Sunday, October 8, 2017



John Legend, who has been relatively quiet on the subject since UNDERGROUND was cancelled this May after its second season, has come out swinging. Legend exec-produced the series about runaway slaves and abolitionists, and by all reports it was a hit, the biggest ratings success WGN America has had with original programming.  But WGN America is owned by Tribune Media, which was acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group. They’re geared to less expensive reality programming, and the UNDERGROUND per-episode price tag is $4.5 million.  Legend also claims that Sinclair has a policy of acquiring TV stations and shifting their news policies to the far right.

The series, while it was aired by WGN America, is produced by SONY, and has been shopped to a number of other possible venues, including BET and OWN, without success. In attempt to stir up interest, Legend has taken to social media, saying the following:

John Legend as Frederick Douglas 

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, America has had a conversation about history and memory, monuments and flags, slavery and freedom. We’ve had a debate about the Civil War and how we remember the Confederate leaders who provoked the War in order to perpetuate the evil institution of slavery. How do we tell the stories of this era? Who is celebrated? Who is ignored? Do we give hallowed public space to those who fought to tear the country apart so that millions would remain in shackles? Or do we celebrate those who risked their life in the pursuit of freedom and equality.

As storytellers, producers and creators of content for film and television, we have the power to take control of the narrative. As an executive producer of the critically-acclaimed television series Underground, we’ve been proud to celebrate those like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who were true American heroes whose legacy we can be proud of. Their words and their actions helped make it possible for my ancestors to be free. I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to make sure they are not forgotten. Along with the stories of historical luminaries, our series features fictionalized characters and plot lines directly inspired by the courageous real narratives of the first integrated civil rights movement in the United States, the movement to abolish slavery.

In its first two seasons, Underground was undeniably a hit series, setting ratings records for WGN America, receiving rave reviews and sparking conversation in the media. It was screened at the White House and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was acknowledged by the NAACP, NABJ, and many other highly respected institutions, and generated widespread engagement on social media as a trending topic during every new episode… yet here we are, still fighting for a future for the series.

How did we get here? WGN America was bought by media conglomerate Sinclair Communications. Sinclair has pursued a strategy of buying up local networks and moving their news coverage to fit their far-right agenda. In addition, they’ve bought Tribune Media, the parent company of WGN America and immediately turned away from high-quality original dramas such as Underground and Outsiders in favor of cheaper unscripted entertainment.

We know there is still an appetite for high-quality scripted dramas on network and cable tv and streaming services. We also know that, in this particular moment in history, there is an urgent need to tell the powerful story of the Underground Railroad. Even today – in the 21st century – we rely on a sort of underground network of individuals and organizations willing to put themselves at risk to help those who are not yet seen as equals in the eyes of the United States government. When our elected officials tell undocumented individuals who boost our economy, who strengthen our workforce, and who see the U.S. as the only home they have ever known, that they are at risk of deportation, those individuals are forced to live in the shadows. They may be sent to a land they can’t remember, that they fled in fear, or in some instances where they have never even set foot. Who will tell their stories when they are made to feel unsafe when they go to work, drop their kids off at school, seek medical help, or report a crime? Putting a spotlight on these types of stories creates an opportunity for recognition, understanding, discussion and learning, bringing a humanity and context that allows people to experience our past and present in a way that is not possible in other media.

For all of these reasons and more, the cast, producers and our studio Sony Pictures remain committed to a future for Underground because of a belief that this story is important and invaluable… and it remains our hope that not only is there a future for this show, but for many others like it.
Let’s #SaveUnderground so that we can continue to inspire and educate the American people about these true American heroes.


Casa Verdugo in 1910

No, this is not some clever plot by the Alcalde to force ‘the fox’ into the open. The home in Glendale, California where Zorro creator Johnston McCulley lived in the late 1930s and ‘40s, just closed escrow this week for $1.85 million. Built in 1907 in the Mission Revival style, the house on North Louise Street was recently designated historic by the City of Glendale, and Realtor Shannon Cistulli tells me there has been a proposal to declare the neighborhood an historic district, and name it after the home, which has long been known as Casa Verdugo.

Postcard of Casa Verdugo's Indian Room

The home was famous long before McCulley moved in, and was in fact named after a neighboring house. Legendary land speculators Huntington and Brand wanted to attract tract buyers to Glendale. They acquired a historic adobe mansion called Casa Verdugo, named after the original land-grant owners, and made it the end-of-the-line of their Redcar system. This was the time of an international literary obsession with Helen Hunt Jackson’s RAMONA, and visitors to Southern California were desperate for a taste of the early Spanish culture. A fine Mexican chef and restaurateur, Piedad Yorba de Sowl, was induced to give up her Los Angeles restaurant and turn Casa Verdugo into an elegant and very high-end eatery. It flourished.

Casa Verdugo today

Piedad and her husband acquired a neighboring tract of land and built their own home there. The restaurant was such a success that Brand and Huntington got greedy (I know, it’s hard to believe), refused to renew Sowl’s lease, and decided to run the restaurant themselves. Piedad turned her neighboring home into a restaurant and it became the new Casa Verdugo – she was foresighted enough to have registered the name, and successfully sued Brand and Huntington when they tried to reopen the adobe restaurant under that same name. In the first year of operation as a restaurant at the new location, it was a filming location for THE MANICURE LADY (1911), a one-reel comedy produced by D. W. Griffith’s BIOGRAPH company, directed by and starring Mack Sennett, with Vivian Prescott and Eddie Dillon.  (I haven’t seen it, but it’s been shown on TCM.)

Visiting the ZORRO TV set. L to R Guy Williams,
Johnston McCulley, Henry Calvin, ?

When Piedad relocated the restaurant yet again – it would have six different addresses over the years – the place became a home again, and eventually Johnston McCulley’s home. Best known as a novelist, McCulley’s works, especially related to Zorro, would be frequently filmed, first notably in 1920, with Douglas Fairbanks in THE MARK OF ZORRO, and in many versions, here and abroad thereafter. His only credited screenplay was for the 1941 Hopalong Cassidy film DOOMED CARAVANS, but his stories for the movies included 1937’s ROOTIN’ TOOTIN’ RYTHYM for Gene Autry, as well as films for Bob Steele and Johnny Mack Brown. His story for the Duncan Renaldo Cisco Kid film SOUTH OF THE RIO GRANDE (1945) led to a writing collaboration with Renaldo, DON RICARDO RETURNS (1946); McCulley wrote the story and, using a pseudonym, Renaldo both co-wrote the screenpay and co-produced. Interestingly, DON RICARDO was shot in part at the historic Leonis Adobe, which still stands and is open to the public.


Actor and stuntman Ben Bates, stunt double for James Arness in GUNSMOKE, has died. A former rodeo cowboy and one-time Marlboro man, Bates became best known within the industry when in 1972 he took over stunt-doubling duties for Arness, a job he would continue on Arness’ later series and movies, including HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE ALAMO: 13 DAYS TO GLORY, RED RIVER and MCCLAIN’S LAW. He also played Ranger Post in 1982’s LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, and Arcane Monster in THE SWAMP THING.  His viewing will from 10 a.m. until noon,  at the Miller Jones Mortuary, 26770 Murrieta Road, Sun City, CA 92586, 951 672-0777, followed by services at the church directly across the street at 1 p.m.  A second service will be held in Texas this Friday, but we don’t have details yet.  Close friend Julie Ann Ream adds, “Anyone wishing to contribute, no matter how small, to a 'Cowboy Wreath' which will be at the service in Texas, please contact me here or via e mail @ Your name will also be added to the card that will be going to his family. Val loved the idea that it will rest with Ben at his final resting place.”


The only digest-sized magazine people are familiar with today is Readers Digest – all the others have expanded, like TV Guide, or disappeared. But from 1936 until the mid-1970s, Coronet Magazine offered general interest stories in a pocket-sized magazine. In the ‘70s, publicist, screenwriter, playwright, and film director Michael B. Druxman wrote a monthly column for Coronet called Yesterday At The Movies, interviewing stars from the golden age of Hollywood.

Druxman has gathered the best of these interviews for HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS, and they mostly are people who rarely spoke on the record. Druxman is a skilled and knowledgeable journalist, and all of the interviews reveal thoughtful insights into the subjects’ lives, and often character.  Among the stars discussing their careers are Jack Oakie, Claire Trevor, Paul Henried, Ann Miller, John Carradine, Howard Keel, Gale Sondergaard, several of the Our Gang kids, even the notoriously reticent Mary Pickford.  Also included are interviews that never saw the light of day, including one with David Jansen that never ran, and a talk with Yvonne DeCarlo for The Enquirer, which they killed because she didn’t talk enough about her diet.

Best of all, without the inflexible word count required by the magazine, Druxman provides each with an introduction, providing a context to when and how and where the interview took place – he talked with Gale Sondergaard at The Brown Derby!  Often there are moments that would have been unkind to include at the time, such as the actor’s wife who asked Druxman not to reveal how much her husband drank during their chat. And after each piece he includes quotes that there just wasn’t room for – often among the best stuff!

Druxman has written several non-fiction books about filmmaking, as well as one-man shows based on great stars, including Clara Bow, Orson Welles, Clark Gable, Al Jolson and Errol Flynn.  Culled from the research for these projects, the second half of the book includes an array of quotes from actors, producers, writers, and editors he interviewed. Among the directors alone are Herb Ross, Edward Dmytryk, George Sidney, Gordon Douglas, Raoul Walsh, and Howard Hawks. HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS is published by BearManor Media, for $19.95 in paper and $29.95 in hardback.


Happy Trails,
All Original Contents Copyright October 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved