Sunday, October 16, 2011


THE LONE RANGER, which Disney put on hold back on August 12th, is once again a ‘go’ project, with cameras set to roll on February 2nd, 2012, and an already-booked release date of May 21st, 2013.  Town-wide panic had ensued following the disappointing box-office take of COWBOYS & ALIENS, and the masked rider of the plains had been put on hold.  (For the record, C&A has taken in $167 million so far, which is 2nd only to TRUE GRIT, at $171 million, for any Western ever made.  They didn’t sell too few tickets, they just spent too much making it. )  But now Disney and Johnny ‘Tonto’ Depp and director Gore Verbinski have reportedly reached an accord. After paring down the hideously bloated $285 million budget to a positively svelte $215 million, all systems are go!  There is talk, although I haven’t had it confirmed, that the budget was sheered by having all the above-the-line participants (Depp, Hammer, Verbinski, etc.) agree to a 20% pay cut.  

Incidentally, since I started running updates on this situation on the Round-up Facebook page a couple of days ago, I’ve had a lot of comments left, the gist being ‘I hope they made the budget cuts by eliminating the CGI money for the werewolves.’  Yeah, last time I heard, the Lone Ranger was going to be pumping his silver bullets into lycanthropes.   

There’s casting news as well.  In an interview on one of the entertainment magazine shows Johnny Depp, confirming that the faithful Indian companion has gone back to work, rattled off some cast-names not previously mentioned. Helena Bonham Carter, of the Tim Burton and HARRY POTTER movies, is aboard, in addition to the already announced Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger, Ruth Wilson, Timothy Hutton and James P. Bennett.  Stunt coordinator will be Thomas Robinson Harper, who did similar chores for C&A and stunted in the upcoming ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.  The sound department will be run by Lee Orloff, who did similar work on RANGO, the most recent PIRATES movie, and who I went to college with – way to go, Lee!



At Friday night's SILVER SPUR AWARDS, honorees the Veluzat brothers, owners of Melody Ranch, the Newhall Western movie-town, revealed that Quentin Tarantino will be lensing his Western at said former galloping-grounds of Gene Autry!  The family also owns the nearby Veluzat Ranch, and I’ll bet money Tarantino will be shooting there as well. 

The film will star Jamie Foxx as Django, a former slave, and Christoph Waltz as the dentist who trains Django to be a bounty hunter.  Leo DiCaprio will be the evil plantation/brothel owner who stages ‘Mandigo’ fights for fun and profit.  As was said here recently, Kevin Costner, who had been announced as playing the fighters’ trainer, had to ankle due to previous commitments, including starring in and co-producing the HATFIELDS & MCCOYS miniseries for The History Channel.  He’s being replaced by Tarantino stalwart and western pro Kurt Russell.  Also in the cast are Samuel L. Jackson; Gerald McRaney, whose westerns include several GUNSMOKE appearances and a regular role in DEADWOOD; Dennis Christopher, of BREAKING AWAY fame, and a DEADWOOD regular; and Todd Allen, of SILVERADO, THE MAGNIFICENT 7 series and BROKEN TRAIL.   

Just added to the cast is Don Johnson, whose Western credits include ZACHARIAH – THE FIRST ELECTRIC WESTERN, KUNG FU, LAW OF THE LAND and BEULAH LAND.  He plays another plantation owner who, in a nod to one of the greatest of Republic’s serial and Western directors, is named Spencer Bennett



Brothers Jack and Jason Hardy run Grapevine Video, and their mission is to track down rarely seen silent films of all genres, and make them available to the public.  Their prices are unusually reasonable: I haven’t noticed anything higher than $16.95, fifteen is more common, and quite a number are under ten dollars.

Among their Westerns is THE BETTER MAN WINS (1922), starring the largely forgotten but once very popular rodeo-star-turned-actor Pete Morrison, who played the lead in numerous Westerns for Universal and Triangle, but whose career died with the coming of sound.  From 1929 on, he played unnamed barflies and cowhands, and retired from the screen in 1935, at the age of 45.  Not traditionally handsome, he had a strong, unusual character face, and was expressive without being flamboyant. 

Just as we have ‘modern-day Westerns’ today, they had them in the past as well, which makes THE BETTER MAN WINS unusual as sort of a double-period film, reflecting both the old west and the start of the Roaring Twenties, seen from  a rural, and disapproving, perspective.   Pete is the cowhand in love with Dorothy Wood, the little blonde girl who is trying desperately to save her ailing father, and his ailing farm.  When bad men rustle their cattle, and Dorothy, trying to stop them, falls within their grasp, Pete must save her, and if the story sounds melodramatic, the performances are not: Dorothy’s attempt to reload her gun while backing away seems fresh and unfamiliar, and the bad men seem all the more dangerous for not being caricatures.  The action is rough and exciting and convincing.

Then unexpectedly, from the big city, a wayward town-car loses control and tumbles down a hill and onto Dorothy’s farm.  The chauffeur, and the male passenger Dick Murray, are thrown clear, but Grace Parker is wedged under the car and must be rescued.  In a predicament reminiscent of the much later Kaufmann and Hart comedy, THE MAN WHO CAME DINNER, a doctor announces that Grace cannot be moved for six weeks, until her broken leg mends. 

There’s no doubt that this is a sophisticated, but dissipated couple – a title informs us that they made their money before the 18th Amendment!  Pete wants them out of there, but the kind Dorothy won’t hear of it.  And in a story that reflects a much less morally predictable time than the 1930s, the invading pair, each for their own interests, attempt to corrupt Pete and Dorothy, neither of whom are above being seduced! 

I won’t give away more of the story, except to say that much of it takes place in the speakeasies of the big bad city, and it’s always engaging and frequently exciting – and not overly neat.  I found this film very enjoyable, and while it may be typical of films of the period, it is decidedly not typical of the silent films that have survived. 

The quality of the print is stunning – while silent movies were originally very crisp looking, we’ve gotten so used to seeing worn and scratched copies of copies of copies that the unexpected clarity of image is a delight.  The music score by Lou McMahon captures the moods effectively.  And at the end there’s a very funny Koko The Clown cartoon, JUMPING BEANS which, being from 1922 also, you might very well have seen at the original release.  It sells for $14.95.


Another Western from 1922, and another ‘Modern Day Western’, SKY HIGH features box office champ Tom Mix at his exuberant best as a Border Patrol officer, keeping our borders safe from Chinese laborers being smuggled in from Mexico.  Not even slightly politically correct, this film was made in the middle of the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882 to halt Chinese immigration for ten years, but kept in effect until 1943.   

Mix goes undercover, infiltrating the gang that plans to smuggle a hundred ‘pigtails’ into the States through The Grand Canyon, and the often breathtaking location shooting in the Canyon and along the Colorado River is among the most appealing aspects of the film, along with Mix’s charm, riding skills, and a wild airplane stunt in the Canyon.

The romantic interest is lovely Eva Novak who, starting out as a Mack Sennett bathing beauty, costarred ten times with Mix, who taught her to do her own stunts along the way.  Unfortunately for her career, she married stuntman William Reed, who insisted she stop risking her life.  Her career never recovered, but she continued doing bits for many years.  John Ford must have liked her; he used her in FOUR GODFATHERS (1948), SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960) and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962).  She made her last appearance in a 1966 episode of LAREDO. 

Not nearly as serious as THE BETTER MAN WINS, SKY HIGH is exciting, good-natured and sometimes silly fun.  The only downside is the quality of the print it is taken from, presumably the best that survives.  All too often, with stars of Mix’s level of popularity, the films were copied endlessly, and this print is so many steps from the original negative that for much of the film the four corners of the frame are in black, making the image a very high-contrast oval.  At times the Grand Canyon is washed out, although much of the time it looks spectacular.  The score is by Jack Hardy.

Also included is AN ARIZONA WOOING, another Mix film set in Arizona, but this one is from 1915, a short from the Selig Company.  Here again, Mix wants the girl, but he has a major problem: he’s a shepherd, and the man leading the cattle ranchers in trying to drive him out happens to be the girl’s father.   At one point Tom is staked out on the ground, and told he’ll be left there until he agrees to get rid of the sheep.  He’s found in that position by his rival for the girl, Mexican Joe (Pat Chrisman), who starts to abuse the helpless man, and I was worried about where the story was headed.  Happily, even with sheep, this was made about a century before BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.  It’s interesting to compare the two Mix films, and see how much more elaborate the films became in seven short years.  I highly recommend this one.  The price is $12.95.  You can connect with Grapevine Video HERE. 


I am indebted for this information to Chuck Anderson, whose The Old Corral website is the ultimate source and authority on all B-western matters.  Sunset Carson was one of the later Republic cowboy stars, a genuine rodeo cowboy-turned-actor.  And he didn’t turn to that much of an actor at first – he told the story of how he learned his lines all together, and once he started talking, he didn’t get that he had to stop, to let the next actor speak.  One of his early costars, Peggy Stewart or Linda Stirling, taught him to say a line, count to five so she could talk, then say his next line and count to five again.  In his early films you can see his lips counting! 

He was also paired with the already very popular Smiley Burnette – it’s the only time I know of where the sidekick was billed above the star!  But he learned, and was a very likeable, down-to-Earth guy.  He began putting his movies out on video in the 1980s, and they were a great success.  He began to prepare to do a syndicated TV series with Jerry Whittington.  Then, at the age of 70, a visit to Reno in 1990 killed him: the sudden change of altitude gave him a fatal heart attack. 

In preparation for the series that would never happen, Sunset began interviewing Western costars and friends, and Jerry has now put these interviews, most circa 1982 and shot at Movieland Frontier Town in Colton, California, on Youtube.  Among the interviewees are Eddie Dean, Linda Stirling, Peggy Stewart, Monte Hale, John Hart, Pierce Lydon, Terry Frost, Yakima Cannutt, Lash LaRue, and many more.  So many are gone now, and this is an absolute treasure-trove for the B-western fan.  You can find the index at the Old Corral site HERE.  And while you’re at it, visit the main site HERE . You’ll have a great time, and learn a ton.


SPERDVAC, the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy, will hold their 2nd Annual Honorary Member Appreciation Luncheon from noon until 4:00 pm, at Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn, 4222 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood, CA.  Those of you who are not regular followers of Old Time Radio may not be aware that these events are rapidly disappearing: if you have a chance to attend, don’t waste it.   

Four half-hour radio shows will be performed.   Norman Corwin’s My Client Curly, starring Tommy Cook (who guest starred in the original broadcast), directed by Michael James Kacey. [Norman Corwin is expected to attend.]  Tommy Cook was the very first Little Beaver in the RED RYDER Republic serial.  Sorry, Wrong Number, starring Janet Waldo, with special guest star Herb Ellis, Terry Moore, and Doris Singleton (who guest starred in the original broadcast), directed by Gregg Oppenheimer.  The Six Shooter, starring Chuck McCann (as Jimmy Stewart), with special guest star Shirley Mitchell (who guest starred on the original Six Shooter series), directed by Tim Knofler.  I Love Lucy: The Untold Story, based on Jess Oppenheimer’s memoir, Laughs, Luck…and Lucy, and starring Ivan Cury, Reni Santoni, Phil Proctor, and Gloria McMillan, with special guest stars Janet Waldo and Doris Singleton (both of whom guest starred on My Favorite Husband and I Love Lucy), written and directed by Gregg Oppenheimer.   For more information, or reservations, go HERE. 


On Saturday, October 22nd, the National Day of the Cowboy organization will hold a ‘Hats Off To Cowboys’ benefit to continue the work of making the Day of the Cowboy a reality nationally.  The event will take place in Black Canyon City, Arizona, at the Rock Springs Café.  Festivities include a traditional cowboy dinner (no, not just beans), country music, moonlight dancing, an auction, a raffle and more – there’ll even be a free raffle ticket to everyone who attends wearing a cowboy hat!  It’s only $20 per person!  For more information, visit the official site HERE.  

TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!And speaking of TCM, have I mentioned that the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable 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.  INSP is showing THE BIG VALLEY every weekday at noon, one p.m. and nine p.m., and Saturdays at 6 p.m..  They'll soon be adding DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN to the mix.


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. 

AMC has been airing a block of THE RIFLEMAN episodes early Saturday mornings, usually followed by Western features.

And RFD-TV is currently showing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW at 9:30 Sunday morning, repeated several times a week, and a Roy feature as well -- check your local listings.

That’s all for now! Next week I’ll have coverage of the 14th Annual Silver Spur Awards!

Happy Trails,


All original content copyright October 2011 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


  1. Thanks, Henry! great stuff, as usual!
    Hope to see you at the Radio luncheon!

  2. Great, Great
    The material in this Blog.
    Congratulations for historic preservation of the West and yours protagonists of the movies.
    São Paulo