Tuesday, October 21, 2014
THE WESTERN TV ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Maxine Hansen at the Gene Autry
Gene Autry’s legacy extends into many fields. His hundreds of radio shows, hundreds of popular music recordings, ninety-one starring movies and nearly 100 TV episodes have few parallels in the entertainment industry. And that’s not even counting the movies and TV series he produced, the radio stations, television stations, and the Angels baseball team he owned. And then there is the flagship of the Autry empire, The Autry Center for Western Studies, one of the world’s finest collections of the American West.
But now, as the man has been gone sixteen years this past week, one wonders if there is a mission for Gene Autry Entertainment beyond burnishing his legend. Maxine Hansen, executive assistant to Mrs. Autry, and a long-time employee of the man, has created one which Gene, a ground-breaking TV producer and star, would surely have embraced. With the cooperation and collaboration of both Gene Autry Entertainment and The Autry Center, Maxine has created the 20th Century Television Western Oral History Program. She has been interviewing both acting and behind-the-scenes talent from Western television’s golden age, and creating an archive that will serve researchers, and through them will benefit readers and audiences, for generations to come. This summer I had the opportunity to speak with Maxine about Gene, and her oral history program.
Her real enthusiasm for Westerns began when she was eight. She’d panicked when she thought her parents had abandoned her – in fact her dad was just driving her mom to bingo – and when he came back, he calmed her down by putting her in his lap and watching the first episode of BONANZA together.
MAXINE: And when Michael Landon comes on, no more tears; I’m in love. In my life, we had a lot of change; I lost my parents quite early. We moved a lot. And the constant was that you could always know that BONANZA would come on. It was the knowledge that some things in life were okay.
HENRY: Like comfort food for the mind.
MAXINE: Yeah! The Ponderosa’s there; the four of them are strong. It was good for me.
HENRY: When was the first time you saw Gene Autry onscreen?
MAXINE: Not until I started working for him. Gene’s longtime friend, Johnny Grant, the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood, also worked at KTLA, and his secretary was a friend of mine. She said, why you don’t come out and try for a job at KTLA. They interviewed me, and I got the job. And it was basically as a receptionist, and also working for Gene’s longtime assistant Patricia Wakoski. So I came on September 1981, Jackie Autry had married Gene on July 19th, and that is really the first time, and then I was really getting into the movies, the baseball; everything.
HENRY: So you worked for Gene since 1981. You must have known him very well.
MAXINE: I did. When I came on, I was very shy; I was thirty going on seventeen. And Gene was very funny, trying to make me laugh; very kind, very sweet man. His secretary unfortunately passed away in 1985. He was looking for a new assistant. And Mrs. Autry, Jackie, took me in the back office to talk to me, and I thought she was going fire me. (laughs) And she said, would you like to be Gene’s assistant? And I took the job. And from the beginning, it was an amazing relationship. He’d mainly come in and work with Pat (Sidekick and best friend Pat Buttram), and then when I had to take over, he had to trust me, I had to trust him. Sometimes he’d call me and say, “Honey, I’m going to replace you with a younger woman, like maybe Brooke Shields.” And I’d say, “Oh Gene, you know older women, we’re much better.” And he’d just cackle and laugh. It became that kind of a really good relationship together; he was a very funny man, a very good sense of humor.
HENRY: Speaking of his sense of humor, everyone I’ve known who knew Gene gave me the impression that he toned down his humor for the public, that he was a much funnier man in private then in public. Is that right?
MAXINE: I would say so. At public events I would go to with him, it was very interesting what would happen. He would look for someone who was uncomfortable or maybe in trouble physically, or a child, and he would make a bee-line for them, and make them comfortable. One-for-one, every time I saw that. One of the last times we were together was at a baseball game. And he was already sick; he’s not feeling that well. And he says, “You know, so-and-so just had dental surgery, and I’m concerned about him. Let’s give him a call and see how he’s doing.” He had a wicked sense of humor, and in public I don’t think he portrayed it that much. I remember, I typed a letter once, and I left out a word that left it…flavorful. And he cackled, he got a kick out of it.
HENRY: Now it’s been sixteen years since Gene passed away. How have your duties for the company changed?
MAXINE: They’ve actually expanded. When I started I handled his correspondence, and Mrs. Autry’s correspondence, and the files, and the fan club. I arranged their calendar, and there was always baseball – who was going to sit upstairs with him in the suite, who was going to sit in the field seats. It’s broadened now into bookkeeping duties. Because although he passed away, everything continued. We have four music companies that license his songs, he has the copyright to his films, which are being restored and released, and his TV shows. So there’s parts of that that I handle, there’s FLYING A PICTURES, there’s a trust, there’s the estate, and it’s broadened into handling his history, too. After he passed away, and we knew that 2007 would be his 100th birthday, (Autry Entertainment President) Karla Buhlman brought up that we needed a definitive, no holds-barred (biography), and the name that came up was Holly George Warren, who gave Gene his last interview for The New York Times. They got along famously, and she was the right person to do it. She’d worked for THE ROLLING STONE, and had some books under her belt. At that point, it became imperative to really document Gene’s history. When I first came on, I was a receptionist. I wasn’t thinking, preserve the history. A couple of times I sat down to ask, ‘Who is it in this picture?’ There are so many questions I didn’t ask him – I would have loved to interview him, and now I’d know what to ask. Then, I didn’t. So I’ve worked diligently since then to preserve their history. And I’m talking about the hardcore history: on June 5th, whatever year, Gene was someplace. He made so-and-so money in royalties. As far as his feelings, that’s what I miss, and what I didn’t want to miss with the oral history program.
HENRY: And the fact that you didn’t get to sit down and do the interview with Gene that you would have liked to, brings us to your new project.
MAXINE: Well, from 1950 to 1975 – I’ll include LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE in there – that time frame, there were remarkable television Westerns. And the shows resonated with people so much, that I started to think of something to do to preserve it. In 2012 I held a VIRGINIAN event that brought together the remaining members of THE VIRGINIAN cast --
HENRY: That was that wonderful event at The Autry Museum --
MAXINE: Yes. And it was tremendously successful. And I saw again what I saw with Gene; the letters that Gene would get were so emotional and so touching. And what I saw with THE VIRGINIAN cast, and what I experienced with BONANZA, I thought, you know, it’s late, it’s way late in the chain, but I’m going to start documenting these people. Because I know, in the fifties and sixties, when they were doing interviews, it was a different game. The writer would put in what he wanted to put in – maybe the story was already set, it was fluffy --
HENRY: It wasn’t real journalism; it was press releases.
MAXINE: Exactly. And I wasn’t interested in who they dated. I wanted to know where they came from, how they got where they were, and technically, what happened on the set. How did they learn their lines? I wanted to find this whole thing out so that future researchers would be able to look at this body (of information) and say, ‘Oh; I get it.’ Because these were remarkable people. If these actors, and these people behind the scenes, these writers, producers – if this didn’t resonate with people, it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has; it wouldn’t have the emotional impact that it does with people still. And I wanted to preserve that.
HENRY: And a lot of the shows from that era are still running, between INSP, ME-TV, GET-TV, AMC, ENCORE WESTERN, you get a lot of the old black & whites like WAGON TRAIN, RAWHIDE, and later shows like HIGH CHAPARRAL; a lot of the shows that were important to people in the fifties and sixties still are. Now, what exactly are you doing to preserve these?
MAXINE: I have a certain target of people that I want to get, and it expands. I bring a subject here and we do a video interview. If not, we do a phone interview. I have a wonderful gentleman, he’s a six or seven time Grammy nominee, he’s the one that restores all of Gene’s music with Karla. His name is Bob Fisher, and he handles the audio and video portion of it. And what I do, I really study my person, their background, their history. And then I get a series of twenty to thirty questions. I sit the person down, and ask them how it all started. What entertainment they were interested in, what fired their imagination, how they got them started. How they got in the business, how that led finally to a role in a Western. How did they approach the role? What was going on on the set, all the way to what they are doing now. And it’s not just the actors. I’ve gotten a couple of producers, and a couple of stunt people – and I’m getting another one, Dean Smith very shortly.
HENRY: He’s great!
MAXINE: He’s amazing. I’m just trying to branch out in any way I can to get an exact picture of what was going on.
HENRY: As far as interview subjects, I was very sorry to hear yesterday about the death of actor Dickie Jones, whose career goes back to being the voice of PINNOCHIO in 1940. He appeared in several Gene Autry movies, and starred in two of his Flying A TV series, BUFFALO BILL JR. --
MAXINE: -- and THE RANGE RIDER with Jock Mahoney.
HENRY: We tried to get together for an interview several times, but it never happened.
MAXINE: I did interview him, and I’m so glad I did. It was done some years ago – 2002, 2003 – somewhere around there, and very in-depth. Dick was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. We’d actually spoken about a week ago – I’d sent him a copy of another interview we’d done somewhere along the line – and we talked, and he was doing well. He would occasionally take me and Karla out on a lunch date for hot dogs, but we hadn’t done a hot dog date in a long time. He was a cherished friend of Gene’s. We have a couple of people like that, him, Johnny Western, who are our treasures.
HENRY: Speaking of Johnny Western (who wrote and sang HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL and many more), have you spoken to him yet?
MAXINE: (excitedly) Yes I did! And that’s another remarkable one. Did you know he was up for the role of Little Joe on BONANZA?
HENRY: No, I didn’t know he did that much acting. I saw him on one episode of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL.
MAXINE: Whenever we’re at an event; he’ll play the BONANZA theme for me. There again, a remarkable talent, and you get another aspect, which is the songwriter, plus the bonus, a person who performed with Gene in the latter part of the personal appearances.
HENRY: Are there other people involved in Gene’s shows that you’ve interviewed?
MAXINE: Jimmy Hawkins.
HENRY: He was Tag on ANNIE OAKLEY?
MAXINE: Right; another amazing guy. Really, that was a very good interview; he was very very detailed. Very fresh with his memories, and that was amazingly helpful because he could tell us about the studio, FLYING A. He was able to share pictures with us. And he talked about IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, too. Then ANNIE OAKLEY, and he also did some personal appearances, and he had some wonderful stories about Gene that he shared, too. I’m trying to get a fellow – Jimmy Hawkins turned me on to him --who was a production assistant on ANNIE OAKLEY, and also on PERRY MASON. That’s another one I’m trying to do, to get different sides of the whole story.
HENRY: Of course you’re also focusing on other series. Have you gotten anyone from BONANZA?
MAXINE: I haven’t gotten anyone from BONANZA. I interviewed Harry Flynn, who is a publicist for Michael Landon in the later years. But I wanted to get that viewpoint from someone who knew Michael Landon. I originally wanted to get Dan Blocker’s son, and Michael Landon Jr., who would have been young when their fathers did this, but I’m not sure I want to go there. I do want to get Kent McCrea and his wife Susan (production managers on BONANZA and HIGH CHAPPARAL, producers on LITTLE HOUSE). I am in touch with them and hopefully when their schedule permits, I’ll get them.
HENRY: If I could make a suggestion of someone to get. I talked to her briefly, but I’m hoping to do more. Did you know Mariette Hartley is the only actress to have a romance with every one of the Cartwright boys, and Pa?
MAXINE: (startled) Mariette Hartley?
HENRY: She told me, she was romanced by everyone at the Ponderosa except Hop Sing.
MAXINE: That’s great! I’m going to look that up! I have to tell you, I’m a purist. Anything after Pernell Roberts left… Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, I would have loved to interview them. I’d love to know how Pernell Roberts approached scripts. You know, a lot of these fellows were not horsemen. James Drury and Doug McClure were horsemen, but Gary Clarke has a wonderful story about a horse named Babe. His interview was sheer joy. To someone who has fallen off two horses – I can really relate. Clu Gulager was my first interview; I’d love to interview him again. He’s a fascinating man. You know, let me jump back a minute. When Gene would sign autographs, we’d go through them together, and he’s say, “What do you think I should sign? Does that look okay?” Very caring and conscientious. Clu, the same type of thing. But I’ve seen him do things like, instead of ‘Liz, best wishes,’ and he’d write, ‘Dear Liz – you don’t mind if I call you that, do you?’ Each woman who came to him when the VIRGINIAN cast was here, they had these smiles on their faces. Including me. There’s just something about that gentleman, and there’s a lot of depth and complexity to him that, in that interview with him, I didn’t really zero in on. Two of my other favorite interviews – Ed Spielman, who created KUNG FU and also THE YOUNG RIDERS. And Frank Price, who produced THE VIRGINIAN, and then went on to be the head of Columbia Pictures. I didn’t think I’d get him, but by some miracle I got him twice. And his wife, actress Katherine Crawford, who is just the most beautiful woman you would ever want to see. But he was fascinating, because he started in live television. He was like two minutes late for the interview. He comes in – “I’m sorry I’m late!” “Don’t worry about it.” “I get it from live television.” He started out (as a studio reader) reading scripts from the slush pile. And who’s in the slush pile but Rod Serling. He talks about coming out to Hollywood, and how TV’s coming in, film’s going out, the studios are shutting down and he can’t get a job. It’s a fascinating interview. I asked him, you’re a writer and a producer. You’re an artist, but you’ve got to watch the budget. How do you work that? How they use the dialogue; how he created a whole VIRGINIAN script when they were (over) budget, got back on budget, and it was one of the most successful episodes. That sort of thing is priceless, and everyone is adding a little bit to the story.
HENRY: What other behind-the-scenes people have you spoken to?
MAXINE: Jack Lilley for one. Four generations of his family have been in livestock, wranglers, stuntmen. Starting with his father, his family supplied horses, wagons, all the way to present times – they supplied them for LONE RANGER and A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. How do you select a horse, how do you train a horse (to work on-camera)? He has a technique. It’s in the horse’s eyes – and he explains it in the interview. And it’s fascinating to hear how different stunts were done. I’m trying to catch (interviews from) different shows now. I don’t necessarily focus on a show, one person who was on one show, but I have a list. I try to get different aspects. One of the interviews I did early on, not for this project, was with Alex Gordon. Did you know him?
HENRY: No, I didn’t, but I’m familiar with his work, of course, producing REQUIEM FOR A GUNFIGHTER and THE BOUNTY KILLER, among others.
MAXINE: He was with Gene forever. Started out as a fan in England, then came over here. Gene hired him as an advance-man for his tours. Alex kind of looked like a little Alfred Hitchcock, and every woman who came into the office fell in love with him. I was able to interview him about how does an advance-man work? Alex did a tour for ANNIE OAKLEY, Gail Davis. One time he and Gene and Gail Davis were at an event. They served oysters. Well, Alex hates oysters, but he was afraid to let Gene know, so when nobody’s looking he slips them in his pocket. Then Gail Davis asks him to dance, and he’s dancing with Annie Oakley with oysters dripping out of his pocket!
HENRY: I used to read Alex’s column, The Pit and the Pen in FANGORIA magazine. He used to produce a lot of little movies with old-time Western stars, like Rod Cameron and Dan Duryea. Did he talk about them?
MAXINE: What he said was, here was someone who used to have a lot of work, and then they didn’t have work, and he would hire them. He’d hire them for films like THE SHE CREATURE (starring Chester Morris and Tom Conway) or ATOMIC SUBMARINE (starring Dick Foran, Tom Conway and Bob Steele). And they’d sit down and tell him things. One time I told him I’d been watching a HOLLYWOOD MYSTERIES episode about an unsolved murder. I said, “I just don’t get how she really died, and nobody knows.” He said, “I know, and I’ll tell you, because the guy who was her boyfriend was in my movie, and he wanted to talk about it. It was an accident, and here’s how it happened.” It was fascinating. I just interviewed a guy named Lucky (Ewing Miles) Brown. He’s up there in years, but he’s still active. This guy was in OUR GANG, he did a number of westerns, he was in SHANE as a bad guy – all these uncredited things, but he’s telling me all about how things were done.
HENRY: My mother-in-law was in the OUR GANG comedies. She had no lines – she was an extra –but she did dance with Alfalfa in the OUR GANG FOLLIES OF 1938.
MAXINE: That’s so cool.
HENRY: But speaking of this underlines the importance of your project, to catch these people when we can. When my wife and I started attending SONS OF THE DESERT events in the early 1980s, we met their producer, Hal Roach, who was celebrating his 100th birthday. And there were people there like Iris Adrian and Eddie Quillan, who had worked with Laurel and Hardy. Now if you go to the events, the last surviving OUR GANG kids are the only people left.
MAXINE: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I went to a Golden Boot event one time. Gene is at one table with his wife and I’m at another, and there is an elderly man sitting there. And he’s very nice; he’s making sure I’m eating. And he introduces himself; he’s Nat Levine. “I got Gene in pictures,” which of course he did. (He built and ran Mascot Pictures, which produced Gene’s first starring role, the serial THE PHANTOM EMPIRE) I said, “I’ll go get Gene,” and he said, “No, I don’t want to disturb him.” I have my list of ‘why didn’t I?’ mistakes, and Nat Levine was one. Pat Buttram was another one that I wanted to get, along with Gene. I just have so many questions for them. But you never regret yesterday. You have to go along and get who you can now. And I want these people to understand why I’m doing this. I’m not into the 1950s Photoplay Magazine; I’m not trying to do a TV Guide story. I’m trying to preserve a segment of a genre that was very important. And I think still is important because of the factors that were involved in Westerns. Why do I like westerns? It’s not just good versus bad; it’s a capsule of all the best qualities in each of us. And all the hope; and all the courage. And you’re racing with the wind. And you can make a difference. Do you see what I mean? And when you have actors who can bring these qualities to the table, these are the facts that must be preserved. Not necessarily the mistakes – we all make mistakes. You take a Pernell Roberts. Yeah, he should have stayed with BONANZA, or come back; it would have been wonderful. Doesn’t matter: six years of Adam Cartwright. You know how many people love Adam Cartwright for what he stood for?
HENRY: And six years when they were doing about forty episodes a year. It’s a tremendous amount of work, when today, five or six years of a series might be fifty episodes.
MAXINE: If that. Take Jimmy Hawkins; he had all those shows to do, and appearances with Gene, too. And that’s the same for THE VIRGINIAN cast too, they were mostly making public appearances too. It’s fascinating to document this.
HENRY: Now that you are documenting this, what is the ultimate plan for this archive of material you’re producing?
MAXINE: The archive goes into the library and archive of the Autry Nation Center Museum of the American West. And the researchers come, for a book, for a play. From students to newspapers to people doing movies. So they go in, the Museum is able to say, well, here’s what we have. You’re documenting young people in the Westerns? Take a look at the interviews with Jimmy Hawkins, Billy Mumy. Our interviews are usually an hour and a half to two hours or more.
HENRY: So you’re not trimming them down to highlights.
MAXINE: No. These aren’t dressed up, they’re raw footage. We’re just letting it roll. But we’re taking clips, maybe ten three-minute sound bites from each of them. And we’re making a Vimeo catalog of them.
HENRY: Do you ever foresee a time when you’d want to place these interviews on the internet, or would you always want to keep them in a research facility.
MAXINE: In a research facility. If you take a person’s life out of the jurisdiction of the Museum, then you’re just making it a free-for-all, and that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted it very structured and very safe.
HENRY: Do you have a schedule in the sense that you want to do a certain number of people per year, or is it you get people when you can get them?
MAXINE: I get people when I can get them, balanced with my other work. I have a list of people I want to do. Jan Shepard is somebody I want to do. She was in a number of Westerns; she was also on live TV. She’s told me a number of stories, and I’m just drooling to get them. Her husband, (Ray Boyle, a.k.a. Dirk London) was in WYATT EARP, and he also spent years in the prop department – I want to get him. I kind of have a list like that. I’ll tell you what I really want to do. I want to go to the Motion Picture Home, and just sit down with a group of people there, like secretaries or hair-dressers.
HENRY: You mean like a round-table? That’s a great idea!
MAXINE: I’m just going to grab Bob Fisher, and we’re going to do that. And I want to do some crossovers (between Westerns and science fiction). You know, Morgan Woodward did some famous STAR TREK episodes, and I talked to him about that.
HENRY: Morgan Woodward was the villain in the first movie I wrote, SPEEDTRAP. We closed Nickodell’s together. The restaurant outside the Paramount gate; we were the last two customers when they closed.
MAXINE: I remember that place! Another crossover I got was Billy Mumy. He was in everything – he did a few Westerns, but I wanted to get the viewpoint of that young actor who’s done a few Westerns, and then he’s doing LOST IN SPACE and BABYLON 5.
HENRY: And my favorite TWILIGHT ZONE: It’s a Good Life.
MAXINE: Remember, Gene Roddenberry had to sell STAR TREK as WAGON TRAIN TO THE STARS.
HENRY: I didn’t know that.
MAXINE: I wanted to get the crossover from that viewpoint. I’d love to get William Shatner too, because he was in Westerns.
HENRY: Spaghetti Westerns, too.
MAXINE: What is the crossover – what are the common bonds that fire people about these two genres? Because they really catch people. I want to get Robert Fuller, some of the other people from WAGON TRAIN. My next is going to be Dean Smith, who’s coming out here for the next Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry. And Dean has a book. Mrs. Autry calls him one of the good guys, a dear friend of Gene’s, and hers. I do want to (cover) LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, and get Melissa Gilbert. And also…I would like to get Clint Eastwood. Haven’t had the courage to knock on his door, but I will.
HENRY: Speaking of Clint Eastwood, he’s the last one I can remember left from RAWHIDE.
MAXINE: Yes. And there are a couple left from WAGON TRAIN. And it’s hard, because the clock is ticking. This project should have been started so much earlier, but then there are people like you, and people like Boyd Magers (editor of Western Clippings). And what you are doing, and what Boyd is doing, is incredible. It just has to be documented. I consider you and Boyd the top tier for preserving the history. And I’m sort of like the sidekick, coming along. I’m speaking very candidly now; not p.r. I’m very glad that it’s being done, and it’s kind of a relief in my world.
HENRY: You’re very kind. Maxine, is there anything else I should know about your work?
MAXINE: I do want to say something about Gene. Gene was a remarkable individual with a remarkable life. I am so grateful – and one of the best things that ever happened to this office is Karla Buhlman, President of Gene Autry Entertainment. She’s a goddess. She has the knowledge, the capability, the intelligence and the dedication to restore all of Gene’s music and films and television shows, and working the radio shows; nobody else could have done it.
HENRY: And nobody else is showing any interest in preserving radio shows, particularly.
MAXINE: No, and down the line it will be important. I think Gene would be proud of all that has been accomplished. And I urge anybody who reads your column, who is in the business and did do Westerns, to either talk to you or Boyd or me, and to preserve their scripts and their stories. Because even though some say the day of the western is done, I don’t think so. Never. Because the heart, the spirit of Gene, Roy, Monte Hale, the four Cartwrights, James Drury, Doug McClure, all those guys, the spirit still goes strong, and it will always be with us. And in a world in turmoil, I think preserving this, and letting that spirit of goodness and decency and what can be, shine through, is extremely important.
HENRY: Thank you. And I’ll just throw in something I find of great interest, speaking of the world in turmoil. From time to time, when I think of it, I’ll check online to see who is reading Henry’s Western Round-up, in what countries. And usually the largest number is in the U.S., and then other English speaking countries, like England and Australia; we’re read in over 94 countries. But one thing I’ve noticed over the past four or five months, right after the U.S., the country where it’s most likely to be read at any given moment, is the Ukraine. With all that those people have going on in their lives, I guess they find the same comfort in the stories of justice and hope, and the individual, that we have. Very big in Russia, too.
MAXINE: That’s amazing.
Since we spoke, she’s interviewed actresses Donna Martell and Fay McKenzie. In that time we’ve also lost MAVERICK star James Garner, WAGON TRAIN star Denny Miller, and director Andrew V. McLaglen, who helmed more episodes of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL than anyone else, 96 GUNSMOKES, and many fine features, TV movies and episodes. As Maxine says, the clock is running. The video below is Maxine’s Mission Statement.
CROATION WESTERN COMEDY ‘KAUBOJI’ (COWBOYS) SCREENS THURS. AT AERO!
The official Croatian entry for 2015’s Academy Awards, KAUBOJI was a hit stage play in Croatia, and has been adapted for the screen by the original playwright, Sasa Anocic, and the film’s director, Tomislav Mrsic. Set in a drab and claustrophobic industrial town, it’s the story of eight outsiders who band together to create a play based on the conventions of classic Hollywood Westerns, and how they grow to see the play as a metaphor for their own lives and aspirations.
This is an extremely rare opportunity to see this film – on a big screen no less! – and the presentation will be followed by a live musical performance and reception! And dress up, because prizes will be awarded for the best cowboy and cowgirl get-ups! KAUBOJI will screen on Thursday, October 23rd at the AERO THEATRE, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403. Go HERE for more details!
Unlike the movie, this trailer doesn’t have subtitles, but at least it’ll give you a taste!
‘BUFFALO SOLDIER’ REVIVAL OPENS FRIDAY AT EL PORTAL NORTH HOLLYWOOD
Clockwise from bottom: Wasim No'mani, Kendall
Johnson, Tony Williams, Daniel Billet,
Mitch Hale’s play, which won the NAACP BEST PLAY AWARD FOR 1995, is at the El Portal from October 24th through November 30th. Directed by Sara Wagner and produced by Johnny Brenner, BUFFALO SOLDIER’s subject matter is unfamiliar to many: an ‘all negro’ U.S. Cavalry Unit in the American West of the 1870s. The plot concerns three of those soldiers and their white officer undertaking a hazardous mission in Comanche country, involving the legendary Quanah Parker.
Playwright Hale told the Toluca Times that the idea came to him when he was acting in the Vietnam-themed play TRACERS in 1987. “It got me thinking about the disproportionate amount of men of color in the armed services — especially in frontline duties. I knew there were black soldiers brought in to fight against the Native Americans and so I started researching. It was six years before I finally had a first draft.”
I’ll be reviewing BUFFALO SOLDIER in next week’s Round-up. The El Portal Theatre is at 5269 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. To learn more, and order tickets, call 818-508-4200, or go HERE .
THAT’S A WRAP!
I hope to run into you at BUFFALO SOLDIER or KOUBOJI! Or doing research at The Autry! Or all three! Have a great week!
All Original Content Copyright October 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, October 13, 2014
‘COMPANEROS’ ON BLU-RAY OCT. 28TH!
DJANGO’s star Franco Nero, and director Sergio Corbucci, reteamed in 1970 for COMPANEROS, one of the most enjoyable of the later Spaghetti Westerns, and BLUE UNDERGROUND’s stunning Blu-Ray edition will be available October 28th. And in the interest of full disclosure, C. Courtney Joyner and myself do the audio commentary.
As Corbucci famously said, “Ford has John Wayne, Leone has Clint Eastwood, and I have Franco Nero,” and all of their collaborations are wonderful, imaginative exercises in filmmaking, the in-between one being THE MERCENARY. COMPANEROS is full of action and humor, and concerns the Mexican Revolution, and the different motivations of the many characters on the same and on opposite sides of the fight. The excellent cast includes Tomas Milian as an oaf who has revolutionary greatness thrust upon him, and may or may not be up to it; Jack Palance as the hired gun determined to stop them; Fernando Rey as the professor who inspires the rebels; stunning German actress Iris Berben embodying the spirit of the uprising – and representing the German financial stake in the film; and Franco Nero as the mercenary gun-dealer who cares only for money when the story starts. The BLUE UNDERGROUND version has several additional minutes of footage in the opening scenes which makes the movie much more logical than when it was first released in American theatres.
The score by Ennio Morricone features a theme that is not only stirring, but remarkably blood-thirsty when you get the translation. The dazzling cinematography is by Alejandro Ulloa, who also photographed Corbucci’s THE MERCENARY, SONNY AND JED, and WHAT AM I DOIING IN THE REVOLUTION. The two-disc set from BLUE UNDERGROUND includes a DVD with the film in English, an international trailer, talent bios, and a 17 minute documentary, IN THE COMPANY OF COMPANEROS, featuring interviews with Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, and composer Ennio Morricone. The Blu-Ray disc includes both the 114 minute English-language version and the Italian 119 minute version (with optional subtitles), everything on the DVD, Court’s and my commentary, more trailers – amazing how different each is from the next – and a poster and still gallery. Click HERE to go to the BLUE UNDERGROUND site and see the trailer.
COWBOY LUNCH @ THE AUTRY HONORS HAL NEEDHAM!
At the moment, Rob Word is at The Lone Pine Film Festival, sharing his Western knowledge and moderating panels amidst the iconic western movie locations like the Alabama Hills; but come Wednesday at 12:30 he’ll be at the Autry discussing a western icon of the human kind, legendary stuntman Hal Needham.
Needham, who died in October of 2013, earlier in that year received an Academy Award in recognition of his work as a stuntman and stunt coordinator. He broke fifty-six bones doubling for actors like Kent Taylor in ZORRO, Clint Eastwood in RAWHIDE, Richard Boone in HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, Burt Reynolds in GUNSMOKE, and a hundred other actors in a hundred other shows. He shared a technical Oscar for development of the Shot-maker Elite Camera-car and Crane. And he directed twenty movies, including HOOPER, the best, and funniest, movie ever made about stuntmen.
Lunch comes first, after which Rob will lead his ‘A Word on Westerns’, with friends and coworkers of Needham’s reminiscing about his magnificent career. These third-Wednesday-of-the-month luncheons are always delightful and informative – and absolutely packed – so get there early if you want a seat inside! You buy your own lunch, but the event is free! Below are a pair of clips from two of Rob’s recent luncheons to give you a taste!
JENNIFER JASON LEIGH JOINS ‘HATEFUL 8’ CAST
The role in Quentin Tarantino’s next Western, which was played in the staged reading by Amber Tamblyn, will be portrayed on-screen by Jennifer Jason Leigh. (You can read Andrew Ferrell’s report on the staged reading HERE) She joins a cast which includes Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Viggo Mortenson, Tim Roth, Walter Goggins and James Remar.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
On Friday night I had the pleasure of visiting the set of Kurt Russell’s first western since TOMBSTONE, BONE TOMAHAWK! I’ll have more about that soon in the Round-up! Have a great week!
All Original Contents Copyright October 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, October 6, 2014
The good folks at Shout Factory/Timeless Media Group have released a ‘special edition’ of THE MEN FROM SHILOH, the 9th and final season of THE VIRGINIAN series. The nine disk set includes all twenty-four episodes, as well as a disk of interviews.
The TV series THE VIRGINIAN was ground-breaking in many ways when it arrived on NBC in 1962. It was the first Western series with a literary pedigree, being based, however loosely, on the Owen Wister book which many consider to be the birth of the serious Western novel. It was the first TV series of any genre to star an actor with the stature of Lee J. Cobb, who’d created Willy Loman on Broadway in Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and was twice Oscar nominated for his work in ON THE WATERFRONT and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. And while it was preceded by brilliant anthology series like PLAYHOUSE 90, which did live full-length plays on television, THE VIRGINIAN was the first series to do a feature-length, color film, single camera, largely outdoor action movie every week! They did thirty of them that first year, and by the end of their 9th and final season, they had produced 249 movies.
The title character was played by James Drury, from the first to the final episode, and to a great degree the series rose and fell on his portrayal of the mysterious man who never revealed his name, or much else about himself outside of the state of his birth. I’ve heard Drury comment that he was the original ‘man with no name,’ and it’s true; his and Eastwood’s subsequent, quietly confident, sardonic, mysterious characters have much in common. The Virginian was the foreman of Judge Henry Garth’s (Lee J. Cobb) Shiloh Ranch, outside of Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Doug McClure, like Drury, was there from the first episode to the last, playing the top hand after the Virginian and his best friend, Trampas – an ironic choice of name, considering that, in the novel, Trampas was the Virginian’s most despised enemy.
Many of the successful Western series up to that date had focused either on families, like BONANZA and THE RIFLEMAN, or groups of working men, like RAWHIDE. THE VIRGINIAN wisely did both; there were plenty of men in the bunkhouse, and in the big house, Judge Garth, a widower (this is 1960s television after all), always had nieces and nephews to help raise and/or tame. Among the ‘youngins’ who graced the series were Roberta Shore from 1962 to 1965, Diane Roter from 1965 to 1966, Sara Lane from 1966 to 1970, and Don Quine from 1966 to 1968. There always needed to be a patriarch, and when Lee J. Cobb left after 120 episodes in 1966, he’d be replaced first by Charles Bickford, and then by WAGON TRAIN’s John McIntire. Among the many fine actors who appeared as regulars for a few seasons as lawmen or drovers were Clu Gulager as Sheriff Emmet Ryker, Gary Clarke, Randy Boone, L.Q. Jones, and Tim Matheson.
I had the pleasure of attending the 50th Anniversary Celebration of THE VIRGINIAN series, and its move to the INSP Network, at the Gene Autry Center. These links will bring you to my four-part coverage of the event, and several interviews: PART ONE; PART TWO; PART THREE; PART FOUR.
Eight years was a terrific run, but by 1970, a lot of the world had changed. The once-dominant Western genre was no longer TV’s favorite, at least in part as the result of an anti-violence policy at the networks that restricted how much action an episode was allowed. WAGON TRAIN and RAWHIDE were gone for five years, THE BIG VALLEY had just ended, and HIGH CHAPARRAL would only last one more season. GUNSMOKE, which had begun in 1955 and would run until 1975 (plus TV movies), had saved itself from extinction by refocusing its plot-lines around guest stars rather than regulars, and BONANZA had added semi-brothers David Canary and Mitch Vogel to perk things up.
(Here's the VIRGINIAN theme from season three by Percy Faith)
Plus, the freshness and youthful energy of the spaghetti westerns tended to make Western TV appear a bit staid and tired. That’s when the powers-that-be at NBC decided to try and re-think THE VIRGINIAN (now they’d say re-brand or reinvent), and turned it into THE MEN FROM SHILOH. Unlike any of the other Western series of the time, SHILOH took its revamping cues from Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. Gone was the sweeping heroic theme by Percy Faith, replaced by a new, beautiful theme by Leone’s signature composer, Ennio Morricone which was, by turns, wistful and relentless. Gone was the familiar title sequence with each star riding on horseback towards camera. Instead there was a mix of sunrise footage, historical photos and high-contrast graphics that could have come straight out of the previous year’s THE WILD BUNCH.
(Here's the MEN FROM SHILOH theme by Ennio Morricone)
Then there were the stars – a new patriarch in one-time big-time MGM leading man Stewart Granger; Lee Majors, fresh from THE BIG VALLEY, as Roy Tate, sporting a big, mean-looking mustache; Doug McClure, back as Trampas, sporting an even bigger mustache; and James Drury as the Virginian, sometimes sporting a gun the length of his leg! McClure’s and Drury’s wardrobe, unchanged since 1962, were completely different. Granger played a retired British colonel who had bought Shiloh Ranch, and was maintaining its personnel – but there would be no more nieces and nephews to clutter up the place: this was now a series strictly about men.
The bosses at NBC scored quite a coup in signing Granger. Not only was he a talented and popular actor, although no longer a leading man, his presence would make the show more valuable in Europe. Though the films were largely unseen in the United States, Stewart Granger had starred in two of the immensely popular German Westerns which gave birth to the spaghetti westerns. Based on Karl May’s WINNETOU novels, Granger played the beloved character of Old Surehand. With Granger, the series had a built-in European fan-base.
As had been the pattern of the series for some time, most episodes focused on one of the younger men, sometimes with and sometimes without Granger. The first, THE WEST VS. COLONEL MACKENZIE, is noticeably influenced by the spaghetti western. In the aftermath of the lynching of an accused rustler, the colonel is out to catch the culprits, and the town’s class division between the ranchers and the rabble, bordering on the divine right of kings, is distinctly European rather than American, and the filmmakers have fun with the fact that it’s an upper-class Brit who is trying to see justice done. The second episode, THE BEST MAN, centers on Trampas, and his efforts to help a friend marry the senorita of his dreams. As would become clear, in show after show the producers were willing to spend money for an exceptional guest cast; this one included James Farentino as the friend, and Desi Arnaz and HIGH NOON’S Katy Jurado as the bride’s parents.
In GUN QUEST, a very well-written (by Robert Van Scoyk) and produced (by GUNSMOKE creator Norman MacDonnell) noir episode featuring the Virginian trying to prove himself innocent of murder, the cast is again staggering: CITIZEN KANE stars Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead are reunited (although, as in KANE, they have no scenes together), joined by Brandon DeWilde, Anne Francis, John Smith –late of LARAMIE, former Western leading-man Rod Cameron, and Neville Brand, whose LAREDO series was a spin-off of THE VIRGINIAN. And when Monte Markham, as the man the Virginian has been misidentified as, shows up, he is wearing -- I kid you not -- the Virginian’s red shirt and black leather vest from the first eight seasons!
Former VIRGINIAN regular L.Q. Jones and James
Drury in the SHILOH episode TOWN KILLER
LADY AT THE BAR, this time with Trampas accused of murder, stars Oscar winner (for MRS. MINIVER) Greer Garson as his lawyer, E.G. Marshall as the judge, twice Oscar-nominated James Whitmore as the judge’s marshal, along with Kenneth Tobey, RIFLEMAN’s Paul Fix, Ian Wolfe, and Oscar-nominated (for THE BIG SKY) Arthur Hunnicut as the assayer.
Not that the producers never cut corners. THE MYSTERIOUS MR. TATE, which introduced Lee Majors’ character, had a good cast, with Majors and Granger joined by Robert Webber, Dane Clark, and young and blossoming Annette O’Toole, but it takes place almost entirely on-board an interior train set. Similarly, in WITH LOVE, BULLETS AND VALENTINES, Trampas ‘wins’ a riverboat in a poker game, and Universal must have pulled stock footage from every film they ever had with a paddle-wheel – some of the mix of different film-stocks in jarring.
Among the many other fine actors that turn up in the series are Susan Strasberg, John Ireland, Jane Wyatt, Lew Ayres, Elizabeth Ashley, and many others.
Lee Majors' character makes an
inauspicious entrance in
THE MYSTERIOUS MR. TATE
As with any series, some shows are better than others, but all of the MEN FROM SHILOH episodes I’ve seen are worth watching, and some are extremely good. The changes were an attempt to invigorate the series, and not a matter of ‘jumping the shark,’ by any means. Of course, that raises the question of why it was the last season of THE VIRGINIAN. At least a partial explanation is suggested by James Drury in the interview disk: many fans of THE VIRGINIAN didn’t even realize that MEN FROM SHILOH was THE VIRGINIAN, so they didn’t watch it.
Another theory also came from James Drury at the 50th Anniversary Celebration. When moderator Boyd Magers of Western Clippings put the question to Drury, this was his reply:
“They gave the show a new look, and everybody kind of signed on to it. I got myself a new horse and a longer gun. (big laughs from the audience) From a 5 ½ inch barrel to a 7 ½ inch barrel. Longer sideburns. Much bigger hat. A sense of accomplishment or…a sense of entitlement – let’s put it that way. I smoked cigars on the show. And I just mowed down anybody with my firearms. But the thing is, we all thought it was a good idea at the time; it was a terrible idea. And the worst of the terrible ideas was putting Stewart Granger in the same position that Lee Cobb had occupied, that John McIntire had occupied, Charles Bickford had occupied; that John Dehner had occupied. These were truly great western actors. Stewart Granger came in and decided that he was going to be the big star of the show: fired my crew, fired my Academy Award-winning cameraman, got all new people. He pissed off everyone in the entire organization. And he sunk the show. So thank you, Stewart, wherever you are.”
Indeed, there is a smugness and pomposity to Granger’s character that grates on you at times. My feeling is that after 249 movies, there wasn’t a whole lot left to say. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the shows, and one of the high points of this collection is the disk of interviews, featuring James Drury, Clu Gulager, L.Q. Jones and Roberta Shore. They run from 20 minutes for Shore to 45 for Drury. Each interview covers the subject’s life and career in general, and THE VIRGINIAN in particular, and the insights are often fascinating. They’re all good, but James Drury’s is the best; in fact, it’s one of the very finest career interviews that I’ve ever watched.
You can learn more about, or purchase, THE MEN FROM SHILOH, or many other Westerns series and movies, from Shout Factory, HERE.
If you’re not a fan of Gene Autry’s Christmas music, then you either (a) hate Christmas, or (b) don’t realize how many of the best Christmas songs can be traced back to Gene. Gathered together for the first time are twenty-five Christmas classics that Gene performed and helped popularize, each with sheet-music arranged for piano, vocal and guitar.
Gene was inspired to write the lyrics to HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS in 1946, when he was Grand Marshal of the Santa Claus Lane Parade in Hollywood, and heard children chanting for their other favorite, just a couple of floats behind. He had one of his greatest hits with RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER, when he sought the song out after everyone had passed on it. Some of the most amusing songs are not that well remembered – can you sing HARDROCK, COCO AND JOE (the three little dwarfs) without checking the sheet music? How about SANTA’S COMING IN A WHIRLYBIRD?
Some of the included songs are available in sheet music for the first time – eight of them, including WHIRLYBIRD and THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (IN TEXAS, THAT IS) were transcribed from Gene’s recorded performances. Published by Hal Leonard, with an introduction by Gene Autry Entertainment President Karla Buhlman, and featuring photos, including some of Gene’s own Christmas cards, this book is sure to give the musically inclined something new to play and sing around the piano at that special time of year when we all like to think we can carry a tune. You can buy it wherever you buy your sheet music, or direct from Gene Autry Entertainment HERE.
And even if it’s a few months early, it’s never the wrong time to hear Gene sing HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS!
Come join the stars and other fans at one of the world’s prime Western movie locations, Lone Pine, this coming weekend. Since the 1920s, hundreds of Western movies and TV shows have been shot in and around the famed Alabama Hills. Stars from Tom Mix to William Boyd to Gene Autry to Roy Rogers to John Wayne – the list goes on and on!
Among the guests who will be attending are Bruce Boxleitner, stuntman and author Dean Smith, stuntman Diamond Farnsworth, Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt, THE RIFLEMAN star Johnny Crawford, Republic Western stars Peggy Stewart and Donna Martell, seven-time John Wayne co-star Ed Faulkner, THE SHOOTIST screenwriter Miles Swarthout, plus Clayton Moore’s daughter Dawn Moore, Roy and Dale’s daughter Cheryl Rogers Barnett, Randolph Scott’s daughter Sandra Tyler, and many more.
To learn about all the events and all of the movies to be screened – from THE MACCAHANS to GUNGA DIN – visit the official website HERE
And if you've never been to Lone Pine, here's an excellent featurette to show you why you shouldn't miss it!
THAT’S A WRAP!
As we near 200,000…
This weekend The Round-up surpassed 190,000 hits! Thank you to all of you folks who keep visiting the site week after week. We’re read in well over 90 countries these days, and we added two this week, Luxemburg and Bahrain. And this week’s new Facebook followers are from L.A.; Running Springs, CA.; New York City; and Moscow. It’s great to know the appeal of Western stories is still international! Have a great week!
All Original Content Copyright October 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved