys you'll ever meet, L.Q. Jones.

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright July 2021 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved