Monday, April 29, 2013


On Saturday and Sunday, April 20th and 21st, the Veluzat family’s Melody Ranch welcomed fans of western art, movies, poetry and culture to the 20th Annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.  The event, which started two decades ago as strictly a cowboy poetry festival, held in the Santa Clarita High School Auditorium, has grown by leaps and bounds.   When the 1994 earthquake toppled the auditorium, the Veluzat family offered the use of what had once been the Monogram Movie Ranch and then Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch.   It’s been the Festival’s home ever since, and that weekend is the one chance the general public has each year to visit Southern California’s finest western movie town.
Indian posing for visitors
Visitors posing for Indian

And boy, did they visit!  I haven’t seen any official numbers, but everyone I spoke to confirmed that it was the largest attendance on record – I arrived on Saturday at noon, and had to wait on line fifty minutes for the shuttle bus that transports visitors to the ranch.  Happily, the ranch is so big that once you arrive, even with thousands of visitors strolling along the famed western street seen most recently in DJANGO UNCHAINED, you never felt mobbed.  And while I waited, in addition to studying the program schedule, I read a 12-page booklet I’d been handed, called MOVIE MAGIC AT MELODY RANCH.  Written by Leon Worden, it gives the most clear and concise history of filmmaking and television production at the ranch that I have read.


Dodging horses and lariats, I spotted a new addition to the event (actually added last year), a display by the Art Directors Guild.  Walking across the porch, where artists sketched free while-you-wait ‘Wanted Posters’ of visitors, I entered the storefront and found a striking collection of film production art, including set sketches from BIG HAND FOR A LITTLE LADY; designs from DEADWOOD, THE MISSOURI BREAKS and SILVERADO; Albert Brenner’s costume designs for ZANDY’S BRIDE and MONTY WALSH; blueprints for a Mission building from THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER; and a three-dimensional paper model of the western street for DJANGO UNCHAINED.  
Costume designs for ZANDY'S BRIDE and MONTY WALSH
Unidentified saloon design
Paper model of the western street for DJANGO UNCHAINED
At 2 p.m. I hurried over to the hangar-like building that houses the Melody Ranch Museum, which contains props, sets, vehicles and other production-related displays.  There by the big saloon set was the dedication ceremony for a framed display honoring two series that were filmed extensively at Melody Ranch: GUNSMOKE and DEADWOOD.  Writer/historian Julie Ann Ream, whose uncle Glenn Strange played the bartender at the Longbranch for many years, was coordinating the event.  Attendees included DEADWOOD regulars Geri Jewell and Ralph Richeson; GUNSMOKE – AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION author Ben Costello, and Inga Ojala, daughter of Arvo Ojala, the man whom Marshal Dillon would out-draw and shoot at the opening of every GUNSMOKE episode (Arvo was a legendary quick-draw artist, who taught Jim Arness how to shoot him).     

Julie Ann Ream with several men I'll need her to i.d.
A closer look at the GUNSMOKE and DEADWOOD display
Ralph Richeson, Ben Costello, Inga Ojala

Speaking of quick-draw artists, there I ran into quick-draw champion gunslinger Joey Dillon.  Joey trained Joseph Gordon Levitt in gun use for the recent LOOPER.  I asked him what his next film was.  “REACH ME.  It’s a cop drama, modern day, starring Thomas Jane, Sylvester Stallone, Kyra Sedgwick, and Nelly.  Tom Jane does some quick-draw gun-twirling, so they had me on-board to help teach him how; then they gave me a part as a gang-banger that he gets to kill.”  Sounds a little Arvo Ojala and James Arness to me.   I mentioned to Joey that I’d recently interviewed Thomas Jane (you’ll be seeing the interview here shortly) about his next project, MAGNIFICENT DEATH FROM A SHATTERED HAND, a western he co-wrote, and will direct and star in with Jeremy Irons and Nick Nolte.  “I’ve read it.  We did a lot of talking about it when I was doing this other movie with him, so we’ll see.”   
Joey Dillon demonstrating the sideways spin
Michael Biehn popularized in TOMBSTONE

I hurried back to the western street, looking in on the various entertainments and businesses that lined the boardwalk.  There were several places to have your picture taken in a western way, from the low-tech stick-your-head-through-hole-and-grin style, to a green-screen set-up offered by one of the event’s sponsors, Logix – Smarter Banking.  They also gave away a cool flip-book of a gunfight shot on that very street.

There were many choices for western clothes and cowboy hats, and one innovator had a vast collection of women’s shoulder-bags made from the long part of cowboy boots.  The delicacies offered along the way included kettle corn and jerky, which all cowboys know combine all the major food groups.
Shoulder-bags made from boots
Sampling gourmet jerky by Papa Nacca's
Ed Erlac
At the bend in the road I reached the Buckaroo Book Shop.  Drifting inside (I do a lot of drifting and moseying in western towns), I met western novelist Ed Erdelac, who writes the Merkabah Rider stories about a Hasidic gunslinger – you can learn more about him HERE .

Steve Deming

Beside him was cowboy poet Steve Deming, who told me that he became a poet out of necessity.  “When I was eleven years old, I found myself unable to afford a Mother’s Day card.  So I wrote a poem; and she loved it so much that she encouraged me to continue writing poetry.  So when I got into horses about thirty-five years ago I changed to the ‘cowboy poetry’ genre.”   His recent book THE SOURCE – POEMS OF THE TRAIL, won the Academy of Western Artists’ poetry book of the year award You can learn more about Steve’s poetry HERE.   

Peter Sherayko and Lenore Andriel

In front of the book store, a table was covered with all the different foreign editions of the DVD of YELLOW ROCK, the multiple award-winning Western shot at both Melody and nearby Veluzat Ranch.  Co-writers and co-producers Steve Doucette and Lenore Andriel were there – Lenore also stars in the movie, opposite Michael Biehn and James Russo, taking a break from writing their next western script, which might be either prequel or sequel to YELLOW ROCK.  To learn more about YELLOW ROCK, see the trailer, or purchase the movie, go HERE.  Coming soon is Randy Miller’s original score on CD.
Steve Doucette
Another Yellow Rocker, Peter Sherayko, who wrote the book – actually two books -- on western movie authenticity, was eager to talk about his next project, THERECKONING OF SCARLET WATERS , on which he’d just signed on as a producer and actor.  He’ll be portraying TEXAS JACK, the same real-life gunfighter he played in TOMBSTONE. 

Also there was actor David R. Booth, and White Wing Entertainment producer Terri Marie.  Terri was a protégé of the excellent director Irvin Kershner, perhaps best known for his STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  But he also directed RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE, and 35 episodes of one of the best western series of all time, THE REBEL.  Kershner tried to put together one more western film before he died in 2010, and now Terri Marie is trying once more with that project.
Barn facade, with soundtage B beyond

Continuing on the street, passing the Children’s Corral and the Rancho Camulos table – the historic ranch where the novel RAMONA was both conceived, and later filmed by D. W. Griffith – I passed through the open door of a barn, which turned out to be a façade, and soon found myself in the land o’ food.  There was a wide and appetizing array of chow, from burgers to Mexican food to Indian fry-bread specialties, but as usual I headed straight to the Cowboy Cultural Committee, where I got their famous peach Cowboy Cobbler, cooked in Dutch ovens, and got a ten dollar cup of coffee: every year they have a new tin coffee-cup design, and my wife could not be less pleased that I have found something new to collect and cram into the kitchen cupboard.  On the other hand, it comes with as many refills as you can drink for both days. 

brewing cowboy coffee

The focus of the festival has shifted more and more away from cowboy poetry to cowboy music, and next to the Gold Rush Food Court is the Melody Ranch Stage, the biggest of the four venues that present continuous music from its finest practitioners.  Among the excellent acts I was privileged to hear perform that afternoon were Native American musician Tracy Lee Nelson; The Band of the California Battalion, a recreation of a Union Civil War brass band; Fort Worth singer/songwriter Ginny Mac; and a pair of legendary and brilliant bands, The Sons of the San Joaquin and Riders in the Sky.  I didn’t manage to see Baxter Black, Don Edwards, Hot Club of Cowtown or The Saddle Cats, but heard great things about all of their performances.

Tracy Lee Nelson
Band of the California Battalion
Ginny Mac

Son of the San Joaquin
Riders in the Sky
I distract Joey the Polka-King in mid-song!

After scalding my throat with as many coffee refills as I could handle, I made my way through the Trading Post and Mercantile Row areas, checking out their wares and visiting the booths of The Autry, True West Magazine, the William S. Hart Union High School District and others.  I ended my visit by dropping into the Buffalo Soldiers exhibit.  It was a wonderful way to spend a day, and like I say, it only comes along once a year, so don’t miss it!  It’s $20 for adults, and ten for kids, and if you want to make sure you know when the next one is coming, you can visit their website HERE and register for updates. 



The Western Fictioneers, an organization of professional western fiction writers dedicated to traditional western storytelling, has revealed their nominations for their 3rd annual Peacemaker Awards.  The Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Robert Vaughan, who started writing novels at the age of nineteen, fifty-five years ago.  Under various names he’s authored about 350 books, roughly a hundred of them westerns, the first being a Jake Logan entitled CHEYENNE BLOODBATH.  Among the competitive awards, nominees for Best Western Novel are CITY OF ROCKS by Michael Zimmer, UNBROKE HORSES by D.B. Jackson, APACHE LAWMAN by Phil Dunlap, and WIDE OPEN by Larry Bjornson.

The Best Western Short Story nominees are Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill  by Troy Smith, Adeline by Wayne Dundee, Christmas For Evangeline by C. Courtney Joyner, Keepers of Camelot by Cheryl Pierson, and The Toys by James J. Griffin.  Incidentally, the last three nominees were all published in SLAY BELLS AND SIX GUNS, a collection of creepy Christmas stories published by Western Fictioneers.
The Best Western First Novel nominees are HIGH STAKES by Chad Strong, WIDE OPEN by Larry Bjornson, RED LANDS OUTLAW – THE BALLAD OF HENRY STARR by Phil Truman, LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK by Tom Rizzo, and SIPPING WHISKEY IN A SHALLOW by Mark Mitten.  The winners will be announced on June 1st.  You can learn more about the Western Fictioneers HERE


And speaking of TCM (okay, nobody was), have I mentioned that the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here?


Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepreneur 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 permanent 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 Hollywoodwestern, 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.




RFD-TV, the channel whose president bought Trigger and Bullet at auction, have a special love for Roy Rogers. They show an episode of The Roy Rogers Show on Sunday mornings, a Roy Rogers movie on Tuesday mornings, and repeat them during the week.

WHT-TV has a weekday afternoon line-up that’s perfect for kids, featuring LASSIE, THE ROY ROGERS SHOW and THE LONE RANGER.

TV-LAND angered viewers by dropping GUNSMOKE, but now it’s back every weekday, along with BONANZA.

AMC usually devotes much of Saturday to westerns, often with multi-hour blocks of THE RIFLEMAN, and just this week began running RAWHIDE as well.  Coming soon, LONESOME DOVE and RETURN TO LONESOME DOVE miniseries!


That’s it for this week’s Round-up!  I’ve been attending the TCM Classic Film Festival for the last four days, and I’ll have plenty about that next week, as well as my review of the new DVD restoration of THE GRAND DUEL, and hopefully my review of the new Pat Buttram biography.

Happy Trails,



All Contents Copyright April 2013 by Henry C. Parke – All Right Reserved

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