Sunday, July 11, 2021



For two seasons, former Harry Potter portrayer Daniel Radcliffe, and co-star Steven Buscemi have starred as an odd pair of angels in the series Miracle Workers.   It’s about angels that are sent down to Earth to perform miracles, and convince God not to destroy the planet. It’s based on the novel What in God’s Name, by Simon Rich.  It sure sounds to me like It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Horn Blows at Midnight, which are two of my favorite comedies. 

The first season was set in heaven.  The second season was set in Europe during Medieval times.  And happily, season three is set in the Old West, on the Oregon Trail!  Incidentally, this is Steve Buscemi’s first Western since Lonesome Dove.  The new season premieres this Tuesday, July 13th, on TBS.  Here’s a peek!


Idris Elba is a Brit, but he surely must love Westerns!  In 2017 he starred as a gunslinger in Stephen King’s futuristic Western THE TALL TOWER.  In 2020 he starred in the contemporary Western CONCRETE COWBOY.  And this fall he’ll be starring in his first historic Western, THE HARDER THEY FALL.  He plays Rufus Buck, and when his sworn enemy, Nat Love, played by Jonathan Majors, learns that Buck is getting out of jail, he pulls his old gang together to run Buck down.  Most of the characters are based on real people – in addition to Buck and Love, there’s Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), Cherokee Bill (LaKieth Stanfield), Jim Beckworth (R.J. Cyler), and Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves.  When I posted about this on Facebook, I got some angry responses from readers who assumed that heroic figures like Stagecoach Mary, Bill Pickett and the great Bass Reeves are portrayed as members of Nat Love’s gang.  I don’t know if they are or they aren’t.  Here’s a peek.

Incidentally, Harder They Fall is directed by another Brit who must love the Western genre.  Jeymes Samuels, who has many film music credits, previously directed the 2013 Western, They Die By Dawn.  While, at 49 minutes, it’s short by today’s standards, that’s close to the average running-time of Western Bs of the ‘30s and ‘40s.  For some reason, I'm not being allowed to upload the link, but the whole movie is available on Youtube under its title.  


There was great excitement at the Cannes Film Festival for Dead for a Dollar, a new Western in   pre-production, co-written and to be directed by Walter Hill, and to star Willem Dafoe and Cristoph Waltz!  Hill, a marvelous writer and director whose previous Westerns have included The Longriders, Geronimo, Wild Bill, and the pilot for Deadwood, has not made a Western since his excellent 2003 miniseries for AMC, Broken Trail.

Dafoe hasn’t done a Western since his uncredited role in 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, but Hill directed him in Streets of Fire.  Waltz will be making his second Western, his first being Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and just like in Django, Waltz plays a legendary bounty hunter.  Willem Dafoe is his sworn enemy.  I gave a brief summary of the plot on Facebook:  "Waltz is hired to go to Mexico and rescue the kidnapped wife of an important industrialist," and though I gave no more details, many readers cut to the chase and said it sounds very much like a remake of Richard Brooks’ The Professionals.  The more you know of the plot, the more it does.  But Walter Hill is a great and original talent, and I am sure he will do something wonderful with it.


STARDUST TRAIL – by J. R. Sanders

A Book Review By Henry C. Parke

I love STARDUST TRAIL, the new mystery novel by J. R. Sanders.  It’s his first in a series featuring private detective Nate Ross, and I’m happy to say J.R. is already hard at work on the next one.  It belongs to that sub-genre, the Hollywood murder mystery, which is exceptionally hard to write.  That’s because in addition to all the already necessary skills for a mystery writer and a novelist, one must also write knowledgably about the film industry, specific studios, and particular real-life characters at a chosen moment in time.  Stuart Kaminsky, with his Toby Peters books, and Andrew Bergman, with his two Hollywood and Levine mysteries, have succeeded where most have failed.  J.R. Sanders has joined this select group, as he strides confidently into the world of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

And, in an exhilarating change of locale, Sanders has placed Stardust Trail not at any of the seven Majors – MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, et al – but at Republic, the greatest of the Minors, the thrill factory where Gene Autry and Roy Rogers reined (or should that be reigned?)!  It’s where John Wayne made his name, and the Duke actually makes a guest appearance in the novel, not the Stagecoach star Wayne, but a younger star in the beloved B-Western series of films, The Three Mesquiteers. 

It’s 1938, and former L.A. cop, and current private detective Nate Ross stumbles upon a crime in progress.  When he rescues Republic’s most wooden performer (prior to Sunset Carson) from kidnapping, the power that be – studio head Herbert J. Yates – agrees that Ross is just the guy they need.  A screenwriter name Prince has gone AWOL during the production of what is meant to be Republic’s biggest Western to date, Stardust Trail.  Ross finds him alright, and is soon in a swirl of gunplay, Hollywood nightspots from the ritzy Sardi’s to the henchman-friendly Hackamore Club, fabled locales like Vasquez Rocks, Fat Jones’ Stables, various movie ranches, and Gower Gulch, where B-Western actors and riding extras hope to pick up a day’s work.  The writing is breezy and smart, and Nate Ross, and ex-cop who is hated by cops, and hates Hollywood, has considerable dimension.  The supporting characters are realistic and not overly familiar.  The plot is complex, but comprehensible, the dénouement satisfying.  Stardust Trail is available from Amazon in paper for $16.95, and for Kindle at $5.95. 

I recently had the chance to talk to J.R. about Stardust Trail.


Author J. R. Sanders


I’m a sucker for a well-written Hollywood mystery anyway, but you really had me hooked the moment that I realized the kidnap victim was Max Terhune’s ventriloquist dummy, Elmer Sneezewood,


That was a lot of fun to tinker with that. Actually, it's a supposedly true story. Years ago I was touring the Autry Museum in L.A., and they had Elmer on display down in the movie and TV Western section. And there was a little placard next to it that told that back in the ‘30s, someone had stolen Elmer and sent either sent, a ransom note and supposedly the ransom was paid. $500 is the figure that sticks in my head.


I read your previous book, Some Gave All, about real Western lawmen. And knowing that you've been a law man and a private detective, I figured you were mainly a true crime writer. So I was surprised to see that you'd written a novel.


I've never really tackled (fiction) before, other than a children's book years ago, that I don't really count as a serious fiction. But it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do, and particularly a detective story. That's what I enjoyed reading over the years and I always thought it would be fun to take a shot at it.


Your detective, Nate Ross, has a very interesting background. Was he inspired by any real person?


Not at all. I just wanted to do a character in the vein of the old classic Chandler, Hammet sorta detective, but go with a little harder edge and maybe a little bit more backstory.


Has your law enforcement and detective background been helpful in writing the book?


I guess maybe, in the broad brush strokes. But really policing was so very different back in the ‘30s that I actually had to spend a lot of time looking at old law books and police manuals and things like that from the ‘30s, the California penal code from the ‘30s, just to get an idea of how different things were, both in terms of the law, in terms of police procedures, how crimes were approached.  It's a lot more sophisticated nowadays. Policemen worked a lot less with ready access to backup back in the day. So in some ways it was more hazardous. Although in some ways it’s more hazardous now: just different hazards.


You mentioned some already, but what writers have influenced you, whose mysteries have you enjoyed?


Well, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet, any of the old Black Mask writers from back in the day.  Most of those names are pretty much unknown to the average reader now, but people like Lester Dent, Raoul Whitfield.  James Ellroy, he's kind of a, an industry unto himself. He's got a definite signature style and he's always interesting reading, always entertaining; I always learn something. I'm a big fan also of Michael Connelly. I'm about halfway through the Bosch books now. Not as far as I should be, but I've watched the entire Harry Bosch series. It's phenomenal. It's for my money, the best police series that's ever been made.


Why did he decide to set your Nate Ross mystery at Republic Pictures?


Most of my writing background has been based in or around old west history because it's just always been a fascination of mine. It's always been a topic that I've studied and been interested in. So I just thought that it would be neat to sort of combine the traditional detective story with a Western story, or at least a story with Western trappings and setting it in the ‘30s, in the era of the B westerns. It just seemed like a natural to go with Republic. Republic, isn't usually dealt with in those stories. Republic was never exactly poverty row, but it wasn't MGM either. It was kind of a farm team in a lot of ways.


With most Hollywood behind-the-scenes stories, whether it's books or movies or TV, my main gripe is that the writers either don't care or really don't know their turf; what the studios were like, how filmmaking actually works. But your stuff is spot on. Did you do a lot of research?


Well, thank you.  I did. I had to, because I'm far from an expert on any of that. I've watched the movies, but as far as the technical aspects of movie making, especially in the ‘30s, I didn't really know a whole lot going in,


It was a kind of a thrill reading the book and imagining myself at places like Fat Jones’ Stable, or Gower Gulch, when the Columbia Drugstore was there, and the movie ranches.  Did you actually visit any of those locales?


I did.  I’ve been to Vasquez Rocks many times over the years, but made a particular visit just with this book in mind.  Not much has changed other than the freeway blasting by it. With Gower Gulch, there's nothing left. Although there is a nice little strip mall that they've actually named Gower Gulch; with sort of a Western false-front look to it.


I didn't know there was a Sardi's on this coast. So that was very interesting to find out that you hadn't made that up.  But how about the Hackamore Club? Is that your invention?


Well, yeah, just complete fiction. I had read about a couple of honky-tonk type bars that the B-movie Cowboys frequented, but there wasn't really anything on the scale of a full-blown nightclub, but it just seemed like a neat touch that,  if there wasn't a place like that, there should have been.


I thought the movie within the novel, also called Stardust Trail, was just right, because it was just the sort of overreaching kind of thing that Herbert Yates would do for a while. Those overblown musical westerns, where you wanted to yell at the screen, "Enough dancing! Shoot someone!"


Since it was going to be set in late ’38, I had wanted from the beginning to deal with the making of Stagecoach (1939).  But again, not wanting to get into the major studio sort of a milieu. I didn't want Stagecoach to take center stage, and deal with all those name actors. John Wayne dropping him in as sort of a peripheral character, I enjoyed it. I would not have wanted to, probably wouldn't have had the audacity, to try and make him a central character,


But he contributes. And it's such a nice choice to put him in there when he was a Three Mesquiteers star and on the verge of being something big. I liked that a lot.


Well, thank you. I enjoyed that probably as much as anything in the book, because it was just such a different view of John Wayne than you typically get. I've seen him portrayed in fiction here and there over the years, but it's always John Wayne, the icon, and it was kind of fun to go back and deal with him at a time when he was really still Duke Morrison.


What's up next for Nate Ross?


Actually, I'm sitting here as we speak working on the second Nate Ross novel.  In this book dealing with film piracy, chasing a gang of bootleggers who are duplicating Hollywood films and selling them over the border in Mexico. It’s called Dead Bang Fall.  And it's due out in March.


As a Republic fan, do you have a favorite B Western star or a series?


It's in the book; The Three Mesquiteers.  John Wayne and Max Terhune, those were just such fun movies.  Fluffy and nothing you could take too seriously, but they're just a kick to watch.


One last question.  Where did the title Stardust Trail come from? 


There was a quote I ran across in my research from (Gene Autry’s sidekick), Smiley Burnett. In his later days, he was out at one of these events, signing 8 X 10 glossies, selling them for ten bucks a pop. Somebody criticized him for that. And his response was, "You can't eat stardust."


L.Q. Jones portrait by Steve Carver
from Western Portraits

Please check out the July/August 2021 issue of True West, featuring my article and interview with one of the nicest bad guys you'll ever meet, L.Q. Jones.

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright July 2021 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 6, 2021




The TCM Festival began today, Thursday, May 6th, at 5 pm Pacific time, 8 pm Eastern time, with West Side Story.  The real one, not the one that hasn’t opened yet.  For the second year in a row the Festival is, of necessity, virtual.  They have a terrific line-up of films, both on TCM itself, and on HBO Max.  HBO Max is doing it as a so-called ‘hub’, which apparently means that they list all of their programming, and you can watch any of it whenever you wish, not just during the four days of the festival, but for the entire month of May.   

Following West Side Story, TCM has gathered three of the film’s stars for a reunion: Rita Moreno, who appeared in a lot of Westerns TV series in the 1960s, often playing an Indian; George Chakiris; and Russ Tamblyn, who of course starred in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as well as the Spaghetti Western Son of a Gunfighter. 

The Western offerings are a little light this year.  Friday morning at 8:45 Pacific time, TCM is premiering a 4K restoration of Irving Berlin’s musical Annie Get Your Gun, from the original Technicolor negative.   It should look great, but it’s a rather stagey musical, and while poor Betty Hutton, the rushed replacement after Judy Garland was fired, works like crazy to please, it’s pretty disappointing.   

Saturday morning at 7, Pacific time, it’s arguably Sam Peckinpah’s finest Western, Ride The High Country, starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, and introducing Mariette Hartley. (Mariette was such a wonderful discovery that two years later, Alfred Hitchcock would also introduce her in Marnie.) The ideal supporting cast includes James Drury, LQ. Jones, Warren Oates, John Davis Chandler, John Anderson, R. G. Armstrong, and Edgar Buchanan.  HBO Max will be featuring John Ford’s The Searchers, which will include a discussion by Ben Mankiewicz and Bruce Springsteen.  That’s it for Westerns.  For the whole TCM Festival schedule, go HERE.



Every couple of years, a cable channel announces a new series with a title like Old New True Legendary Outlaws Lawmen Gunfights of the Old West.  They’re usually okay; they throw a little income to western movie-town operators, reenactors, and historians.  They’re also interchangeable and forgettable.  When producers Craig Miller of the INSP Network, and Gary Tarpinian of MorningStar Entertainment got together, men who specialize in documentaries and reality shows, they might have done something awfully similar.  In fact, they meant to.  Gary calls it, “How we went from non-fiction to fiction in three shows.”

They were well into preparing just such a show, Craig recalls, “When Gary sent over a short list of the expert historians and authors that he wanted to use.  And these people are great, literally the world's greatest experts on the West.  But you know what? I've seen them in three or four other series already. So why do we want to do this? Is there a way to not use talking head experts, and still do a docu-drama?”

Byron Preston Jackson plays Bass Reeves

Another concern was, “we needed to stay on-brand for INSP, which means to not leave the 1800s.”  Craig explains, “Our viewers like to surf into INSP and get lost in the old West. And every time you put a talking-head historian in there, you're snapping them right out. So I called Gary and I said, what if we had a frontier reporter? And instead of talking-head experts, they're interviewing eye-witnesses to the West's most notorious events?”

Gary liked the idea, even though, “We were going to shoot (our experts) in about a week at The Autry. My partner thought I'd lost my mind when I said to her, we've been wanting to get into ‘scripted’ (shows) for a long time.”

From The Real Lone Star Ranger

Craig remembers, “Gary, a stickler for accuracy and truly an expert on the West, came back with was the solution.  He said, ‘there was a real guy who did this. His name was Bat Masterson.’”

What they’ve created with Wild West Chronicles is a lot less like those previous documentary series, and a lot more like the half-hour Western anthology series of the 1960s, like Zane Grey Theatre and Death Valley Days.  Actually a good deal like Stories of the Century was meant to be, had it stuck closer to the actual history. 

“I knew we would be pretty good at it,” Gary says.  “We are very well equipped to tell a story that's based on a true story, with real people, in a certain time period, faithfully reproduced, based on our research, and tell the story accurately. Because when you're doing non-fiction, that's what you do.  We've taken creative liberties, no doubt about it. We weren't there, so we're putting words in their mouths. But other than that, we're trying to tell the stories accurately and to show how much we love this world and these people, these characters.”

In Wild Bill Hickok and the First Quick-Draw Duel,
flirtation, and a gold watch... 

Another problem they avoided while moving away from the standard talking-heads docudramas was to not be a ‘greatest hits’ show: so far at least, they are NOT doing Jesse James and Billy the Kid and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I'll let you in on a little inside baseball,” Craig shares. “When we first created the concept, we actually focus-tested three of the episodes and almost unanimously, the respondents said what they were interested in were stories they had never heard, about little-known characters of the West. Or if we were going to tell the story of a famous character, they wanted it to be a little-known story about that famous character. We intentionally kept our format to a half an hour. Because we don't want to do a birth-to-death biography of each character. We just wanted to take one slice of life, one story. And then that also allows us to do multiple episodes with the same characters.”

“Exactly,” Gary agrees. “And we think the audience is going to love it, because we're going to have the same actors play those people. For example, one episode we have a coming up is on the death of Dora Hand, in Dodge City, at the hand of Spike Kenedy. And one of the guys in the posse is Bat's deputy Bill Tilghman. And later on, Bill Tilghman's one of the Three Guardsmen (of Oklahoma), going after Bill Doolin. So it's the same actor.  And Bass Reeves -- there are so many great stories we can do with him, how we used his head to capture people, the story of him going after his own son, who was involved in domestic violence.  It has been particularly enjoyable working with INSP. Diversity is very important to us at Morningstar; my partner is not only a woman, she's Chinese. We met in film school at Loyola Marymount here in LA, and we’ve always felt that it's important to send a proper message and that just meshed perfectly with what the network wanted to do. That same focus group (said) we'd like to hear more about black cowboys, and women.   In season one we've been able to do Bass Reeves, Stagecoach Mary.  We're doing Elfego Bacca, probably the most famous Mexican-American law man. (Pioneer doctor) Susan Anderson.”

...lead to a showdown.

Craig adds, “This sense of diversity also includes the types of stories.  Because this is an anthology series, it allows us to do a wider spectrum of stories from the West. For instance, the last episode this season is on Charles M. Russell, the cowboy artist, and probably not something you're going to see in a traditional series that’s all Jesse James and Billy the Kid. It allows us to paint, no pun intended, a more accurate picture of what the West was like.”

Wild West Chronicles stars Jack Elliot, who doesn’t look or dress much like Gene Barry (who starred in Bat Masterson from 1956 to 1961), but looks a lot like the photographs of the real lawman-turned-journalist.  The episode Dr. Susan Anderson – Frontier Medicine Woman, airs Friday at 9 p.m., Pacific Time.  On Sunday at 2:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Bat Masterson & The Dodge City Deadline, Part 1, premieres.

Jack Elliot as Bat Masterson

If you’d like to read some of Bat Masterson’s actual writing, his collection, Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier is available from Dover Books, and other publishers.




Emilio Estevez, who was unforgettable as Billy the Kid in 1988’s Young Guns, and 1990’s Young Guns II, has spread the word that he’s coming back!  Screenwriter John Fusco, who wrote both Young Guns films, is hard at work on Guns 3: Alias Billy the Kid, which Estevez will direct as well as star in.  And this week the Epix Channel announced an 8-part limited series about Billy, to be written and produced by Michael Hirst, of The Tudors and Vikings fame.  Updates on both projects coming soon!


And please check out the May issue of True West, on newsstands now. It features my interview with author Paulette Jiles, whose News of the World is the basis for what many – including me – consider the best film of the year!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright May 2021 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 21, 2021



On Wednesday, February 24th, season two of The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown returns to INSP.  Some of the best working cowboys from around the country compete in teams and as individuals in a wide range of challenges – riding, roping, driving cattle, and complex relay-races.  Country music legend Trace Adkins is once again the host and, with the input of experts in various specialties, the ultimate judge, and Trace sends at least one competitor home every week. This time the field of competitors is larger – fourteen instead of a dozen – and the already valuable winnings are bigger as well: the last man standing wins a $50,000 herd of cattle, a Rawhide Portable Corral, an Arrowquip Q-Catch 87 Series Cattle Chute, not the mention the coveted Ultimate Cowboy Showdown belt-buckle, and a lifetime of bragging rights. 

I had the opportunity to talk with Trace Adkins about the new season, and also spoke with Jennifer Hudgins, one of this season’s four female competitors.

HENRY PARKE:  Back in 2019, I visited you on location in Alabama. And now the shows moved to Texas. Why the move?

TRACE ADKINS:  They just wanted to do it in a different place this time. And we had a lot, a lot open ground out there in Texas that we could utilize.

HENRY PARKE:  How did the change of locale change the show?

TRACE ADKINS:  We were planning on shooting it in March, and then COVID happened.  We finally got everything figured out, how we could do it during COVID. That took until the 1st of July. So doing this show in Texas in July was challenging, I'll tell you: it was hot.

HENRY PARKE:  I'll bet. Were you folks all quarantined?

TRACE ADKINS:  Yeah, once everybody got there, the first day everybody took tests, and then quarantined, and when all the tests came back negative, we just stayed in our little bubble and did our thing.

HENRY PARKE:  What's the best part of doing the show?

TRACE ADKINS:  Just the opportunity to watch these professionals at work. I mean, it's still amazing to me. There are still working Cowboys in this country that still do it, the old school way. And it's just really fun to watch.

HENRY PARKE:  Has the success of season one changed the kind of competitors you get?

TRACE ADKINS:  Yeah, and I knew that it would. As I went around last year, after the first one came out, I ran into a lot of cowboys that were like, “You didn't have no good cowboys on there! I could do that.” And I was like, come on, we're gonna do another one. You can throw your hat in the ring and see what you got. Nothing against the contestants that we had the first season. But, once you got down to that cream of the crop last year, those final four we had; we started out with 14 of that caliber at the very beginning of this season. So it was a horse of a different color this year.

HENRY PARKE:  On every show, after the elimination competition, you send at least one cowboy packing. In addition to being the host, you're also the ultimate judge. When you question the competitors in the arena before announcing your decision, are you actually making your final determination based on their answers?  Or have you decided who's going out before you come out and tell them?

  It was different; it could go two ways.  Either I would go into the arena at sundown pretty much having made up my mind, and then it was going to be up to them to fight, to stay, or to say something that was going to change my mind. Or sometimes I would go in not knowing who was going to go, and not even leaning toward anybody. And then it was totally up to them as to how they conducted themselves in the arena, as to who was going to go home. It was always my decision.

HENRY PARKE:  Your father was a rodeo cowboy. Does this show bring back a lot of memories?

TRACE ADKINS:  Well you know, he quit riding before I was old enough to remember. I think my mother probably told him he needed to stick with that good job, and stop chasing those rodeos around. But he was a good horseman: he was the real deal.  I know that he would've really enjoyed this show.

HENRY PARKE: Did you ever compete?


HENRY PARKE:  If you were as young as the contenders that you have on the show, what competitions do you think you'd have done best in?

TRACE ADKINS:  Probably just the strong back and the low skill level type chores. (laughs)

HENRY PARKE: In the first episode of this new season, someone says that it's pasture cowboys versus arena cowboys. Is that accurate?

TRACE ADKINS:  Yeah, some of it. But the way that the competition was structured, nobody really had the upper hand because the tasks were so varied.

HENRY PARKE:  How life-changing do you think winning the herd, the ranch equipment, and of course the buckle, can be?

TRACE ADKINS:  Oh, I think it means a great deal to these folks. That's why they just poured their heart and soul into trying to win. It was very, very important to them.

HENRY PARKE:  Was there anything you learned from season one not to do in season two?

TRACE ADKINS:  That's been the case and throughout most of my career: the best lessons I've learned have been what not to do.  But I don't think in this case that was applicable.

Incidentally, I also spoke to Trace about his Western movie career – you can read about that soon in True West.  He has two more Westerns in the can, Old Henry and Apache Junction, and is currently shooting a third, The Desperate Riders, in Nashville. 

I watched the first three episodes of the new season of Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, and saw Jennifer Hudgins get roughly stomped on by a large calf, that left her hurting.

Jennifer Hudgins

HENRY PARKE:  How are you feeling? The trampling that you took looked pretty rough.

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  It was pretty rough, and I was pretty sore right after, but I'm good now.

HENRY PARKE:  Very good. Pretty early on, someone makes the point that the competition in a sense is arena cowboy versus pasture cowboy. Is that true?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  In a lot of ways, it kind of was.  You know, so many of the challenges were kind of geared towards the arena, and the pasture cowboy is kind of a little different game.

HENRY PARKE:  Where do you fit in?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I'm definitely more of pasture cowboy rancher.  I'm not that much of an arena cowboy, and haven't been for several years.

HENRY PARKE:  What exactly is a cow boss?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  A cowboy. Most people refer to the cow boss as the guy who kind of runs things on the ground. The cow boss is the person you're going to look to when you're gathering cattle, when you're sorting in the pens; day-to-day, hands-on type operations like that.

HENRY PARKE:  What’s a top hand?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  A top hand would be somebody that sure enough good at what they do. Good horseman, good cowboy, knows how to handle cattle the correct way. Keep things quiet and get things done efficiently.

HENRY PARKE:  Do you know how much competition there was to make one of the 14 spots in the show?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I really don't. At one point I heard that thousands of people applied and sent in videos, but I never heard an exact number.

HENRY PARKE:  How did you audition? Did you send in a video?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  They called me. A friend of mine had given them my information and they reached out to me and then we did a Skype interview. I did two or three Skype interviews, I believe.

HENRY PARKE:  Did you do anything special to prepare for the competition?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Not really. I wouldn't say I did anything that I don't really do all the time. I just tried to really prepare mentally more than anything.

HENRY PARKE:  How do you prepare mentally?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Sometimes you just have to put your big girl panties on and get your game face on and know you're going down there to win.  And you're going to be competing against people that are just as good or better than you. You really don't know. And you just have to get yourself in the right head space.

HENRY PARKE:  Sometimes there's touchiness us about terminology. Do you prefer cowboy, cowgirl or something else?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I prefer the term cowboy. There's nothing wrong with the term cowgirl, but when you say it, people automatically picture in their head like you're a rodeo queen type person. And while that's fine, that's not who I am. I'm day-to-day doing a man's job in a man's world, and can do it just as well as they can. So I feel like I should be on the same level.

HENRY PARKE:  As a dad of a daughter myself, I love what you said about working with your dad being your daycare. Tell me a little about growing up with your dad in the cattle business as a kid.

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  You know, my dad has been in the cattle business my entire life.  He is definitely old school cowboy all the way to the core. And he's a tough man. He expected a lot out of us growing up. From the time I was little bitty, he took me along with him. He might be catching wild cattle for people, and he wasn’t going to put me in harm’s way.  He'd tell me, “Stay right here on the back of this pickup, and do not get off for any reason.” And by gosh, I stayed there. I'd have my crackers and my pop and toys and just play there, as long as it took. Now on the days I could go, I had a pony, and that pony knew to stay right behind my dad and I just went everywhere they went.

HENRY PARKE:  Growing up, what sort of things were you learning to do on your ranch?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  We learned a little bit of everything. My dad, he's pretty versatile.  He knows how to run a cow calf operation. He knows how to run yearlings. And we did all that my entire life. I grew up learning how to ride a horse, how to gather cattle, how to rope, how to sort, learning how to do all those things correctly and keep the cattle quiet. We learned to process cattle the right way. I have a younger brother, and any aspect of ranching, we grew up watching my dad do that and we just tried to mimic him.

HENRY PARKE:  Well now forgive me, because I'm a Brooklyn-born city slicker, so there's a whole lot that I don't know about cowboying. I didn't know you're not supposed to ride your horse in front of somebody, but I sure learned it from the show.  Why not?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  That's a big no-no. You don't ever ride in front of another person like that. It's a major respect thing. When you're out there gathering cattle, everybody has their spot and everybody needs to stay in their spot. Because if we go to try and jump ahead, then we're leaving holes for the cattle to get away from us. And by riding in front of another cowboy, you're basically saying, you're not doing your job, so I'm going to ride up here in front of you, cut you off because I feel like I need to be here, and you don't. It's incredibly disrespectful.

HENRY PARKE:  From the brief biography I read, work-wise it sounds like you have a pretty full plate. Why did you decide to enter this competition?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I was kind of back and forth on whether I really wanted to do it or not, because you just don't know what to expect. I'd never in my life done anything like that. I had seen the previous season of the Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, but I was a little leery, but then my dad kind of pushed me and was like, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  You go down there and win it and you've got $50,000 worth of cattle, and that's a big deal.

HENRY PARKE:  And the equipment that comes with it must be very valuable,

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Like the portable set-up pen, those can be a game changer, that can open opportunities for getting more land where there weren't pens available, and not having to invest a bunch of money right off the bat in building a full set of pens, because you have that portable corral.

HENRY PARKE:  The show starts with 14 contestants, 10 men and 4 women. Have you made any friendships? 

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I really got to know Morgan and have a lot of respect for her.  She comes from a totally different part of the country (Shell, Wyoming), and the way they do things and the way we do things here in Oklahoma are vastly different, but I had so much respect for the kind of cowboy that she is.  I got to be really good friends with Ora (Brown) and JP (John Paul Gonzalez) and we still keep in touch. We still talk two or three times a week. Really good guys, good family men. And I will cherish those friendships for life.

HENRY PARKE:  I'm pretty sure you made at least one enemy with Tyler Kijac.

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Yeah, Tyler is probably not my favorite person, but at the end of the day, this happens when you're ranching and you have guys come day-work for you. Sometimes there's a class clash of personalities, like in any job in an office setting, or in the middle of the pasture gathering cattle. Sometimes things get heated, you have somebody that doesn't really know what they need to be doing, and they can't take direction and it generally will get you in a bind. And that happened many times with Tyler. He's not a pasture cowboy. He doesn't know how to read cattle. He's not ever in the right spot when you're gathering or sorting. And so that causes a problem for everybody trying to work with him. And I did get in the middle of him a few times, but when it's all said and done, I just leave it there. I don't carry it with me.

HENRY PARKE:  Have you ever tried out for any other TV reality show?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  No, I have not. But yes. I love reality TV. I probably watch more reality TV than anything.

HENRY PARKE:  Were you disappointed that there was no rose ceremony?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  At the end of the day when Trace calls us all down there to the arena and sends someone home, that was a pretty intense situation at times.  They didn't need to give me a rose. I was happy to go sit on the fence. (Note: if Trace tells you won’t be eliminated, you go sit on the fence.)

HENRY PARKE:  How does cowboying in Texas compares with Oklahoma?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  I would say there's a lot in common.  The way they do things there is very similar to the way we do things here.  It gets really, really hot in the summertime and it was that way there. Extremely hot. So you kind of have to work around that, so you don't stress the cattle and you're not overworking your horses. The heat does come into it.

HENRY PARKE:  How did you like Trace Adkins?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  He was really, really intimidating at first. He's such a big guy and he has such a deep voice.  When he first walked up, I was like, Oh my gosh!  A very commanding presence.  But after the first few days, when we were around him a little bit more, he really seems like a good guy. He joked around with us a time or two, kind of laid back and pretty easy going for the most part. But when, when he gets down there in that arena at elimination time, he means business.

HENRY PARKE:  Can you tell me anything funny or interesting that happened that we might not see in the show?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  When I got trampled by the calf, it ripped my pants pretty much completely off of me on one side. So I don't know how much of that will actually be on the TV because, literally, my whole butt is hanging out and here it is like our first immunity challenge. That was something that you just have to laugh about it and go on; you can't change it.

HENRY PARKE:  Did you learn anything of value from your competitors?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  There were a lot of things that I took away from the competition.  I have a lot of respect for some of my fellow competitors that they are outstanding arena cowboys. They're good at what they do, and being able to watch them in their element when we had that type of challenge, you can really take a lot away from that. Maybe they don't do what I do, but that doesn't mean they're not good at what they do.

HENRY PARKE:  Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in the competition?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  After it's all over with, you can always see your mistakes. I think there's some things I would've done a little differently. Maybe thinking things out a little longer instead of just reacting.

HENRY PARKE:  Were there any big surprises?

JENNIFER HUDGINS:  Going into it, I don't think any of us were prepared for how mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting it would be. We know we have to work hard, because we do every day. But being in that situation, you’re away from home, away from the people that you care about that, are your support system. And you're thrown in with all these strangers in this competitive environment. It can be very, very mentally challenging at times. And I don't think any of us were prepared for that.

If you’d like to start with season one, you can find every episode at,  HERE

If you’d like to read what I had to say about season one, including my earlier interview with Trace, go HERE.


Several European nations have had a long association with Western filmmaking – Germany, Italy, Spain.  But France is among them.  True, many Spaghetti Westerns were international co-productions that included French financing and therefore some French cast members.  But aside from a pair of Brigitte Bardot films, 1965’s Viva Maria, and 1971’s The Legend of Frenchie King, there are very few Westerns from French filmmakers.  So I was surprised and delighted to learn that Samuel Goldwyn Films had acquired a new French Western, Savage State, which is now available On Demand and Digitally. 

It’s the story of a French family in Missouri at the start of the Civil War, who make the tactical error of allying with the Confederacy.  They quickly determine their safety demands that they return to France as quickly as possible.  They hire a mercenary to lead them, and find themselves confronting not only Union soldiers, but the former associates of their mercenary.  The cast includes Alice Isaaz, Deborah Francois, Kevin Janssens, and Kate Moran.  With striking exteriors, from town to forest to snow-covered fort, and elegant interior sets, particularly a ballroom where a celebration goes startlingly all to Hell, Florian Sanson’s art direction and Christophe Duchange’s cinematography combine to make one of the most beautiful Westerns in recent memory.

Writer-Director David Perrault first garnered admiration for his 2013 film Our Heroes Died Tonight,  a 1960s crime drama about a man who leaves the Foreign Legion to drift, reluctantly, into a career as a masked wrestler.   Savage State is a heavily atmospheric film, sometimes almost dream-like, and with that dream-like feel are some apparent lapses of logic.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Perrault, and learning about his passion for the genre, and his adventures making Savage State.


HENRY PARKE: I was surprised to learn that Savage State is not your first Western – that was No Hablo American.  France has produced great filmmakers since the Lumiere brothers, but not usually Westerns.  Why have you chosen this genre twice?

DAVID PERRAULT: I love westerns since I was a child. I had a Super 8 projector, and one of the 3-minute reels was the Indian Attack in John Ford's Stagecoach. Much later I discovered his films and he remains the greatest American filmmaker for me. Even though in writing and filming Savage State, I tried to forget all of those classics and move towards something almost radically opposed. We cannot redo what has already been done, it is unsurpassable!

HENRY PARKE: Is there actual history behind your story?  Were there French nationals in the U.S. who thought it best to leave when the Civil War broke out?  Are your characters based on real people? Or are they your invention?
DAVID PERRAULT: While writing the screenplay, I researched French settlers during the Civil War. The demand for neutrality by Napoleon 3 during the conflict is very real, for example. On the other hand, the characters are completely fictitious.

HENRY PARKE: I thought you actually shot in the U.S., but IMDB says you filmed in Canada, France and Spain.  Have you been to the United States, specifically the American west?
DAVID PERRAULT: Yes, that was the challenge of making people believe in the United States by filming in such different places. My wife has an American aunt so it's a country that I know well. But I know it especially through the films and in particular the classics of the Hollywood golden age.

HENRY PARKE: I believe your previous film, Our Heroes Died Tonight, while period, was not so long ago, and was shot in town.  Savage State, by contrast, is set 150 years ago, in a foreign land, requiring all manner of difficult-to-find costumes and props and locations, and was filmed in three countries, on two continents.  What were the biggest challenges?  What sort of unexpected problems did you have to overcome?

DAVID PERRAULT: The biggest challenge was the weather. You never knew what to expect. In Canada, for the final shootout scene, it was snowing and extremely cold. The team was going crazy in these extreme conditions. The guns, the kerosene lamps, the filming equipment… everything started to freeze. The camera was covered with a survival blanket, but the optics froze too!

HENRY PARKE: The film is beautifully lit and shot, wonderfully atmospheric, sometimes almost dreamlike.  What look and mood were you going for?  Do you storyboard extensively? 

DAVID PERRAULT: No storyboard. I am an extremely visual person, I have the film in my head and when I arrive on the set I adapt to the actors, to the weather. At one point in Savage State, we see the convoy going through the haze, it was not planned, but I jumped at the chance to make an iconic shot. Overall, I wanted it to have a gothic feel, close to fantasy cinema. As you say, the film is constructed as a daydream, sometimes nightmarish. This was really the line I wanted to follow.

HENRY PARKE: You have such a strong cast, so many talented women.  Is it hard to find performers who are convincing in historical stories?  Can you say something about the casting process?

DAVID PERRAULT: I wanted to create a very strong group of women on screen. So I chose actresses from very different horizons to create relief. During the casting, I am very sensitive to the voices and the way they go together. It's a very musical way of working.

HENRY PARKE: I understand why the smugglers were masked during crimes, but why were they masked even when sitting around the campfire, and presumably eating?

DAVID PERRAULT: It's an unrealistic bias that takes part in the nightmarish and hallucinatory atmospheres that I wanted to give to the film.

HENRY PARKE: Do you have plans for your next movie?  Is it a Western?

DAVID PERRAULT: It's not a western, nor a movie. It's a TV show about dreams precisely.


DON RICARDO RETURNS – or, if Zorro and the Cisco Kid had a baby…

With his story The Curse of Capistrano published in 1919, Johnston McCulley created Zorro, the prototype for the swashbuckling Mexican hero in Westerns for years to come.  Douglas Fairbanks played him to great success the following year, and he would later be portrayed by Tyrone Power, Guy Williams, Alain Delon, and twice by Antonio Banderas, among others.  McCulley would continue to write until his death in 1958, and many of his stories were turned into movies.  He was only credited with one produced screenplay, ironically based on another writer’s famous character: Doomed Caravan (1941), starring William Boyd as Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy.  

In 1946, P.R.C. released Don Ricardo Returns, original story by McCulley, about a wealthy young nobleman, Don Ricardo (Fred Coby), who is Shanghaied, and when he escapes and returns to Monterey, learns that the culprit, his cousin Don Jose Luerra (Anthony Warde), has had Ricardo declared dead, and is trying to claim his property, and woo his intended, the lovely Dorothea (Lita Baron, aka Isabelita), who is handy with a sword herself.  While the film is itself a poor cousin to 20th Century Fox’s Mark of Zorro (1940), and Fred Coby is no Tyrone Power, it is an entertaining 63 minutes, with good dialog and swordplay. 

Look quick, and Fred Coby looks like Tyrone Power.
That's the San Fernando Mission behind them.

Rather than being studio-bound, director Terry O’Morse
  makes ample and effective use of two historical landmark locations, The San Fernando Mission, and the Andres Pico Adobe, both of which are happily still standing, and open to visitors.

Of particular interest is that the screenplay is co-written by Renault Duncan, the nom de plume of actor Duncan Renaldo, famous for his portrayal of O. Henry’s the Cisco Kid in eight movies and 157 TV episodes.  Renaldo also was associate producer on the film.  He would go on to write three more swashbucklers, Bells of San Fernando (1947), The Lady and the Bandit (1951), and The Highwayman (1951), all with cowriter Jack DeWitt.  Don Ricardo Returns is available from Alpha Video HERE.

THE PHANTON PINTO – my first car

I’ve always had a fondness for Westerns made during World War II, where the characters were simultaneously fighting range wars and Nazi spies.  In the tiny budget Phantom Pinto, when rancher Wade (Milburn Morante) balks at selling apparently worthless land for a high price to German accented Kurt Hank (Sven Hugo Borg), he turns up dead.  Wade’s daughter (Dorothy Short) is eager to sell, but dad’s old confidante Jim (Dave O’Brien) and Wade’s 10-year-old son Buzzy (Robert “Buzzy” Henry) smell a rat, or maybe a Schweinhund, and discover Hank and his minions want the land to mine valuable deposits of strontium!  Jim says that’s something used to make fireworks, but the remarkable thing is that this film was released in May of 1941, long before the U.S. entry into the war, and Strontium 90 is a radioactive isotope produced during nuclear explosions!  I don’t know who screenwriter E.G. Robertson was listening to, but it was someone who talked too much!

Buzz Henry as a kid.

So cheap and crudely made that it seems more like an early 1930s rather than ‘40s film, it even features silent-movie style open-air sets pretending to be interiors, the most appealing thing about it is Buzzy Henry.  A talented for-real child cowboy, in addition to riding and roping, he gets all the best lines: “Get along there, you un-American polecat,” and “C’mon, Mr. Hand-kisser!  You’ve got a date with Uncle Sam!”

As an adult, Buzz Henry would become a much in-demand stuntman and stunt coordinator, and was second-unit director on Our Man Flint, The Wild Bunch and Macho Callahan, and in 1971 was doing the same job on The Cowboys when he was killed in a motorcycle accident, at age 40.  The Phantom Pinto is available from Alpha Video HERE. 

And that's a wrap!

Please check out the current True West, February/March 2021, featuring my interview with actor Graham Greene.

Happy Trails,


All original contents copyright February 2021 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved