Sunday, May 22, 2011



Last Saturday and Sunday, May 14th and 15th, the Farm Center at Pierce College played host for the second year to the HERITAGE DAYS CIVIL WAR REENACTMENT. More than a couple hundred Yanks and Rebs met on the battlefield, reenacting not specific battles, but typical ones. I attended on Sunday, and this being my second time, I’d learned not to stand too close to the Confederate canon battery; thus I was able to hear well enough to conduct interviews.

I met a Union soldier and asked him about his unit, and how Saturday’s battles had gone. “I’m Steve Columbus. We’re the 7th Michigan, Company F, we’re Custer’s brigade, and we fought at Gettysburg on the third day, repulsing Stewart’s advance, while Picket’s charge was taking place on the other side. (Yesterday’s battles) were quite exciting. Went in with saber and pistol, won one, lost one. We had seven horse on the Federal side and four horse on the Confederate side, and infantry was about seventy to a hundred on each side.”

(Photos -- horse; Steve Columbus (L); Casey Bernardin, Annette Grace, Joanne Davidson; Mike Climo; Abe Lincoln)

What does he do when not fighting the Civil War? “I’m an underwriter for Bank of America. I love history, always have since I was a kid. I got involved with going back to the big Gettysburg events. I’ve been back about four times, the second to last one had 23,000 reenactors, about 600 horse, and I got hooked. So I moved back up this way, bought a horse property, started collecting horses to do this. It took three to get one that I could fight off of. You can’t just grab a horse and do it. They’ve got to have the right temperament around canons and muskets and saber-bashing. We do this probably twelve to eighteen times a year, in places all over Southern California. There’ll be a big event in Moorpark, west of here, in November. Maybe as much as 600; so quite a bit larger.”

I found a cluster of four ladies cooking and sewing at a tent. I asked if their husbands had been long gone in the war.
“Far too long, unfortunately,” replied Annette Grace.
Joanne Davidson told me, “My husband died prior to the war. My son is at battle – he’s been at war for three years. I do get to see him occasionally, and we do exchange letters.”
Casey Bernardin smiled coquettishly and said, “I am not yet married, but as a girl of 17, I should be soon.” Casey and the others missed yesterday’s battles. “We were too busy doing dishes and preparing food for the men to actually be able to see the battle, unfortunately.”
Joanne added, “We were just saying we’d like to watch the one today. However, we’re very happy our men all came home.” When I asked if they would break character and tell me how they got involved, Joanne told me, “My son actually joined up four years ago, and three years ago I ended up coming along. The first year he just went to a couple while he saved up money to buy muskets and uniforms. So I had to drive him there a few times.” And once she got involved herself? “You do research – we’ve found a lot of letters online, transcribed. You learn about people. We don’t reenact as a particular person, although some people do. My husband doesn’t actually like doing this, which is why we killed him off. (I noted her unusual accent) I’m actually from way back west – I married an American, but I’m from Australia, so I’m a very strange reenactor.”

Casey’s been doing it just as long. “None of my background is American, but I still find American history more interesting. My dad’s parents are both from Canada, and my mom is from El Salvador. I’ve been doing it for over four years now, ever since I was 16, my freshman year. As an 8th grader at Moorpark School District, you take a field trip to the Moorpark Reenactment. And I went there, loved it, had to come back. And I found out Joanne, my mom – not my bio-mom but my mom for the Civil War – was doing it, and came along, and she gave me a dress. I went out as a boy on the field last time, and I have to say I would personally never do it again!”

Annette added, “A lot of girls do dress up to take the field as men, which was true of the time. I’ve been doing this for quite a while, almost five years. My husband is a Major, so I started to tag along with him, and I absolutely love it. I dove into the history and I love learning the who, what and why – more the why, why did they wear what they wore, why did they eat what they ate?” I asked, tactfully, what rank her husband as. “ He started as a private – everybody works their way up. He’s been doing it for 15 years. He started with SASS – Single Action Shooting Society – years ago. He started working on his character development, and realized his character would have been alive during the Civil War. So he went to a Civil War event to investigate what his character would have gone through, and he liked it more than he likes SAS, so he stuck with it.”

In the interests of equal time, I also spoke to Mike Climo, Signals Officer for Camp 1742 of the Inland Empire for Sons Of Confederate Veterans, and official webmaster for the state of California. “The Sons…started right after the war – it was then the United Confederate Veterans, the UCV. And Stephen Dill Lee, a general during the war, in 1896 determined that too many of the UCV veterans were dying off, and they needed somebody to preserve the heritage of the Confederate soldier, and gave the charge that, ‘To you, the sons, I give you the request that you uphold our heritage and uphold the good name of the Confederate soldier.’ Ever since then it’s been a heritage organization, completely apolitical. We have liberals and conservatives, so we stay out of the politics of it. My great, great grandfather rode in the Seventh Kentucky Cavalry, and spent four years on horseback, fighting in many major battles. He actually escorted Jefferson Davis from Charlotte all the way down to Georgia. I wanted to do something to preserve his memory. We’re about 30,000 strong and getting bigger.”

He told me that with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War soon upon us, the organization has its work cut out for it, trying to ensure fair treatment in the portrayal of the Confederate soldier. He also told me about the Hunley, the Confederate submarine which in 1864 became the first successful combat submarine when she sank the USS Housatonic. She was raised in 2000, and is on display in Charleston, South Carolina.

If you’d like to learn more about reenactment events in California, visit the Civil War Alliance HERE:


Recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with a burst of recent film activity, Louisiana is becoming a center of Western film production. First JONAH HEX was shot there, currently ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is rolling, and next up will be DJANGO UNCHAINED, according to my unimpeachable source, Eric Spudic. I’ll give you details as I get them, but in the meantime I’ll give you the semi-official casting rumors: Idris Elba, Will Smith, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Keith Carradine, Franco Nero, Treat Williams and Nicky Katt.


130 years ago, a young man with a rifle and a pistol stopped in a Fort Sumner, New Mexico photography studio to get his picture made. The result was the celebrated Upham tintype, the only authenticated photograph of Billy the Kid, which will be offered for public auction in Denver, this June 25th, at Brian Lebel’s Old West Auction. A check of Billy the Kid images on Google will reveal hundreds of variations on the original tintype, and a very few different photos that might possibly be of Billy, but none are sure but this one.

The only time it has been publicly displayed was when loaned to the Lincoln County Museum. It has been in a single family’s possession until now. This will be the 22nd Annual Wild West Show and Auction by Brian Lebel, who last year auctioned Roy Rogers’ gun collection. To learn more, go HERE.


Leggy blonde and beautiful Myrna Dell, who brought elegance and toughness, depending on the role, to many Westerns and films noir of the 1940s and 1950s, died on February 11th. Coming to Hollywood as an Earl Carroll Girl in the Earl Carroll Revue, she appeared in ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941) at MGM, and was soon appearing as saloon gals and other frontier types in A and B Westerns at all of the sagebrush studios. She was in RAIDERS OF RED GAP (1943) at PRC with Robert Livingston; IN OLD OKLAHOMA (1943) at Republic with John Wayne; ARIZONA WHIRLWIND (1944) at Monogram with Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard; BELLE OF THE YUKON (1945) for International Pictures with Randolph Scott and Gypsy Rose Lee; and GUNS OF HATE (1948) for RKO with Tim Holt.

It was at RKO that she got her best roles in all genres, appearing in several of the FALCON mysteries with Tom Conway, who she found to be charming; NOCTOURNE with George Raft; DESTINATION MURDER with Hurd Hatfield; and THE LOCKET with Robert Mitchum. But what she enjoyed most was doing comedy, and at RKO, in addition to films like VACATION IN RENO with Jack Haley, she appeared as the femme fatale in a string of two-reelers with Leon Errol. She also loved making JOE PALOOKA IN THE SQUARED CIRCLE with Joe Kirkwood Jr. and James Gleason, and HERE COME THE MARINES with the Bowery Boys.

Her later Western roles included films like THE FURIES with Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston for Anthony Mann, and ROUGHSHOD, with Robert Sterling and Gloria Grahame. With the coming of television, she guested on many series, and played the Asian villainess, Empress Shira, opposite Dan Duryea in the CHINA SMITH series. Later she had a successful career in public relations. My wife and I first became friends with Myrna in the 1980s, and for some years frequently accompanied her to appearances at autograph shows and places like Corriganville. She was a bright and charming lady with a great sense of humor, and was hugely proud to appear in an episode of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES, directed by her daughter Laura Patterson.

If you’d like to take a look at Myrna at work, click HERE to see THE BUSHWHACKERS, a western about land rights, costarring John Ireland, Dorothy Malone and Lawrence Tierney, and featuring Myrna as Lon Chaney’s hard-as-nails and cold-as-ice daughter.


CLINT EASTWOOD IS BACK TO BACK AND BURNING AT BOTH ENDS -- IF YOU CAN TAKE HIM! (That was the tagline when FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE were released as a double-bill in the late sixties) Sunday through Tuesday, the New Beverly will be showing two directed by and starring Clint: HIGH PLANES DRIFTER (1973) and PALE RIDER (1985). For details, visit their site HERE.


Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.


Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.


This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.


A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.

The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.


Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.


Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

Also, AMC has started showing two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN on Saturday mornings.

That's all for now -- Adios amigos!


All contents copyright May 2011 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment