Sunday, April 8, 2012


Writer – Producer Andrew J. Fenady is probably best known for creating the series THE REBEL, and producing BRANDED.  Others might argue his claim to fame was writing and producing the John Wayne classic CHISUM.  He also turned Wayne’s HONDO into a series.  He is proud to have written, and continues to write, in many genres, from western to mystery to horror.  He also writes for many different media – TV, film, short story, novel, stage play and radio play.  And his radio plays are not from the ‘golden age’; he’s writing them to be performed on-stage right now. 

This is the second part of my interview with A.J.  If you haven’t read part one, please go HERE.  As part one of my interview ended, A.J. had related how a script for a Western movie entitled RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE had disappeared from his office.  “Well in walks Chuck Connors a couple of hours later.  He slams the script on the desk and said, ‘Goddamnit, I’ve got to do this picture!’”  At the time, Chuck was starring in the series BRANDED for A.J.

A.J. FENADY:  I said, ‘Well, I don’t know if we can put it together.’ He said, ‘Try!’  One of the people who was instrumental in getting it done the way that it was done, at Columbia, was Bill Todman.  Harris Katleman called me and he said, ‘How much can you make this picture for?’  I said I can make it for five-hundred thousand.  He said, ‘Okay.  We got you six.’  So we did it with $600,000, and we didn’t spend it all.  And we did it with Chuck and with all that cast.  (Michael Rennie, Kathryn Hays, Joan Blondell, Gloria Grahame, Bill Bixby, Claude Akins, Gary Merrill, etc.) They play it all the time – I made an awful lot of money from that picture, and will continue to make it – I’ll tell you that story some time. 

RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE villains Bill Bixby, Claude Akins and Michael Rennie

HENRY PARKE: And you have my absolute favorite actresses of all time, Gloria Grahame, in that. 

A.J.: I’d hired an assistant director named Tony Ray.  And he came to me, kind of all shriveled up and said, ‘Listen, there’s a part in here that my wife could play.’  And I said, ‘Well, uh…who’s your wife?’  ‘Gloria Grahame.’  I said, ‘You’re married to Gloria Grahame?  Tell her to come on in.’ And what he didn’t tell me, the sonuvabitch, was that she was pregnant.  If you look real close, we never shot her stomach.  But I couldn’t resist, because she was just so damned good. 

H: And five years later you used her again in your supernatural western, BLACK NOON.

A.J.: There was a part; I didn’t think she’d play it.  She didn’t have many lines, but it was a good part.  I said, let’s try and get Gloria Grahame, and somebody said, ‘She won’t do this.’  I said we don’t know unless we try it – all she can do is say no.  But she said yes, and she came to the rehearsals, and she was just wonderful.  She was there all the time. 

H: When I was at NYU Film School, a friend called and asked if I’d like to work with a film legend, but I couldn’t tell anyone.  He told me to go to the Grad School editing room.  As I’m about to walk in, my friend grabs me – he knows I’m madly in love with Gloria Grahame – and makes me swear that I will not mention her name.  Then he lets me in, and there is Nicholas Ray, and his son Tony Ray, both of whom had been married to Gloria Grahame.  And I repaired torn sprockets for Nick, who wanted a couple of reels of his work-in-progress ready for a screening.

A.J.: I never even knew that they (Nick and Tony) ever got together afterwards.  (Note: Nick was married to Gloria when he caught her in bed with his son, Tony.  She eventually married Tony, with a marriage to screenwriter Cy Howard in between.) I’m happy to hear that.  Even though it’s a strange story.  It’s almost as strange as the Rod Cameron story.  He divorced his wife, and married his wife’s mother!  And they lived happily ever after!

H: BRANDED was not originally your baby.  How did you get involved, and was it already on the air when you did?

A.J. : No it wasn’t on the air.  I’ll tell you what happened.  I had an independent deal with United Artists for television and features, and I went over to Paramount, because that was my favorite lot, because of Frank Caffey, who was in charge of physical.  I had an office, and in the next office there were these people, and I kept hearing them hollering and cursing and banging against the wall.  I said, what the Hell is going on over there?   Well, it was the BRANDED outfit.  And they were really in trouble.  They’d shot two or three of their episodes, and they couldn’t even cut them together.  They had a producer, may he rest in peace, named Cecil Barker, who specialized in comedy.  And for some reason they had made him the producer, and he and Chuck (Connors) were at each other’s throats.  It was just terrible.  I get a call from a fellah at Proctor and Gamble, which had been one of the sponsors of THE REBEL.  ‘Harris Kattleman will call you before the end of business today.’  He came in and said, ‘You’ve got to save our ass.  We can’t go on like this.  We can’t even go on the air with the shows we’ve got.  We want you to take it over.’  I said, ‘Harris, I’ve got a deal over here.’  He said, ‘This is how much we can pay you.  Will you do it?’  It wasn’t really a question of money.  I wasn’t really happy at United Artists anyhow – but that’s another story.  So I went to United Artists and said, ‘Can I get out of this deal?  Please?’  And they said okay.  But before that Harris said, ‘Come on over and talk to Chuck.’  I said, ‘No.  Have Chuck come over and talk to me.  Let’s get started the right way.’  So he came over and put on the act – ‘Oh, how do you do, Mr. Fenady?  It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fenady.’  All that kinda crap.  And I said, ‘Look Chuck, I just want to ask you one question.  We go into production, who’s the boss?’  He said, ‘You are.’  I said, ‘Okay, just remember one thing: you came to see me; I didn’t go to see you.’  And you know what?  Chuck was, in many ways, crazy.  But he was also intelligent.  You could sit down and talk to him.  And if he had a point of view, and you had a point of view, and you’re point of view was better, he would acknowledge that.  He’d say, ‘Alright, we’ll do it.’  I loved working with him, and I loved him. 

H: How extensive were your changes to the original concept of BRANDED?

AJ: Well, not really to the concept, but to the style of writing.  First of all I hated that ‘butch’ haircut that he had.  I said, ‘Chuck, you look like Lurch!’  You remember Lurch in THE ADDAMS FAMILY?  But we couldn’t do anything about it for a while, because that’s the way that he was, and we didn’t have time to let his hair grow.  But after the first season, when we did RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE, I said now you’ve got a chance to let your hair grow, and make it nice and curly.  And he did.  And in the second season he looked more like a leading man than he did like Lurch.

Connors disgraced -- note 'Lurch' hair.

Let me give you an example (of the writing style).  In a script that somebody had written, Chuck Connors walks into a saloon and orders a beer.  And there’s a free lunch there, with the mustard and all that other kind of accoutrement.   And one of the two guys, it was Pat Conway who had all the dialog, started telling the whole Goddam story.  He’s a coward and he did this and he ran away…  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.  And I said, fellahs, come on!  Here’s how we’re gonna shoot the scene.  He just whispers something to the guy he’s with.  Then he walks up to the bar, Chuck is standing there.  He reaches into the mustard, and he paints a yellow streak down Chuck’s back.  Chuck turns around and punches him.  And that’s the kind of thing that I inaugurated in the series.  When something can be covered by one or two words, don’t push.  A John Wayne kind of a phrase.  We eliminated a lot of the dialog, and relied on what people could see on the screen and the punch line.  Which was often followed by a punch.             

H: It’s like you said about Irvin Kershner; you started in silent pictures too, in a sense.  Do you think it was a help with BRANDED, that you had a theme song that laid out the plot every time? 

 AJ:  Yeah, absolutely.  Wait, my damn cigar went out – too much talking and not enough inhaling.  Alright, songs.  Now look, THE REBEL told the story of Johnny Yuma when he roamed through the west.  “He was panther quick and leather tough, ’cause he figured that he'd been pushed enough, the rebel.  Johnny Yuma.”  Well, you know a lot about him, right?  Okay, well I didn’t write the song to BRANDED, but it carried out that same concept.  And RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE, which I think is the best song that I ever wrote the lyrics (to); You Can’t Go Home Again.  “A man will come home to the place of his youth, in search of the things left behind.  He looks for a place, for a smile on a face, but the last mile’s the hardest to find.”  That tells the story of the guy, you know?  “I know the high country, where wild eagles fly, the desolate no-paths terrain.  But now that my years are all winters I try to call back the summers in vain.”  If you don’t know what that’s about, there’s something wrong!  The same with CHISUM.  “Chisum, John Chisum.  Weary.  Saddle-worn.  Chisum, John Chisum.  Can you still keep goin’ on?  They’re bettin’ you can’t make it, but you bet your life they’re wrong.  So keep ridin’ towards the Pecos, to find where you belong.”  Hey, that’s it.

H: And it’s great to have William Conrad speaking that.

AJ:  Mmm-hmm.  What a great guy – he came in one day and did that.  One day, Hell – he did it in one hour.  I said to him, Bill, do you think you ought to put a little more Texas in that?  He said, ‘You listen to it.  There’s quite a bit of Texas in there.’  He knew what he was doing.

H: Radio’s Matt Dillon: he ought to.  Midway through the first season of BRANDED, you switched from black and white to color. 

Chuck Connors, A. J. Fenady on right

AJ: It wasn’t even half way.  We did four episodes, and I wrote three of them, and then they had three different writers writing a thing called THE MISSION, the three-parter.  And I went to Bill Todman again.  And I said, if you can get me $25,000 more than is in the budget, we can release this as a feature, and I’ll shoot the damned thing in color.  So he went and got $25,000, the picture was released by Columbia as BROKEN SABRE, and it made a ton of money.  So from then on I said we’re going to shoot everything in color.  ‘What about the opening?’  I said I don’t; I have to think about it.  Somebody said, ‘That was shot in color.  We were going to shoot it, and Chuck Connors said, let’s shoot it in color.  We’ll  put it on in black and white, but we’ll have it in color.  So it was already in color, and we just shot the color version of (the show) from then on.

H: He was a smart guy.

AJ: I told you that he was intelligent.  He was ornery sometimes, but intelligent. 

H: I know that at Warner Brothers Television, they dreaded switching their westerns to color because they relied so much on stock footage. 

AJ: You know what the old saying was, about those black and white Warner Brothers shows?  If you see more than four people in the picture, it’s stock.  (laughs)  They used more damned stock than anyone else who ever did a television show. 

H: That’s what Ty Hardin (BRONCO) told me.  But you didn’t use that much stock, did you?

AJ: I don’t think I used 100 feet of stock in all the things I did.  We shot it.

H: With the BRANDED three-parter, THE MISSION, Jason McCord becomes a secret agent for President Grant.  Was this story-line the result of the huge success of the James Bond movies at the time?

Leonid Brezhnev meets Connors

AJ: No.  You know, I turned down THE WILD, WILD WEST, because I said, this is James Bond as a cartoon, and I don’t want to do it.  (THE MISSION) had nothing to do with James Bond or any of that.  It was just part of the story.

H: You’ve had two very successful series in a format that’s pretty-much disappeared, the half-hour drama.  Do you think the Western was particularly well suited for the half hour?

AJ: I’ll tell you something.  After I did CHISUM I got a call.  They said well, you probably wouldn’t be interested in doing television.  Let me tell you something.  Ernest Hemingway was a pretty good writer.  He not only wrote novels, he wrote novellas, and he also did short stories.  Hell, I’ll do a short story.  And the Western can certainly be adapted as a short story in a half hour format, and as far as the hour goes, that was a novella.  Either way; it just took a little bit longer, you had a little more money to work with.  So HONDO was a pleasure to do. 

H: Speaking of HONDO, THE REBEL and BRANDED and HONDO were all stories about men who were essentially rootless loners, who’d suffered a great personal tragedy and loss – it’s also true of the man in RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE.  They often seem to be in conflict with arbitrary and corrupt authority.  Are these themes that you were consciously going to?

AJ: Not in all of them.  For instance, in CHISUM, when L.G. Murphy (Forrest Tucker) came into town, and Ben Johnson kept saying, ‘There’s another of L.G. Murphy’s (gun)men, Duke said, ‘Listen, he’s not bothering us.  It’s a free country.  Leave him alone, until he does something that affects us, or breaks the law.’  So I didn’t always do that.  But I think there was an unconscious kind of a thing.  Howard Hawks was the same way.  In Howard Hawk’s movie RED RIVER, Harry Carey Sr. has a line that goes something like this:  There’s three times when a man has a right to howl at the moon: when his first children are born, when he gets married, and when he finishes a job he had no business starting in the first place.  So that was kind of a template.  Finally, even in CHISUM, it got to a point when Ben Johnson said, ‘Now what are you going to do?’  ‘What I would have done twenty-five years ago:  break out the Winchesters.’  You know, there’s a time when you can’t sit by and let somebody get away with something, even if the law won’t stop them, if you can stop them.  If it’s part of your code to stop ‘em, stop ‘em. 

H: Also in BRANDED and HONDO, the plight of the Indian, especially the Apache, at the hands of dishonest whites, and the Government military, is an often-seen theme.  Is this something you felt strongly about?

AJ: Well, there are two sides to every story.  The Apaches weren’t all saints, either.  They cut off their wife’s noses, and they were slavers.  But Duke, in HONDO, identified with the Apaches, and I kind of carried that theme out, doing the series.  When somebody said to him, ‘One day there’ll be no need for reservations,’ he said, ‘There’s no need for ‘em now.’  And I still think there’s no need for them now.  All they’ve done is teach people to rely on the government: it’s usually a failure.  Government can’t do it.  They don’t gain any independence.  They become subservient.

H: One thing that people like about Westerns is that they tend to be about black hats and white hats.  You know who the good guy and bad guy is, and things will work out.  But in your shows, many of the stories are based on tough moral choices, where the answers are not that obvious. 

AJ: And sometimes you really don’t know the answers.  For example, in RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE, when he leaves, you don’t know whether he came back (for the woman) or whether he didn’t.  And at the end, modern day, when Arthur O’Connell is talking to James MacArthur, he asks MacArthur, ‘Do you think he ever came back?’  And he says, ‘No, like the song says, you can’t go home again.’  And he says, ‘Well, that’s just a song, and home is just a word.’  So you don’t know whether he came back or whether he didn’t.  Actually you can do a sequel to that. 

On CHISUM set, Johnn Wayne, Michael Wayne and A.J. Fenady go over the script.

H: That’s true.  Were you planning on a sequel?

AJ: No, I’m not much for sequels.  In writing novels, yes.  With THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE I wrote a sequel.  Another novel that I did, A. NIGHT IN BEVERLY HILLS and A. NIGHT IN HOLLYWOOD FOREVER, that was a sequel.  They want me to do more of those, but for some reason…  Well, for one reason, the mail building in that, the Writers & Artists Building, has now been taken over, and the whole thing has changed, and that was supposed to be his headquarters.  I could use it, but right now I’m busy doing other things. 

H: Before we leave the Western series, what series did you like other than your own?  Did you watch WAGON TRAIN --?

AJ:  Not so much WAGON TRAIN, but I loved Clint Walker.  I thought he was great as Cheyenne Bodie, and I talk to him at least once a month even now.  That was it as far as western series go.  As far as I’m concerned, the best western features, you’d have to start with STAGECOACH and go to RED RIVER, THE SEARCHERS.  And also THE PROFESSIONALS was damned good.  It was later, it was in the 20th century, but that was a helluvah movie.  They usually say don’t judge a book by its movie.  But very often the movies, as far as scripts go, improved on the novels.  It wasn’t a western, but LAURA was a better movie than it was a novel.  I think that RED RIVER – you know, I love Borden Chase – but the script was better than the novel, if you read it.  And THE PROFESSIONALS, A MULE FOR THE MARQUESA, the script was a lot better.  So sometimes you can improve on it.  First of all, you’re forced to consolidate.  You don’t have 400 pages or 300 pages.  You’ve got to tell the story in an hour and a half.  And you’re forced to make it tighter.  Those are my favorite features, as far as westerns go. 

H: Did you ever read James M. Cain’s novel, MILDRED PIERCE?

AJ: No, but I read the novel DOUBLE INDEMNITY.   The script was ten times as good. 

H: The Raymond Chandler script; it’s great.  The thing with MILDRED PIERCE, which I think is a great movie.  In the novel, there’s no murder.  That was created because the movie really needed something.  In 1967 you produced the series HONDO, based on the John Wayne movie.  Was adapting the film to a series your idea?

CHISUM - Glenn Corbett, Ben Johnson, Wayne

AJ: Yes, it was my idea.  First of all, Michael (Wayne) and I became good friends; we used to work out together at the gymnasium at Paramount. And he loved THE REBEL, and Duke loved THE REBEL – he used to watch it every Sunday night when he was home.  So I said to Allan Courtney, who was in charge of television at MGM, ‘How would you like to partner in with John Wayne and do HONDO?’  He said, ‘Well, I saw that picture a long time ago.  Let’s run it.’  We ran it, and he said, ‘How the Hell do you make a series out of that?’  And I said, ‘Well, I know how to do it.  Would you be interested?’  He said, ‘Hell yes!’  So I wrote a format.  And took it over to Michael and said, ‘You want to make some money, and perpetuate HONDO?  We’ll do it as a television series.’  And I gave him the material.  It was thirty or forty pages, and he told it to Duke.  And Duke says ‘This is the guy who did THE REBEL.’  I had met him a couple of times.  What happened was, Otho Lovering was my editor.  He edited a lot of John Ford pictures.  He edited STAGECOACH; he edited THE LONG VOYAGE HOME.  One day, we’re doing THE REBEL, I’m in the office, and I’ve got the door open as I always did.  And Otho from outside says, ‘Hey, there’s someone out here who’d like to come in and say hello.’  I say, ‘Well bring him in!’  So I look, and there’s little Otho – he stood about five feet tall – and there’s John Wayne, who filled the whole damned doorway.  And he said, ‘See, Duke.  That’s what I was talking about.’  I had a HUGE picture of Duke.  It went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor, as Hondo.  And after we shook hands he said, ‘You know, that’s one of my favorite pictures.  The rights come back to me in two years.’  And I never forgot that.  Well two and a half years later I said, that’s when I was at MGM, and that’s how HONDO came about.  The change I made was making the setting not some lady’s cabin out in Apache land, but that she and her husband ran the general store, inside of a fort.  So I had the whole damned fort to work with.  And there was a wonderful fort at MGM on Lot 3. 

H: Now did HONDO lead more or less directly to your writing CHISUM? 

AJ: They asked if I would accept Bob Morrison, who was Duke’s brother, as associate producer.  Well, he and I got to be very close.  He was a wonderful, wonderful gentle man.  He was a tough guy, but he was very gentle.  And he kept saying, ‘A.J., write something for Duke.  He needs something good.’  And I always had this idea about CHISUM.  And I wrote a format, a story outline, and I called Michael (Wayne) and I said I’d like to come over and talk to you about something for Duke.  It’s called CHISUM.’  He said, ‘Oh, the Chisholm Trail.’  I said, ‘No.  That was Jesse Chisholm, who was part Comanche, and this is John Simpson Chisum, the cattle drive from Texas to New Mexico.’  He said, ‘Oh.  That do sound like Duke, don’t it?’  Anyhow, I went over there, and that’s a long story you can read about in my book when I write it, but that’s how that came about: Bob Morrison via Michael Wayne via the Duke, and we did CHISUM. 

H: I did not know that John Chisum was a real man.  Because CHISUM is your telling of the Lincoln County Wars.  How close did you stay to the actual history?

AJ: Well, when somebody would say something (was inaccurate), Duke would say, ‘Damn it, we’re not making a documentary, we’re making a movie!’  I took some liberties.  (laughs)  Matter of fact I took quite a few liberties.  But the basic characters were all there: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and Henry Tunstall, L.G. Murphy and all the rest of them, they were all involved in the Lincoln County War, and so was Chisum. 

H: You wrote and produced CHISUM.  As a producer, how much could you actually control John Wayne? 

AJ: Who wanted to control John Wayne?  For cryin’ out loud, if he didn’t know what was good for him, nobody did.  He had an instinct.  He was not someone who would say something (onscreen) if it did not need to be said.  And he cut himself out of a scene between Billy the Kid and Henry Tunstall, when he was supposed to be standing there -- he had one or two lines.  He said, ‘I don’t need to be in there.  It’s their scene.  It’s their part of the plot.  Let’s forget my being in it.’  And I said okay.  Another line I had, when Murphy started a store, and Duke and Tunstall say, well maybe we’ll start a store.  And Forrest Tucker, L.G. Murphy says, ‘Don’t tell me you’re going to start a bank too.’  And Duke’s line, as I wrote it, was, ‘Why not?  All it takes is money.  And I’ve got plenty.’  He said, ‘McFenady, I don’t need to say I’ve got plenty.  They know I’ve got plenty.’  So then later on, when they were going to start their store and their bank, Andrew Prine, said to him, ‘What do you know about running a store?’  Then Andrew Prine quoted Chisum:  ‘All it takes is money.’  And Duke said, ‘Yeah.  Mine.’  So that worked out very well. 

H: So John Wayne called you McFenady?

AJ: Not all the time, but most of the time.  I never asked him why.  I figured if he wanted me to know, he would tell me.  When there were people around he’d say, ‘Hey, McFenady this and McFenady that.’  He was the giant of all giants.  Very good to me, and to a lot of other people.

H:  In CHISUM you had a particularly strong supporting cast.  Forrest Tucker, Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Christopher George, Brice Cabot, Patrick Knowles.  As well as a lot of familiar faces from the Ford and Hawks stock company.  How did you go about assembling all of them?

AJ: You know what?  All you had to do was say I’m doing a picture with John Wayne; you want to be in it?  And the answer was yes.  ‘Cause who the Hell didn’t want to do a picture with Wayne?  Well, I tell you who didn’t want to be in a picture with him.  Who was in THE HELLFIGHTERS with him?  Katherine Ross.  He wanted her to be in TRUE GRIT, to play the girl, but she didn’t want to do a John Wayne picture.  She wanted to do a Katherine Ross picture, so she turned the thing down.  But it turned out very, very well because that little girl that played in TRUE GRIT, Kim Darby, was terrific.  The whole picture was much better than the remake.  I couldn’t understand half the things the guys were saying in the remake.  They were mumbling in their beards and mumbling in their hats.  When John Wayne said something, you didn’t have to say, ‘What did he say?’ 

H:  Director Andrew V. McLaglen, son of Wayne’s frequent co-star Victor, directed Wayne many times.  What was he like to work with?

AJ:  He was wonderful, just wonderful.  I talk to him at least once a month, too.  He’s in his nineties now.  He did over 100 GUNSMOKES and 115 HAVE GUN WILL TRAVELS.  He knew what he was doing.  Another thing was, he shot the script.  He didn’t screw around on the stage and say, let’s try this and let’s try that.  He read the script, and if he had any suggestions he made it before we got there.  He respected the script, and so did Duke.  And Duke said to me more than once, ‘You know McFenady, this is the most pleasant picture I ever made.’  He didn’t say it was the best, but he said it was the most pleasant.  And we just got along famously.  We were going to do something else too, but it just never happened. 

H: You had made a ton of Westerns by the time you did CHISUM, but was that the first one you’d done in Mexico? 

AJ: Yes.  The thing was, Duke owned Mexico.  He had shot six or seven pictures down there, and he owned the street at Durango, he owned land there, and he owned every damned thing.  And there was never any trouble at all.  I’d be riding in an open car with Duke, down the streets of Durango, and people are hanging out the windows yelling, ‘John Whine!  John Whine!’  He could have run for governor or president or what have you, and would have got elected by 99%.  And Batjac had kind of a formula for the Duke.  We could have shot it here in the United States, but he wanted to shoot it down there, he felt comfortable down there.  He’d bring his yacht there, the Wild Goose.  (laughs) Not in Durango, because it was in the middle of Mexico.  But he’d go to Mazatlan once in a while when we were preparing.  By the time we did CHISUM I got to know him very, very well.  Because I was not a part of it, but I was on the periphery of all those other pictures before.  I was on HELLFIGHTERS, that’s when he decided he wanted to do CHUISUM.  And then he did TRUE GRIT, and I was there, working in his office.  And on THE UNDEFEATED, I was down there almost all the time while he was doing that; we were knocking around with the script and knocking around with some tequila and gin.

H: Your next film was a horror/supernatural western, BLACK NOON.  How’d that come about?

AJ:  Aha!  You know we had six kids, five boys, so I was in Little League, and one of the other coaches in Little League was a guy named Paul King.  He was in charge of production for CBS, their movies of the week.  And he said, ‘I know you’re a bigshot, you just did CHISUM.  I don’t suppose you’d do a movie of the week.’  And that’s when I said, ‘Hemingway did short stories.  If it’s something that I like, I’ll do it.’  So he and Philip Barry and I had lunch, at Musso Franks, and they said, what do you want to do?  I said there’s this western…and he said, ‘Stop.  Andy, you can’t get my attention by any log-line on a western.’  Just didn’t want to do a western.  And I said, ‘I can get your attention in four words: witchcraft in the west.’  ROSEMARY’S BABY had just come out, so they said, ‘Whatayagot?  Whatayagot?’  They read the thirteen pages and said, ‘Will you write a script?  Where do you want to go?’  So I went to Arty Goldberg who was at Screen Gems at the time – I knew him from the old ABC days, and said how would you guys like to do a CBS movie?  Larry Gordon was there at the time.  Who later became THE Larry Gordon.  And he said, ‘We’ve taken sixteen projects to CBS, and they’ve turned us down on every one of them.’  I said they’re not going to turn us down on this one – believe me.  So I write the script, and Larry Gordon and I were going over with the script and talk to them about it.  I was driving, he got in the car, and all of a sudden he takes out a paper bag and puts it against his face.  I think, this guy’s going to vomit.  ‘What’s the matter with you, Larry?’  ‘I’m hyperventilating.  They’re gonna turn us down!’  ‘No they aren’t, Larry.’  So we brought them the script, they said go ahead and shoot it.  And it turned out very, very well. 

H: In 1974 you made your last western to date, THE HANGED MAN. 

AJ: That was a great premise.  A man who has done some bad things in his life is falsely accused of murder.  And they hang him, but he doesn’t die.  Why was he saved?  There had to be a reason.  My line was, ‘What did Lazarus do for the rest of his life?’  He was trying to find out why he was spared.  I’ll tell you why it didn’t go (to series).  By then, westerns were on their way out.  And that’s when I said, A.J., you’ve got to switch gears.  You ain’t gonna be able to sell many westerns, so let’s try something else.  And I loved private eyes, just loved ‘em.  And wrote THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE.  I did that when I was doing two other movies of the week at Warner Brothers, so I did it on Warner Brothers’ time. 

H: Why do you think Westerns faded out?

AJ:  I’ll tell you why.  Those guys like Sam Peckinpah and Altman seemed to be hell-bent on making rats out of every hero in the west who ever lived, whether it was Wild Bill Hickok or Buffalo Bill, or Wyatt Earp, they just corrupted the western.  But people were doing westerns; only audiences didn’t know they were doing westerns.  What is STAR WARS?  It was a western, only instead of a stagecoach and horses, you had rockets and spaceships.  But the plot was the same.  Two guys that were pals break up, one guy goes into danger, and the other guy says the Hell with you.   And just when you think one guy’s gonna get it, the other guy changes his mind and comes in and saves the other lead.  Borden Chase used that in practically every story he ever did.  RED RIVER and BEND OF THE RIVER and VERA CRUZ. 

H: I have a sense of what you think of Peckinpah.  What did you think of Leone and the spaghetti westerns?

AJ: I couldn’t stand them.  I was bored to death with those God damned close-ups and lingering shots.  I had a chance to make a lot of those, because I was hot; go to Italy, go to Spain.  But like I said before, Mary Frances and I had six kids, and they were growing up.  And I didn’t want to wander any farther from 126 North Rossmore than I had to.  I stayed here.

H: What are you writing today?

A. J. Fenady at a recent book signing

AJ: Well, last year I had open-heart surgery, pretty serious stuff.  I didn’t feel any pain, but they said you’ve got to do it, so I did it.  But during that time I finished up THE RANGE WOLF, which is going to come out the end of this year.  And what it is, it’s a western version of THE SEA WOLF.  Instead of a ship, it’s a cattle drive.  But it’s the same story, the same plot, only in a different venue, with different trappings. 

H: Is this something you’d like to make as a movie?

AJ: They’re not going to make that movie now.  I don’t think so.  I mean, twenty years from now they might do it.  Also I wrote a short story that was published in a book called LAW OF THE GUN.  The story is DEAD MAN RIDING TO TOMBSTONE, and I also wrote a novella while recovering, called THE BIG GUNS, or WHOSE LITTLE LILLY IS SHE?, that’s in a collection of supposedly the greatest living western writers (laughs).  Called ROUND-UP, which was sponsored by the Western Writers of America.  And I’m currently working on another big western.  You know I’ve written seven or eight plays, the last couple of them were in collaboration with my son Duke.  Three of them are radio plays that are going to be done at the Palmdale Playhouse.  YES VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS this December.  Then they’re going to do the radio version of THE SEA WOLF, and Duke collaborated with me on that.  Then THE BIG GUNS, OR WHOSE LITTLE LILLY IS SHE as a radio play is going to be performed.  So busy, busy, busy. 

H: Are you planning to make any more movies?

AJ: Well, it’s so tough to get one done.  Steve Speilberg can’t get a movie made that he wants.  I’ve only got so much time left, you know?  It’s not exactly the last round-up, but I know people who have been trying to get a movie made for twenty years and they haven’t done it.  I haven’t got twenty years.  So I’m very content to write plays, radio plays, and now if something happens, it happens.  If not, I’ll go on doing what I’m doing. 

A.J. with  L.Q. Jones at the Silver Spur Awards, 2011

H: What advice would you have for someone trying to get a western made today?

AJ: I would be very discouraging.  Because no one wants to do a classic, pure western.  They want things like the remake of the WILD, WILD WEST, with all kinds of rockets in it, and all kinds of crap.  They corrupt the western.  They won’t do it.  If they did one, like Clint Eastwood did THE UNFORGIVEN, I guarantee you they’d make a helluvah lot of money.  And even Clint says it’s tough to get one of those things made.  One of my sons, Andy Frank Fenady, is President of Physical Production at Universal, and they’re not going to make a western, not gonna make a classic-type John Ford, John Wayne western now.  First of all there is no John Ford and there is no John Wayne.  And these guys today, I don’t know if they could carry a western.  The odds are very much against it. 

Silver Spurs, Mr. & Mrs. Dick Jones with Mary Frances & A.J.

The advice of a writer is, you’ve got to swing a little bit with the times.  I know people that are specifically a certain kind of writer.  They can only write adaptations.  Or they can only write detective stories.  As far as I’m concerned, if you can write, you can write.  If you can tell a story, you can write a song, you can write a novel, you can write a script: it’s just finding the format.  The first time I wrote a play, YES VIRGNIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS, I said, now how do you get started?  I went and read THE GLASS MENAGERIE, where Tom narrates the thing.  I said aha!  That’s how it’s done.  So I sat down and wrote it as a play.  You’ve got to be able to not so much specialize, because your specialty is liable to come out of fashion.  And you’d better be able to pull a switcheroo, like I did from documentaries like CONFIDENTIAL FILE to westerns like THE REBEL to detective stories like THE MAN WITH BOGART'S FACE  And now I find the market for me is novels, and you can write western novels.  And I won the Owen Wister Award from the Western Writers of America, the highest award that you can get, and the Golden Boot Award, and all that, and you get a reputation, and there is a market for western novels.  I mean, you’re not going to make millions, but on the other hand, you’re working at your trade.  


Neal McDonough, seen in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, MINORITY REPORT, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and currently scaring the Hell out of folks as Robert Quarles on JUSTIFIED, has signed on to play General Joseph Hooker in the upcoming Civil War miniseries, TO APPOMATTOX.  He joins a tremendous cast, including Rob Lowe as Grant, Stephen Lang as Lincoln, Will Patton as Lee and William Petersen as William Tecumseh Sherman.  The series is written by Michael Frost Beckner and directed by Mikael Salomon.  Mark Maritato shared the costume designs below. 


The Australia-shot pilot for the 1840s Missouri-set Western drama has been getting strong notice for its ‘rich look,’ according to Deadline: Hollywood.  Written and produced by Shaun Cassidy, and directed by Thomas Schlamme, the Sony Pictures Television production stars Ethan Embry, Megan Ferguson, Jake McLaughlin, Bridget Regan, Al Weaver, Gina Bramhill, Clancy Brown and Mustafa Shakir.  Recent additions to the cast include Erik Jensen, Chaske Spencer of the TWILIGHT films, and 14-year-old Nathan Gamble of the recent DOLPHIN TALE.


Yes, it’s an eastern not a western, but it sounds awfully interesting.  BBC America’s first-ever original drama, about an Irish-American cop patrolling New York’s infamous Five Points district in the 1860s, will premiere on August 19th.  The ten episode first season, starring  Tom Weston-Jones, is currently shooting in Toronto, and set to wrap in May.


On April Fools Day in 1912, Bronco Billy Anderson, searching for realistic backgrounds for his westerns, brought his Essanay film crew to Niles California.  And in four years they made 350 one-reel westerns – and no, 350 is not a typo.  To commemorate a century of sagebrush sagas in Niles, the NILES ESSANAY SILENT FILM MUSEUM is celebrating my making a new silent western on Bronco Billy’s old stomping grounds.  Entitled THE CANYON, it will be made with the Museum’s historic equipment and historical techniques.  They are seeking cast and crew members, and they are raising funds through  If you’d like to learn more, and perhaps take part, financially or otherwise, please go HERE. 


On Saturday, April 14th at 1:30 pm, catch John Ford’s brilliant telling of the shootout between the Earps and the Clantons.  It’s the third film in the Autry’s What Is A Western? series to examine the ultimate gunfight, following GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL and TOMBSTONE.  It stars Henry Fonda, Tim Holt and Ward Bond as Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp.  John Ireland and Grant Withers play Billy and Ike Clanton.  Victor Mature gives the best performance of his career as Doc Holliday, and the role of Old Man Clanton – and yes, that’s what he’s called on his headstone – is portrayed by Walter Brennan in a chilling manner that will erase your sappy/folksy image of him.  Based on the Stuart N. Lake book FRONTIER MARSHALL, which was filmed twice before, and was later the source for the Hugh O’Brien WYATT EARP series.   

Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms, Jeffrey Richardson will lead a discussion of the film and Hollywood’s intertwining of myth and history before the screening.  After, you might want to visit the Museum and see firearms that belonged to Wyatt and Doc, and check out the amazing Colt Gallery.


This annual celebration of film returns on April 12th.  The event is pricey: festival passes cost from $300 to $1200.  Single event tickets are $20 a pop, but cannot be bought in advance, and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.  Western events include the screening of Howards Hawks’ RIO BRAVO, with Angie Dickinson attending, and a newly reconstructed Cinerama print of HOW THE WEST WAS WON, which will be attended by Debbie Reynolds.   To find out more, visit the TCM Festival site HERE. 


Saturday and Sunday, April 21st and 22nd you can stroll the streets of Melody Ranch, where all the greats, from Gene Autry to Matt Dillon to Maverick, to the DEADWOOD folks, and most recently Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED cast have trod.  This is a wonderful not-to-be-missed event. 

Admission is $20 a day for adults, $10 for kids, with discounts for two days.  There will be a wide variety of musical performances at four stages.  The Melody Ranch Museum will be open to give you a peek into movie history.  Every manner of Western art, crafts, clothing, boots, and hats imaginable will be available.

Authors of Western fiction and fact will be signing and selling their tomes.   Entertainers like champion gun-spinner Joey Dillon, saloon pianist Professor David Bourne and magician Pop Haydn will be performing.  Cowboy poets and story-tellers will be rhyming words and spinning yarns.  And there will be a ton of activities aimed at kids of all ages.

In addition, there will be separate events, some at different locations, different dates and separate charges.  On Saturday, April 14 at 7:00 p.m. in the Hasley Hall Theatre at College of the Canyons, attend AN EVENING WITH JOEL COX, the Oscar-winning editor of UNFORGIVEN, and thirty other Clint Eastwood films (he was even an assistant editor on THE WILD BUNCH!). 

On Thursday, April 19th -- no admission for this – at Old Town Newhall on Main St. from 7 PM to 11PM, join the party filled with Music, Dancing, Food Trucks, Western vendors, and the unveiling of two new Stars in Old Town Newhall. The plaques for the new inductees into the Walk of Western Stars will be unveiled at 7:30 p.m. on the West side of Main Street. The inductees are Glenn Ford, who will be represented by his son Peter Ford, and Joel Cox, who will attend.

On Friday, April 20th, at 3:00 p.m. at the Repertory East Playhouse 24266 Main St. in Old Town Newhall, join Peter Ford, son of the great Glenn Ford, and author of Glenn Ford – His life and Movies.  They’ll be screening "The Rounders" and afterwards Peter will discuss his father's life and movie career.   And there’s so much more!  For details and directions, go HERE

That should do it for this week's Round-up!  I hope you had a great Easter, or are having a great Passover.  Next week I'll have my review of the New Zealand Western GOOD FOR NOTHING.

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright April 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved



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