Sunday, November 27, 2011


According to Nellie Adreeva at Deadline TV, Ron Howard will direct the pilot for the proposed series about the Wild West’s favorite dentist, Doc Holliday, inspired by the book DOC by Mary Doria Russell. Howard’s credentials in Westerns are pretty-near unmatched these days: before the camera from GUNSMOKE to THE SHOOTIST, and behind it from FAR AND AWAY to THE MISSING. It’ll be produced by frequent Ron Howard and Imagine Film collaborator, producer Akiva Goldsman, and is the first project in a two-year exclusive deal between Goldsman and HBO.  In addition to being a very successful producer, Goldsman is a fine screenwriter, who scripted DAVINCI CODE, CINDERELLA MAN, and won his Oscar for writing A BEAUTIFUL MIND.

DOC will be scripted by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, who co-wrote ACCEPTED and the story for TOWER HEIST.   Among co-producers will be Ron’s dad Rance Howard, along with Rance’s wife Judy Howard.

Reportedly the series will be soft-pedaling the ‘lunger’ aspect of Holliday’s life, although he’ll be presented as a well-educated professional from the South, moved to the West for his health, and there will be a romantic triangle involving himself, his 'wife', Big Nose Kate Elder, and his friend Wyatt Earp.


In 2013, Sony Television will be presenting an eight-hour miniseries about the Civil War, focusing on the generals on both sides.  And what a cast they have: Michael C. Hall (DEXTER) as U.S. Grant, William Petersen (CSI) as William Tecumseh Sherman, Will Patton as Robert E. Lee, Rob Lowe as James Pete Longstreet, Stephen Lang (Ike Clanton in TOMBSTONE and Pickett in GETTYSBURG) as Abraham Lincoln, Kim Delaney as Mary Todd Lincoln, Bill Paxton as Stonewall Jackson, D.B. Sweeny as George Mclellon, Noah Wylie as George Pickett, Trace Adkins as John Gregg, Dwight Yoakam as George Meade, Powers Boothe as Albert Sidney Johnson, Walton Goggins as Richard Ewell, Kix Brooks (of Brooks and Dunn) as Winfield Scott Hancock, and many more.

Not unusual for a Western-ish show, a number of country music stars will be playing roles.  In addition to Yoakam, Adkins and Brooks, the members of Rascal Flatts, who will be doing the score, will be acting as well.  Very unusual, in a bid to make the project more accessible to a general audience, several NASCAR stars will be playing parts. 

Produced by Thomas Augsburger, Mikael Salomen, and Michael Frost Beckner, Salomen will additionally be directing, and Beckner wrote the script; I’m told this project has been his primary focus for nine years.  I’ll have more details soon.


By far one of the most ambitious webisode productions I’ve seen, WESTERN X, the creation of Michael Flores, is available online through Youtube and ITunes, and tells its story in six-minute ‘bites’.  Chapter #7 is coming soon, and I believe the whole will be fifteen chapters.  Shot in striking desert locations and Western towns, its hero is named X because he awakens after a beating, not knowing where he is or who he is. 

I’ve seen the first six chapters, and they are beautifully produced, with eerie music, striking editing and often beautiful photography.  But they’re heavy on atmosphere and light on plot – there’s a lot going on at times, but while I assume it will all become clear down the line, for the time being, much of it is incomprehensible.  But it’s certainly worth a peek.  Here’s the official website link:

And here’s chapter one:


In September my wife and I spent a week in and around Tucson, one of those days in the fabled Tombstone.  It’s an odd place, not a ghost town in the usual sense, but a far cry from the activity that once filled its streets and saloons and brothels. 
The people that live in Tombstone today are immersed with the brief but remarkable history of the town when it was at its most active, in the years between 1881 and 1889, the years the silver mines were producing, before uncontrollable water seepage flooded the mines, and all but drowned the town too tough to die.

(Bird Cage Theatre 1932, by Frederic Nichols)
Among the many fascinating places to visit is one that is unique: The Bird Cage Saloon.  While most other attractions – The Crystal Palace, O.K. Coral, Tombstone Epitaph – have been lovingly restored to how they once were, or should have been, the Bird Cage has been the beneficiary of benign neglect: when it closed its doors in 1889, those doors literally remained closed for nearly half a century.  It was declared a landmark in 1934, and opened to the public, as is.  Some historical displays have been added, but no interior decorator has come after-the-fact to fix it.  Ancient posters for vaudeville acts that once played the theatre adorn the lobby.  A favorite is for the woman who, with magnets on her shoes, danced on the theatre’s ceiling.

(Note the boxes along the balcony)

From the day it opened, The Bird Cage Theatre never closed until it closed for good nine years later.  It took $1000 to buy into its poker game, and that game ran continuously for eight years, five months and three days.  The movie TOMBSTONE did a marvelous job of reproducing both the exterior and interior of the Bird Cage for the memorable scenes where Wyatt and Doc and their wives (we’re giving Big Nose Kate the benefit of the doubt) watch a theatrical performance from one of the boxes on the balcony.  But the filmmakers took one liberty here, because those boxes in fact contained not chairs but a bed: they were cribs, so prostitutes and johns could do their business and still enjoy the show onstage!

(The stage, small open doorway on left)

The small door below and to the left of the stage leads to the wine cellar, and the high-stakes poker game, and a little farther and to the left, more cribs, including the one where Wyatt Earp would visit Sadie Marcus, who became his third wife. 

(Sadie Marcus' crib)

On the stage, behind the curtain, are stored all manner of knick-knacks, among them a beautiful and much-used hearse, and to its right, one of those elegant caskets with the glass window of the sort that Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McClaury were famously pictured in.  There is disagreement as to how many people died in the Bird Cage.  It’s been claimed that it was the site of sixteen gunfights, that twenty-six people were killed there, and there is no argument that 140 bullet holes pepper the walls and ceilings.  One of the documented murders took place when a girl whose hair-color had given her the nickname Gold Dollar, saw a Mexican girl known only as Margarita, sitting on the lap of one Billy Milgreen, one of Gold Dollar’s regulars: Gold Dollar stabbed Margarita to death. 

As is common in places where death is so common, the Bird Cage Theatre is said to be haunted.  The young woman who was running the gift shop by the exit told us that the first day she worked there, someone grabbed her arm, but when she turned, there was no one there.  She ran home, and didn’t come back for several days, then decided to give it another chance.  Since then, she’s frequently felt a presence, but nothing has touched her.

(Tombstone prostitute's license -- $7.50 for one year)

Described by the New York Times in 1882 as, "...the roughest, bawdiest and most wicked night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast," it also attracted some of the top talent of its day.  Eddie Foy, Ethel Barrymore, Lotta Crabtree, Lily Langtry and Lola Montez are among the many performers reported to have trod the boards there.  It’s also said that it was the inspiration for the hugely popular song, ‘She Was Only A Bird In a Gilded Cage,’ by Arthur Lamb and Harry Von Tilzer, who cleaned up the lyrics to make it about a woman who married for money, not love, instead of the soiled dove it originally extolled. 

(View of the theatre from backstage)

I’ll be writing more about the town of Tombstone, and Tucson, soon. 


More and more, classic TV Westerns are available all over the TV universe, but they tend to be on small networks that are easy to miss. Of course, ENCORE WESTERNS is the best continuous source of such programming, and has been for years. It’s not in my current satellite package, which is why I often forget to mention it, but currently they run CHEYENNE, MAVERICK, LAWMAN, THE VIRGINIAN, WAGON TRAIN, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, GUNSMOKE, BRET MAVERICK, CIMMARON STRIP, and HOW THE WEST WAS WON. (I’d get it in a minute, if I didn’t have to buy a huge package of STARZ and ENCORE channels just to get the one!)

But there are several new, or at least new-to-me, channels showing sagebrush fare. GEB, which stands for Golden Eagle Broadcasting, is largely a religious-programming cable outlet that runs at least one Western on Saturdays – the ones I’ve caught have been public domain Roy Rogers and John Wayne pictures – and sometimes have weekday afternoon movies as well.

For those of you who watch TV with an antenna, there are at least a couple of channels that exist between the standard numbers – largely unavailable on cable or satellite systems – that provide Western fare. ANTENNA TV is currently running RIN TIN TIN, CIRCUS BOY, HERE COME THE BRIDES, and IRON HORSE.

Another ‘in between’ outfit, ME-TV, which stands for Memorable Entertainment TV, runs a wide collection: BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, BRANDED, DANIEL BOONE, GUNS OF WILL SONNETT, GUNSMOKE, MARSHALL DILLON (the renamed black and white GUNSMOKE), RAWHIDE, THE RIFLEMAN, and WILD WILD WEST. Some of these channels are hard to track down, but if they show what you’ve been missing, it’s worth the search. 


That's right, 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've stopped running GUNSMOKE.  INSP is showing THE BIG VALLEY every weekday at noon, one p.m. and nine p.m., and Saturdays at 6 p.m., and have just added DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN to their schedule.


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 about all for now!

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Happy Trails,


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


  1. Thanks Henry! I gotta say I do agree with your words about Western X. We shall see what develops. Nice folks putting it together.
    Tombstone is a great place to poke around!

  2. Awesome post on The Birdcage.... And yep, it sure does conjure up the movie Tombstone (or vice versa). A real night on the town.

    I've been to Arizona many times but I have yet to visit Tombstone. One day in the future I hope to go there and to Mescal as well. This post further whets my Tombstone appetite.

  3. The prostitution license is a tourist souvenir. The locations given on it didn't exist in Tombstone. Sadie Mansfield (not Sadie Jo) may have been a pseudonym for Sadie Marcus. Josephine Earp is known to have used the latter and likely used the former. Wyatt Earp wasn't even a lawman on that date let alone City Marshal. People are gullible and take these images literally. As a responsible author, you ought to clarify that the license is fictitious.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Brian. I found the photo of the prostitution license on-line, and didn't know it wasn't the real thing.