Tuesday, August 26, 2014



I can’t recall another time when I wrote about a brand-new film, and could conclude with, “and if you want to see the entire film right now, click the link below,” but that is exactly the situation here!
INSP is a channel with a longtime commitment to family entertainment, particularly in the Western genre: they’re the folks who brought back – and exclusively show – the classic HIGH CHAPARRAL and THE VIRGINIAN series.  They also run THE BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, LITTLE HOUSE, and DR. QUINN.  (To learn more about the history of INSP, read my interview with Senior VP of programming Doug Butts HERE )

After years of airing classic shows, they started getting their toes wet with creating original programming in 2012, with a series of short films under the heading of Moments.  Here’s how they describe their mission at the moments.org page: “Moments.org is a web network producing original short films. Our films are designed to inspire, encourage and entertain viewers with stories that celebrate love, faith, redemption, patriotism and other timeless truths in action.”

Starting with the two and a half minute ‘Thank you for your service’ -- which is not exactly the story you expect -- and grouped under the headings ‘A moment of truth,’ ‘A moment of hope,’ ‘A moment of insight,’ ‘A moment of valor,’ and ‘Unbroken soldiers,’ the team of Thomas Torrey, Shea Sizemore, Michelle Wheeler and Jim Goss have produced dozens of short dramas and documentaries which run on INSP as Public Service Announcements, and are also available on-line HERE

 But creative filmmakers always want more, including more time, and in 2013 they created OLD HENRY (not me!), as a series of two-minute films about an aging man played by THE WALTONS star – and hence INSP-viewer favorite – Ralph Waite in his final lead performance.  The chapters were later edited into a 22-minute story, the longest Moments film by far, and it’s been extremely popular. 

Now they’ve made a Western, the ten-and-a-half minute HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, the Moments.org’s tentpole production for 2014, written and directed by Thomas Torrey, and it is by far their most ambitious outing yet.  Set in a sun-blasted desert town, opening with two men on a gallows, it’s a good vs. evil story, starring the Emmy-winning (for MIAMI VICE), Oscar-nominated (for STAND AND DELIVER) Edward James Olmos as someone who has seen a vacuum of leadership in the town, and decides to fill it.  Grant Goodeve, who has toughened considerably since his 8 IS ENOUGH DAYS, is the lawman who stands in his way. 

The air is electric with tension from the first shot to the last, and each of those shots if wonderfully framed by cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos, who won a Wrangler Award for his work on the Western CONAGHER, shot much of the recent sensation BREAKING BAD, and elegantly lensed one of my all-time favorites, RISKY BUSINESS.  RIGHTEOUS is a tantalizing little film, which fulfills its promise, but leaves you wanting more.  It’s easy to see it as a back-door pilot to a full-length feature, or even a series.

The drama is the work of writer and director Thomas Torrey, who had also written and directed THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE and OLD HENRY.  I asked him if he was originally hired for the Moments.org films. “I got hired in January of 2012 to create this department.  As you know, INSP (presents) all family-friendly content, but it’s all classic, licensed family shows – nothing was original.  Our CEO wanted INSP to have a voice.  So before he was gonna run, he was gonna walk, and before that, crawl, with short films that would air on commercial breaks.  I was hired to create the (short form) department.  We produce ten to fifteen significant pieces a year, both scripted and documentary.”

Cinematographer Villalobos and Olmos sharing 
a laugh between scenes.

HENRY:  Why did you decide to approach Ralph Waite with the OLD HENRY story?

THOMAS:  We had such success with THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, the veterans piece, because it served an underserved demographic.  We started thinking, what was another underserved demographic that we can honor, in hopes of generating a piece that would have that kind of impact.  I had spent three years working in the retirement industry as a filmmaker – kind of imbedded with a company – and really became a champion for pro-aging causes.  My eyes really opened to the ageism that’s so pervasive in the media and America.  I said, well I know a demographic that’s underserved: the elders among us.  So I came up with the character, and my boss challenged me: why don’t you come up with a longer story, so that we can really explore this.  Ralph Waite was already well-loved by our audience.  THE WALTONS is one of our most-watched programs.  And we already had a relationship with him, so I wrote the piece for him, figuring that if we could afford him, we could probably get him.  I sent him the script, saying I wrote this for you; our audience loves you.  What do you think?  He got back to us real quick, and wanted to jump on-board. 

HENRY:  HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is a short film, but at ten minutes, it’s five times the length of most of the films you are doing.  What made you make the jump?

THOMAS:  Westerns are dear to my heart, and I knew coming out of last year that I wanted to raise my own bar, and think of something that, if I weren’t working for INSP, I’d want to make by myself.  Well, a Western!  And I knew it would be a good fit for our network, because the western block of programming, Saddle-Up Saturdays, is some of our highest-rated.  So I told my boss, Jim, I want to write a western for 2014.  And he said, “Let’s see if we can find the story.”  Actually I had a whole different concept and story, but it didn’t work; it was too big for the amount of time I had to tell the story.  And Jim said, “Why don’t you think of something more classically Western; think about the battle between good and evil.”    I started writing this character, Mr. Lucey (Edward James Olmos), coming in to town:  he’s the Devil, obviously.  And I got to page three, page four, got to page eight or nine and I thought, I bet I could get away with a longer short if I create a nice sort of cliffhanger by the second or third minute.  And I (went) back to my superiors and said, “I want to try an experiment.  I want to try making the two or three minute version, the thing that we show on-air, end with a cliffhanger, and say, to see the entire film, go to moments.org.”  So it’s a little experimental.  We’re going to see how much traffic we can generate from our on-air viewers to on-line.  So the real answer is, the only way I could get away with a ten-minute film which is only going to be seen on-line is because I’m also creating an on-air short version, which is the opening three minutes.  Another sort of justification for doing it is, next year, INSP is going to begin producing longform original series. Moments.org will continue to produce shorts, but we’re also keeping an eye internally on what are the popular stories among Moments.org that perhaps the network could develop into something longer.  Up until Ralph Waite’s passing, we were developing a feature film version of OLD HENRY.  And so if HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is really popular with our audience, if people are clamoring for it as a series or a feature film, well then at least we have a little home-made market research that says there may be an audience for this film.   

HENRY:  Sort of a short back-door pilot.

THOMAS:  Exactly.  And you’ve seen the piece – it’s unresolved.

HENRY:  It’s open-ended.

THOMAS:  And that’s by design. 

HENRY:  How long did you shoot?

THOMAS:  This was shot in three days, over two timezones.  We had a two-day shoot out in the desert at Whitehorse Ranch in Landers, California --

HENRY:  That’s Peter Menyhart’s place.  It looks fabulous; wonderfully solid and rough-hewn.

THOMAS:  He did an amazing job – that’s why he gets a set designing credit.  We shot there two days in May, and then we did a third day of pick-ups here in South Carolina last month. 

HENRY:  And you limited your story to one sequence in real time, which I thought was much smarter than trying to compress a feature into ten minutes.

THOMAS:  There’s a whole back-story that’s implied.

Grant Goodeve

HENRY:  What were Edward James Olmos and Grant Goodeve like to work with?

THOMAS:  They were fantastic.  Our cinematographer, Reynaldo Villalobos, who we had through a mutual friend, and who was excited to come on-board, was friends with Edward James Olmos, and that’s how we were able to hire Mr. Olmos.  Grant Goodeves has been a longtime friend of INSP, and I had tried casting Grant in OLD HENRY as Henry’s son, and for logistical purposes it didn’t work out, but we stayed in touch.  And when I thought of this pure hero, he was the first guy I went to.  Grant is a warm, generous, funny man, and he was just a joy to work with.  Edward James Olmos got there just the day before (shooting), and he was just such a warm, inviting, unassuming guy.  You get the impression that he’s very intense, but he’s just doing his process.  And it was hard on the actors, because it was ten hours in the desert sun with their thick clothes.  But he ate with us, and was just so complimentary of the script and the project, that it was just a thrill to work with both of them.

HENRY:  You said you were excited to do a Western.  Are you a longtime fan of the genre?

THOMAS:  Not a longtime fan.  I’m not one of those kids who grew up watching Westerns with his dad.  I grew up with a sci-fi buff, so I was indifferent to the Western genre until I was in my twenties.  Probably ten years ago I saw ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and THE PROPOSITION, a Western set in the Australian outback, in the same week.  Seeing them just opened up this love for the Western genre, and then I caught up: I watched them all.  Now I’m just a Western junkie, and I love them, the new ones and the old ones, and ever since then, as a filmmaker, it’s a genre I want to explore, both writing and directing.
And you can see the result, HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, below!


If you rushed out to catch SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, I understand you found yourself to be pretty much alone – but you did get a teaser for Quentin Tarantino’s new Western – a good trick since the cameras haven’t started rolling – and when they do it’ll be 70mm Cinemascope!  It’s a graphic trailer, featuring music, and the names of the film’s characters.  Folks who took part in the dramatic staged reading, who are expected to take part, include Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Samuel L. Jackson.  Jennifer Lawrence is said to be in talks with Tarantino, to play one of the two female roles, that of Daisy – the role taken by Amber Tamblyn at the staged reading!  Here is a shaky, presumably bootlegged, look at the trailer.


A few days ago I got an email from my daughter with the subject-line, “Who’s the guy who’s not Fonda?”  Attached was the photo above, clearly Henry Fonda in a Western, talking to a man, also in costume, wearing a star.  She’d spotted it, and other nicely signed and framed pictures of movie stars, at an antique store.  They were all signed to ‘Chalkie.’  The signature on the Fonda picture was probably ‘Jack,’ presumably the guy with Henry Fonda.  Did I know who ‘Jack’ was?  Did I want it $20 worth?

My gut said it was from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and when I pulled it up on IMDB, the poster they illustrated it with showed Fonda as Wyatt Earp, with that mustache!  But who could ‘Jack’ be?  I checked the credits, looking for Jacks.  Jack Curtis played a bartender, but a bartender wouldn’t wear a badge.  Jack Kenny played a barfly, but a barfly wouldn’t wear a badge either, nor would the stagecoach driver that Jack Pennick played.  A stuntman on the picture was Jack Montgomery, father of child star Baby Peggy.  It could be him – I couldn’t find a picture of him.  Then another possibility occurred to me: maybe it wasn’t ‘Jack,’ maybe it was ‘Lake’ – Stuart N. Lake, who interviewed the real Wyatt Earp at length, and wrote the biography FRONTIER MARSHALL, on which CLEMENTINE was based!  It would make sense for him to be on the set – Morgan Woodward, a regular on the WYATT EARP TV series told me that Lake was a technical adviser, and on-set all the time!  I searched online, and found the photo of Stuart N. Lake below. 

Stuart N. Lake

Looks like the same guy to me!

I called my daughter back and asked her to buy the picture.  Well, she got it, I paid for it, and…the signature is definitely ‘Jack,’ not ‘Lake.’  So, who is the guy with the badge?  My wife looked at the picture, and asked me if it was from JESSE JAMES (1939), where Fonda played Frank to Ty Power’s Jesse.  He had that damned mustache in that one, too, and he wore it again in the sequel, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940), as well! 

Now I’m asking you for your help!  What movie is the still from?  CLEMENTINE?  JESSE JAMES?  FRANK JAMES?  Another Fonda Western?  And who is Jack?  And who is Chalky – that certainly isn’t a common nickname?  Anybody know?  Any good guesses?  Please leave a comment at the bottom of the post, or email me at swansongmail@sbcglobal.net .


Please let me know what you think of THE HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, and if you know who 'Jack' is. And have a great week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, August 17, 2014


(Updated 8-18-2014 -- see KARL MAY story)

As you may have read in the June 15, 2014 Round-up (and if you missed it, HERE is the link ), the 4th Annual Almeria Western Film Festival was cancelled because Tabernas Mayor Mari Nieves Jaen stole it from its creators!  She registered the Festival name under her own name, and proceeded to plan her own event, one which would presumably be politician-friendly, and more dedicated to photo ops than film history.   

I don’t know if her festival is going to proceed, and could not care less!  But I was delighted to hear from Original fest co-creator Danny Garcia.  “We've decided to carry on and we'll celebrate this year’s Almeria Western Film Festival next September 11-13.  We'll have a new website and a new name as we'll add 'International' to the name to make it different from the fake one.”

The very next day I heard from the star/writer/director of the excellent LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE (click HERE for my review), Tanner Beard, with news about his next Western film.  “6 BULLETS TO HELL will have a European Premier in Almeria, Spain on September 12th.  We are finding out about our US premier, which should be happening sometime in October, and there is another European screening at the Aberdeen Film Festival in early October.” 

Crispian Belfrage

There can be no more fitting place for the film to premiere, since its conception is tied to the Fest, when Tanner attended in 2012.  As Danny Garcia, both the Fest’s co-creator and the film’s exec producer, explained to me in 2013, “The first contact between us and Tanner happened at the… Festival, where Tanner won the audience prize with THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE.”  They started talking story, and before you knew it, they had a movie in the works.  “We used Mini Hollywood (the set built by Leone for the film FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) and Fort Bravo (used in hundreds of Spaghetti Westerns as well: DEATH RIDES A HORSE, BLINDMAN, CHATO’S LAND, etc.) and we shot in the desert of Tabernas and the mountains of Abla for the epic final duel.” (You can read more details about the production HERE )

Tanner Beard

6 BULLETS TO HELL is a revenge tale, about a peaceful man who must put on a badge and track down the men who destroyed his world.  It’s made very much in the spaghetti western manner and style.  It was shot in Spain and edited in the U.S.  It has five credited writers: Chip Baker, Jose L. Villanueva, Tanner Beard, Danny Garcia, Russell Quinn Cummings, and it’s co-directed by Tanner Beard and Russell Quinn Cummings. 

Don't let them in!

The stars are Crispian Belfrage as the lawman, Tanner Beard as an outlaw with no conscience, and Magda Rodriguez, Aaron Stielstra, Russell Quinn Cummings, and long-time Euro-western regular Antonio Mayans.  I had the pleasure of watching the first half hour of the film (note: they didn’t hold back on the rest of the film; I just couldn’t get the rest to play.  I HATE watching movies on-line!), and enjoyed it a helluvah lot!  Spaghetti Western fans will be ‘all in’ as soon as they see the titles roll, and hear the first dubbed line of dialogue!  It manages the very dicey balancing act of being enough of an homage to bring the knowing smiles, while still maintaining its own integrity as a dramatic story.  I’ll have more information on the Festival in the coming weeks.  


On Wednesday, August 20th, at high noon, Rob Word will present, as he does on the third Wednesday of every month, the Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry, which this time out will celebrate that legendary location for Western films for 99 years, Melody Ranch!  A working ranch from the 19th century, and a movie ranch since 1915, it was the stomping ground of silent stars like William S. Hart and Tom Mix, and with the coming of sound, it became Monogram Ranch.  Incalculable sagebrush sagas were shot there, and it gained its greatest fame when Gene Autry bought the property in 1952, and rechristened it Melody Ranch after his long-running radio show. 

In addition to Gene’s own movies, just about every western TV series shot episodes there, and among the many series that called the lot home were GUNSMOKE, BRET MAVERICK, and DEADWOOD.  Hundreds of features have been shot there, including the recent DJANGO UNCHAINED, and currently the miniseries WESTWORLD is lensing there. 

Among the guests attending will be one of the great child stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jane Withers, who starred with Gene Autry in SHOOTING HIGH!  The event is free, but you have to buy your own lunch, and I’d advise you to get there early, as the tables do fill up.  The good news is, if you end up at one of the outdoor tables, there will be a live video feed.  See you there!

Gene and Jane in SHOOTING HIGH!


Thursday night at 8 (tho’ the doors open at 7), Cowboy balladeer John Bergstrom will be celebrating the release of his fourth CD, BUTTERFIELD STAGE, with a concert at The Rep, a.k.a. The Repertory East Playhouse, 24266 Main St., Newhall, CA 91321.  Tickets are just $20, and you can buy them by calling 877-340-9378. This concert is being presented by the excellent folks at OutWest Western Boutique and Cultural Center, our sponsor with the logo at the top left of the page – and you can buy all of John Bergstrom’s CDs at that site. 

But wait – there’s more!   I caught OutWest honcho Bobbi Jean Bell in such a good mood that she told me she’ll give away two free pairs of tickets to the first two folks who email me and ask for them!  Just send me a note at swansongmail@sbcglobal.net, and be sure to put ‘John Bergstrom’ in the subject line, so I don’t think you’re one of those Nigerian Princes who keeps contacting me!


At noon on Saturday, August 23rd, The Autry will screen a pair of Gene’s movies in the Imagination Gallery, BOOTS AND SADDLES (Rep. 1937) and GOLD MINE IN THE SKY (Rep.1938).  In BOOTS, an English kid inherits a ranch, and wants to sell it, but Gene wants the boy to become a westerner, and help him raise horses for the Army.  Another man wants to buy the ranch, and when his and Gene’s bids are the same, they decide to settle it with a race.  The best part is, the kid actor, New Zealander Ronald Sinclair, would in fact give up his acting career to join the U.S. Army when war broke out, and would return to be a very successful movie editor.  And the other bidder is played by Gordon Elliot, who would become a big star a year later, when Republic changed his name to Wild Bill Elliot.   In GOLD MINE troubles ensues when Gene is made the executor of a will, and has to decide who a high-spirited heiress may and may not marry!  Both co-star Smiley Burnette, and are directed by Republic action-ace Joe Kane.  


GENE AUTRY ENTERTAINMENT continues to release four-packs of Gene’s films, and I’ve just received volume 5 (I’ve also received 6&7, which I’ll be reviewing in the near future).  Made from 1949 to 1953, they’re all Gene Autry‘Productions released by Columbia Pictures.  As always, each features a beautiful female lead – Barbara Britton, Elena Verdugo, Virginia Huston, and Gail Davis.  And they all feature Champion, the World’s Wonder Horse.  Two star Pat Buttram, one stars Smiley Burnette, but in the first, Gene rides sidekickless!

LOADED PISTOLS (Col 1949) is an unusual Gene Autry entry in a number of ways, most noticeably that it’s a legit murder mystery, opening with a shooting when the lights are switched off during a crap game.  There’s even one of those fun THIN MAN-styled, “You’re probably wondering why I brought you all here tonight,” scenes where the crime is reenacted!  The victim is a friend of Gene’s, and the suspect is such a jerk that you realize Gene is stepping in more to make sure the guilty party doesn’t get away, rather than to see the innocent jerk freed.  This is the first Autry I recall seeing without a sidekick, and much as I like Smiley and Pat, it’s an interesting change.  Barbara Britton, the beautiful female lead, had already made an impression opposite Joel McCrea in THE VIRGINIAN, and done a pair of films with Randolph Scott so, unlike his other ladies, she receives title-card billing with Gene.  She’s probably best remembered for costarring with Richard Denning in the MR. AND MRS. SMITH series.

Also of note in the cast are Chill Wills as a lawman who keeps confiscating Gene’s guns; old western leading man Jack Holt; Robert Shayne before he’d become Inspector Henderson on SUPERMAN; ace geezer character actor Clem Bevans; and one of my favorites silent movie comedians, Snub Pollard, he of the handlebar mustache, and he even takes a pratfall – pretty impressive at sixty!  This is truly an outdoor picture, with little time wasted between walls.  Full advantage is taken of the beautiful Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, and the beautiful Champion.

As the title suggests, GENE AUTRY AND THE MOUNTIES (Col 1951) shifts the action north to Canada, or actually to heavily pine-forested Big Bear Lake.  In a story that today would be described as ‘suggested by actual events,’ Gene and Pat pursue into Canada a group of French Canadians who are heisting U.S. banks to fund a Canadian Revolution.  The boys encounter a startling world where Mounties are reviled and despised.  When their Mountie friend Terrie Dillon (Richard Emory) is nearly killed by the bandits, the nearest help is lovely Marie Duvol (long-time Universal starlet Elena Verdugo), whose juvie brother (Jim Frasher) and uncle (Trevor Bardette) are among the Mountie-haters.  And wouldn’t you know, their ring-leader Pierre LaBlond (Carleton Young) has plans for Marie that make her shudder.  

Unusual for the amount of seething hatred in the story, even easy-going Gene loses patience with the brother who is mean to his own dog.  When the kid asks if Gene plans to beat him up, he says it wouldn’t be fair for a grown man to beat a boy.  But he adds, never changing his smile, “If I were your size, I’d skin you alive.”  Directed by John English, as is LOADED PISTOLS, there’s a very dramatic out-of-control fire sequence towards the end. 

Again reflecting history, NIGHT STAGE TO GALVESTON (Col 1952) focuses on the days after the Civil War, when the Texas Rangers were disbanded, replaced by a corrupt State Police service, in the movie run by suave but villainous Robert Livingston.  With the support of newspaper publisher Porter Hall and his daughter Virginia Houston, Gene and Pat gather criminal evidence from ex-Rangers.  But Livingston won’t go down without a fight.  By turns effective and cloyingly adorable is twelve-year-old Judy Nugent as a child orphaned by the homicidal State Police.  Nugent would do two films for Douglas Sirk, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION and THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW, at twenty be a continuing character on the Billy the Kid series THE TALL MAN, and later marry, and divorce, GUNSMOKE star Buck Taylor. 

Almost unrecognizable without his mask in a small, uncredited role, is Clayton Moore, THE LONE RANGER (Robert Livingston was also the Lone Ranger in a Republic serial).  Moore had been dropped from his series over a salary dispute in 1950, and while John Hart was wearing the mask for 54 episodes, generous men like Gene Autry gave Clayton small roles in movies and TV episodes, often unbilled or as ‘Clay Moore’, until the LONE RANGER producers came to their senses and brought him back. 

The final movie in the set is one from Gene’s last year of filmmaking, GOLDTOWN GHOST RIDERS (Col 1953).  The story of a gold-rush town built on a foundation of fraud, it’s an unusual entry for a number of reasons.  Gene plays not only a rancher, but a circuit judge.  Also, the story is told largely in flashback – the tale begins with a man looking for revenge after being imprisoned for a decade, and most of the story concerns the events that led to his imprisonment.   It also raises an interesting legal quandary that would be revisited in 1999’s DOUBLE JEOPARDY: if you’ve already served a term for the murder of someone who it turns out is alive, is it then legal for you to kill them?  There’s even a supernatural element; Smiley Burnette tells the story of an ethereal pack of ‘Ghost Riders’ who haunt the area and jealously guard their claims. 

The film features Gene’s nemesis from GENE AUTRY AND THE MOUNTIES, Carleton Young; a very young Denver Pyle; and as a young Mexican miner whose claim is jumped; Neyle Morrow.  A favorite of the great ‘guy story’ filmmaker Sam Fuller, Morrow would appear in fourteen of his crime thrillers, war movies and westerns.  The female lead is Gene’s lovely frequent co-star Gale Davis, who would soon shed her gingham in favor of fringed buckskin and star for Gene’s Flying A company as ANNIE OAKLEY.    

Special features with each movie include a montage of stills and posters, inside info from producer and film historian Alex Gordon, an episode of the GENE AUTRY MELODY RANCH RADIO SHOW, and Gene and Pat doing on-camera introductions from MELODY RANCH THEATER, a TV series they hosted on The Nashville Network in 1987.  Personally, I like to listen to the radio shows on my computer, but you can also run them on your DVD player.  My favorite of this group is one where Jack Benny is guest, plugging his switch of radio networks.  The TV intros are fun and informative; the boys have a lot of amusing memories of performing in Canada.  Also there’s a surprisingly direct discussion of the importance of non-whites in the settling of the American West.  Released by Timeless Media Group, this and the other  Gene Autry Collections are available from OutWest HERE and other fine retailers.

Lost in Translation: Germany’s Fascination With the American Old West
HERE is the link --  I’m sure you’ll find it fifteen minutes very well-spent!


That’s it until next week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 10, 2014


BOONVILLE REDEMPTION – My Day as a ‘Background’

This day of adventure actually started a couple of weeks ago, with a call from Sheri Keenan, Peter Sherayko’s assistant at Caravan West, his company that provides props, saddles, costumes, guns and horses for Western movies, TV shows and commercials.  Caravan West also provides The Buckaroos, which started as a group of horsemen Peter corralled to ride on both sides of the law in the film TOMBSTONE, and now includes history-savvy background actors with their own accurate wardrobe and props.  Peter knows that I’ll always jump at the chance to be on-set on a western, to watch the work, and interview cast and crew for The Round-up.  But it got better.  Sheri asked, “How’d you like to be a victim of the of the San Francisco earthquake?” 

“Who wouldn’t!?”  Last November Peter put me in the movie WESTERN RELIGION as a background poker-player in a saloon-gunfight sequence, and I’d had a great time.  I said ‘yes!’ right away.  “The film is called BOONEVILLE REDEMPTION.”  She told me it was the story of a young girl in 1906 Boonville, California, searching for her father.  “Pat Boone plays the doctor, and you’ll be a patient, probably with a broken leg.  You were asleep when the quake hit, and your cabin caved in, so you just pulled on what clothes you could grab as you ran out.”  No problem – that’s how I usually dress!

Sheri is in charge of ‘background casting’. ‘Background’ is the current term for a job that has been called ‘supernumeraries’ on stage, and ‘atmosphere’, but usually ‘extras’ on film.   If MUZAK, or ‘elevator music’, is the music you don’t hear, ‘backgrounds’ are the people you don’t see, but you’d sense something was wrong if you didn’t see them.   There’s something eerie and post-apocalyptic about streets that are deserted aside from the principal actors.

Last week Sheri called me in for a costume fitting, and I headed to Agua Dulce, where Peter has his wardrobe and props, and a small western town.  I modeled a succession of long-john shirts, period western pants with suspenders, and rough tweed jackets – the best jacket had a bullet-hole, but thankfully no blood.  Yet.  Last, I squeezed into nearly a dozen pairs of boots until we found the right ones to complete the ‘dressed-with-a-broken-leg-while-my-house-crashed-about-me’ ensemble.   They would decide on-set if I needed a splint for my leg, if I’d have one or both boots on – I was hoping for one, with a big toe sticking through a sock-hole –  and if one or both suspenders would be on my shoulders.  I was told that if I wore my costume to set it would save time.  Sheri also suggested I not put on the boots until I got to set, unless I was used to driving with them. 

Monday morning I was up before seven, dressed and out and on the road before 7:30, heading for the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. It was a quick drive – only twice as long as the half-hour my optimistic GPS predicted – to one of the oldest of the still-standing western towns in the TMZ.  (Note: that TMZ that folks always refer to is short for ‘thirty mile zone.’  Back in the old Hollywood studio days, the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard – home of the original Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – was deemed the center of the L.A. film industry.  Any location more than thirty miles from that point was ‘out of the TMZ,’ and required additional travel payments to movie company employees.) 

Still-standing may be a misnomer, since the current western street is at least the third to have graced this rural area so close to L.A. proper.  Paramount Pictures bought the land in 1927, and for decades shot dozens of big and small, western and non-western films there – here’s a link to a partial list: http://www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/upload/ParamountRanchFilmList.pdf

By the mid-1940s the ranch was used less and less, and Paramount sold it.  The Hertz family bought the ranch land in 1953, bought buildings from RKO’s western town in Encino (built for CIMMARON in 1931), which Howard Hughes was bulldozing, and trucked them to Agoura Hills.  In 1980 the ranch was bought by the National Park Service, and re-built to the old RKO specifications for the TV series DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN.  It’s a popular filming location for features, TV, and new media – recently the HULU comedy-western series QUICK DRAW filmed their first and second seasons here, and in the past few years I’d been present for the shooting of GANG OF ROSES 2 and WYATT EARP’S REVENGE.  The hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse shot their western movie BIG MONEY RUSTLAS there. 

Addie Radpour

I shed my sneaks, pulled on my boots, and followed the ‘base camp’ signs, trodding the bridge Dr. Quinn often crossed in a carriage, and entered the western street.  It was already getting hot.  It would reach the low nineties later in the day.  I spotted Addie Radpour as he trotted by.  An excellent rider and polo player, I can’t recall visiting a Western set when he wasn’t present and on a horse.  He pointed me down the western street, past and behind the Dr.’s office. 

Hidden back there is an open but covered picnic area with about twenty long tables.  That’s where the crew will be fed, and cast and crew can hang out between takes.  “This is where they’re holding the background people,” a production assistant told me.  They’d been shooting for a couple of weeks, and on some days had used quite a few people, but today there were just eight of us, counting Sheri, who looked very elegant before going into make-up.  She did a very kind thing for me right away: she told me to lose the jacket.  It looked good, but I’d melt in it on a day like that.  All those present worked for Peter before, except for one couple whose names I didn’t get, who were investors in the film. 

Sheri helps Dian with her costume

Dapper with bowler and walking-stick, Allen Gonzalez is a Buckaroo going back to TOMBSTONE: “I was one of the red-sash gang,” he told me.  He has made a study of ways to ‘distress’ clothes to look natural – he had a lot of suggestions for making my boots look better and my shirt look worse.  He looked at the way my pants fit, tucked into my boots.  An actor that he had worked with, “…noticed that my britches were all messed and kept riding up.  He suggested that if I wanted to keep them neat, I go to a bicycle shop, buy two of the two-inch wide straps with the Velcro on ‘em.  Then take the boots off, tie the pants down flat with the Velcro straps, pull the boots back up.  He said, they’ll look clean, very neat, and they will not bunch up on you.  Jack Palance told me that.”

“Wow! What movie did you do with Jack Palance?”

“I did a Taco Bell commercial with Jack Palance.”

“Did he have any other good advice?”

“Yes, about horses: don’t trust ‘em!”  He laughed.  “He said look at their ears, and if their ears starting turning back and leaning a little bit, back off, and let them do what they’re going to do.  And sometimes if their tail is starting to rise, they’re going to swat you with it.  And when they do that, they’ll turn their hips to knock you off.” 

(Note: Jack Palance did not start off as a great horseman in his first western, SHANE.  He initially had so much trouble getting on and off of his horse smoothly that, in his first scene, they played the film of his dismount in reverse to fake his re-mount.)

Allen told me that since becoming a Buckaroo he’d worked in Westerns with Peter every year for more than twenty.  “I’ve enjoyed it because they’re so many things to learn, so many things to see, so many people to meet.  You may be dressed up and looking very dapper; the next thing you know you’re all greased up, beaten up, beaten down, broken leg .  Whatever they want you to do for the next scene.  You never know.  I have been from an Indian to a miner to a hobo.  They’ve cut off my ear, branded my cheek – you never know what they’re going to have you do.”       

Sheri with Peter Sherayko

We were then all lined up while the costume designer, Martha, looked us over, and approved us all, though telling me I couldn’t wear my glasses for the shoot.  I’d learned on WESTERN RELIGION that while most modern eyeglass lenses were rectangular, 19th and early 20th century lenses were perfect Harry Potter (or Harold Lloyd) circles. 

'The Wolf' making Allen look bad

Two at a time we were escorted to the make-up trailer to be beaten up – or actually made to look beaten up, and dirty.  Make-up man Mike Michaels, a.k.a. ‘The Wolf’, did a job on Allen and then me, dirtying up our faces, necks and hands with paints and powders, and giving us wounds and injuries – in the picture you can see the break he gave Allen across the bridge of his nose.  When I mentioned that I wished my character had a hat, he thoughtfully sprayed my balding pate with sunscreen.

'The Wolf' did a job on me as well

Back in the ‘holding area’ I chatted with the rest of us backgrounders.  Evangelos Themelis might sound like an untypical westerner – aside from Western Athens – but America has always been the melting pot for the world, never more so than after the Gold Rush helped open up the West.   Besides, he’s got a great look for the period, with long black hair, black clothes, and an eagle-eyed intensity.  I asked him how a guy of obviously Greek background drifted out west.  He laughed.  “It was easy; I just got a horse.  I’m an actor – this is what I do.  I’ve been working with Peter Sherayko for two or three years.  I’ve been in a lot of movies.  I’m in RED STATE.  I’m in THE MUPPETS.  I love Westerns.  I love the clothing, the style, the boots – I love wearing boots.  You know what they say: once you go Western, you never go back.”

“Were you born in Greece?”

“Yes.  I came here when I was fifteen.”

“Did you see Westerns in Greece?”


“Yes, of course.  I loved the cowboys and Indians.  I love the Sergio Leone movies.  Clint Eastwood stuff.  I love John Wayne; that guy was a cowboy.  He was great, and he was a stuntman before he became an actor.  First a football player, then a stuntman, then an actor.  For myself, I can’t pick a favorite role because they’re all so unique, they’re all so different.  It’s this world of fantasy that you live in, and it’s unended.  And every day you learn something.”

Rayne and Dian

Dian Roberts comes from Trinidad and Tobago.  She’d recently decided, after eighteen years, to retire from background work: the shoots were usually in downtown L.A., and the commutes were endless.  But when she can do a local job like this, especially a Western, she’s eager to.  Rayne Davis has done it for a long time as well.  Dressed in overalls, with a big tan cowboy hat, he was quickly nicknamed ‘Farmer John’ on this production, and he is the spitting image of the man on the sausage labels.        

The mood on a set is usually generated by the people on top.  Director Don Schroder, writer-producer Judy Belshe-Toernblom, and star Pat Boone are all in a great mood, and it trickles down.  The tension is minimal.  While treated respectfully, background actors know they’re not the center of attention, and must be patient until they’re needed.  When I did WESTERN RELIGION, I was on-set at eight-thirty a.m., but not needed until after 9 p.m.  So I was very happy when, in the late morning, we were needed.  As we were being led to the set, Sheri called me back, and put a hat on me.  Hot, bright, and sunny as it would be, I was very grateful.

Our first set-up was just outside the doctor’s office.  There were two short benches, and four of us wounded survivors of the quake sat out there, waiting for help from Doc Woods (Pat Boone).  Nobody had said anything further to me about a broken leg, and I didn’t remind them – all at once the idea of wearing a splint for hours had lost its appeal.  A couple of young women came up to freshen our make-up, wounds and dirt, and to make our clothes look not so good.  Folks like me, who had been provided wardrobe, were fine with it.  Not so, folks who wore their own; they said that what the women wanted to put on the clothes was not dirt, but paint.  Once on the clothes, the paint was difficult and expensive to dry-clean out; they opted to rub dirt from the street on themselves.

In the scene, post earthquake, Melinda (Emily Hoffman), the little girl who is the center of the story, is pleading with her mother, Alice (Shari Rigby), to let an injured friend stay with them.  Mother says they can’t, and friend Doris (Stephanie Linus Okereke), volunteers to let the boy stay with her and her Uncle James (Gregory Thompson).  (Note: Stephanie plays the daughter of freed slaves from Nigeria.  She is in fact from Nigeria, and a major film star there and in Ghana, as well as a writer, director and producer.)

Doris and Uncle James had just ridden into the scene in a buckboard.  They’ll ride out again at the end of the sequence.  While the wagon is stopped, the back end of the horse is in frame.  Just out of the shot, wrangler Kevin McNiven holds the horse’s head.  He rubs the horse’s chest, just under the neck, continuously – just like I do at home, with my Jack Russell.  It keeps the horse calm, so he doesn’t move, and move the wagon, which could ruin the shot.  

While the big drama is taking place in the foreground, in sharp focus, in the blurry background me, Evangelos, Dian and Rayne are waiting to see the doctor.  Evangelos is having a very animated silent conversation, back and forth with me and Dian.  I, method actor that I am (hah!), am trying to decide what parts of my body hurt the most.  I decide to stick a leg straight out, like it’s busted.  Then I realize that I can’t: they’ve already done one take, and everything has to match.  I concentrate on breathing heavily, and feeling light-headed.  As the day gets hotter, I don’t have to fake either one. 

After covering the action from several angles, we break for lunch.  As a general rule, the etiquette is that actors eat first, crew second, background last.  There was salad, two kinds of pasta, chicken cutlets, a stew with sausage, and some vegetable thing.  Not wanting to be a glutton, I skipped the vegetable thing. 

After lunch, we backgrounds were brought to a two-story building across from the doctor’s office.  Being across the street instead of close-by on the porch, I couldn’t tell what the gist of the scene being filmed was, but it really didn’t matter.  We were making our own little movie, albeit in long-shot and out-of-focus.  We’d been through the earthquake too, and had our own stories to live.  One couple was placed on the steps halfway up to the second floor.  Others were crossing.  Dian and I were walking along the street together in the first run-through.  As we were walking back, I offered her my arm.  She took it, and on the second run-through we walked arm-in-arm.  An assistant director saw and liked it.  “Why don’t you support her, like she’s been injured, and you’re taking her to the doctor?”  Great – it started feeling very real, very natural.  

Allen commented, “She looks too classy for you, Henry.  But now she’s lost her home.  Now she needs you.”  There were a lot of run-throughs, a lot of takes, and our story got better and better.   After an hour and a half of this, I was telling her about how much money I’d saved from prospecting; that I’d had my eye on a few prime acres with good water.  I don’t know how the other movie was going, but by the time they were done with the set-up, our characters were engaged!

The next scene was back in front of Doc Woods’ office.  If it sounds like we’re spending much too long a time in one place, that’s the way movies are always shot: you shoot all the scenes for the entire movie that will take place at any given location before moving on.  This scene would take place earlier in the story than the first one, much sooner after the quake.  Melinda and her friend, a boy named Shakespeare (Nicholas Neve) ride up in a wagon to the doctor’s office.  The boy’s leg is badly injured, bleeding, held with a tourniquet.  The make-up is creepily convincing.  Doc Woods will come out, see the injury, and get help to carry the boy inside. 

Pat Boone crossing, Gregory Thompson by wagon, Emily Hoffman 
and Nicholas Neve in wagon, director Don Schroder in Panama hat

Emily and injured Nicholas in the wagon

The camera is set up to shoot the long way down the street.  There will have to be a lot of background action.   Props are scattered to suggest the aftermath of a quake: signs are dangling, furniture tipped, lumber spilled across the boardwalk and street.   As we do run-throughs, we backgrounders are trying to come up with business to do – righting fallen chairs and such.  Of course, the more things you straighten up, the more you’ll have to tip over again for the next run-through.  Then an assistant director asks me, “How would you feel about lifting a plank.  And carrying it over your shoulder.”


I’m given a 1 inch by 8 inch plank, about ten feet long.  I see Rayne is given a 1 inch by 12 inch plank – I figure he’s got a better agent than I do.  Then I find out I’ve got a lot more business to do with mine.  After one or two walk-throughs, they decide it’s more natural under my arm than over my shoulder.  Here’s the action: shot opens on me – well, on my arm, and the plank under it.  On action I start walking, and the plank disappears to reveal Melinda and Shakespeare in the back of the wagon.  I will continue walking until I’m clear of everyone with my plank, make a right turn, and walk down the street, where I’ll be seen – or at least I’ll be visible – leaning my plank against a building, then starting to straighten things again.  I’m told it looks great through the lens! 

Costars Pat Boone and Emily Hoffman

For the next hour and a half, every couple of minutes I hoist up my plank and start walking.  They do a lot of takes from a lot of angles.  Incredibly, with all the times I turn with that ten foot long plank under my arm, I never hit the camera, or the director, or the kids in the wagon, or the horses, or Melinda’s mother, who’s waiting for her cue to run in. 

Costars plank and me

I must have done it half a dozen times before I realized that, beside the wagon with Melinda and Shakespeare, is a buckboard.  And sitting in that one are Dian and Allen.  Looking cozy.  Dian, my fiancé from the previous scene.  And Allen, the one who brought us together in the first place!  And every time the director called “Action!” I had to heft my plank and march by that buckboard and pretend I wasn’t dying inside!  Women are fickle.  So are friends.  

I’d had a chance to do a fast interview with Emily Hoffman between set-ups, while she was petting Addie’s horse.  Now, between takes, I chatted with her and Nicholas Neve, as they waited in the back of the wagon, and I was struck by what nice kids they were.  Patient and cheerful, funny without being wise guys.  Professional, and clearly happy to be there.  Contrast them with the tourist kids who turned up from time-to-time to watch the filming.  Concepts as basic as ‘don’t talk and don’t move for two minutes – we’re doing a take’ was beyond them.  No discipline at home.  In one case I saw the dad of a pair of trolls sitting in his car in the distance, too lazy to get out and supervise his spawn. 

I was startled to hear, “That’s a wrap!  The actors can go.”  It was barely six.  We all seemed to move reluctantly to pack up and go.  It was a great experience.  It always is.  I can’t count the number of times actors, stuntmen, extras, and people on every crew position imaginable have said to me, “You’re getting paid to play cowboys and Indians.  How can you beat that?”

Next Round-up, I’ll have my interviews with Pat Boone and Emily Hoffman, writer and producer Judy Bleshe-Toernblom, and director Don Schroder.   


Most cities have FaceBook pages devoted to their histories – I follow some from New York City, Brooklyn, L.A., San Francisco and Burbank.  One of my favorites for the last couple of years is San Fernando Valley Relics – they post great, often nostalgic, images of people and places from the Valley, mostly from the 20th Century.  But I was surprised to learn that, while most such sites are a state of mind, floating in the ether, there is an actual, physical place for Relics, The San Fernando Valley Relics Cultural Museum.  

Writer Julie Ann Ream has invited me to several great-sounding events at this place, but I’ve never been able to get to one until this Friday night, when I attended their Valley Relics and April Lief's Kids of The San Fernando Valley present The Big Summer Bash!  The museum is located in Chattsworth, which was home to the legendary Iverson Movie Ranch.  The wide open spaces are pretty much gone now in Chattsworth.  

The museum is in an industrial area, and the signs on the warehouse building mention not only Relics but Tiles.  The event was from six to eleven, and it was the only thing happening that night in that part of Chattsworth.  I parked a block away, and my wife and I strolled towards the ever-louder sound of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and the aroma from the grilled cheese sandwich truck in front.  There were more than a dozen classic cars parked there, mostly from the fifties and sixties, and plenty of enthusiasts milling about.  Inside, the first several rooms were full of cabinets of Valley memorabilia – high school yearbooks, class photos, dozens of ashtrays, match-packs  and brochures from restaurants and amusement areas that are no more. 

On the left was a room of Julie Anne Ream’s family memorabilia – and what a family.  She’s cousin or niece or granddaughter to crème de la crème western wardrobe designer Nudie; last of the singing cowboys Rex Allen; western singer and character actor Cactus Mack; and sometime western villain, sometime western composer, sometime Frankenstein, and sometimes bartender at Miss Kitty’s Longbranch, Glenn Strange.  The room is full of posters, photos, lobby cards, costumes by Nudie, and even the little rocking-horse he had in his store for kids to ride.

Nudie jackets

Nudie horse

The next room was the BIG one, with a collection of giant electric signs rescued from iconic Valley businesses.  The Palomino Club was the top venue for country and western music, and later rock, for Southern California.   Other favorites that exist in signage only are Valley Ranch Barbecue, Love’s Barbecue, The White Horse Inn, and Henry’s Tacos.  Items of particular interest to Western fans are flyers from the Corriganville Movie Ranch, a slate-shaped sign from Iverson’s Movie Ranch, and several Nudie-customized cars, including wagon-styled trailer he made for Roy Rogers. 

It’s an eye-bugging, mind-boggling jumble that will delight anyone who’s lived in the area, or interested in pop-culture of the 1950s-1980s.  What’s needed most of all is more labeling of mystery items and pictures, but I’m sure that’s coming.  This obvious labor-of-love is opened to the public only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you can arrange private tours Monday through Friday from ten ‘til three.  The address is  21630 Marilla St., Chattsworth 91311.  The phone is 818-678-4934.  You can learn plenty more at their site, here: http://valleyrelics.org/


Israel-born writer and producer Menahem Golan, who with his partner Yoram Globus built CANNON FILMS into an action powerhouse in the 1980s, has died.  He produced over 200 movies, including a pair of Israel-lensed Spaghetti Westerns top-lining Lee Van Cleef; GOD’S GUN (1976), and VENGEANCE (1977), aka KID VENGEANCE, aka TAKE ANOTHER HARD RIDE.


That’s it for today!  Next week, in addition to part two of my BOONVILLE REDEMPTION coverage, I’ll have my review of the newest four-pack of Gene Autry movies, and who knows what else!  Have a great week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved