Thursday, June 27, 2013


Ron Maxwell directing new recruits

‘COPPERHEAD’, the new Civil War film from ‘GETTYSBURG’ and ‘GODS AND GENERALS’ director Ron Maxwell, opens on Friday, June 28th, at select theatres around the country.  It will open wider depending on its reception in its first week, so if you are interested in seeing it, and in seeing other serious historical dramas, I urge you to make a point to catch it right away.  You can learn more about COPPERHEAD HERE.


Henry Parke and Ron Maxwell

Moviegoers in general, and Round-up readers in particular, are likely most familiar with writer-director Ron Maxwell from his previous two Civil War masterpieces, GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS, both based on novels by Michael Shaara – the film GETTYSBURG is actually based on Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize Winning novel THE KILLER ANGELS.  But before he took on the War Between The States, Maxwell had directed a wide and varied group of films. SEA MARKS (1976) was a two-character TV movie based on a play by Gardner McKay.  VERNA:USO GIRL (1978), an episode of PBS GREAT PERFORMANCES, based on a Paul Gallico story, starring Sissy Spacek, won supporting actor Howard deSilva an Emmy, and a best director nomination for Maxwell.  Next came LITTLE DARLINGS (1980), featuring Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol as summer-campers in a race to lose their virginity; THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA (1981), a drama based on the country hit of the same title; KIDCO (1984), a comedy about kids in the fertilizer business; PARENT TRAP 2 (1986), a reworking of the Disney hit, again with Haley Mills in two roles; and a documentary, IN THE LAND OF POETS (1987).  For some weeks, Maxwell has been traveling around the country previewing his new Civil War drama, COPPERHEAD.  He was kind enough to meet with me before his Santa Monica preview, to discuss his newest film, as well as GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS, and future plans that include a Western!

HENRY: Did you always intend your Civil War films to be a trilogy?

RON MAXWELL: Well, the third part of the trilogy is THE LAST FULL MEASURE, which we haven’t yet done, and perhaps will never do.  Like the first two, it’s another movie that is in the epic form, it’s going to be a long movie; it’s huge battle scenes.  It’s got all the other elements the other two have of the epic, and that is an entirely different kind of movie than COPPERHEAD.  COPPERHEAD is more in the realm of traditional story-telling, within two hours.  So in that sense it’s more like what most movies smell and feel like.  The other two are huge departures, and they have more to do with the epic form, where you have Abel Gance’s  film (NAPOLEON), D. W. Griffith, you think of the theatric form, it’s its own genre, and it predates cinema.  It’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (a series of four heroic Richard Wagner operas), it’s Milton; it’s a different tradition.  COPPERHEAD, it’s fair to say, is in my Civil War anthology, but not my trilogy, because THE LAST FULL MEASURE would deliver the third part.  But certainly a third movie in the Civil War.  And it’s added up to dedicating a huge part of my life invested in making movies about that part of history.   

HENRY:  I was wondering if you’d decided to space the films ten years apart, or if that’s just how it worked out.

RON MAXWELL:  It’s just how it worked out, because these things are not easy to set up, to finance.  There certainly is time involved in research, in writing a screenplay, for sure – you don’t rush into these kinds of movies.  But the bulk of the time between the movies is setting up the financing, because I’ve been forty years making movies, and thirty of those have been in Hollywood.  And I’ve yet to see or hear of any weekly meeting at a studio when the executive in charge says, “Does anyone have a Civil War movie we can do?”  (laughs)

HENRY: (laughs) I specialize in Westerns, so I know exactly what you mean.  Now you’re another NYU guy, right?

RON MAXWELL:  Yup.  I graduated NYU School of Film & Television in 1970, with my MFA.  My class (included) Jeremy Kagan, Martha Coolidge, a few others – a pretty neat bunch of people. 

HENRY: Why is the Civil War such an important subject to you?

RON MAXWELL:   The first connection from a movie-making point of view came with THE KILLER ANGELS, because I read that book in ’78 and I just connected with it as a great story,  great literature, great characters, that happened to be about the Civil War.  If it was about a different war I probably would have connected to it as well, because I was responding to a piece of literature and a story that I felt called to tell; people that I felt very compelled and interested about as a filmmaker.  Having said that, back up.  From the time of my childhood, my daddy took my younger brother and I to historical sites.  I grew up in northern New Jersey, so where we would go on weekends and family trips were places that were Colonial history, French & Indian War, American Revolution.  We visited Ft. Ticonderoga, Ft. William Henry, Saratoga, and this informed my childhood.  As soon as I could read I was reading about Nathan Hale and Ethan Allan and Robert Rogers – I grew up with this stuff.  And I walked on the places and I sat on the canons.  It was a wonderful childhood.  I was a Boy Scout, overnight camping and all that stuff.  And so I grew up really steeped in and enjoying American history.  And then when I got older I took in European history as well.  So that by the time I read THE KILLER ANGELS in my late twenties, I had already read the works that those of my generation should have read by then, which were Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote – that generation of historians.  I was predisposed to subject matter taking place during the Civil War, but I didn’t visit my first Civil War battlefield until after I’d optioned the book, which might have been in ’80.   I lived in Manhattan at the time, and I drove down to Gettysburg for my first-ever visit to a Civil War Battlefield.  And Michael Shaara, who wrote the book, flew his own little plane, landed it at the grassy little landing strip at Gettysburg, and we spent three days together.  And he walked me through the battlefield, as he wrote about it in THE KILLER ANGELS: day one, day two, day three.  I had one of the best guides you could ever have to experience your first Civil War battlefield. 

HENRY:  How did you like Tom Berrenger, your Lt. Gen. Longstreet’s performance in HATFIELDS & MCCOYS? 

RON MAXWELL:   I didn’t see it, because I was filming.   That came out last summer, and I was in Canada making COPPERHEAD; otherwise I would have seen it.  I heard it was wonderful. 

Martin Sheen as Lee in GETTYSBURG

HENRY:  With GETTYSBURG, you popularized the use of Civil War reenactors, instead of standard issue extras in standard issue Western Costume uniforms, to play the battle scenes.  It really revolutionized the look of war movies in general, and Civil War movies in particular.  Why did you do it?  What were the advantages?

RON MAXWELL:   Well, when I started on GETTYSBURG, anybody that works in the movie business knows, the first thing your confronted in is what is the upside potential, and what is the downside risk.    You can apply that to almost any business, but those are the terms you hear in the movie business.  So for the upside potential, most people, when they play that game, mean “Get me Brad Pitt,” or “Get me Steven Speilberg.”  Because unless you get those big names, it’s hard to even guess the upside potential of anything.  As we know repeatedly, little films can suddenly do big business, anything can happen – you’re in a very volatile area.  That’s part of the excitement of the business.  The downside risk, that’s something to address as a filmmaker. When I looked at the Battle of Gettysburg, the only point to make a movie like this is to show the scale, otherwise don’t do THE KILLER ANGELS – do something else.  Find a short story by Ambrose Bierce.  Like OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE is one of my favorite short films, and you can do that with ten people.  But because it was the Battle of Gettysburg, and the expectation of people is you’ve got to have Pickett’s Charge. If you don’t, you’re going to get hounded out of the business, and maybe hounded out of the country.  So you know you have to deliver scale.  At the time we started this, shooting in the United States seemed like an absolute impossibility.  Before CGI became CGI, nobody was making movies like that in North America anymore; nobody.  The last ones that were made like that shut the studios down, like  CLEOPATRA in the ‘60s, and even that was made in Italy.  With that many extras and that many costumes and that many people to support, you’re in the D.W. Griffith world, the C.B. DeMille world.  This was in 1980 when the process started, and I was looking at Eastern Europe.   That’s where Dino DiLaurentis did WATERLOO with Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer.  Because you could get the Red Army.  It’s sort of ironic, because here we are doing an archetypical American story, and you have to go to the Soviet Union in the height of the Cold War to make it!  I didn’t get to the Soviet Union, but I did go, in the ‘80s, to Hungary and Poland, to set up working with their armies which were, as we know, variations on the Red Army.  And you could sort of rent an army.  You still had to manufacture the costumes and all that stuff, but your costs would come down if you could shoot in Eastern Europe, and people were doing it, especially cavalry scenes.  So as I was investigating that, what was happening in the late ‘70s and late ‘80s was the burgeoning ‘Reenactor Movement.’  It started with a few thousand, and grew to tens of thousands.  I was tracking that, and I was going to reenactments, and what you’d see at reenactments was people who took it very seriously.  There was nothing generic and, like you said correctly when you were talking about the costume houses that had  done war movies in the past; they spent a lot of time on the costumes for the leads, they have the best costume designers in the world.  But the background would be generic grey or generic blue.  The difference was here, every single reenactor was portraying a specific soldier.  They knew the private that they were doing, or the corporal they were doing; they knew their name, and what battle they were killed at, or whether they survived.  So as a result their uniforms were meticulously put together.  They’re known as living historians.  They went to all that research and homework which no film crew would ever have time to do.  And they looked right, because they had the face hair, they had the mustaches, they had the eyeglasses.  So, you multiply this by 100 people or 200 people.  Now think of the cost savings – you’re not having to build those uniforms anymore.  And the more sophisticated reenactors, they would do what you know as galvanize; which means they could go both ways, they could do a Confederate impression – they call it impressions – and they could do a Federal impression.  They could do an officer; they could do a private.  Or they could do a Tennessee regiment; they could do a Massachusetts regiment.  And then, they also had the flags – just so authentic: they’d done all the research.  The cannons!  Five or six guys, mostly blue-collar guys – you’d find the occasional doctor or dentist or businessman, but mostly blue-collar guys – working nine to five at a job.  They’d pool their savings and manufacture these cannons!  These were thousands of dollars!  Real cannons, on carriages, that could really fire munitions!  Could you imagine if a movie company had started to manufacture, to make this stuff?  Forget it!  So on GETTYSBURG, a couple of things happened.  1989, the Berlin Wall fell – goodbye to that option.  Their whole film industry collapsed a few years later.  After I made GETTYSBURG I was in Bucharest, I was in Sofia.  And I met accomplished filmmakers, DPs, directors, writers, department heads that were driving cabs, who were shining shoes.  They were reduced to beggary, in the first years after the Wall fell, because everything collapsed; (the film industry) was completely state funded.  It was a sad thing to see.  Thankfully that industry has rebounded.  But the other thing, the coincidence of that collapsing, was that the reenactment movement was growing, so that’s why we really did something.  So that’s what we did, and you’re quite right, there had been little videos made with reenactors before, but never a major motion picture.  The one movie that used them before us was GLORY.  GLORY was made in ’89; our movie was filmed in the summer of ’92.  They used reenactors.  They went to the 125th Anniversary of Gettysburg – we’re actually coming up on the 150th – and they filmed it.  But they put their cameras on the outside, and they captured.  So the Antietam sequence at the beginning of GLORY, that’s from that 125th reenactment.  They sat on the outside with long lenses, and they were able to get some very good footage.  And they augmented it with some tighter work with their actors.  What we did that was innovative is we built the reenactors in from the get-go.  So we didn’t go to a reenactment; we used thousands and thousands of reenactors.  We scheduled them in. We choreographed them to do exactly what we wanted, and we decided the camera moves, through them, over them, around them.  That was innovative; we were the first big film to use reenactors that way.  And without the reenactors – I’ve said this a million times – there’s no GETTYSBURG, and there’s no GODS AND GENERALS.  They were an essential pillar to making those movies, so you could see the scale.  You’d have the camera back, but also, you could move the camera in from a long shot to an extreme close-up, and you’re still in the 1860s.  The big difference, from my point of view, between the two movies, was on the first movie, we didn’t have the heart, and the chutzpah, to turn anybody away.  We thought, these are volunteers.  We gave them three meals a day, gave them fodder for their horses, gave them a place to put their tents, but they were still volunteers, and we didn’t have the heart to say, ‘You can’t participate.’  And so we accepted people who were overweight, and too old.  And we tried to put them in the background as much as we could, but it was a problem for us, constantly.  And the ADs (assistant directors) were trying to keep them in the back, keep the younger, leaner ones up-front.  On GODS AND GENERALS we said look, we’re making a movie here, and we’re just going to be really strict about this.  We had a much more stringent recruitment process, so nobody on GODS AND GENERALS was older than thirty.  Everybody looked like they were a real Civil War soldier.  They were young; they were lean.  And that, in terms of using the reenactors, was the big difference in the two movies.

HENRY:  Now, while KILLER ANGELS and GODS AND GENERALS were current or recent best-sellers at the time that you made the films, COPPERHEAD, by Harold Frederic, was pretty obscure, being a best-seller in 1893.  How did you come upon it, and how long were you aware of it?

RON MAXWELL:   I read THE COPPERHEAD sometime after the release of GODS AND GENERALS.  I’m always looking for Civil War fiction, and I’ve got what’s got to be one of the best collections around; I’ve been collecting for a long time.  And most of it’s out of print, but you can get it now, thanks to the internet, and second-hand bookstores.  You can get out-of-prints works now much easier than you could have even ten, fifteen years ago.  And I’ve had friends at different universities – David Madden, recently retired head of the English department at LSU.  He’s written extensively about Civil War fiction, essays and articles.  He was a great guide for me, to find books I didn’t know to look for.  And there is a lot there that is out of print, really worth discovering.  It’s like all the arts.  Every now and then I come across a piece of literature, or a poet, or a piece of music, an opera that I’ve never heard before, and I think, how did I miss this?  This outstanding work.  But it’s because we can’t have it all on our radar all the time.  And things fall in and out of fashion.  Harold Frederic is a very interesting writer.  In Edmund Wilson’s book, PATRIOTIC GORE, that was published sometime in the 1960s, which is a very important work, because he’s writing literary criticism of a hundred years of Civil War fiction.  And he singles out COPPERHEAD in that book as a singular work, unlike anything else written about the Civil War.  It’s unlike it because it’s about the North, about dissenters in the North, ‘copperheads’, if you will.  And he writes with great authenticity about middle-of-the-19th-century rural America, and through his eyes you can see that part of the world in the same way that, through the eyes of Charles Dickens you can see Victorian England, without reading any other histories, just through the eyes of the fiction writer. 

Jeff Daniels as Chamberlain in GODS AND GENERALS

HENRY:  And see it, really, more clearly through the fiction than you could through history. 

RON MAXWELL:   Absolutely; because he’s writing characters.  He’s also writing dialogue that he heard.  There’s a line, for instance, one of many, when Esther is handing the ear of corn to Jimmy, and she says, “It’s tougher than Pharaoh’s heart.”  If I spent the rest of my life, I wouldn’t come up with that line.  That was from Harold Frederic, and he must have heard it.  He must have heard it in a community saturated with Biblical references, from cradle to grave.  So 90% of the dialogue, give or take, is from the book.  The other 10% Bill Kaufman wrote while turning it into a screenplay.  But Frederic is a wonderful author, and he had two moments: his own moment when it was published.  He was a very successful writer, and he made a good living at it; he was popular in his own time.  Then he fell into obscurity in the anti-war years.  Then he was rediscovered by Edmund Wilson, and you can see at that time there was slight rebirth in recognition – he was back in print.  Then he fell back into obscurity again until now.  We’re reissuing the COPPERHEAD novel.  We had to re-set the type because the one that’s currently available is very difficult to read – there are typos and grammatical errors.  So we re-set the type, and published in the same book, at the same time the movie comes out, is the screenplay. 

HENRY:  COPPERHEAD is a set in Utica, New York, about two families torn apart by the Civil War.  Several characters go to war, with dramatic results, but the war never reaches the town, and is never shown.  Was it a difficult choice, to keep the physical war out of the film entirely?

RON MAXWELL: Yes.  Of course, it’s not in the book, but you’re quite right; we had discussions.  Should we have a flash-back or a flash-forward, or cut to where Jeff is?  All the boys leave, and as they come back, we learn that they were all caught up in the Battle of Antietam. Some come back wounded; some don’t come back at all.  And we know through the testimony of (the survivors), who was shot and killed.  We discussed it.  We thought, why go there?  Because the movie is about the village in the North.  It’s about their not knowing.  They don’t have an omniscient eye.  They don’t have CNN.  They only know it, and they only knew it at the time, from newspapers, and people coming back.  So let’s keep it really where they live.  It’s about Abner; it’s about Jee; it’s about the families, the mothers and fathers.  So when those people in Watkins’s store, when (soldiers) first come back, they’re listening to every word, and that’s when they hear what happened to (the boys from the town).  It’s more effective, more dramatic, more emotional.  And later on, when (another soldier) talks about his experiences, it’s not in the book, but we put that in the blacksmith’s shop, so we have an excuse to have the bellows and smoke, and the hammering that then becomes gunfire, to at least atmospherically make it feel like battle. 

HENRY:  Billy Campbell as Abner Beech is a very unusual hero for a movie.  He’s branded a copperhead because he lives in the North, but opposes going to war over cessation.  He’s politically incorrect both in his day and ours.  His scathing comments about Lincoln, and his belief that ending slavery is not a good enough reason for one group of Americans to go to war against another.  Did you consider softening his stance to make him more likable and PC? 

RON MAXWELL: The only thing we did, and anyone who reads the novel will see it, is dispensed with the ‘n-word.’  We just don’t need that, and we can portray this authentically without offending people.  But other than that we portray him honestly as he was.  He is on a spectrum of people who were generically called copperheads.  It’s like today we call people conservatives, we call people liberals.  That’s a pretty broad label to put on people, considering how different we all are from one another.  Copperhead was a term of derision, a contemptuous term used by pro-war Republicans against anyone who disagreed with the war effort.  But within those people who disagree you get people who were racist then, and racist now, and they could care less what happened to the black man.  But then along that spectrum you had people like Abner Beech, who was absolutely against slavery, pro-Union, but just did not think that this was the solution.  As he articulates in the film, sometimes you can take a bad situation, even an intolerable situation, and make it worse.  We’re having this debate now about Syria.  There’s a massacre going on there.  But if we go in there with the U.S. Army, and bombs and airplanes, how do we know we’re not going to make it even worse?  So these kinds of questions are always with us, they’re ethical dilemmas.  But the feedback we’ve gotten from audiences so far – we’ve had twelve or thirteen public screenings – enjoy the fact that it’s a film that presents ethical, moral dilemmas, where it’s not easy to sort it out.  Because it wasn’t then and, guess what: it isn’t now.  Now I have to share with you, because I know what you write about.  I am planning to do a Western.  It’s called BELLE STARR; it’s based on the extraordinary book by Speer Morgan, that was published in ’79.  I had it set up in ’79 and ’80 at United Artists.  And they were going to do it, and then HEAVEN’S GATE came out, and my Western, and every other Western collapsed.  That’s how long I’ve been going to do it.  But we have a new script; it was co-written by Alan Geoffrion, who wrote BROKEN TRAIL.  We’ll see how well we do at the box office with COPPERHEAD.  If we do well, there’s a good chance that BELLE STARR will be made next summer. 

HENRY:  I’ve enjoyed your wide range of films, including LITTLE DARLINGS.  Now this might sound to some like an out-of-left-field reference, but many of your non-Civil War films – PARENT TRAP 2, KIDCO – have focused on young people making a transition to adulthood and independence, which is a central theme of COPPERHEAD. 

RON MAXWELL: You’re the first one to bring this out, and it’s very true.  Thank you for the question, because people that were invested in this film are young, and again, as in the earlier question you asked about the former movies, they were preoccupied with officers.  They went to West Point, they were veterans together.  They were relatively highly educated, for their age.  But the guys who fought the war, and died in huge numbers, were boys, what we would consider boys, under twenty years old.  So it was very important that we cast this picture young.  And the actors are young.  Lucy Boynton turned eighteen just before we started filming – which was good, we didn’t need to have a social worker on the set, and a teacher.  So we cast it young, because that’s the truth, that’s the true image of the war.  I love stories with young people.  We had in our marketing meeting, we forget, we tend to think that people who are interested in the Civil War, in American history are a quote – unquote, older audience.  But this movie is about young kids, so we keep on saying, in our marketing efforts, don’t neglect the young audience.  The young audience can connect with this movie just as much as an older audience. 

We weren’t actually done at this point, but Ron Maxwell’s people had to hurry him to a screening in Santa Monica.  He promised to call me, to answer the rest of my questions, and two days later, en route to a screening in Atlanta, he did.  I’ll have part two of this interview in the Round-up very soon.



After a map shows the relative positions of Virginia and New York, and the voice of a lad we’ll come to know as Jimmy suggests what the Civil War, already a year old, will do to his home, we see six boys strolling down a green country lane.  It’s so idyllic, their exuberance, their all-so-different hats that each thinks makes him an individual, that you can’t help thinking of Huck and Tom in Hannibal, though these boys are a shade older.  Their discussion of the war is fanciful and childish.  And yet they are the very age – and some will be the very boys – who will cause, and be victims of, the carnage that ravaged America in the War Between the States.  

If you, like I, are a fan of writer-director Ron Maxwell’s two Civil War epics, GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS, then COPPERHEAD is decidedly not the movie you would expect to conclude his war-between-the-states trilogy.   And while Maxwell intends indeed to make it a trilogy – read my accompanying interview with Maxwell – this is not that film.  Those films are about military officers, professional soldiers.  This is a film about privates; at worst, about cannon fodder, the world and the homes and families that produced them.  The war, in fact, is never seen, though it is a perpetual off-screen presence whose effects upon a remote community in upstate New York are the core of the story.  Harold Frederic wrote the novel in 1893, basing it on the memories of his youth in Utica, New York, during the Civil War. 

Abner Beech & family in church

Because it is the parents who produce these lads, it is also the story of the title character, Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), a dairyman and lumberman who sides neither with the Union nor the Confederacy.  While he has no love of slavery, he is more concerned that President Lincoln is ordering Americans to fight Americans, a demand he believes to be unconstitutional.  For this, Abner Beech is labeled a ‘copperhead,’ the pejorative the anti-slavery Republicans used to describe Democrats who would rather negotiate a quick peace with seceding southern states than end slavery and preserve the Union.  It is also the story of Jee Hagadom (Angus McFayden), a barrel-maker, crushed after the death of his wife, his life taking on new meaning with his abolitionist  obsession. 

Fonda, Maxwell, Campbell

But mostly it is the story of the callow youth, and most of us can see ourselves, to our chagrin, in either the ones who blindly parrot their parents’ political beliefs without understanding them, or those who arbitrarily reject those beliefs as a sign of their independence.  And some of us can see ourselves in both.   Abner has a son, Jeff (Casey Brown) a bright and likable fellow, smitten with Hagadom’s daughter, schoolmarm Esther (Lucy Boynton), and he maddens his father by spouting Hagadom’s opinions.  Abner suspects Hagadom is directly responsible for the growing hostility the community is showing to him, sabotaging his ability to make a living, so he’s not open to his son’s often sensible comments.

Esther is having things no easier – her father has told her it would kill him if she married Jeff.  Her brother Ni (Augustus Prew), who has no wish to be a soldier, is crushed to be a disappointment to his father.  Jeff’s parents have raised an orphan, Jimmy (Josh Cruddas), nearly as a son, and he, too, is torn between loyalty to his adopted family, and his desire to think for himself. 

Some looking for adventure, some to impress a girl, some in a fit of pique, the boys go off to war, and Abner and his family are not only minus a son, but soon become the stand-in victims of a populace that wants to get their hands on their Southern enemies, but cannot.  The rising level of abuse and cruelty, inevitably reaching its brutal, destructive crescendo, is as upsetting as it is familiar, because times may change, but human nature does not. 

Peter Fonda

All of the international cast is strong, but worthy of particular note is Peter Fonda, in a low-key performance as the blacksmith, sounding board for Abner and others, who has strong opinions, but a rarely encountered open mind as well.  COPPERHEAD is about the effects of war, and the people who fight wars, but it is not about war itself.  You won’t get that rush of thrill and terror, because the battles never reach the screen, since they don’t reach the town, though the often shattered remnants of the war do come back.  COPPERHEAD is a thoughtful, well-made, involving film that raises difficult issues without presenting facile conclusions.  There is much food for discussion here.  My one criticism is that the tone is at times overbearingly solemn, in a way that, combined with a sometimes perfect but sometimes somber score, grinds all action to a halt.  A house-fire that promises some excitement is drawn into slow-motion at a time when you desperately want things speeded up.  But for all the darkness, it is a hopeful, inspiring story that will transport you to a world you’ve only read or dreamed about, populated by people you know all too well. 


The Sony Movie Channel regularly features Westerns in their line-up, but they’re pulling out the big guns in July.  For the first week of the month, every night will include a western double-feature, every Wednesday night will be all westerns, and July 7th and July 28th will be all-day Western marathons! 

In addition to the Western films, Sony Movie Channel is providing one lucky winner the chance to experience what it is like living the cowboy way with its “Sony Movie Channel Back in the Saddle Sweepstakes.” One grand prize winner of the sweepstakes will enjoy a trip for two to Lost Valley Ranch in Colorado. The winner will get to experience the western lifestyle for 3 days and 2 nights at the dude ranch, plus airfare to Denver and $500 cash for incidentals. Also, six weekly first place prize packages will be awarded, where winners will receive a pack of Western movies and a pack of limited edition SMC hot sauces. The sweepstakes has started, \ and ends July 31, 2013 at 11:59PM Pacific Time. To enter, go to or See Official Rules for complete details.

It’s an interesting mix of sagebrush sagas, from 1948 to the 21st Century.  Among the Westerns they’ll be featuring are Audie Murphy in ARIZONA RAIDERS and 40 GUNS TO APACHE PASS; Randolph Scott in A LAWLESS STREET and DECISION AT SUNDOWN; Gary Cooper in THEY CAME TO CORDURA;  Tom Sellick and Sam Elliot in THE SHADOW RIDERS; Robert Duvall in BROKEN TRAIL; Brad Pitt in LEGENDS OF THE FALL; Matt Damon in ALL THE PRETTY HORSES; West Studi in GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND; Glenn Ford in JUBAL; George Montgomery in THE PATHFINDER and BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER; Van Heflin in GUNMAN’S WALK; Fred MacMurray in FACE OF A FUGITIVE; Robert Young in RELENTLESS; and James Garner as Wyatt Earp opposite Bruce Willis as Tom Mix in SUNSET.  Visit HERE for details. 


How’s this for a switch?  Hallmark’s new Western series, WHEN CALLS THE HEART, (read my March 25 article here: based on the best-selling CANADIAN WEST book series by Janette Oke,  set in 1910, involves the romance between a school-teacher and a Royal Canadian Mountie, and will be shot not in Canada, but in and around Telluride, Colorado.  Colorado Governor Hickenlooper and Hallmark President Bill Abbott made the joint announcement, noting that it’s the first TV series shot in the area since FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES in 1991! 

The series will have a extended pilot premiere on October 5th, with three-time Emmy winner Jean Smart, and Lori Loughlin, the series proper beginning in January 2014, starring Erin Krakow (“Army Wives” “Castle”) and Daniel Lissing (“Last Resort”) in the romantic leads, and it’s not yet determined if Smart and Loughlin will be returning.

Based on the best-selling CANADIAN WEST book series by Janette Oke, set in 1910, it’s the story of Elizabeth Thatcher, a cultured teacher who, with misgivings, gives up her comfortable city life to become a teacher in a prairie town on the western frontier.  She’s determined to prove her independence to her doubting family, and her doubting self.  She’s helped in part by drawing inspiration from a late Aunt’s secret diary.  It seems the Aunt had a similar adventure, and similarly had a romance with a Royal Canadian Mountie. 

Author Janette Oke and the Hallmark Channel have had a long and successful partnership since 2003, when they first adapted her book LOVE COMES SOFTLY.  It’s led to a dozen titles from the series since then, most or all of them westerns, many with LOVE’S (ADJECTIVE) (NOUN) titles.  The WHEN CALLS THE HEART movie was written and directed by Michael Landon, Jr.      

That's all for this Round-up.  Sorry it's so late, coming on a Thursday instead of the previous Sunday -- I've received emails from friends who were afraid that something had happened to me!  The fact is, my wife and I had our first chance to get out of L.A. in two years, and we grabbed it.  And I cheerfully left the computer behind!

I should be back on schedule with the next Round-up on Sunday!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright June 2013 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 17, 2013



From Friday through Sunday, June 21st through the 24th, Denver, Colorado will draw collectors of Western art, artifacts and memorabilia from around the globe for Brian Lebel’s 24TH ANNUAL OLD WEST SHOW & AUCTION.  While the three-day event features a marketplace with over 200 antique and collectible dealers, the centerpiece is Saturday’s auction, where 337 lots will be sold, comprising an astonishing collection of Western items.  

They say that timing is everything, and what could be better timing for the daughter of Clayton Moore, TV’s THE LONE RANGER, to part with some of her mementoes on the eve of the release of the new LONE RANGER movie?   Says Clayton’s only child, Dawn Moore, “He always said that when he was gone I should keep whatever pieces have particular meaning to me, with the rest to be enjoyed by whoever would appreciate them.” 
Cigar store Indian

I was on Hollywood Boulevard in 1987 when Clayton Moore got his star on the Walk of Fame, and among the fans present were MCGYVER star Richard Dean Anderson, for whom he was a role model.  When Moore wrote his autobiography, I WAS THAT MASKED MAN, and I stood on line at a book signing, along with my wife, and Tex Ritter’s son, attorney Tom Ritter, and we were all struck by how many LAPD officers, and CHP officers, helmets in hand, were waiting for autographs.  Dawn says that even now, thirteen years after her father’s death, she still receives his fan mail, mostly from baby-boomers who are now police officers, firefighters and teachers.  “These were the young viewers who decided to become protectors in some capacity because of my father’s role on television.  Talk about paying it forward – it’s very powerful stuff.”  Among the Clayton Moore Lone Ranger clothing items up for bids are a Nudie’s Stetson, a Bohlin Buscadero Lone Ranger double holster gun rig, four pairs of boots, a Nudie’s Lone Ranger costume, a Manuel Lone Ranger costume, shirts, pants, and a red neckerchief. Among personal items are a Winchester presentation rifle, gold records, posters, toys, toupees, and a silver bullet that comes with a signed picture of Clayton Moore and Richard Nixon. 
Pistol and papers of Wyoming Sheriff Nottage

And speaking of TV heroes, let’s give equal time to TV heroines.  Gail Davis starred in ANNIE OAKLEY in the 1950s, and now her daughter Terrie is selling some of her personal affects.  There are movie posters, toys, magazines, books, and playing cards – all emblazoned with Davis’ image as the woman who, in the star’s own words, “…had to deal with the same ruthless characters--rustlers and killers--that the cowboys dealt with. And she did it without ever killing a one of them.”  There’s a beautiful red Nudie costume as well, but I bet I know what item the women who grew up on the show would give their eye-teeth for: a Nudie-made miniature Annie Oakley costume that little Terrie Davis wore when mother and daughter made public appearances together.  And because Annie Oakley was, after all, a real person, there is also a signed cabinet card of the original ‘Little Sure-Shot’ offered for bid.

If you’re in the market for a hat, there are two Tom Mix Stetsons, Robert Mitchum’s sombrero from THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY (the hat is believed to be pre-Mexican Revolution), and a Stetson that belonged to Robert “Believe it of Not!” Ripley.  There is a wide range of art, both cowboy and Indian-made, and the usual mind-blowing selection of bits and spurs, saddles and sidearms, and some fascinating documents.  There’s a large collection of Tom Mix papers, calling cards and letters from Buffalo Bill Cody, Frederic Remington, and Pat Garrett’s life insurance policy (don't know if they paid off).  From Dodge City there’s a collection of documents carried by City Sheriff Ham Bell.  From Tombstone a collection of documents includes a $1.50 receipt to Wyatt Earp for removing a dead dog, a photograph of Bat’s brother Ed Masterson, and a petition directed to Sheriff John Behan, relating to a writ of Habeas Corpus for Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  There’s a collection of letters from famous people to the last survivor of the James gang.  There’s even a full-size, working Concord stage-coach!  If you’d like to learn more, get a catalog, or find out how to get to Denver pronto, go HERE.


With the greatly anticipated LONE RANGER movie on the not-too-distant horizon, it’s no surprise that the original LONE RANGER TV series is being made available for those whose appetite will be whetted for more of the masked rider of the plains and his faithful Indian companion.  DreamWorks Classics has released a complete set that includes all 221 episodes on 30 DVDs, as well as two features films, a radio show, a complete episode guide, reproduction of a comic-book, and all manner of extras.  This deluxe edition will run you $199; but if you’d like to get your toes wet before you dive in headfirst, you’ll be glad to know that they’re also putting out three surprisingly inexpensive sampler disks, each featuring eight episodes, and each retailing for a paltry $6.99! Titled HI-YO SILVER, AWAY!; KEMO SABE; and WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?, they’re a great way to relive your own childhood, or to introduce the shows to your children or grandchildren. 

The BIG set!

The LONE RANGER first appeared on Detroit radio station WXYZ in early 1933, and when it went off the air in 1954, it had produced around 3,000 episodes starring Brace Beemer as the Lone Ranger, and Shakespearean actor John Todd as Tonto.  Starting in 1949, the first eight years of the TV show were produced by the man who created the radio series, George W. Trendle (though many claim that head-writer Fran Striker was the true creator of the Masked Man as well as his direct descendant, The Green Hornet). 
Brace Beemer at the microphone
Although Brace Beemer was perfect on radio, a younger and more fit man was needed on-screen, and Clayton Moore was perfect.  A busy but undistinguished actor with an unusually distinctive voice, his portrayal came alive when the mask went on, and he made an indelible impression as the Lone Ranger.  Jay Silverheels, a Mohawk, played Tonto, and although his dialogue was written to make it clear that English was his second language, his characterization was subtle and memorable.  And they didn’t soft-pedal the racial elements; until they learned better, many white folk started the episodes addressing Tonto as “Indian,” as though he didn’t have a name.     

Coming with a tremendous backlog of already-produced half-hour stories, the shows at first relied heavily on adapting radio scripts, which caused them to be rather stiff and stilted.  In early episodes, actor Gerald Mohr, who spoke those well-remembered words from the opening – “…Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!  From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver!  The Lone Ranger Rides again!” – voiced much un-needed and distracting narration that was carried over from radio, but soon, growing used to the new visual medium, they cut back noticeably on the exposition.  The production values are high in the early shows, with plenty of location work, and a bit of stock footage thrown in.  Later on the series became famous for cutting corners.  Dick Jones who guested on the LONE RANGER, recalled that the camera was mounted on a tripod in the back of a truck at all times, so they could change set-ups that much quicker.  There was also extensive shooting on ‘green sets,’ fake exteriors that were convincing on tiny old TV screens of the day, but are jarringly phony-looking today.

Overall, the shows hold up remarkably well, due in great degree to the iconic performances by Moore and Silverheels, clever – if occasionally nutty – plotting, and a subtle but ever-present moral core: good people, tempted to do bad, could be saved, and even killers who had irreparably crossed the line, could be redeemed through self-sacrifice.  Although nothing you’d notice as a kid wrapped up in a story, the Lone Ranger never shot to kill – he was always shooting guns out of villains’ hands.

In 1954, oil-man Jack Wrather bought the rights to the LONE RANGER from Trendle for the staggering sum of $3,000,000.  He produced two feature films, and audiences for the first time got to see the Lone Ranger in glorious color, in THE LONE RANGER (1956), costarring Rather’s wife and the screen’s ‘Nancy Drew,’ Bonita Granville; and THE LONE RANGER AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (1958).  The final season of the series was shot in color, and the budgets boosted to a then-phenomenal $25,000 per episode, many shot in scenic Kanab, Utah, and perhaps to take advantage of their colorful attire, those episodes usually focus on the Ranger’s dealings with Indians.  Wrather also hoped to make the series appeal to an older audience as well, and the one noticeable change is that the Lone Ranger is a tad less stoic and more slyly humorous in his patter with Tonto.  Many of the color episodes are directed by the prolific and talented Earl Bellamy, who helmed many movies, and more than 1,600 TV episodes, more than any other director.  (He also was a friend, and directed the first movie I wrote, SPEEDTRAP.)  One surprise in the color shows is that some forward-looking person decided, back in 1949, to shoot the show’s opening in color – it’s the exact same footage they’d been showing in black & white for years, only now we could see that the Ranger’s outfit was blue, and his kerchief red.

The three individual collections

The quality of image in the new DVD releases, HI-YO SILVER, AWAY!; KEMO SABE; and WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?, is stunning, absolutely pristine.  The black & white prints are crisp and sharp, with rich blacks and a wide range of greys that display the often beautiful cinematography.  The color episodes are rich in hue and beauty, whether showing sets, wardrobe, or remarkable desert locations.  As far as I can tell, they’ve been unedited. 

The episodes on each disk are in chronological order, but on two of the three collections – and this is my only serious criticism – the selection seems completely random: there is no apparent attempt to order or group the shows.  This is most noticeable with HI-YO SILVER, AWAY!  The first episode, THE LONE RANGER FIGHTS ON, is actually the 2nd episode of the series, and the middle section of a three-part telling of the outlaw ambush of a group of Texas Rangers which leaves only one alive, hence the lone ranger.  So we come into the story in the middle, see Walter Sande as a lawman and Glenn Strange (Sam of GUNSMOKE) as Butch Cavendish, and the story ends with a cliffhanger, and a rarely seen cereal plug.  Then we are told to be sure to return for the next episode, but the next episode is not #3, but #43, OUTLAWS OF THE PLAINS.  This is followed by MR. TROUBLE from season 2, which is followed by three episodes from season 3 which star not Clayton Moore, but John Hart as the Lone Ranger!  After two seasons of playing the lead, Clayton Moore tried for more money, and was promptly fired, replaced by Hart for 52 episodes.  Hart was a good actor, but Trendle and company had to admit that, even with the mask, audiences could tell the difference; they renegotiated, and Clayton Moore returned, and played Lone Ranger for the rest of the run.  Incidentally, John Hart, who would go on to star as Hawkeye in HAWKEYE AND THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS series, told interviewer Sunset Carson that he didn’t blame Moore for holding out for more money; Hart was paid less per episode for playing the Lone Ranger than for any other acting job he ever had!  But Even without Moore, these episodes are worth seeing.  THE BROWN PONY stars Lee Van Cleef as an escaped convict who holds the evidence to free and innocent man.  Next is THE OLD COWBOY, followed by THE MIDNIGHT RIDER, starring Darryl Hickman playing, ironically, a caped and masked Zorro-like character.  Then Clayton Moore is back for TRAPPED, episode #178, followed by the 9th color episode, QUARTER-HORSE WAR, filmed in gorgeous Kanab, Utah, featuring a big budget, a lot of action, and guest-starring fine Western villain Harry Lauter.

The KEMO SABE collection starts with TROUBLE FOR TONTO from season 1, then THE FUGITIVE, ENFIELD RIFLE and THE TELL-TALE BULLET from season 4.  TELL-TALE features excellent villain Anthony Caruso, and a pre-Chester Dennis Weaver.  FRAMED FOR MURDER stars the still handsome and active James Best (this weekend he was performing his one-man-show at the Memphis Film Festival).  The last three episodes, COURAGE OF TONTO, MISSION FOR TONTO and THE BANKER’S SON are all in color, so if you’re trying to interest a young kid in the Lone Ranger, this would be the set to start with: if you can get them hooked with the color shows, they’ll be willing to watch the black & white ones after.  (Over the years I’ve introduced thousands of L.A. school kids to Laurel & Hardy, but the trick was to show them the colorized ones first; most kids simply won’t watch anything black & white).  Incidentally, COURAGE OF TONTO guest-stars former screen ‘Red Ryder’ Jim Bannon.

The WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN? collection does have a theme, about identity, and features stories about masks, people impersonating the Lone Ranger but, best of all, features several episodes where Moore gets to shed his mask and don outrageous disguises.  The first episode is THE MASKED RIDER, episode #14 from the first season.  The next one, GOLD TRAIN, episode #27, features a pre-STAR TREK DeForrest Kelly; and little Billy Bletcher, a Mack Sennett comic who voiced The Big Bad Wolf and Peg-Leg Pete for Disney.  From Season 2, BAD MEDICINE features primo Western villain Dick Curtis, and Clayton Moore made up as a hysterical Italian farmer.  THE HOODED MEN from season two continues the disguise theme, and guest-stars Walter Sande.  From Season 4, TWO FOR JUAN RINGO guest stars Lyle Talbot, and features Moore disguised as a Mexican bandito; WANTED: THE LONE RANGER guest stars Jesse White, and both Moore and Silverheels dress up as circus clowns.  The last two episodes are color, from the final season.  THE RETURN OF DON PEDRO O’SULLIVAN features Moore as a red-headed, red-bearded Irishman, and best of all, in OUTLAWS IN GREASEPAINT, the Lone Ranger plays Othello!  GREASEPAINT, incidentally, is the very last episode of the series, although there is no sense of finality, as when it was shot, yet another season was being planned. 

Moore and Silverheels would play their iconic characters in commercials for GENO’S PIZZA ROLLS and AQUA VELVA aftershave, but producer Jack Wrather alienated fans when, after announcing production of THE  LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (1981), he forbade Clayton Moore from dressing as the Lone Ranger, or wearing the mask.  Despite direction by the great cinematographer Bill Fraker, and a cast that included Jason Robards as President Grant, Christopher Lloyd as Butch Cavendish and Richard Farnsworth as Wild Bill Hickock (and perhaps as a slap-in-the-face to Clayton Moore, featuring John Hart in a cameo), it also featured first-time (and last-time) actor Klinton Spilsbury as the Lone Ranger.  It bombed, and combined with the previous year’s financial disaster HEAVEN’S GATE, dealt the cause of Western filmmaking a decade-long setback.  (Worth noting, Tonto was played by fellow first-time actor Michael Horse, who has gone on to a very respectable and successful acting career in and out of Westerns.)

If you like THE LONE RANGER, you’ll love this set of bargain-priced DVDs from Dreamworks Classics.  And if you don’t, why have you read this far?




Here’s a very interesting article from the Columbus Dispatch by Terry Mikesell, about the terrific annual Western Festival at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio.  And no, I’m not adding all those compliments just because I was interviewed for the piece.  But it helps.  Read it HERE.
And if you can get to Columbus, and want details on the festival, go HERE.


Here’s the picture my daughter posted of us on the Round-up Facebook page, wishing me a happy Father’s Day.  I hope all of you other dads out there had as great a day as I did, and are as proud of your kids as I am.

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright June 2013 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved