Saturday, July 26, 2014
HELL ON WHEELS 2014 REVIEW
HELL ON WHEELS, AMC’s series about the building of the Trans-Continental Railroad, seen through the eyes of former Confederate officer and railroad engineer Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount), and ethically challenged railroad robber-baron Doc Durant (Colm Meany), and nearly a dozen other characters, returns for season four on Saturday, August 2nd. And if you need to refresh your memory, or fill in some story holes, AMC will be running the entire first three seasons on Friday, August 1st – check your local listings for times!
THE ELUSIVE EDEN is the first episode of the new season, and it opens in the winter of 1868, with Durant, broke, proving Proverbs correct, that ‘Pride goeth before a fall,’ in the most spectacular fashion, when he decides to lay track across a frozen lake! It doesn’t exactly solve his financial problems, but it’s a wondrous thing to see – I rewound and watched it three times.
Cullen, meanwhile, is in one helluvah fix as a prisoner in the Mormon fort, under the thumb of the Swede, who murdered the minister being sent to run the fort, and assumed his identity. Last season, while investigating a shooting by a member of a Mormon family, Cullen slept with a young woman, then hung her kid brother for a crime their father probably committed, and only escaped execution himself when the woman’s pregnancy was revealed. Now he is married to her, she is about to give birth, and he is living with her family. (Kind of puts any in-laws problems you may be having into perspective, doesn’t it?)
The portable town of Hell on Wheels is now located in the burgeoning city of Cheyenne, Wyoming, which appears to be the exclusive property of Durant: he’s even installed his own Mayor, Mickey McGinnes (Phil Burke), adding to his duties as saloon operator and pimp. Present also is former Indian prisoner, sometime-whore and sometime-nurse, Eva (Robin McLeavy). Missing is her man, Elam (Common), whose heart she broke when she gave away their baby – he’s presumably dead. Elam’s friend, fellow former-slave Psalms (Dohn Noorwood), is also back. The minister Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) is also back, and in charge of the Mormon boy Cullen rescued after the Swede had slaughtered his family.
And there are some new folks in town. Much to Durant’s chagrin, newly-elected President Grant (Victor Slezak) has sent a dapper pack of enforcers-in-politicians-clothing to do his bidding. They ain’t subtle.
The two opening episodes, THE ELUSIVE EDEN and ESCAPE FROM THE GARDEN focus, as you would guess, on Cullen’s plans to leave the Mormon Fort. I found some of the ideas better than their execution, but to be fair, the versions I saw were not final cuts, and based on their history, I have great faith in the production company to make this work.
One surprise is that Cullen has a new new wife: Siobhan Williams, who played his Mormon bride last season, is now a star on THE BLACK LIST, and has been replaced by Canadian actress MacKenzie Porter. So catch up on any episodes you don’t remember, because Saturday HELL is back ON its WHEELS, and this time for thirteen episodes instead of the previous ten-episode seasons!
THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR – by JULIE ADAMS
A Book Review
A good biography leaves you wanting to know more about its subject; reading one often leads to a list of movies I want to watch or books I want to read. But it’s unexpected to finish an actress’ autobiography, motivated to seek out both Pirandello’s plays, and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!
But Julie Adams has written a very unexpected memoir with THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR: REFLECTIONS FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. It is an entertaining, insightful and informative read from start to finish. In becoming a working professional actress, Julie Adams’ timing was ideal, because her career stretched between so many different stages of the film industry. When she started out in 1949, it was the tail end of the studio system, and her formative acting years were spent under contract to Universal.
Then came freelancing at many studios, big and small, and increasingly appearing in the growing monolith of television. Later still, while continuing in supporting roles on TV and in features, she works extensively in theatre, sometimes quite small theatre, but she shows her respect for those smaller paying audiences, and respect for the work. She also clearly respects the professionals she worked with in television: I was struck by how often she mentioned by name the writers of particular TV episodes that impressed her.
This is not a ‘tell-all’ book. I have no doubt that not everyone in the business was a joy to work with, and I am sure that so beautiful an actress had to work hard to keep the wolves at bay. But if she hasn’t got anything good to say about someone, they just don’t get a mention. She’s written the book with one of her two sons, TV editor Mitchell Danton, whose father was the handsome and debonair 1950s and 60s leading man Ray Danton. Even after their divorce, Julie has nothing hard to say about him, and after he became an in-demand director, he often cast his ex-wife. Maybe she’s just as nice as she seems to be.
Unquestionably Adams is best known to audiences for starring with ‘the Gillman’ in CREATURE – and for the white one-piece that made a bikini seem pointless. But she also had a very extensive Western career. Her first speaking role was in one of the tight-budgeted Lippert movies, 1949’s THE DALTON GANG, for silent writer/director and serial whiz Ford Beebe, opposite Don ‘Red’ Barry. That led to a six-picture contract with Lippert – and what a contract! In a cost-saving experiment, six movies with the same cast and crew were shot simultaneously! They would shoot all the scenes for all six movies on any given set before moving to the next – from school marm to sheriff’s daughter to girl outlaw in rapid succession. She credits the experience with really teaching her to act.
Under contract to Universal starting in 1951, she worked in big westerns with some of the finest directors, opposite top stars. She starred in BEND OF THE RIVER for Anthony Mann, opposite James Stewart. She starred in three for Budd Boetticher – HORIZONS WEST with Robert Ryan, THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO with Glenn Ford, and WINGS OF THE HAWK – playing a Mexican rebel leader – opposite Van Heflin. And let’s not forget THE TREASURE OF LOST CANYON with William Powell; THE LAWLESS BREED with Rock Hudson, for Raoul Walsh; and MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER with Tyrone Powell. She has a detailed memory, and great stories about them all.
In TV Westerns she was to play a wide range of characters, many of them villains. Among the most memorable were the title character NORA in a RIFLEMAN episode, where she tries to con Lucas; a BONANZA episode where her plans to marry Hoss are undermined by her compulsive gambling, and a BIG VALLEY, where she tries to get a monopoly in the rice business, and isn’t above killing Victoria Barkley to do it.
As a ‘cougar’ before there was such a term, she chases Elvis around the desk in TICKLE ME, and does something not so different to Dennis Hopper in his THE LAST MOVIE. She co-starred with John Wayne, not in a western, but in the cop film McQ. On the soap CAPITOL she played a fake agoraphobic; on MURDER SHE WROTE she played a man-hungry real estate broker. But her favorite TV role was as the wife of her BEND OF THE RIVER co-star James Stewart in the short-lived but charming JIMMY STEWART SHOW.
Julie bookends her autobiography with stories of attending monster-movie conventions with her BLACK LAGOON co-stars, something that keeps her busy, and gives her a lot of pleasure. Her memories of her adventures in film and TV-making, and her sharp insights into the work of her peers, writers, and directors, will give you pleasure as well. You can purchase THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR, and learn more about Julie Adams, including upcoming appearances, at her site, HERE .
You can read my Round-up interview with Julie Adams HERE.
THAT’S A WRAP!
I hope you’re all having a wonderful National Day of the Cowboy, wherever you are! If you don’t have plans yet, this link will take you to the official NDOC calendar of events all around the country: http://nationaldayofthecowboy.com/wordpress/?post_type=tribe_events&eventDisplay=month
All Original Contents Copyright July 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, July 21, 2014
(Note: I learned of the death of James Garner too late to include in this week’s Round-up, but I will next week.)
NATIONAL DAY OF THE COWBOY NEXT SATURDAY! – 2014
This coming Saturday, July 26th, 2014, will be the Tenth Annual National Day of the Cowboy! Over forty events are planned all over the country – in New Hampshire, New York, California, Texas, Kansas, Nevada, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Ohio, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Colorado! To find the events nearest to you, go HERE.
In Griffith Park, the Day of the Cowboy & Cowgirl At The Autry will feature a full day of cowpoke family fun, which in addition to visiting the museum galleries includes trick-roping demonstrations, leather-craft, square-dancing, drop-in roping, sketching with live horses at the corral, scavenger hunts, hands-on work with cowboy tools, storytelling, screenings of GENE AUTRY SHOW episodes, barbecue, and a root-beer saloon! It’s free for members, $10 for non-members, $6 for students and seniors, and $4 for kids 12 and under.
Bethany Braley, Executive Director of the NDOC has been spearheading the campaign, crisscrossing the country for a decade, and she’ll be celebrating in Chatsworth, at the Valley Relics Museum, 21630 Marilla Street 91311, home to an astonishing collection of items highlighting the history of the San Fernando Valley. The $20 per-person event, a fund-raiser for the Museum and the NDOC, will feature music by Steve Hill and by The Bob Staley Band. Highlights include a 90th birthday celebration for WAGON TRAIN star Robert Horton – with a special Western Legends Award presentation by Martin Kove. There will be a celebrity item auction, meet-and-greets with actor Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggerty and daughter of Clayton ‘Lone Ranger’ Moore, Dawn Moore, as well as Ben Costello, author of GUNSMOKE: AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION, author and NDOC spokeswoman Julie Ann Ream. There will be an exhibit of clothes and vehicles by legendary designer-to-the-western stars Nudie Cohn, and the all-important food trucks!
RED RIVER – from the Criterion Collection – A Review
I’ve heard friends talk about a movie getting ‘The Criterion treatment,’ but I never fully understood what was meant until now: there is nothing a sane person could want in a video of Howard Hawks’ classic RED RIVER that is not provided in spades in this set!
First, the quality of sound and image is without flaw. Russell Harlan shot it, and I believe it’s one of the most breathtakingly beautiful black and white movies ever made. The set includes both DVD and BluRay formats, and while the DVD is stunning, the clarity of the BluRay is even more so. Made in 1948, it was Howard Hawks’ 32nd film, but incredibly, his first Western – although he did uncredited work on both VIVA VILLA and THE OUTLAW. Hawks’ ability to place you in the action is unsurpassed. You will feel that you are in the heart of a cattle drive, with exhilaration, monotony, exhaustion and panic that were a part of them.
Based on Borden Chase’s novel, BLAZING GUNS ON THE CHISHOLM TRAIL, which is included – yes, the whole novel – it’s the story of two men and a boy, and the first great cattle drive. Thomas Dunsan (John Wayne) and Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan), leave a wagon train to start a ranch, and are soon joined by an orphaned boy, Matt Garth (Mickey Kuhn – whose character will grow up to be Montgomery Clift). Fourteen years later, Matt comes back from the Civil War to find Dunsan rich in cattle, but broke. There is no money in the south, hence no market for beef, and Dunsan has decided to drive the cattle, on what will become the Chisholm Trail, to Missouri. That drive, and the character relationships with each other, drovers like Harry Carey Jr., Noah Beery Jr., Paul Fix, Hank Worden, Chief Yowlachie, and ‘the Hawks woman’ in the person of Joanne Dru, make up the bulk of the movie which has been described as MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY on a cattle-drive.
The three leads are at the absolute top of their game. Brennan is the worshipful but still cantankerous unequal partner of Wayne, who still states his mind when he must – a younger version of the role he’ll play to Wayne in Hawk’s RIO BRAVO a decade later. Wayne’s Dunsun is so icily determined to succeed at all costs that it opened up a new career for him, playing heroes so mean and tough you hate to love them. Clift’s performance is fascinating in its quirky intensity – he plays it somewhere between a war hero and a bashful juvenile delinquent. John Ireland plays Cherry Valance, by turns a rival and friend to Clift. With an overlooked but extensive catalog of excellent western performances, Ireland would go on to play Billy Clanton in Ford’s MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, Bob Ford in Sam Fuller’s I SHOT JESSE JAMES, and Johnny Ringo in John Sturges’ GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL. In Europe, he was excellent as a hateful villain opposite Robert Woods in GATLING GUN, and even starred as Ben Cartwright’s brother in a failed attempt to revive BONANZA.
The two women in the film, Colleen Grey and Joanne Dru, are terrific as the sort of tough and independent-minded but feminine women that Hawk’s loved, though Hawks says he was disappointed in Dru: she was a rush replacement for Margaret Sheridan, who showed up for work noticeably pregnant.
A couple of once-big cowboy stars turn up for small but striking roles. Old Leather is played by six-time Wayne co-star Hal Talliafero, who was a popular leading man going back to the 1920s, as Wally Wales. The chillingly monotone Tom Tyler, who plays a cattle-drive deserter here, was also a leading man in silent and talkie westerns, starred as CAPTAIN MARVEL, but among his five roles with Wayne is best-remembered as nemesis Luke Plummer in STAGECOACH.
The score by Dimitri Tiomkin is one of the finest ever written for a western, or any movie. Interestingly, he would use the theme again for Hawks and Wayne in RIO BRAVO, with new lyrics to make it into My Rifle, My Pony and Me. The editing by Christian Nyby is uncluttered and almost invisible in its perfect efficiency.
There are four discs, because there are two different versions of the film, both presented in DVD and BluRay, the pre-release version and the release version. The main difference is that in the earlier, previewed version, frequent shots of a hand-written journal bridge the sequences. Hawks decided to take the shots out in favor of a narration by Brennan. The ending is a bit different as well, due to the interference of Howard Hughes, and as the story is told well in the extra features, I won’t give it away here.
And speaking of those features, you have on-camera interviews with Peter Bogdanovich, Molly Haskell, and Lee Mitchell. You have an audio interview with Hawks, conducted by Bogdanovich. You have an audio interview with novelist and co-screenwriter (with Charles Schnee) Borden Chase – and Chase’s life-story alone is worth the price of admission! You have a paperback of the original novel. You have a booklet with an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, and an interview with editor Chris Nyby. You have the trailer. You even have the LUX PRESENTS HOLLYWOOD radio show, featuring Wayne, Brennan, Dru, and in Clift’s role, Jeff Chandler (he does a fine audio job, but on camera, such a big guy would have been all wrong!).
Simply put, this is the best possible presentation of one of the finest movies ever made in any genre. I can’t recommend it highly enough. To link up with Criterion, go HERE.
WRITER JOHN FASANO – THE MAN WHO SAVED ‘TOMBSTONE’ – DIES AT 52
John Fasano in HANNAH'S LAW
Properly, much will be written about John Fasano’s career in horror and crime films, but he also had a passionate interest in westerns and in firearms. He wrote frequent articles for gun magazines, and in August, one of his last articles, about the weapons of Commodore Perry Owens, will appear in GUNS OF THE OLD WEST MAGAZINE.
He wrote three western films: THE HUNLEY (1999), about the Civil War submarine; THE LEGEND OF BUTCH AND SUNDANCE (2006); and HANNAH’S LAW (2012). But for his most important contribution to the genre, he neither sought nor received credit: he saved TOMBSTONE (1993). Writer-director Kevin Jarre had written a brilliant but over-long script for the movie. An inexperienced director, he soon ran behind schedule and over budget, and was fired by the producers. George Cosmatos took over the direction, but it was Fasano -- working in conjunction with Cosmatos, and a cast that had committed to the project based on the screenplay -- who reshaped the script without extensive rewriting, preserving the essence of it, and saving the film.
Longtime friend and associate writer C. Courtney Joyner says of Fasano, “He was a true, devoted writer, a devotee of the industry 100%, and his legacy with TOMBSTONE is going to stand.” Peter Sherayko, who played Texas Jack Vermillion in TOMBSTONE, and worked with John on a half-dozen other films, had three more co-projects in the works. “He was a friend for 26 years, and in this town he was a friend I could always count on.”
When I interviewed John for the Round-up in 2012, I told him, “An on-line list of your credits included a passing reference that you’d done script doctoring on TOMBSTONE. Which in my circle is like casually mentioning that you did a draft of the New Testament.”
John laughed. “Thank you. That’s the script that, when I get to Heaven, Saint Peter says, ‘He wrote JUDGE DREDD?’ And I say, ‘No, no – look just before that.’ And he says, ‘He wrote TOMBSTONE? Come on in.’ That’s the film that’ll get me into heaven, because everyone I’ve ever met not only saw it; they bought it.”
You can read the rest of my interview with John HERE.
AND DON’T FORGET ‘COPS & COWBOYS’ JULY 26!
On Saturday night, July 26th, head to the historic Leonis Adobe Museum in Calabasas for the annual Mid-Valley Community Police Council COPS & COWBOYS celebration! There’ll be toe-tappin’ music, dancing, delicious barbecue, Black Jack and Poker in the saloon, silent and live auctions and more! To learn more, read my write-up HERE.
‘GUNSLINGERS’ – 6 PART DOCUDRAMA, PREMIERES ON ‘AMERICAN HEROES’ TONIGHT!
Don’t know much about this mix of reenactments, commentary and historical photos, but it features all of our favorite people – Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickock, John Wesley Hardin and Tom Horn – so I’ll certainly give it a shot! I haven’t been able to get any of the videos to play, but follow the link and maybe you’ll have better luck! http://www.ahctv.com/tv-shows/gunslingers/gunslingers-video/gunslingers.htm
EGYPTIAN TO SHOW TWO SERGIO LEONES AND D.W. GRIFFITH SILENTS NEXT WEEKEND!
On Friday, July 25th, the Egyptian Theatre will play ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, on Saturday, July 26th THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. On Sunday, July 27th, the Retroformat 8mm series of D.W. Griffith films continues. For details, visit their link: http://www.americancinemathequecalendar.com/egyptian_theatre_events
That’s a wrap!
Have a great week, and I’ll catch you next weekend!
All Original Contents Copyright July 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, July 14, 2014
WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA CONVENTION Part 2
On Saturday morning, June 28th, the last day of the Western Writers of America Convention began (if you missed my coverage of part 1, go HERE ) with three panel discussions. Monty McCord, author of MUNDY’S LAW, moderated Steps to Successful Book Marketing. He shared the stage with H. Alan Day, who co-wrote the best-selling memoir LAZY B. with his sister, Sandra Day O’Connor; literary agent and publicist Krista Soukup, owner of the Blue Cottage Agency; and Lynn Wiese Sneyd, author, and founder of LWS Literary Services, which handles editing and publicity as well as ghost-writing.
Next up was Other People’s Lives: Writing Biography Right, moderated by JOHN MUIR: MAGNIFICENT TRAMP author Rod Miller. One of the delightful admissions came from “THAT FIEND IN HELL”: SOAPY SMITH author Catherine Spude who announced that much of what she has written is riddled with lies! She gave the example of writing her father’s obituary and, under pressure from her insistent mother, neglected to mention his previous marriage. It’s worth remembering that when we’re fighting to get the testimony of people who were ‘there’, wherever ‘there’ happens to be, that just like all of us, primary sources have a tendency to improve stories, to skip over embarrassing elements, and to simply remember things incorrectly, even when doing their damndest to be honest. Washington State University Press editor-in-chief Bob Clark attacked one of my personal peeves in alleged non-fiction: invented dialogue. He also advised that in writing about the life and times of someone, to make sure it’s more of their life and less of their times. Robert Larson, whose biographical subjects include Red Cloud and Gall, suggested starting a biography with a big event, and warned that in research, primary sources like obituaries and birth records are often wrong. In answer to an audience question about researching, I believe it was Catherine Spude who suggested using Ancestry.com to find descendants of your subject, and make them your friends.
CRAZY HEART and WITH BLOOD IN THEIR EYES author Thomas Cobb chaired the last discussion, Truth and Fiction. On the panel were Matthew P. Mayo, who last year won the Best Western Short Novel Spur for TUCKER’S RECKONING; two-time Spur Award winner Lucia St. Clair Robinson; and Ann Weisgarber, a Spur finalist this year for her historical novel THE PROMISE.
After a break for lunch, the writers piled into a convoy of buses and headed to the Barnes & Noble store in nearby Citrus Heights for a massive book-signing event. Spread throughout the massive emporium, clusters of authors sat with their books, signing them for the large contingent of readers who strolled through the store.
Among the authors I spoke to was Anne Hillerman. With her first western novel, SPIDERWOMAN’S DAUGHTER, which won this year’s Spur Award for Best First Novel, she’s continuing the beloved novels that her father, the late and great Tony Hillerman, wrote. I asked her what it was like to be stepping into those shoes.
ANNE HILLERMAN: It was wonderful; it was a little bit intimidating, at least at first. Because I was thinking of all the people who had loved my dad’s books for thirty years. But then, once I started writing it, I really enjoyed it. And I thought that all those people who had the potential to intimidate me also had the potential to love this book. And it made me happy. SPIDERWOMAN’S DAUGHTER is continuing the Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn series, with Bernadette Manolito as the main crime-solver. My contract with Harper-Collins was for two books, so I’m finishing up the second novel now; it’s due August 1st. And I’m hoping they’ll have it out some time between April and August of 2015.”
HENRY: You also have a strikingly beautiful book called TONY HILLERMAN’S LANDSCAPE.
ANNE HILLERMAN: My husband, Don Strell, took the photos, and I wrote the text; the book is about places my dad loved. (There are) descriptions of what those places are, and there are quotes from my dad’s books. And the last chapter is a piece that my dad wrote about why he loved living in Los Ranches, New Mexico.
Bill Hill writes mostly about trails, and his books have covered the Pony Express, Oregon, Santa Fe, Lewis and Clark, California and Morman trails. “Mainly the immigrant trails, the historic trails out west. Yesterday and today I worked with them, so I could find old photos, drawings, sketches. Things that were made by the immigrants or the military, when they did their surveys, and go back and photograph the same places today. It’s a lot of fun.” I asked him what audience his books are aimed at. “Some are for the general audience, adults ordinarily. Then we have introductory books about the trails, that have a little bit of everything in them. So they have information about the early maps, diaries, guidebooks that were available to the travelers. And a lot of ‘yesterday and today’ quotes that are related to those sites. I like to pick two or three artists or immigrants who made sketches, and then follow them all along the west. I’ve used people like Bruff, Tappin, Jackson, Simmons. The last one, on the Pony Express, I used a lot of Jackson photos in addition to his sketches and paintings.”
Bill Markley, author of DEADWOOD DEAD MEN, and WWA new member chairman, has written non-fiction, both for books and for magazines like TRUE WEST, but he’s branched out into fiction, and finds it liberating. “For the past twelve years I’ve written non-fiction, and when you write non-fiction, you stick to the facts. And in any story there’s always holes in the facts, and you think, ‘If I only had this one more piece of information it would make my story complete.’ With my new book, DEADWOOD DEAD MEN, it’s historical fiction, and I started thinking about this one story: why did this actually happen the way it did? Why don’t I just create the scene in the barroom as it happened? One thing grew into another, and I had the first chapter done. And the editor of this publication said, ‘Write the story.’ So that’s how I got into writing historical fiction. It’s Deadwood, August 1876, couple weeks after Wild Bill gets shot, and there was a series of murders. And there were always rumors that there was a gang behind the scenes pulling the strings.” Interestingly, Bill’s career with the west started onscreen. “I got my start in the film DANCES WITH WOLVES. I kept a journal during the filming, and then self-published. I was in the opening Civil War scene, when they were going to cut Kevin Costner’s foot off. Then I switched to Confederates, and I’m one of the guys who tries to shoot him off his horse. I wasn’t a reenactor then, but I am now. I was also in the films SON OF THE MORNING STAR, FAR AND AWAY with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, in the big land-rush scene at the end. That was a crazy deal – 250 wagons, a thousand riders. The insurance actuaries predicted that there would be one death, and a lot of injuries, but no one died. Then I was in GETTYSBURG and CRAZY HORSE.”
There were a lot of writers of western fact and fiction present, but Harlan Hague, whose book THE PEOPLE will be published by Five Star in August, was my first interview with a writer of western speculative fiction. “The People are a confederation of plains tribes that have put aside ancient enmities and formed a joint opposition to the United States. They decided that they had an enemy worse than the next tribe over the hill. I rearranged time and place so outrageously that I don’t mention places or places in the story, but I would guess it was in the 1840s. The tribe on which I focus is a tribe which supposedly went extinct in the 1820s. They had lived on Newfoundland. But in my book I rescue the Beothuk and have them migrate westward and settle on the western plains.”
James E. Meuller’s third book, SHOOTING ARROWS AND SLINGING MUD – CUSTER, THE PRESS, AND THE LITTLE BIGHORN, has been in the works for about twenty years, ever since the author was working towards his PhD at the University of Texas, Austin. “Custer was stationed there on reconstruction duty after the Civil War, and there’s actually a picture of a U.T. building with Custer sitting on the steps. At that point I wrote a paper for a class about Custer and the press coverage. Then I wrote a series of academic articles. It took about two and a half years to write the book after I got the contract, but I’ve actually been working on it for about twenty years. It’s a study of how the Little Bighorn was covered in newspapers of the day, and talks about various aspects of the coverage, including humor. For example, within a week or less of the battle, newspapers were telling jokes about it. One newspaper in Kentucky had on its front page that Custer’s death was ‘Siouxicide!’ There are chapters discussing how accurate and inaccurate the coverage was. There’s a chapter on the impact on the 1876 presidential campaign, because it was an election year. Surprisingly, it didn’t have that much impact. The battle was front-page news from July through August. But relatively quickly, the Hamburg Massacre, which was a race riot in South Carolina, between a black militia unit and ex-Confederate soldiers, knocked the Little Bighorn off the front page. ”
I was eager to talk to Paul Colt, author of BOOTS AND SADDLES – A CALL TO GLORY, because I overheard that it was about Blackjack Pershing’s pursuit of Pancho Villa. My grandfather, Henry Charles Parke, whom I am named after, rode in Pershing’s cavalry in that adventure. “It’s a historical dramatization. I like to do what I call unexpected history, where it focuses on some little known or overlooked aspect of a famous character of event. Everybody knows George Patton because of George C. Scott’s dramatic portrayal. But most people don’t know that early in his career he was a cavalry officer; he was the Army’s first saber master. And on the cusp of the twentieth century, just before World War One, he could already see that the cavalry was on its last days. He was very frustrated; he was 32 years old, still a 2nd lieutenant and he was thinking of resigning his commission. Then Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico, Woodrow Wilson sent Pershing into Mexico to get him. Patton talks his way onto Pershing’s staff; during that nine month campaign, Pershing puts his arm around Patton and saves his career.”
Fiction writer Thom Nicholson’s inspiration for REVENGE OF THE STOLEN DOVE came from life. I asked if the dove of the title was of the soiled variety. “When I was eighteen, I met a 95-year-old woman who, when she was sixteen, working in her father’s field in Nebraska, two men came by in a wagon and scooped her up. Took her to Denver, addicted her to opium, turned her into a prostitute and sold her to a brothel. And it took her ten years to get away; she went back to Nebraska, and her family was gone. She never saw them again, ever. She didn’t have any skill other than what she’d been doing. So she went back to doing that, and was a prostitute, and became a madam. She bought property, and when I met her at 95 she was a genteel woman of leisure living off her investments. She told me part of the story. I told her I had to hear the rest. She told me to come back later; when I did, she had died. So I had to make up the (rest of the) story for her. So this is written in her honor.”
I knew that evening I’d be watching Clu Gulager -- famous for his role as Sheriff Ryker in THE VIRGINIAN, and as Billy the Kid in THE TALL MAN, and movies as disparate as THE KILLERS and THE LAST PICTURE SHOW -- emcee the Spur Awards that night. But when I spotted him at Barnes & Noble, I thought it would be a better time to get an interview. I was right. To say the talk was wide-ranging is an understatement, but even if I got few direct answers to my questions, the responses were always informative and entertaining. I asked him why he was attending the convention.
Clu channeling Jack Benny
CLU GULAGER: Sex. Pure sex. It’s a sexual reasoning I have. Most people here are not spring chickens – certainly I am not. And I am drawn to women who are not spring chickens; and there are quite a few here.
HENRY: It is the Western Writers of America convention. Have you done any writing yourself?
CLU GULAGER: I write scenes for my film-acting workshop, for the actors. Other than that, I am very, very intimidated by you guys, and your editors. Because wordsmiths, to me, are the supreme art. And I know that Picasso wouldn’t enjoy me saying it, but I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again. Tonight I’ve got to say a couple of words; and I’m very frightened. Because I know the cynicism that goes into writing. I’ve written enough to know that you have to be somewhat skeptical of all of your sources, of your subject, and of your wording – and especially your syntax. I have written a western that I like, a screenplay, and my son, who is a filmmaker (writer/director John Gulager), likes a lot, called MISTER. And I’ve written about fifteen screenplays, none of which have been done. We’ve gotten some of them partially made, and then run out of money all the time. I should probably know your films --
HENRY: It depends how late you stay up, and what strange channels you watch.
CLU GULAGER: Well, I don’t watch TV. I don’t have any machines in my house, except a refrigerator, and a stove that’s broken. And of course, my head. That machine doesn’t function well at this time, but it’s there; I sleep with it.
HENRY: Okay, this will come out of left field: what was it like doing THE TALL MAN, with Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett?
CLU GULAGER: He looked like a turtle, when he was looking good. Otherwise he looked to me like he was about to crumple, most of the time. Alcoholics tend to feel badly when they get up in the mornings, and we started shooting early. So by noon he was about ready to go home. That’s showbiz talk.
HENRY: Was he drinking while you were doing the show?
CLU GULAGER: Oh yes. We sat down from time to time. I was a young actor, and did not like that. I knew everything then. And what I know now you could put on the head of a needle.
HENRY: What is your favorite role among your screen performances?
CLU GULAGER: Oh, I enjoyed mounting Cybil Shepherd on a pool table in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. That was fun.
HENRY: That sounds fun.
CLU GULAGER: Thank you. I enjoyed shooting Alan Alda in the belly with a double-barreled shotgun in THE GLASS HOUSE. He deserved it.
HENRY: For a long time.
CLU GULAGER: Mm-hm – yup. I got him at the end of the movie. And I enjoyed it when Randolph Scott’s pony fell with me while I was doing Billy the Kid. Fell with me in a gully in the back lot of Universal and almost killed me. I enjoyed that a lot because I felt it would be a good story to tell. I never tell it, but I’m telling you.
HENRY: Randolph Scott was not in the show with you, was he?
CLU GULAGER: No, he’d gone, but he left his pony, and that’s what they gave me to ride. It was 19, and I rode it for a while. Then it gave out, and they gave me another horse that was so high that I could hardly mount it. This one time Ronald Reagan came on the set; his wife was in it with me – very good actor, Nancy. He came on. I had a hard time getting on that damn horse. So about the eighth time, I just fell flat and just lay there. He said, “Clu. Clu.” I said, “Yeah, Ron?” He said, “I’ll tell you how I did it. I started mounting the horse, and just as I started to get up, I said, ‘Cut.’ And so they cut, and then they showed me on top of the horse, already mounted.” I said, “Thank you.” I wanted to tell him to shove it, you know, but I couldn’t, because he was the future governor and president. Good guy; real good guy. He’s the one that closed all the Indian schools. And the Indians wouldn’t go to the white schools, so they just stopped going to school. I’m an Indian. So all my friends who taught in Indian schools said, “Look, could you help us, could you talk with Ron and ask him not to do it? Tell him that the kids won’t go to the white schools?” And I said, “Yeah.” But I never did. I didn’t feel – not my place. He was not going to listen to me.
HENRY: Was that when he was Governor of California?
CLU GULAGER: President. They were economizing. They were conservatives from Illinois. And he believed in saving moola, no matter the consequences. But he was a kind gentle man to me. I did a movie called THE KILLERS with him. He played a villain. He was very good; very good. He hated it.
HENRY: Wasn’t that his last movie?
CLU GULAGER: Yeah. But he was really good in it. You see, his agent ran Universal, Lew Wasserman. So Lew prevailed upon him: “Look, I’ve helped you all these years. We need you in this picture.” It was a TV movie, not worth two cents. He didn’t want to do the movie, but he had to do it, because Lew got him elected Governor, and eventually President, and he knew which side his bread was buttered on, and he took it seriously, this political activity he was engaged in. He loved it. Nancy said, “He doesn’t like show business any more. He likes politics; he’s very interested in politics, Clu.” And I knew what she was talking about, because of my whole family; I come from a political background. You do get involved with different things. I don’t know what you’re involved in other than your writing, but you do become obsessed with things. And look what happened. He could fall asleep in an instant, in a meeting of Congress. Brilliant, brilliant mind – you try falling asleep when you’re President, in the middle of Congress. He could nap, and not even be drunk. I don’t think he drank to excess.
HENRY: Now in THE KILLERS, you were with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson.
CLU GULAGER: Yes, and I hit Angie Dickinson in the face as hard as I could, and I enjoyed it.
HENRY: So you’re really fond of her, I take it.
CLU GULAGER: I like her, except for one time I asked her to come down to The New Beverly. (Note: The New Beverly is a revival house in L.A. owned and operated by Quentin Tarantino; very funky and very chic.) We were showing THE KILLERS, and I’d talk with her. And she said she couldn’t make it. And I wanted to say…but I didn’t; I’m a gentleman.
HENRY: THE KILLERS was directed by Don Siegal. What was he like?
CLU GULAGER: I loved him as a person, very much. Very kind and gentle. We bonded, we were very good friends. And his boy, Kristopher Tabori was a good friend of mine. I must say that one of his films was one of my favorite horror films for decades. And that was INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, with Kevin McCarthy, in black and white. And then other things took over. I loved ALIEN a lot, that Don O’Bannon wrote. And Dan O’Bannon wrote a piece one time for me, called RETURN OF THE LIVNG DEAD. And I did it. And I said, how come you cast me in this thing, because I was a cowboy actor, kind of a legitimate actor. And this was nonsense. And he said, well, who would you put in it? And I thought and thought, and I couldn’t think of anyone that would accept that role, it was so ridiculous. I said, I can’t think of anyone. He said, there you go.
THE SPUR AWARDS DINNER
The convention was capped that night with the banquet, and the bestowing of the Spur Awards. The main course was salmon, the desert was tiramisu, and the entertainment began with a bit of time-travel. We were brought back to a mid-80s western film festival. Actor and film historian Jim Beaver, known for his roles in DEADWOOD, SUPERNATURAL and JUSTIFIED, was hard to recognize within a wreath of crusty whiskers, as he played the festival’s special guest, an amalgam of all the great and near-great and not-that-great sidekicks of yesteryear. To the delight of we hard-core cowboy-movie nerds, peppered among the jokes were frequent references to the most obscure of B-western productions.
The program continued with a series of special awards. The first, The Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement, went to Robert J. Conley. As a Cherokee, he wrote about the west from a not too common perspective, writing short stories, novels and non-fiction, including THE CHEROKEE ENCYCLOPEDIA.
A beloved and much honored member, described as ‘the face and heart of the WWA,’ he died this February, at the age of 73. But fortunately, this was not a posthumous presentation; Candy Moulton, executive director of the WWA, aware of his health problems, travelled to his home in Sylva, North Carolina, and made the presentation a week before his death. Along with all the remembrances of him, his leather-braided cane was placed across the top of the lectern.
Clu Gulager, a close friend of Conley, and part Cherokee himself, told the audience of the time he asked Conley to play a lawman in a film, and Conley eagerly agreed, even though he had to shave his head for the part. And then, to Gulager’s chagrin, that scene ended up on the cutting-room floor!
Johnny Boggs and Ollie Reed
The Stirrup Award was presented to Ollie Reed Jr., by Roundup Magazine editor Johnny D. Boggs, for his article on the LONGMIRE TV series.
Diane & John Gulager, C. Courtney Joyner, Clu Gulager, Kirk Ellis
The Lariat Award for exceptional support to the WWA and literature of the West, went to Tucson radio host Emil Franzi. The Branding Iron Award for support to the WWA and its goals went to writer and, until recently, chair of the membership committee, Rod Miller.
Anne Hillerman & Sherry Monahan
Clu and new WWA President Sherry Monahan handed out the Spurs. The Spur for Best Western Contemporary novel went to James Lee Burke for LIGHT OF THE WORLD. Best Western Historical Novel was SILENT WE STOOD, by Henry Chappell. Best Western Traditional Novel was CROSSING PURGATORY, by Gary Schanbacher. Anne Hillerman’s SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER was the Best First Novel. Mark Lee Garner’s SHOT ALL TO HELL: JESSE JAMES, THE NORTHFIELD RAID, AND THE WILD WEST’S GREATEST ESCAPE, was Best Western Non-Fiction – Historical. Best Western Nonfiction – Contemporary, was William Philpott’s VACATIONLAND.
Earle Labor and his family of researchers
Best Western Nonfiction - Biography was JACK LONDON: AN AMERICAN LIFE, a book sixty years in the making, by Earle Labor. Just a personal note here: I was delighted that Labor, who brought on-stage his family of researchers, credited his interest in the subject with a book he read as a kid, JACK LONDON’S STORIES FOR BOYS. It was also my father’s favorite book as a kid, and the one he gave to me when I was bored with what they were having me to read in school.
Best Western Juvenile Fiction was PAPA’S GOLD by Ellen Gray Massey. Best Western Juvenile Nonfiction was Jean A. Lukesh’s EAGLE OF DELIGHT. STORYTELLER (Best Illustrated Children’s Book) was YOSEMITE’S SONGSTER: ONE COYOTE’S STORY, by Ginger Wadsworth, illustrated by Daniel San Souci. Best Western Short Fiction Story went to CABIN FEVER by Brett Cogburn. Best Western Poem, by Amy Glynn, was CHAMISE. Best Western Song was STILL THERE, by Waddie Mitchell and Juni Fisher, and Juni was there to perform it. Best Western Documentary was INDIAN RELAY by M.L. Smoker. Best Western Short Nonfiction was THE OTHER JAMES BROTHER by Mark Lee Gardner in Wild West Magazine.
WEDNESDAY LUNCH @ THE AUTRY: COWBOYS AND COMICS: FAST ON THE DRAW!
Wednesday, July 16, at High Noon, Rob Word’s ‘A Word On Westerns’ Cowboy Lunch will take place, as it does on the third Wednesday of every month. The focus this time will be on western-themed comic books. As Rob points out, “The boom years for television westerns were in the 1950's and 1960's. It was the same with comic books. The shelves of dime and drug stores were filled with comics featuring glossy covers of practically every TV and movie western. And new western heroes like Ghost Rider, The Rawhide Kid, The Trigger Twins and Tomahawk were being offered in glorious Four Color stories. Westerns were outselling superheroes and you'll discover some things you didn't know about the reasons why!”
Guests will include legendary MAD MAGAZINE artist and ‘Bat Lash’ creator Sergio Aragones; ComicCon’s Mark Evianer; actor and would-be ‘Lieutenant Blueberry’ (a French Western strip) Martin Kove; Will Ryan on sidekicks who got their own comics; music by the lovely Saguaro Sisters; and Olympic Gold Medalist and stuntman Dean Smith, talking about his adventures with John Wayne. You buy your lunch, but the entertainment is free!
DEAN SMITH SIGNS AUTOBIO ‘COWBOY STUNTMAN’ WEDNESDAY AT THE AUTRY!
If you needed another reason to go to the Autry on Wednesday, track & field Olympian-turned-stuntman Dean Smith will be signing his autobiography at the Autry! Starting in 1957 on WAGON TRAIN and continuing through ROUGH RIDERS in 1997, Dean has stunted and stunt-coordinated in nearly a hundred movies and series, doubling for stars like Roy Rogers, James Garner (in 1994!), Doug McClure, Dale Robertson, and worked with John Wayne on THE ALAMO and MCCLINTOCK!
WIN TWO TICKETS TO SEE G.T. HURLEY THURSDAY NIGHT!
I’ve got two free tickets to the first person who emails me at email@example.com, and asks for them! Part of the OutWest Concert series at the Repertory Playhouse (a.k.a. The Rep) at 24266 Main Street, Newhall, CA 91321, it is sponsored by the charming folks at OutWest Boutique – click their link on the upper left-hand corner of the Round-up to learn more. Hurley comes from Montana, and he sings about his life as a rancher and hard-rock miner. He’s opened for Baxter Black and Jon Chandler. To buy tickets (in case you’re not the first with the email), which are $20, call 661-255-7087.
INSP COMING BACK TO DIREC-TV!
If you, like me, have been missing Saddle-up Saturday, and your required weekly doses of THE VIRGINIAN and HIGH CHAPARRAL, I have great news! While no official announcement is being made, my sources at INSP have confirmed that folks who have continued to call DirecTV and complain about INSP being dropped are now being told that the station will be back on July 21st!
DICK JONES, ‘BUFFALO BILL JR.’, DIES
Dick Jones at the 2012 Silver Spurs
Last Monday, actor Dick Jones died at the age of 87. Born in Snyder, Texas, he was a fine horseman by the age of four (no, that’s not a typo), and was quickly hired by Hoot Gibson to perform in his rodeo as the world’s youngest trick-rider and trick-roper. “Hoot told my mother the famous words: 'That kid ought to be in pictures.' She said, 'Whoopee!' and away we went to Hollywood.”
After a few years playing dozens of often uncredited bits in major features, Bs and OUR GANG shorts – he’s great as the pesky neighbor kid in NANCY DREW…REPORTER – he became famous as the voice of the wooden puppet who wanted to be a boy in Walt Disney’s PINOCCHIO. Appreciated by western filmmakers for his saddle-skills, he was not only cast in the excellent ROCKY MOUNTAIN, with Errol Flynn; he was put on the film early, to see which actors could actually perform the various ‘mounts’ that were required.
Gene Autry was among the filmmakers who appreciated Dick’s talent and potential, and used him in five of his movies, most dramatically in LAST OF THE PONY RIDERS (1953), where Dick goes gunning for Gene. Counting TV episodes, Dick and Gene shared the screen nineteen times. And Autry produced the two series Dick is best remembered for, THE RANGE RIDER, where he played Jock Mahoney’s sidekick, Dick West; and BUFFALO BILL JR., where Dick was the title character. Mahoney and Jones never used stuntmen, because no one could do the demanding stunt-work any better than the stars.
In 1965, after REQUIUM FOR A GUNFIGHTER, he retired from the screen, and went into business. But he never lost his fondness for the genre, sometimes attended film festivals, and over the past few years I met him several times at Silver Spur dinners and events at The Autry. He was about the nicest man you’d want to meet. I’m linking an episode of THE RANGE RIDER, so you can see Dick at work. Enjoy!
THAT’S A WRAP!
That’s all for this Round-up! Have a great week!
All Original Contents Copyright July 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved