Monday, August 26, 2013


The Western movie YELLOW ROCK has won international awards, national awards, film festivals, awards from cowboy organizations and awards from Indian organizations (you can read my review HERE if you missed it).

Starring Michael Biehn, James Russo and Lenore Andriel, directed by Nick Vallelonga, co-written and co-produced by Lenore Andriel and Steve Doucette, the making of this small but powerful movie should be an inspiration for anyone trying against all odds to get a film made.  It’s also a damned good movie, and thought-provoking.  Recently, composer Randy Miller’s   score, by turns beautiful, haunting and relentless, was released on CD by Intrada.  It’s a worthy addition to your western soundtrack collection, as you’ll hear from the audio clips you’ll find at the end of this article. 

I recently had the pleasure of talking in-depth to Randy Miller about YELLOW ROCK, his other soundtracks, his favorite composers and scores and, perhaps most enlightening, the nuts and bolts of how motion picture scores, big-budget and small, are created. 

HENRY PARKE: Many times I’ve been in a cutting room, looking at dailies or a rough-cut, and everything looks stilted and hollow, and you think, this is not a movie.  This is obvious actors speaking lines.  Then you put a temporary piece of music behind it, and it suddenly comes to life, and you think, “Oh my God, it is a movie!”  What is it that music brings to film, that makes such a difference?

Randy Miller conducting during the recording of
the 'CONTAGION' score

RANDY MILLER:  That’s a good question.  And that music – by the way, we call it ‘temp’ music – is really important.  This is not the answer to your question, but I’ll get to that.  The temp music is probably the last creative element that’s brought to a movie.  The story’s been written, the actors have acted, the editing’s underway.  But a whole new element is created, and that’s the score.  And that brings so much; it can bring something that’s not at all on the screen.  For example, there might be a scene where it’s very quiet, it might be just the peaceful forest.  But if you put in threatening music, then something scary’s in the forest.  That’s bringing something that doesn’t even exist into the scene.  That would be one extreme; the other extreme would be giving exactly what you see, just highlighting it.  Give you an example; in YELLOW ROCK, there were wolves.  You see the wolves, and if you bring threatening music along with the wolf, it’s going to heighten the feeling that’s there.  And the other thing you can do would be where you intentionally do the opposite, for comedy.  For example, you have a comedic scene, and you play serious music against it; it’s the opposite of what you see, but it becomes funny.  It’s a contrasting.  The music coming in at the end, by the composer, gives the director a whole other ‘color’ to work with, along with the dialogue and sound effects; it’s a whole ‘nother sort of  palette to bring to the film.  And it’s huge, as you know.

HENRY: At what age did you become interested in music? 

RANDY: I started piano lessons around 8 or 9, and played through high school; picked up clarinet somewhere in junior high, 6 or 7th grade.  My mom was a professional singer, so I was always around it, and she was always performing different places up in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

HENRY:  What kind of music did she sing?

RANDY: She did show music; semi-legit Broadway.  Mostly show songs, but some opera, some operetta.  And when she settled down to have a family, she still worked.  She worked all over the country when she was younger.  But when she settled down in upstate New York, she worked in the hotels around the area.  So I was always around that, and at some point in my early twenties I actually started accompanying her.  I went to music school when I was 18; I went to Berkeley Music School in Boston.  At that time I was more interested in theatre music, Broadway music, as an orchestrator.

HENRY: So you’re an East-coaster like myself.

RANDY: Yuh, I’m from Ellenville, New York, near the Catskills.  It’s an hour and a half from New York City, near Kingston and Woodstock and all that.  I have a degree in composition from Berkeley.  Then I started arranging some show-things, but I got into more contemporary arranging for records, and a little bit of film work.  I was working on a record in Miami,  as the string arranger and conductor; then I came out here.  I had the opportunity to do some work in the film end of things, and I ended up moving here (to Los Angeles). 

HENRY:  So you weren’t planning initially to be a film composer.

RANDY:  No, I wanted to be an arranger for Broadway. 

HENRY:  Is that something you’d still like to do?

RANDY:  I have had a chance to do it, which has been fun.  Occasionally projects come by that are based on the Broadway tradition, and every chance I get to do it, it’s just a lot of fun.  It’s very limited; if that’s all you do, you really have to be in New York, fight your way into the inner core of that stuff.  I never tried to do that.  I got involved with film music, I stayed with it, and I’m glad I did.  Once in a while I do get to do that kind of (Broadway) stuff, and it’s always a blast. 

HENRY: What were big musical influences on you as a young guy?  Whose music impressed you?

RANDY:  When I was probably nineteen, The Rite of Spring, by Stravinsky.   I remember putting headphones on, and listening to that, and going, “I have no idea what I’m listening to.”  I have no idea how Stravinsky composed that.  I don’t understand it, but it’s just unbelievable, amazing music.  

HENRY:  It caused riots when it was originally performed.

RANDY: It did; and as you know, this is the centennial, this year.  It was a hundred years ago this spring when it was performed in Paris.  There are a lot of performances all over the country right now, because of that.  The Rite of Spring had a big effect on me.  Actually, a couple of years before, I went with my mother and father to see a revival of THE KING AND I on Broadway.  Yul Brynner was in it, and most of the people (from the original cast) were in it, although they were quite a bit older than when they first did it.  And that really hit me; that was amazing.  I was listening to my hero back then, who was Robert Russell Benet, an orchestrator for all of Rogers and Hammerstein and many other people, and I got really interested in what he was doing.  The music of THE KING AND I is still among my favorites, probably because it imprinted such a strong impression on me, what he was doing as an orchestrator of Richard Rogers’ music.  The simple themes of the songs that he turned into this beautiful score.   When I was a real kid, from ten to eighteen, I was mostly into show songs, with my mother playing these things.  I wasn’t that much into it until I went down to Broadway.  But I was listening to the contemporary rock of the day, a little jazz.  But it really didn’t hit me until those two events guided me.  I’m trying to think what film music influenced me – you were mentioning DR. NO[1], which of course had the James Bond Theme, that great theme.  I guess it would be John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.  Those two guys in the ‘70s and ‘80s just made so much great music.  PLANET OF THE APES for Goldsmith, and then STAR TREK; and for Williams, everything – STAR WARS and JAWS.  So once I started hearing that stuff, that was something I got really interested in, even though I understood when I heard those things, what they were and how to do it.  I’m not saying I could do it, but I understood it, where with Stravinsky I couldn’t understand what he was doing, and it took music school for me to figure it out, from a compositional point of view.

HENRY:   That’s interesting.  It’s sort of like, as a writer, you read novels, and you can follow what’s going on.  And then you read Hemingway, and suddenly it’s like you’re starting from page one all over again. 

RANDY:  Yeah, it’s the best!  Even to this day, when I hear things that I don’t understand, how is this composer doing this, that’s the most interesting stuff.  Even if it’s not sophisticated, difficult music.  It could be just a rap guy that’s doing really cool rhythms; whatever it is, when it’s something that I don’t really know how to do, that’s the kind of thing that kind of draws me to try and understand it.  

HENRY:  What was the first film or TV project that you composed for?

RANDY:  I did a lot of student films in Boston, at Berkley, but when I came out here on that CD project, as a string arranger, I ended up going to school at SC for graduate studies in film scoring, so at that point I started doing a lot of student films at USC, UCLA, and AFI.  I learned a lot there, but as important, I met filmmakers, and I’m still doing things for a few of them; a few of them have had real careers, and I’m happy to have met them at that period.  I met a French horn player on a student film, and she was working for a big Hollywood composer named Robert Folk at the time.  She hired me as a courier to bring him some CDs and things.  I only worked for her for one day, because I went to his house, and it was such great timing.  He happened to be working on a film, and he needed someone to do some pop music, and he hired me that day to work on the film, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE.  That was the first time.  I was doing ‘source music’, which means it’s coming from an (on-screen) source, like a radio, TV, CD-player.  That was a fairly big studio film, so that was a great experience, even though it was source music.  I think the first time I did my own score, not working for someone else, was probably a horror film – THE BOY FROM HELL or DR. HACKENSTEIN or WITCHCRAFT (laughs), they were all from 1988.  I think THE BOY FROM HELL was the first.  It was a low-budget horror film that had a satanic edge to it.   Not much money, but it was great, to get your own project, and be the person responsible for all of it.  I had some experience at that point working for Robert Folk and other composers, so I was coming in prepared.  But very little money and very little time, and unfortunately it wasn’t a great film, but I always do the best I can with the music, and that’s an interesting thing, because you can do your best, no matter what; even if the film is not a great film, you can still turn in your best effort. 

HENRY:  And you can certainly take a film that is not ideal, and improve it tremendously with the music.  Especially genre stuff; horror and noir things, what you can do with the suspense and tone.

RANDY: Absolutely.  You’re absolutely right.  And what we were saying before, that the music comes so late in the process, and it really can make a difference.  With YELLOW ROCK, which is a good film, but an underfunded film – they didn’t have a lot of money to work with.  Steve Doucette and Lenore Andriel really stepped up to the plate, as they say, and funded the music much more than you would expect from the small budget that they had.  Because they agreed with me that the film was really great, and could be that much better if we had the resources to record a score that sounded theatrical, instead of a score that might be okay on TV, but wouldn’t really play in movie theatres.  I think that was a great example of them agreeing that music could really elevate the film.  And in a relatively inexpensive way.  When you think about it, you can bring in some more name actors, that’s going to help sell a film of course, hopefully they do great performances; but the cost of the score isn’t that much when you look at all the other elements of filmmaking.        

HENRY:  How did you get involved with YELLOW ROCK?

RANDY:  Lenore and I met through a mutual friend who lived where we live in Old Topanga, maybe ten years ago.  Lenore had written a couple of scripts, not YELLOW ROCK, and was actively trying to get the films made.  She ended up getting this one made, and I think she wrote the script fairly quickly.  When she got this one underway, she called me, because we had talked about doing something together, and asked if I wanted to do it, and I said, “Yes, sounds great!”  I mean, to combine Westerns and Native Americans and the supernatural, all these things – it’s a great project to work on.  And that’s how it started.  She had something of a rough assembly (a rough-cut); she sent it over, and we started working together. 

HENRY: I was wondering if YELLOW ROCK is your first western score.  You scored PIRATES OF THE PRAIRIE – is that a western? 

RANDY:  It’s not, but it had western elements.  It’s a pirate movie, but due to an unusual twist in the story, it ends up in Nebraska. So there was western music in there, quite a bit, even though it was a comedy really, an action comedy for kids.  There was western music in AMARAGOSA, which was a beautiful documentary that takes place in the Mojave Desert.  DREAM RIDER had some western music in it because it took place in Colorado.  But this is the first full-on western I’ve ever done. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but hasn’t there been a resurgence of westerns in the last five or six years?

HENRY:  I certainly think so.   Of course I’m so focused on it that it’s a little hard to judge.  But I do think there really is resurgence.   And there’s a huge loyalty; there are many people who are terribly eager for the next western project, which is very encouraging as I keep trying to write it.  (laughs)

RANDY:  When TRUE GRIT came out a couple of years ago, and 3:10 TO YUMA, it seemed like a couple of them in a row; I don’t think Lenore did hers thinking about this at all.  I think it’s just the way it happened.  I didn’t really expect to do a western because there weren’t really that many of them for the last ten or fifteen years.  And then good luck came my way, and I got a chance to work on one.  It’s a pleasure.

HENRY:  While I’m a very big fan of movie music, I don’t know much about the process.  So you were sent a rough cut, and what do you do then?  How do you approach it?  Do the filmmakers tell you what they want, or do you tell them what they need? 

RANDY:  All of those.  We mentioned temporary music.  The temp score; in the case of YELLOW ROCK, the film came in with some music placed in some scenes, and not in others, where we all though there needed to be music.  So the rough cut comes in.  When you’re sitting down with the producer or the director, you’re discussing the music as it relates to the film, and the temporary music is very useful, even if it’s wrong.  If the music doesn’t fit, it’s instructive: you know what doesn’t work.  If it works really well, that’s instructive as well, but at the same time filmmakers say, don’t be tied into that.  Bring your own creative expression to that.  And of course I appreciate that, as most composers do.  That’s not always the case; some filmmakers tell you just do what’s there, and that’s a scenario that nobody likes.  When there’s no music, it’s almost the best situation, because then you’re free to do what you feel should be in the scene without any bias towards hearing something, getting used to the temp music.  It’s also pretty dangerous, because then you’re really taking a stab at it.  You don’t know what the filmmakers really intend for music.  So in that kind of scenario, when there’s nothing there, I would ask Lenore, what do you want the audience to feel?  I wouldn’t ask her what kind of music should it be.  Should it be guitars or strings?  I would never ask that.  I would ask what you want the audience to feel in the scene.  If there’s temp music there, I would play the scene without music.  And suggest entrances -- entrances and exits are incredibly important in music.   Because you may not want the audience to feel the music is coming in.  Just slowly creep it in.  Or you may want them to feel it coming in.  It takes a lot of skill and a lot of experience to get that right.  Same thing when the music goes away at the end of a scene.  So we would sit down and have lengthy discussions. 
With YELLOW ROCK we spent two or three seven-hour days going through the movie, because you can speak about one scene for an hour.  And if there are fifty scenes (that need) music, it can take many hours to go through.    After we’ve discussed the scenes, I start working on the music. I can away from the film and working on scenes, main title scenes and sub-scenes; it could be a theme that deals with a romantic angle, or a chase motif.  Sometimes I will just work on these themes or angles or motifs, away from the film, but with the film in mind.  Other times it’s write-to-picture.  It depends on the schedule.  If you have no time, sometimes you have to get right into working on a scene.  So however you decide to work on the music, you end up demo-ing – and when I say demo I mean synthesizers; the keyboard has any instrument you can play, to make a demonstration.   Recordings of what either the themes are, to play away from the picture, or actually score the scene, with music you’re writing for that specific moment.  You turn them in to the filmmakers; get some sense of if this is what they like.  And they may love it, they may hate it. 

HENRY:  Now speaking of synthesizing them, in lower budget films, it’s rare to have original scores these days.  I’ve come to expect a lot of synthesized music when you have one.  But your score is clearly ‘real’ and full orchestra.  How many people were involved in playing your music?

RANDY:  You’re right.  There was a full string section, which is maybe fifteen.  Which is actually not a full string section, but it’s good-sized.  Four wood-winds, two French horns, trumpet, trombone, a lot of guitar parts, many different kinds of guitars; everything from mandolas, mandolins, acoustic guitars, steel and nylon strings.  A lot of authentic Indian percussion, orchestral percussion, piano.

HENRY:  Speaking of Indian instruments, what were you using, to give the Indian feel to the music?

RANDY:  Mostly it was percussion and woodwinds.  And in the woodwind area we used native American wood flutes, which are transverse flutes, ones that go sideways, made of bamboo and wood.  We used ocarinas, which are South American woodland-type sounds.  Even things from India, real India, called a bansuri, but it kind of has a Native American sound.  In the percussion we used frame drums, which are the main instrument of many native cultures.  It’s basically a frame around a drum with a skin in the middle, in all kinds of sizes.  Wind chimes, shaker-type sounds, rattles.  Everything was acoustic, along with western-sounding instrument, which also blended nicely; like a concert bass drum, or tympanis.  I also used Japanese taiko drums, which is a giant drum with a frame around it.  It’s a great sound that blends in nicely with the real Native American sounds.  We went to great lengths, and the producers, Lenore and Steve, said your samples sound great, the percussion.  I said it would sound that much better if we replaced it with real percussion, and they went for it.  And my God, I’m so appreciative of that.  So we ended up replacing everything.  I don’t think there’s any synth; just a few little sound effects. 

HENRY:  You’ve worked on very large, and small, budget movies.  From a music point of view, what difference does the budget make – how do you approach them differently?

RANDY:  That’s a good question.  There’s no difference in the amount of effort I put in.  Because the score has to stand on its own, and be well-written and hopefully well received.  In smaller-budget films I tend to have to do everything myself, just because there’s no money.  Even in the case of YELLOW ROCK I ended up orchestrating everything, and I did have a copyist, which is great, but a lot of times I may have to do some copying myself -- copying of the music for the musicians.  So you’re time-crunched because the work-load is bigger, because you don’t have the funds to hire some support people, like other orchestrators or arrangers.  On the small-budget projects, if you know it’s heading right towards home-video, or even the TV, you can do all the work on synth, and you’re kind of writing that way; writing music that you know will sound pretty good on synth, or good enough.  On a bigger-budget project, if you think it’s going to go theatrical, you have to start thinking, how am I going to make this music sound right in a theatre?  How is it going to support a big space with several hundred people watching it at the same time? 

HENRY:  You’ve composed in a lot of genres.  You’ve done a lot of horror, a lot of comedy.  Do you have any particularly favorite scores that you look back on and think, that’s my best, or my favorite genre you like to work in?

RANDY MILLER:  Here’s the negative side.  I won’t say names, but there was a certain horror movie.  The first one had got some attention; on the second one they put a lot of money in, because they wanted to go theatrical.  And as is typical with sequels, you know how they really go over the top?  This one was really awful; it was just disgusting.  It was just spectacle for the sake of spectacle.  And it was not a pleasant experience for any kind of creative filmmaking, for me to watch this kind of filmmaking being done.  It was disgusting – and I like good horror films.  Scary films, like the original ALIEN; now that’s scary. 

HENRY:  There’s a huge difference between scary and revolting.

RANDY:  That’s a great word – this was revolting; and I’m proud of what I did with the music.  I think I did a really good score, it was well received.  But I felt like I would never want to work on another film that disgusting.  I felt like I was putting something out in the world that’s just so negative. 

HENRY:  And you have to watch it so many times. 

RANDY:   On the other extreme of that was AMARGOSA; Todd Robinson was the director of that, and it’s a beautiful film, beautifully shot; Kurt Apduhan the DP, got an Emmy for it.  Real positive, interesting story, and I was real proud of what I did on that.  And there were several like that, YELLOW ROCK included.  That had a lot to do with the genre, which was such a different combination.  SHANGHAI RED, another small film, dealing with issues in China. 

HENRY: Tell me, would you like to do another Western?

RANDY:  I’d love to.  Maybe one of your filmmaker friends out there will email me. 

HENRY:  As we jumped right into this interview, I don’t think I told you how much I enjoyed your score.  I think it’s terrific.  And because I collect western soundtracks, I’d heard so much.  Rarely do I hear something that I like, where it’s not derivative of Elmer Bernstein or Ennio Morricone.  But yours doesn’t sound like other people’s work.

RANDY:  Thank you, I really appreciate that.  And as you just mentioned, there’s a real strong history of excellent film composers doing great scores – and those are two of the best, that you mentioned.  Even to be in the same paragraph is quite a compliment – thank you for that. 

HENRY:  Who did you consider the great film composers, that we haven’t talked about?

RANDY:  Some of the original ones, going way way way back.  People like Max Steiner, with KING KONG: that was one of those scores that really affected me; oh my God, this is someone who’s done something from nothing.  He was fantastic – he did so many great scores.  Bernard Herrmann, all the amazing things he did with PSYCHO and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.  I mentioned Jerry Goldsmith of course.  Most of the film composers of the golden age, back in the forties, they were all so good, they were classical composers.  Franz Waxman, that whole bunch that came over from Europe, during World War II and settled in Los Angeles.  These were serious concert composers, enormous talents.  Really an amazing period of time, because they were all so good.  Even people like Leonard Bernstein, who was American, but that whole period of time in the forties and fifties, there was unbelievable talent. 

HENRY:  Do you have any particularly favorite Western scores?

RANDY:  From the last twenty years, I’ve always been very fond of SILVERADO, by Bruce Broughton.  I think that score brought a resurgence for composers to go hey, this is a contemporary Western score.  It had nothing to do with a contemporary setting, it’s just that it was a composer writing in the ‘80s as compared to the ‘60s or ‘70s; his take on Westerns, and it’s a great score.  I know Bruce, and was always a big fan of his, and that score.  Tremendous, fantastic score.

HENRY:  Is there a major difference approaching a score, if the movie has not yet been shot, versus when you’re working with a rough cut?

RANDY:  That’s a really good question.  I’m not sure if it’s a really big difference, but it’s an interesting one.  On a big film that I worked on, an Oliver Stone film called HEAVEN AND EARTH, Kitaro, who is a recording artist, brought me in to work with him on the music; and he wrote 90% of the music, I wrote 10%.  But I worked on all the music.  Kitaro really was not a film composer at that time; he was a Japanese recording artist.  And Oliver was very smart; he got us together before the film was even put together – they were shooting a little bit, but there was nothing to look at.  And he gave us a year to write the score, instead of three weeks, which can happen.  He figured, let’s get these guys working on the music.  So Kitaro would write a theme, some kind of a motif. And I would take it and develop it into more of a film score; extend it, orchestrate it, and give it contours that a scene might need.  And we would send it to him, and he would comment – he likes this, he doesn’t like this – so eventually, when the film started coming in, we would take those pieces and start contouring them for the scene.  Sometimes we had to start from scratch, but other times they would just fit in.  It was nice because it gives you more freedom not to look at anything, to kind of use your imagination.  Oliver was a big fan of the usage of music in film.  He actually had Warner Brothers finance a huge recording session with us, probably a 100 piece orchestra -- that’s very rare -- just to experiment with themes.  You practically never hear of that.  They had nothing close to a final cut, and he just wanted to hear what these things would sound like in their biggest, fullest form.

HENRY:  I take it you liked working with Oliver Stone.

RANDY:  Yeah; well, he’s an interesting character, terribly smart, but when you sit down to work with him you have to follow his every thought process; he’s going from one thing to the next very quickly.  It could have to do with the film, it could have to do with his daily life, with his experiences in Vietnam, or anything – you just have to go with him.  He’s quite an amazing filmmaker.  Even when I’m working away from film, when I’m working on a record, or something that’s not visual, I find it kind of refreshing not to constantly sit there and look at something.  Closing your eyes and just doing music for music’s sake. 

HENRY: You know what Sergio Leone had Ennio Morricone do for THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY?  He composed the score before they shot anything, and he played it on the set to pace the actors.

RANDY:  Boy, that’s a filmmaker who has a deep appreciation of music.  And what a great story!  What a great composer that he picked to do that with.  I didn’t know that.  Studios really do bring in composers way too late.  What we get paid, whether it’s a dollar or a hundred thousand dollars, we’re getting paid to do a job.  And sometimes we’re paid to do it in three weeks; we would be more than glad to get the same amount of money and have four months.  It would only make it all the better, but unfortunately post-production schedules are not structured that way.  It would be great if we could be hired months before, come up with some music – all composers would jump at the chance to do it that way.  Lenore brought me in as early as she could, which was really nice and early, and I was very pleased about that – she gave me time to complete the score, and do the best job I could.  As a matter of fact she pushed back some of the schedule to give me time. 

HENRY:  Is the YELLOW ROCK score you’re first soundtrack to be put out on CD?

RANDY:  No, I’ve had several., they’re the website that specializes in film scores, and they’ve released several others of my scores, including the one I mentioned, AMARGOSA. There was a miniseries called SPARTACUS – not the new one.  This was from Universal and high quality.  HELLRAISER 3 has come out; PIRATES OF THE PLAINS has come out.  THE SOONG SISTERS, a very big Chinese film, it won a lot of awards – the score won awards – that’s out as well.  That’s another score I did with Kitaro.  I’ve probably had ten CDs out.

HENRY:  It must be nice to know that people are sitting down to listen to your music, on purpose, and not just hearing it while watching the movie.

RANDY: I hope so; you always hope people feel that way.  Hopefully they do enjoy it away from the movie. 

To hear samples of music from Randy Miller’s YELLOW ROCK score, visit the Intrada Website HERE.

And here’s the trailer for YELLOW ROCK, which is available at and elsewhere.

[1] I’d told Randy that when I was 8 years old, I’d begged my parents to buy me the soundtrack from DR.NO.  The real reason I wanted it was for the pictures of Ursula Andress on the cover, but while ogling them, I listened to the music, and became hooked on movie soundtracks. 


If you read last week’s Round-up, you know that while back in New York City last week, I tried to find the home of the LAST OF THE MOHICANS author, and could not locate the plaque I had so often seen in the 1970s, at the St. Mark’s Baths.  I sent an inquiry to the James Fenimore Cooper Society, and have just received a response from Hugh MacDougall, Corresponding Secretary:

“You are quite correct. Cooper lived at 4 St. Marks Place (pictured in your attachment) for a time after his return from Europe in 1833. Specifically, he lived there from May 1, 1834 until May 1, 1836 (May 1 was the standard period for leases in New York to begin and end). He, and sometimes his family also, made a number of trips to Cooperstown during that period, as he arranged to buy back and remodel his old family home (Otsego Hall) originally built about 1800 by his father William Cooper.

“Below is a picture of the building from p. 272 of Mary Phillips, “James Fenimore Cooper” New York: John Lane, 1913. It is clearly the one you photographed.”

In 1913

A century later, in 2013

I’ll have to contact them again, to see if they know what happened to the plaque, and what its text said.


The 49th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival will open on Thursday, August 29th, with the first screening at 2 pm at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.  They feature a wonderfully eclectic schedule of movies, with plenty of silent shorts and features, Our Gang comedies in French, musicals, comedies and dramas.  The special guest for this year’s festival is Shirley Jones.  Among the screenings of particular interest to Western fans is Friday’s 4:55 pm showing of RAMROD (1947), from Luke Short’s story, directed by Andre de Toth, and starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake.  And Sunday at 10:50 am it’s SUTTER’S GOLD (1936), about the 1849 discovery of gold in California, starring Edward Arnold as Sutter, with Lee Tracy and Binnie Barnes.  For details, visit the website HERE.


From September 6th through the 15th, the 2013 WORLD 3D FILM EXPO III will be held at the glorious Hollywood Egyptian Theatre.  The first movie to be screened will be the terrific HONDO, starring John Wayne, Geraldine Page (nominated for an Oscar) and Ward Bond, and directed by John Farrow.  The Duke’s daughter-in-law and Batjac Executive Gretchen Wayne will do a Q & A about the film’s preservation.    
On Friday, September 13th at 3:30 pm, WINGS OF THE HAWK, Budd Boeticcher’s western set against the Mexican Revolution, starring Van Heflin, Julie Adams and Noah Beery Jr. will screen, and Julie Adams will be present for a Q&A and book signing. 

Among the actors making personal appearances during the expo will be Piper Laurie, Lea Thompson, Louis Gossett Jr., and producer Walter Mirisch.  Go HERE for a complete schedule.


Is it just me, or does it seem like season two had just started, and it's already finale time?  LONGMIRE, like HELL ON WHEELS, has a ten-episode season.  I was just checking the numbers on shows in the old golden days, for comparison purposes.  CHEYENNE only had fifteen episodes its first season, RAWHIDE had 22.  WAGON TRAIN had 39, which I think was the average, and THE REBEL only ran two seasons, but produced 76 episodes!  Not that I’m complaining – I just want more of a good thing! 


Davy Turner is a British Round-up Rounder who keeps us up-to-date on what Westerns are playing on TV and in theatres in his country.  Having heard the complaints about THE LONE RANGER, when he finally got to see the movie, he filed the following report:

"WHAT the blazes were the US film critics moaning about!!! The Lone Ranger is contains, classic western scenarios, fabulous western settings (you can't beat Monument Valley....ask The Duke)...superb special effects, the work with the two railways is incredible...and the script is both serious and funny. Johnny is terrific and 'not' just another Cap'n Jack parody..Armie is playing the role fine in the Destry becomes tough role and the message about how the Native Americans were so poorly treated is also covered in the movie plot. The 'how' John Reid became 'The Lone Ranger' is almost original to the TV series...BUT...this film deserves to be seen by everyone...western fans and Johnny Depp's a great summer blockbuster movie with 'heart'.When the William Tell overture kicks in (the second 'real' time)..your heart just soars. Two thumbs up pardners  Thanks to my daughter Em for coming specially to take me ...the horses were enough for her I guess  (OK so the rabbits were a bit weird! )" 

Incidentally, when I shared his comments on Facebook, they were echoed by others in England, the U.S. and Germany.  It was a very enjoyable film.  It's a pity the critics had their knives out before they even saw it.


That's it for this week!  Next week I'll be telling you about the coming RAMONA DAYS celebration, and either book or DVD reviews -- depending on what I manage to finish!  Have a great week!

Happy Trails,


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

Monday, August 19, 2013


from the film THE BRAVE MAN

I’m just back from a week in my home town of New York, and while it’s pretty far East to be the West by some standards, it all depends on where – and when – you are sitting.  In the time of DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, the Mohawk River was the West, and the Mohawk is a tributary of the Hudson River, which runs through New York City.

The Old Stone House

Anyway, I was surprised and delighted to learn that August 27th of 2013 is the 237th Anniversary of a crucial fight in the War of Independence known as The Battle of Brooklyn, and further, that the anniversary will be marked by several events this week – if you are in or near New York, I urge you to attend! 

The Old Stone House

In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, on 3rd Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues, surrounded by brownstones, sits a one-block park known as Washington Park.  An old house sits in the center, surrounded by playgrounds.  When I was growing up in the 1960s, I knew there was something historical there, but the neighborhood was so tough, and the park so drug-ridden that you didn’t even drive slowly by it.  Now the area in gentrified and welcoming, and the park is clean and attractive, and most importantly, the Old Stone House is accessible.  The Old Stone House was built by a Dutch farmer, and was already nearly a century old when, in 1776, it became a fortified British Army position. 

Map from the Old Stone House website

Shortly after the July 4th 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence, 32,000 British and Hessian soldiers – German mercenaries – sailed to The Colonies.  In the area of New York they launched a series of lightning attacks on the Americans, and overran their outer defenses, poising the Continental Army on the brink of collapse.  Against the thousands of British troops were 400 American soldiers.  To quote from the Old Stone House pamphlet, “In a feat of sheer heroism, General William Alexander (Lord Stirling) organized several companies of Maryland and Delaware soldiers and attacked the British positions at The Stone House.  This provided a brief window for the Americans caught behind enemy lines to escape across the Gowanus Creek to the safety of the American fortifications in Brooklyn Heights.  Two nights later, under the cover of darkness and fog, General Washington effected his legendary retreat across the East River, saving his army to fight another day.”

The Old Stone House had been allowed to deteriorate and nearly disappear, until it was rebuilt, largely with the original stones, during the 1930s, as a project of the W.P.A.(part of President Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ program, the Works Progress Administration).

Among the activities of the week-long observance, a display of 85 Revolutionary War Flags and their histories will be open now through Sunday, August 25th, at Green-Wood Cemetery, 5th Avenue at 25th Street, in Brooklyn.  On Wednesday, August 21st, at 6pm, you can ride a canoe in the Gowanus Canal and learn about this infamous escape route for American soldiers (learn more here:  

The Arch at Grand Army Plaza

On Friday, August 25th, from 5 – 7 pm you can enjoy the Battle of Brooklyn neighborhood walk, led by Hunter College Archeology Prof. William J. Parry.  It starts at the northwest corner of the entrance to Prospect Park at Grand Army Plaza (a beautiful locale, which honors not the American Revolution but the Civil War – Grand Army Plaza as in Grand Army of the Republic).  Wear comfortable shoes and bring twelve bucks – learn more here: 718-768-3195  Also on Friday, 8:30 at the Old Stone House Dorothy Fennel and Concrete Timbre perform The Age of Pain(e), based on the writings of Thomas Paine (they perform part two at the same time on Saturday). 

Also on Saturday, at 10 a.m. sharp, a Prison Ships Martyrs Memorial Ceremony will be held at the Martyrs Monument at Fort Green Park.  718-499-7600. From 11am to 3 pm you can Learn To Cook Like a Soldier at the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House (ten bucks, info at 718-456-1776,,  From 11 am to 4 pm witness The Great Escape With Reenactors from General John Glover’s Marblehead Regiment at Main Street/Brooklyn Bridge Park (718-768-3195, There’s also a Scavenger Hunt at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, more music and monologues, and from 5 to 9 a Revolutionary War Cocktail Party at the Old Stone House. 

On Sunday, August 5th from 10 am until after 2 there will be the Battle of Brooklyn Commemoration at the Green-Wood Cemetery, which will include trolley tours (reservations required), lectures, living history, reenactments, period games and period food, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as guest speaker, and the reading of the names of the Maryland 400.
The Old Stone House is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm, and you can learn more at their website,  You can also enjoy an 8 part audio/video tour about the Battle of Brooklyn, narrated by John Turturro, here: .


I attended NYU Film School in the 1970s, which is in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village.  The heart of the Village was 8th Street, and if you crossed 4th Avenue, 8th Street would change its name to St. Mark’s Place for two blocks, before dead-ending at the start of Alphabet City, starting with Avenue A.  I used to pass an old steam- bath called the St. Marks Baths, and on their wall was a plaque identifying the building as the former home of novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who fascinated readers with his Leatherstocking Tales, the most famous of them being LAST OF THE MOHICANS. 

As one of the most popular and influential and talented Western writers of the nineteenth century, I wanted to get a picture of the plaque for the Round-up.  My friend Jonathan and I marched up and down the two-block street, but the plaque was nowhere to be seen.  The Baths is gone, just like Cooper, but I was fairly sure that I knew which building it was, and snapped a picture.  Jon’s research confirmed this – apparently the former Cooper manse is now the Trash & Vaudeville Boutique.  I’ve dropped a line to the James Fenimore Cooper Society website, and perhaps they’ll have more info. 

Pretty sure this was Cooper's home,
but where's the plaque?


That’s all for this week’s Round-up – as I said, I’ve been out of time, and have some catching up to do.  

Have a great week!

Happy Trails,


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

Friday, August 9, 2013


‘HELL ON WHEELS’ Season 3 – Review

Cullen and Elam meet again

‘HELL ON WHEELS’ returns to AMC on Saturday night, August 10th, with a two-hour, two episode opener, entitled BIG BAD WOLF and EMINENT DOMAIN.  It promises a season three with even more of the adventure, conflict, depth of character, and accurate sense of history, that the series’ legions of loyal camp-followers have come to expect.  It is, to put it mildly, a powerful opening.

Durant connives

For anyone new to the series, it is the story of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad just after the Civil War, much of it seen from the point of view of Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) a trained engineer and former Confederate Officer.  His original enlisting with the project was a subterfuge – his wife and child were murdered by Union soldiers, and his work on the railroad provided both cover and information to track the men down and exact revenge.  But the building of the railroad has become his salvation, a mission in a life which had lost its driving force with the loss of his family.  The title of the series refers to the portable town – with offices, dormitories, saloons and brothels – that travels alongside the ever-advancing track-layers; the town of Hell On Wheels.

Cullen and book-keeper Sean

The curtain rises on Cullen awakening Rip Van Winkle-like to find himself in the snow-bound, burnt-out ruins of Hell On Wheels, which had moved with the construction of the railroad until, at the end of season two, the understandably intransigent Indians had attacked, killing all they could, and burning everything to the ground.  Finding himself in the company of dead men and live wolves, Cullen, in a sequence as audacious and self-confident as his character, sets the story and the locomotive back on its tracks, and as he sets out for the dueling railroads’ headquarters in New York City, en route we catch up with the lives of other characters.

Cullen gives reporter Louise 'the Grand Tour' of Hell on Wheels

Elam Ferguson (Common) is a former slave turned railroad security man, who shares an uneasy alliance with Cullen Bohannon.  Elam and his woman, Eva (Robin McLeavy) are anticipating the birth of their first child.  Railroad magnate Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant (Colm Meany) is, surprisingly, where he belongs: behind bars – Durant, by the way, was a real man, and every bit the snake he is portrayed as.  Sean McGinnes (Ben Esler), the young Irishman who had come to Hell on Wheels as a peep-show operator and then pimp has graduated to be Hell on Wheel’s book-keeper.  Ruth (Kasha Kropinski), the daughter of the disgraced and dead minister is again preaching in his stead.  Lily, who with her late husband had surveyed much of the route for the railroad, and had become important in the lives of Bohannon and Durant and so many others, was murdered by ‘The Swede’ last season.  Perhaps it is in her stead that we now see a new young woman, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin), a reporter covering the re-started construction of the railroad for Horace Greely’s New York Tribune.

Elam, Eva and baby

And as the story gets underway, she will have many topics to write about, not all of them pretty, particularly the issue of eminent domain, the government’s power to seize private property for the ‘greater good’, paying what is often ironically termed ‘fair market value.’  In this case, the Union Pacific Railroad has been granted the power to seize land for its right-of-way, and Cullen, as the Railroad’s point man, must contend with the settlers whose property it is.  The result is a stunning tragedy, the more so for its utter believability.  



While the show certainly does not seek to offend, neither is it politically correct if that would badly serve the truth behind the story.  You will hear the ‘n-word’ in circumstances where it would have been naturally used at the time.  You’ll hear the prejudices that people held against the Mormons and the Irish without sugar-coating.  Much as I love TV Westerns, they have a weak history when it comes to history – an attitude that any saddle will do, that all cowboys were white and American-born, that all Indian tribes are interchangeable, that any gun but an Uzi is acceptable, and no one ever needs to re-load.  Not on HELL ON WHEELS.  Along with the layered and complex story-telling, there is a clear determination among the dramatists and directors to get it right, and they usually do.  The performances and characterizations continue to be solid.  The tech credits are commendable.  Happily, it’s been long enough since I’ve read Stephen Ambrose’s book about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, NOTHING LIKE IT IN THE WORLD, that I don’t remember what, historically, is coming next.  I can’t wait to find out – it looks like one Helluvah season on HELL ON WHEELS. 


Director John Graves Warner is still editing his new Western, KNIGHT OF THE GUN, but he’s already assembled a trailer.  Check it out!


Universal will be releasing ‘CENTENNIAL’ in DVD and BluRay editions this October.  Based on the historical fiction best-seller by James Michener, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this 12 episode mini-series has rarely been seen since its original 1978-1979 airing.  Set in the fictional town of Centennial, Colorado, it traces the story of generations of characters from the start of the settlement in 1795 into the 20th century.   

The six disk set will feature 26 hours of content (not sure if that includes special features), and a cast that boasts Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, Barbara Carrera, Sally Kellerman, and dozens of others, including Western favorites like Brian Keith, Dennis Weaver, Donald Pleasance, Robert Vaughn, Anthony Zerbe, A Martinez, Michael Ansara, and Pernell Roberts.  I hope to have more details soon.


Late in the spring I started running a panel-per-day of a comic-book version of THE NEVADAN, a 1950 Columbia film starring Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone and Forrest Tucker.  It was featured in 1950s western movie magazine my daughter had given me.  The response was enthusiastic, so in June I ran the ‘story so far’ in the Round-up (if you missed that, go HERE ).  Having just finished running the conclusion on Facebook, I’m running the final panels here.  If I ever run into any of these comic strip Westerns, I’ll share ‘em as well.


I'm posting this Round-up two days early, on Friday instead of Sunday, to give Rounders a chance to read my HELL ON WHEELS review before it airs on Saturday night -- don't miss it!

Okay, this one is early, so I'll apologize in advance that next week's Round-up will probably be a day or two late.  Have a great week -- and let me know what you think of the HELL ON WHEELS season opener!

Happy trails,


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