Monday, May 9, 2011


On Saturday April 30th and Sunday May 1st thousands cowboys and cowgirls converged on Melody Ranch for the 18th Annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. When it started, it was a cowboy poetry and music event, and poetry and music are still a big part of it. But the event has broadened to include western movies, history and literature, and all things western.

The festival actually began as a much smaller event held at Santa Clarita High School. But when the earthquake of January 1994 hit, the school’s auditorium was too badly damaged to house the event, and the Veluzat family, owners of both Veluzat and Melody movie ranches, stepped up and offered Melody Ranch, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I arrived on Saturday at lunchtime, the first person I ran into was famed pistol-manipulator Joey Dillon. I asked him what he calls his line of work. “Gunslingin’. Because it sounds cool, and it covers twirls, juggles, spins, trick-shooting – the whole gamut. I got started at a young age. My dad was always watching western movies. We grew up in central California, up in the foothills, gold-rush country. I got into the history, and watched a lot of movies, playing with my toy gun. Moved onto a .22 – with my dad present, to make sure it was safe. At eighteen I started going out, doing it in front of people. Flash-forward about fourteen years, and now it’s a living.”

Joey’s trained many actors to look good handling firearms, including Josh Brolin for JONAH HEX. He’s been working on the upcoming LOOPER, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis. “There’s a guy named Noah Segan who (plays) one of the Gatmen. It’s a slightly futuristic movie, but this guy fancies himself as a latter-day cowboy. He’s using a .45-70 Magnum revolver that weighs four and a half pounds – twice what we normally use. Had to train him to look good with that: a lot of fun.” He’s also just worked on the still-shooting DUKE, a traditional western with a modern L.A. setting. “I taught the lead how to twirl some snub-nosed .38s, even though they were double-action, which is kind of a no-no*. There’s a scene where it’ll be my hands doing the work. And I’ve got a really big fish coming up, and I’ll see if I can get my foot in the door – and that’ll be acting, and not coaching.” To learn more about Joey, and to see clips of him in action, go to his site HERE.

A little farther down the street I ran into the folks from the Rancho Camulos Museum. RAMONA author Helen Hunt Jackson visited the Rancho in 1882, and decided to set her novel there. Disappointed that I missed the Ramona pageant in Hemet this year, I was delighted to learn that on November 5th they celebrate ‘Ramona Days’ at the Museum, and the event includes pageant cast members performing vignettes from the show. To learn more, go HERE.

A short stroll later brought me to make-up artist and historian Michael F. Blake. He’s written several books about Lon Chaney, and two about westerns: HOLLYWOOD AND THE O.K. CORRAL, and CODE OF HONOR: THE MAKING OF THREE GREAT AMERICAN WESTERNS. He was heading out to New Orleans the next day. “Going on ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. We’re going to do the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s going to take three days, same amount of time as the real battle, minus the vampires.”

I was checking out the wide range of food choices when I ran into a cluster of folks from the upcoming YELLOW ROCK: writer-producer Steve Doucette, writer-producer-female lead Lenore Andriel, and actors Joe Billingiere, Amy Jennings, Elaine Lockley Smith and Natasha Kaye. YELLOW ROCK was shot at nearby Veluzat Ranch (read my two-part story of that production HERE and HERE), and we were soon joined by Daniel Veluzat. To our delight, Daniel, who runs both ranches, took us on a personal tour. He told us that things are pretty busy at the ranch these days. “We did PRIEST, which is a big movie and coming out very soon. They took the western town and totally changed it all around. Recently we did a commercial for Dodge. A lot of (location) scoutings are taking place, a lot of westerns in pre-production.”

Among the sights of interest he pointed out: the saloon exterior where the Long Branch once stood; the jail interior used in dozens – maybe hundreds – of shows; the blacksmith shop – considerably remodeled since GUNSMOKE; the wires strung clothes-line-like, across the end of the street, to hold a giant ‘green-screen’, making it possible to have the town end anywhere; and the building used sometimes as a church, sometimes as a schoolhouse. One of the oldest standing structures, it really was Gene Autry’s schoolhouse as a boy, and he bought it, and moved it to his ranch. In the studio museum we saw the bar used in THE SHOOTIST; cast chairs from a variety of series, including a BONANZA guest-star chair; the Ponderosa living-room fireplace; a revolving cyclorama background, against which cowboys could walk, or ride fake horses, forever without going anywhere.

After lunch, finished off with cowboy coffee and dutch-oven-cooked peach cobbler prepared by the Cowboy Cultural Committee and Chuckwagon Cooks (find them HERE),

I parted with the others to see the rest of the sights. In the Book Corral I ran into western history authors Julie Reams, Robert S. Birchard and C. Courtney Joyner having a heated debate over whether Howards Hawks’s films in the 1960s were worthy of his earlier work, and whether the great action directors of the 20s, 30s and 40s were humiliated to be directing TV in the 60s with impossible time limits.

Here and there were costumed performers, folks spinning yarn and others spinning lariats, Dave Bourne on his saloon piano… But some of the most pleasing moments were later, in the near-deserted saloon and the empty streets. There is a magic to being on movie sets, especially Western sets, which a Universal Studios Tour, with its built-for-the-tour attractions, can approach but never reach. If you missed it this year, don’t repeat the mistake next year. Stroll the wooden sidewalks, swing open the bat-wing saloon doors, and feel the magic.

*You generally only want to twirl a single-action pistol because it has to be cocked to be fired. A double-action cocks and fires when you pull the trigger, so in twirling, it would be easy to accidentally fire.


After all the claims and denials and back-and-forth talk, Quentin Tarantino has turned a draft of his Southern-fried Spaghetti Western, DJANGO UNCHAINED in to the Weinsteins. It’s unclear how closely or distantly related it will be to the original Segio Corbucci-directed DJANGO (1966), which starred Franco Nero, and was more popular and influential in Europe than the Leone/Eastwood westerns, and led to countless imitations and sequels.

One definite change is that this Django will be black, a freed slave, and the buzz is that he will become a bounty-hunter, trained by experienced tracker Christophe Waltz. According to Deadline Hollywood, he plans to start shooting before the end of the year. He script is being kept tightly under wraps, after the cover-page got leaked. And here’s something fun to think about: Fred Williamson recently told me he was getting ready to do a new spaghetti western with Franco Nero. In 1976, Fred starred in JOSHUA as a returned Civil War soldier who becomes a bounty hunter…


Financially strapped independent public broadcasting station KCET has sold its 4.5 acre Sunset Boulevard studio to the Church of Scientology. It’s the former home of Monogram Pictures, one of the most prolific of the poverty-row studios. The location of movie facilities since 1912, it was acquired by Monogram in 1936. Among the many series of films produced on the lot were The Bowery Boys, Charlie Chan and Mr. Wong films. The Western series produced on the lot included The Cisco Kid, the Range Busters and The Rough Riders – the latter starring Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton. The studio’s stars included Tex Ritter, Duncan Renaldo, Crash Corrigan, Johnny Mack Brown and, at the start of his career, John Wayne.

Although it is often said that the lot was taken over by Allied Artists, the truth is that Monogram’s owners, knowing they’d developed a reputation for cheapie productions, simply changed the company name to Allied Artists. The Church of Scientology intends to use the facility to make their own training videos. Although it’s always sad to see a studio leave the mainstream of filmmaking, there wasn’t much left on the lot to suggest its history. Scientology creator L. Ron Hubbard made his living writing for the pulps – westerns included -- before he decided to start a religion, and Monogram was surely the pulpiest of studios, so it’s not that bad a fit.


HELL ON WHEELS, the new AMC Western series focusing on the building of the trans-continental railroad, and stars Anson Mount as a former Confederate soldier seeking revenge, has released its first trailer. Check it out HERE. The pilot is in the can; the series starts shooting in Canada this week.


On a recent American Idol episode, viewers got their first look at a 2 ½ minute trailer for the sci-fi Western coming this July. See it HERE:


The first poster for this summer’s YELLOW ROCK can be seen above, featuring James Russo. The film also stars Michael Biehn, Lenore Andriel and Michael Spears. To learn more, visit their site HERE, their Facebook page 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 tonight, pardners!

Happy Trails,


All Contents Copyright May 2011 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report from Santa Clarita and the news updates on forthcoming westerns. Great bunch of pics, too!