Thursday, March 15, 2018



YELLOWSTONE, the new contemporary Western series starring Kevin Costner, will premiere on the new Paramount Network on June 20th. The creation of writer and director Taylor Sheridan, Costner stars as the head of the Dutton family, who own the largest private ranch in the country. It’s right on the doorstep our nations’ oldest National Park, and under siege by developers and an Indian reservation. Will the Duttons, and their ranch, survive?

Taylor Sheridan has accomplished a remarkable hat trick: in three years he has given us three remarkable contemporary Western crime films: SICORIO (2015), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and WIND RIVER (2017) – he wrote all three, and WIND RIVER is his directorial debut.  Check out the teaser trailer:


BIG KILL, the new Western from writer-director Scott Martin and Archstone, was recently lensed in Old Tucson. It tells the story of a tenderfoot from Philadelphia, a pair of gamblers on the run, a deadly preacher (Patric), and his colorful gunslinger Johnny Kane (Phillips). They all have a date with destiny in a boomtown gone bust called Big Kill.

Here’s the first peek, featuring Lou in a role so different from his usual.


Kent McCray over Bob Hope's shoulder

Kent McCray has had a remarkable career in television from its earliest days.  His association with Westerns began when he became Production Manager on David Dortort’s BONANZA. When Dortort followed that hit with HIGH CHAPARRAL, McCray became Production Manager on both series, and on the latter met future wife Susan Sukman, who was involved in casting, and was daughter of the show’s composer, Oscar-winner Harry Sukman.

When both series folded, McCray would partner with BONANZA star Michael Landon, and together would produce LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, FATHER MURPHY, and other series and TV movies.  With Marianne Ritter-Holmes, Kent has written his autobiography, KENT MCCRAY – THE MAN BEHIND THE MOST BELOVED TELEVISION SHOWS, and will be speaking and signing his book this Saturday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, at The Autry. The event will begin at 9 a.m., and the Q&A will be hosted by one of McCray’s LITTLE HOUSE stars, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder. Also attending will be other LITTLE HOUSE stars, including Matt Labyorteaux, Stan Ivar, Pam Roylance, Katherine Cannon from FATHER MURPHY, and Michael Landon’s daughter, Leslie Landon Matthews.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kent and Susan McCray at the HIGH CHAPARRAL 50th Anniversary Celebration, and got to speak with Kent at length about his career. At such length, in fact, that below I present Part One of my interview with Kent, which focuses on his years in live television, prior to his Western work.  Are Part Two and possibly a Three are on their way!

Henry Parke:      First I’ve got to tell you how much I enjoyed the High Chaparral 50th Anniversary.   Thank you so much for including me; it was just terrific.

Kent McCray:     The response we've gotten from most of fans is that they really enjoyed themselves. I think it's the last one that will ever take place, so we wanted to make it special.

Henry Parke:      Well, you certainly succeeded.  You were one of the pioneers of early TV, live TV, and your father was a pioneer early radio.

Kent McCray:     That's correct.

Henry Parke: Did his career have a large effect on your career choices?

Kent McCray:     Well, in some ways, yes. During the early '30s, when I was ten years old, he was program manager for WGIC, the radio station of Travelers [Insurance] in Hartford, Connecticut. Every night he listened to the radio, to make sure everything was done properly, so I just laid down on the floor and just listened to radio. And radio is in your mind; you have to envision where they are and what they're doing. And so I kind of got that into my head at a very early age.  He was behind me 100% in whatever I wanted to do. Except the one thing he didn't want me to do was work for NBC. (laughs)

Henry Parke:      Which, of course, you did end up doing.

Kent McCray:     That's right. It all blew over after he realized I was on my own, and he was not part of it. But he helped me with the initial letters and calls to a TV station in Hollywood, not NBC. And that was the initial call that got me into thinking about television

Henry Parke:      Before that, as a young man you wanted to act on stage and study at Yale, but a special opportunity introduced you to a very different part of the theater.

Kent McCray:     That's correct.   What happened, the Julius Hart College of Music, which is now part of the University of Hartford was a separate music college, and my dad used a lot of their professors and string quartets on the radio. So the head of the art school and his family became very close to my family through the years. I was acting in a play in prep school up in New Hampshire, and my dad asked me if I liked that end of it. I said I liked I like being an actor, but I liked the backstage work best. I thought that Yale was the best opportunity for theater art. And my dad suggested that I talk to Dr. Nagy, because he had taught at Yale and might have some pointers. I was on a spring break, working in a flower shop, and went down and talked to Dr. Nagy one afternoon. I had a very nice chat with him. I liked him, and he suggested some books. I went back to work. I got a call a few days later. He said, I need to talk to you again. I have a deal for you you won't refuse. Well that kind sparked my interest.  I got off work early, went down and talked to him, and he said, I will teach you the course I taught at Yale, all your other courses at the college will be free. But, you have to work for me as many hours as I want you. In a sense you are my slave.   I said I can't ask for a better deal than that. So that's how I went to the art school and music. And I was there four years. I couldn't get a degree in theater arts because that's not one of the credited courses that the school had at the time; I was the only person that ever did that, and they didn't have one after I left.

Henry Parke:      You were there at the right time.

Kent McCray:     Yeah. He was a very clever, clever man, very artistic, very precise. He wanted everything done in his way of thinking. He didn't turn on the light with a switch, he turned it on with a dimmer, very slowly, and kept tempo with the music. I learned everything about stage from him.

Henry Parke:      And how did the things you learned from him prepare you for your future career in live and filmed TV? 

Kent McCray:     Stage work is stage work, and whether it be live or now television, it's pretty much the same. You need scenery, you need lighting: all those things I learned to do on a stage with opera. My final year with Dr. Nagy, we were doing an opera. He turned to me and he said, “You light it.” I said, “What?” He said, “I'm not going to tell you where to put up lights. You put them where you think they should be.” I did and he critiqued that, he changed things, but he let me learn. I never had a class with him. We'd be in the car and he'd start asking me questions. He'd say give me 200 or 300 words about that. That's how I got my education. I couldn't ask for anything better.

Henry Parke:      When you moved on to live television, you were working on the Colgate Comedy Hour, which is just something I'm crazy about. And you worked with great stars. Martin and Lewis, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor, and Abbott and Costello.

Kent McCray:     Yeah, there were two shows.  The All-Star Revue was on Saturday night, and Colgate Comedy Hour was on Sunday.  Most of the stars in those days were great. Now television was being done in New York. The stars had to fly to New York, stay there for a few weeks, disrupt their family life. Then with the advent of the coaxial cable, which was put in place in 1951, you were broadcasting on a phone line from here (California) to New York. So, if we went on out here at six, they could see the show at 9:00 in New York, live. Of course, the recording we could get out of it was called a kinescope, an electronic copy of the show which quality-wise was very poor.

Henry Parke:      Don't stand up much to rebroadcast.

Kent McCray:     When my dad was on radio, he was asked to go to Florida by an agent to look at this comedy (act) routine, which was Martin and Lewis. He put them on NBC radio and they were doing fairly well, but they're ratings started to drop off. So, he put through a memo to the lawyers to cancel their contract. But in their initial contract, if they weren't notified of cancelation by a certain date, they were automatically picked up for another year. Well, the lawyers goofed up somewhere along the line, and Martin and Lewis were on the radio two more years, and then made the move to television.

Henry Parke:      They probably did better work on television in the movies.

Kent McCray:     Ah, well, it's a different format. They loved live television. Jerry Lewis was great. If they had a gag that didn't work, he'd walk off the stage and bring the prop man onstage to fix it live on the air.  It was a great time. I loved live television -- other than the fact that you were bound by the clock. If you had an hour show, and you went on at 6 o'clock, you were automatically cut at seven.  We had to do what we called back timing on a lot of things that were in the show, and the credits were always the first things to go, to be cut.  Once on the Red Skelton Show, he opened with the closing credits. He said, "These are the people who were cut. Their names were never seen last week because I ran too long.”

Henry Parke:      What sort of work were you doing on these shows? 

Kent McCray:     I was hired by a gentleman named Earl Reddick, who was head of production for NBC Television. He said we like what we see on paper, but we know nothing about you. We'll put you on, on a week to week basis. I said okay. I can't ask for anything better. I never got a day off until May! NBC only had one theatre big enough to do a variety show, and that was the Palace Theatre, then called the El Capitan, which they rented. It was right across the street from Capital Records Building on Vine Street.

For both shows to air, one on Saturday, one on Sunday, they rehearsed at the rehearsal hall during the week. On Wednesday and Thursday, I did all the sets for the All-Star Revue in the Palace, so on Friday morning they could rehearse on camera. Friday night all those sets were taken out in big trucks, and we would bring in the sets for the Colgate Comedy Hour. They would rehearse on Friday, we’d take out the sets that night, on Saturday bring in the All-Star Revue sets, and go on the air with that, and the sets would go down to the scene dock, and we'd bring back the Colgate Comedy Hour, so they could be there on Sunday night. That was one of my first assignments, juggling these sets going in and going out. They only had one engineering crew that did both shows.

Henry Parke:      What was it like working with Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life?

Kent McCray:     Well, Groucho Marx's company had been shooting the show for a number of years and they weren't happy. They wanted a different studio, closer to Vine Street because that's where all the people congregated, around Hollywood and Vine, to get onto TV shows. NBC had converted an old radio studio into a television studio, and I was in charge of following through with the design. We had to take seats for the band, had to put in a grid above for the lights, all the equipment had to come in. Groucho Marx was one of the funniest men I've ever worked with, and I've worked a lot of talents. (For You Bet Your Life), the writers and the director would interview a contestant.  There were no teleprompters in those days, but you remember in the old days, in bowling alleys, when you would write your score, and it would be projected above? Well, the director would put a one-line thing up there for Groucho to ask the contestant. He would ask the contestant the one line, and he would take off, and it was all ad-lib -- there was no script. I thought he was very clever.

Henry Parke:      You went on to be associated with Bob Hope for quite a while and did big Christmas shows at military bases all over the world. How did you link up with Bob and what was he like to work with?

Kent McCray:     Well, I had just finished up a show on film called Matinee Theatre, and I was told that Bob wanted to film a show in Alaska. He asked if I could put a show together, and I said, Hell yes! I went up on a survey to see what the facilities were like. Put a crew together, we took off. We did five or six shows in Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It was quite an experience because of the weather -- it was colder than Hell, and always dark. Bob decided he wanted to enter stage pulled by a sled dog.  So, I had to go find somebody who had a sled-dog who could pull Bob through the (saloon) batwing doors. After that, the gentleman who had been associate producer with Bob Hope for a number of years wanted to make a change. Bob hired me.  Well I can't say enough about him. He was a wonderful, caring person. We had a few cross words, but very rarely. He was always very pleasant. One night we were going over things at his office. It was dinner time. "Come on over and have dinner with us." I sat down at the table with his family and he was just like a father. "What did you do today? What did you learn in school?" He was a completely different character. He wasn't telling jokes, he wasn't trying to be funny, he wanted to know, truly, how his kids were doing.  He had a friend, Charlie Cooley, who was with him in vaudeville, When Bob moved to California he brought Charlie Coooley out here, bought him a house. And then Charlie got quite ill. Lots of times Bob would walk over to his house, and he didn't like to walk alone. I would walk over with him. The association with him was wonderful.

Henry Parke:      He sure cared about our soldiers and sailors around the world.  

Kent McCray:     Did he ever. It all started in the '40s, during the war, when one of his writers had a buddy posted at March Air Force Base in Southern California.  He says, why don't we take the show and do it up there? They're dying for entertainment. Well that sounded terrific.  He started doing the radio shows at different camps, and then took them overseas. When he did the radio shows, it was just he, a piano player and a drummer and a singer. It wasn't a big crew. When we sat down to plan the first Christmas show to the Orient, we ended up having 76 people in the crew.

Henry Parke: That’s quite a jump!

Kent McCray:     This was all very sudden: I got a passport in one day, because it was Bob.  Anyway, from Travis Air Force base we flew out, and after an hour we lost a motor and had to turn back, and then we lost the second motor, and slid into Travis Air Force Base. 

Bob Hope was just wonderful. All the comedians were different. They learned radio, but their background was vaudeville, so they understood timing. They knew how to tell a joke, and their jokes weren't dirty. They were double entendres, a couple of them, but very rarely was there ever a dirty joke out of one of the comics at that time.  Bob couldn't sleep at night. He never slept a full night. He would call, say I think we should do this or do that. I'd had a pad of paper by my bed to write down what he was saying. He called me one time, told me a joke, then said how did you like that joke? I said, I'll be honest with you. I don't think it's very funny. And all he said is, 'wait.' I wait. We did the show, and with his timing, with his pauses, with his look, it brought down the house.  And all he did was look at me, and point his finger, like, 'I told you.'

When I left to go overseas, there were two other gentlemen who went with me. We left the day after Thanksgiving, we went to all the bases we were going to perform at.  The choices came out of Washington, the USO, we had nothing to say in the matter. 

We loaded into 21 different bases, Okinawa, Korea. We had to have transportation, food for people, lodging for people, the stage set up, the platforms for the cameras, platforms for the lights – it was quite a chore to get everything organized. For that one month, when I was in the military, my civilian rank was one-star general. They told me, when you’ve got to get a good place to sleep, you’ll get the best. If you started getting in trouble with anybody, flash them your orders. If some sergeant doesn’t want to do something for you, flash him your orders: it’ll get done. I only had to use them a few times, but I always had that piece of paper in my pocket.  What we basically did was a two-hour stage show, and I had to get everybody on with the right cue – that was just a side job I did. We did 21 shows in fourteen days, including travel. All the generals, of course, always wanted Bob Hope to come out to their house for dinner. I think it was to show off. But Bob told me going in, “I don’t go to any house for dinner. If they want to throw a party for the 76 of us, that’s fine. But no one in this group works any harder than the boy who puts out the music for the band. We’re all working our tails off to get it done. And I will not go to anybody’s house by myself.” He really loved performing. The writers would hit every base, they were making fun of this General or that Colonel, drop somebody’s name, and the troops went nuts. One of the other things I had to do was to make sure at every base where we had a refueling stop, that Mr. Hope had a car and driver waiting, to go to the base hospital, to see the men who couldn’t get to the show. And he would walk through the wards – I went with him a couple of times, but it was too heart-wrenching. I couldn’t take it. These guys – it was after the Korean War. And all these guys with lost legs, busted arms, all kinds of things, all laying in bed, with scowls on their face. But by the time Bob left, they were all laughing. I always respected him for that. He was gentle.

Henry Parke:  Nicer than Dinah Shore?

Kent McCray: (laughs) You can say it, but I won’t. We referred to her as the chocolate-covered black widow spider. That kinda gives you a clue, doesn’t it?

Kent McCray Part Two, The Western Years, coming soon!



In Bufort, Texas, in the summer of 1958, two men who feel they have nothing to lose, meet by chance. Harland Cain is an aging small-time rancher with a medical death sentence and nothing to look forward to. Dodger is a cripple-legged teenager living with a useless, drunken mother and her violent boyfriend, and sees no hope. They meet up while trying to end it all, and when Harland takes the boy under his wing, they each start having something to live for. But when their horses are rustled during an overnight campout, trailing the stolen animals into Mexico sets dramatic wheels into uncontrollable motion that will leave you breathless to finish the adventure. 

D.B. Jackson, whose previous novels include the fine UNBROKE HORSES and THEY RODE GOOD HORSES, has created strikingly real characters whose personalities and problems draw you in. Dodger is the adolescent who’s smart enough to think things through, but whose youthful impatience leads him to deadly mistakes. Harland is a man whose pride and sense of honor won’t let him walk away and cut his losses even when it’s the far safer path.  
With a publication date of May 15th, from Turner Publishing, it will retail for $17.99.  You can order it HERE 


About eight years ago, when I first started writing the Round-up, a woman took issue with a positive review I gave a movie, commenting, “I don’t consider a movie a Western if there isn’t even one saloon fight.” She has a point – there’s nothing like the vicarious thrill of a knock-down, drag-out fight to bring a smile to one’s face.  If you like on-screen fighting, you’ll love Gene Freese’s new book, CLASSIC MOVIE FIGHTS – 75 YEARS OF BARE KNUCKLE BRAWLS, 1914-1989.  Arranged chronologically, whether your taste runs to John Payne vs. Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand in KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, Alan Ladd vs. Ben Johnson in SHANE, Ronald Reagan vs. Preston Foster in LAW AND ORDER, or The Filling Station Brawl in IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, they’ve got you covered, with plenty of biographic and filmographic details about the on-screen participants, fight choreographers, stunt doubles, and production notes. The more I read, the longer my list of movies to rewatch grows. The amount of detail Freese imparts in his breezy style is astonishing.

The reason he chose to start with 1914 was for that year’s THE SPOILERS, and the first great movie fight – there was no such thing as stunt fighting, and stars William Farnum and Tom Santschi just beat the living hell out of each other on-camera. Why does he stop in 1989? Because by 1990, the rise of CGI, flashy cutting and purposely shaky cameras made it hard to even watch a fight on-screen. CLASSIC MOVIE FIGHTS is published by McFarland, costs $45, and can be ordered HERE  or ordered by calling 800-253-2187.


When a set of movies has such a generic title, and at $24.98, such a reasonable price, there’s a tendency to assume it’s a bunch of public domain, hard-to-watch cheapies. Nothing could be further from, the truth. This is a remarkable selection of Columbia Pictures Westerns on six discs, and the quality is first-rate. Included are many Randolph Scott films, including all of the fabled Ranown/Scott Budd Boetticher films with the exception of 7 MEN FROM NOW, which was a Batjac, Warner Brothers picture.  There are several titles starring Glenn Ford and William Holden, including ARIZONA, the movie they built Old Tucson Studios for. If your taste runs to Bs, there are Charles Starrett DURANGO KID films, and even two Tim McCoys and a Buck Jones that all feature a young John Wayne. To get the complete list, and to order collection, go HERE.


In the next Round-up I'll have details about a TOMBSTONE 25th reunion that'll take place June 30th and July 1st in the actual town of Tombstone, Arizona!

Happy Trails,


All Original Material Copyright March 2018 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved