Monday, December 27, 2010

How to Stampede

Stampeding hundreds of wild horses for a movie is a piece of cake, right? Spook them with the sound of a sharp bang and away they go. But how do you stop the rampage once it has started? For an answer, check out this fascinating article from the January 1933 issue of Popular Science magazine that reveals the amazing amount of intricate planning it took to run a herd through northern Arizona’s remote Blue Canyon for King of Wild Horses, a long-forgotten outdoor adventure filmed by Columbia Pictures as Wild Horse Stampede.

Blue Canyon, located on what is today the Hopi reservation, was no stranger to the rumble of thundering hooves. Paramount staged a cattle stampede there for the Zane Grey silent Sunset Pass, which was released in 1929 and starred granite-jawed Jack Holt. Later on, rampaging horses raised the dust of Blue Canyon for Universal's  Stormy (1935) and Hoppy’s Texas Trail (1937).

Popular Science put the number of horses running amuck in King of the Wild Horses at 1800, but a Flagstaff newspaper report claimed it was a slightly more manageable stampede of just 700 broncos. Hyperbole aside (the higher number probably originated with an overzealous Columbia PR flack), the article will be of interest to anyone curious about what goes on behind the scenes of movies. You can read it in its entirety at Popular Science’s Website:

By the way, despite the unsubstantiated claims of a few amateur “movie historians” (and IMDB), there is no evidence to prove that any King of Wild Horses filming took place in the Sedona area.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blake Edwards: That’s Life!

Cattlemen Karl Malden, Charles Grey and William C. Bryant (rear) go gunning for sheepherders – and maybe a few MGM suits – in Wild Rovers.
Screenwriter/producer/director Blake Edwards, who died December 15 at age 88, was known as much for his battles with studio executives as he was for the movies he made.

His feud with MGM began with the 1971 western Wild Rovers, which photographed scenes at Sedona, Flagstaff, Monument Valley and 46 other Arizona locations. Edwards maintained that he conceived the film as a “classic Greek tragedy,” but after the studio arbitrarily chopped 40 minutes from his cut, it left nothing, he lamented, but a prototypical cowboy movie.

“There was no discussion; an integral part was simply removed” Edwards griped to The New York Times in 1972. “If I take a chair and remove one leg, you still have a chair,” he said to rationalize his anger with the tampering, “but it won’t stand up, will it?”

Blake Edwards
Ten years later, Edwards was still steaming over the way Wild Rovers was manhandled by MGM, telling Playboy magazine in 1982, “I’d survived what was done to Darling Lili, but what happened to Wild Rovers really broke my heart, because that was the first time I began wanting to say something in the same way that 10, S.O.B. and Victor/Victoria would all become personal statements. Up until then, if somebody wanted a TV show about a slick private eye, I’d come up with a Peter Gunn or a Mr. Lucky. And if somebody wanted a movie director whose work had a certain gloss or sophistication, he’d get me to do films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Operation Petticoat. I’d never consciously tried to do anything different until I wrote this tragedy about two cowboys who stick up a bank and are eventually hunted down and shot to death. William Holden and Ryan O’Neal played those roles, and we went out and made a very fine movie –– and then James Aubrey, who’d just become head of MGM, personally destroyed it. Aubrey took about a two-and-a-half-hour film  and cut out something like 40 minutes by changing the ending and a lot of the relationships. The sad part of the whole thing was that we all enjoyed making it, and I’d become convinced I was back on the road to having autonomy on my films and to making good money again.”

But Edwards had the last laugh on MGM. Most of Wild Rovers’ deleted footage was restored for the film’s 1986 home video release, which resulted in a critical reevaluation of the film’s many merits. Unfortunately, Edwards’ cut of Wild Rovers, which can be seen occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, has yet to be released on DVD.––Joe McNeill

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kayenta, Ariz., P.O. [was] Beside Itself With Arrival of Players

Movies weren’t the only fantasies churned out by Hollywood dream factories. Here’s a PR story issued by Fox Film (with factual annotations added) for 1930’s The Lone Star Ranger, the first sound film photographed on location in northern Arizona. A sequel released later that same year, The Last of the Duanes, would be the first talkie made in Sedona.––Joe McNeill

The most remote post office in the United States was discovered by George O’Brien and other members of the company making The Lone Star Ranger, Fox Movietone's all-talking romance of the southwest.

The post office is located in Kayenta, 175 miles from the nearest railroad station [and 26 miles from Monument Valley, where some scenes were filmed]. The postmaster is an old miner and the post office comprises four compartments in an old soap box. [The Kayenta postmaster was actually southwest explorer John Wetherill, who led the first party of white men to Rainbow Bridge in 1909 and served as first custodian of the Navajo National Monument from 1909 to 1938. He was also partner in the Wetherill and Colville Trading Post and Lodge, where the Lone Star Ranger company bunked during location filming.] While the Fox Movietone company was in that vicinity, the postmaster did a flourishing business in outgoing mail and he was one proud individual.

[Co-starring actress] Sue Carol was the only member of the company who received mail. She had two letters –– from Nick Stuart [the actor/ orchestra leader she was married to at the time; Carol would marry third husband Alan Ladd in 1942].

Another interesting discovery was made at Rainbow Arch [now known as Rainbow Bridge, it is located near Page, Ariz., in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area]. This was a large register, encased in a metal box, set in a huge rock. The book was placed there by the Federal Government and nearby is a printed request for every visitor to register. As the Fox company numbered some 200 people, [reports published in Flagstaff’s Coconino Sun newspaper put the number at 75] they came close to filling the book.

It is interesting to record that the last visitor to register before George O’Brien and Sue Carol inscribed their names was Zane Grey [author of The Lone Star Ranger] and the one just ahead of his was Harold Bell Wright [a novelist best known for The Shepherd of the Hills; O’Brien would star in a film adaption of another of his books, When a Man’s a Man, in 1935].

They had visited the same spot some weeks before, both accompanied by several fellow travelers. Grey’s number on the register was 1175.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gloria Henry: Catching Up with a Strawberry Gal

Gloria Henry spent a week in Sedona filming 1948's The Strawberry Roan with singing cowboy Gene Autry. Henry, familiar to baby boomers as mom Alice Mitchell on TV’s Dennis The Menace, was asked in 2005 to share a few of her Roan memories.––Joe McNeill

Did you ever get to ride Gene Autry’s horse, Champion?

Oh, good God, no! Champ absolutely hated me; I think Champ was jealous of any of Gene Autry’s leading ladies unless they really loved horses and I was afraid of horses. I remember we were shooting some beautiful scenery up on top of a hill, on a beautiful day. We were sort of right on the edge of the hill and the cameraman went down on a little hognose area below us, looking up at us and taking these romantic shots. Gene was on one side of Champ, and I’m on the other side and we’re all facing out. Champ looked at me; I could see that his eyes looked funny. He put his head over toward Gene and suddenly he turned it toward me and wonked me as hard as he could with his head, which nearly knocked me over the side. I wouldn’t have died or anything. Another time he looked at me and took his hoof and stepped right on my foot as hard as he could. Luckily, I was wearing good stiff boots. He did his best to get me out of the picture, that’s all I remember.

What was it like being the only woman in the cast of The Strawberry Roan?

Well, you’re not the only woman on the set; there are makeup people, wardrobe people, and the script girl – in those days, it was usually always the script girl – so there were always other women around. But I don’t think it was anything special one way or the other to be the only actress on the set. I mean, it would be different had it been George Clooney (laughing). Then it would have been divine to be the only girl on the set!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love on the Rocks?

The most enduring Sedona legend surrounding Angel and the Badman is that John Wayne and Gail Russell had a love affair during local filming in spring 1946, but no evidence has ever surfaced to prove this story. The world will never know what really happened, but consider that, at the time, Wayne was a newlywed, having married second wife Esperanza “Chata” Baur Diaz Ceballos on Jan. 17, 1946. And, he was said to be a micromanager involved in every detail of production. With the responsibilty to be the film’s producer, act in almost every scene, and keep an eye on novice director James Edward Grant, would Wayne have added the pressure of a clandestine tryst?.

The Wayne-Russell rumors became an issue in Wayne and Chata’s scandalous October 1953 divorce. During the trial, the Los Angeles Herald Express reported Russell threatening legal action against Chata because of several inflammatory accusations about her relationship with Wayne. Russell, who was married to actor Guy Madison, issued a statement saying that “It is upsetting to me that an appearance of impropriety has been placed by some upon the events of the day.” The report added that she’d instructed her attorney to “demand a full and complete retraction under penalty of suit for defamation of character.” Ultimately, the frail Russell checked into a Seattle sanitarium to begin intensive psychotherapy. Wayne’s divorce from Chata became final on Nov. 1, 1954; he married Pilar Pallette that same day.

“Why did Chata have to drag that poor kid’s name into this?” Wayne reportedly asked friends when the story broke. “I never had anything to do with Miss Russell except to make a couple of pictures with her.”

Chata testified in the trial that Wayne refused to allow her to attend Angel’s wrap party being held at a restaurant across the street from the nearby Republic Studios lot, but assured her he’d be home in time for dinner. When he hadn’t returned by 10 p.m., she called the restaurant and was told the party had ended four hours earlier. When a drunken Wayne finally arrived home at 1 a.m., the distrustful Chata, who was also drunk, almost shot him with a .45 handgun when he broke a window to gain entrance into the locked house.

Wayne explained away the incident by telling the court that “We [he and Russell] were following some friends who wanted to stop in a bar for a drink. We lost them in traffic and couldn’t find them again. We looked in several bars, then wound up at Carl’s Café on the beachfront.

“We had some food. I saw some old friends from Glendale who called me ‘Marion,’ as I was known in grammar school days [Wayne’s birth name was Marion Robert Morrison]. An artist did a charcoal drawing of Miss Russell, and I drove her home at about 11:30 p.m. Her mother was there and we talked. I took a cab home around 1 a.m.”

Chata also testified that a few days after this incident, she found out Wayne had bought Russell a car. “I wondered why unless there was some relation between them, some friendship or closeness,” she said.

In rebuttal, Wayne explained that Russell was under contract to Paramount, and while he paid the studio $30,000 for her services, she only received her regular $125 weekly salary to make the picture. So he and Grant chipped in $500 each to give her a bonus she could use as down payment on a new car. “I gave $2,500 in gifts after that picture,” he added. It was my first production effort.” Wayne’s attorney asked him under oath if he had an affair with Russell and he replied firmly: “Absolutely not.”

And yet, Wayne and Russell did ignite sparks. Harry Carey Jr. is quoted by author Herb Fagen in his 1996 book Duke, We’re Glad We Knew You as saying, “I think [Wayne’s onscreen chemistry] was most special with Gail Russell in Angel and the Badman. My father was in the picture, and my mother was there with him while they were filming in Sedona. My mother said he and Gail definitely had tremendous chemistry between them. Yet I don’t think it ever got into a big affair.... But according to my mother, he had a definite attraction to Gail.”––Joe McNeill

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Throughout the 1930s, Sedona was seen on screen as the setting for low-budget "B" Westerns. That all changed with 1940's Virginia City, the first high-gloss, big-name studio production to feature Red Rock backgrounds in the sound era.

Starring Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins, Randolph Scott and Humphrey Bogart, Virginia City will air on Turner Classic Movies November 30 at 1:15 p.m. Eastern Time. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unsung Heroes

Paramount Pictures staff songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who would pen the Doris Day hit “Que Será Será” and hummable theme songs for TV’s Bonanza and Mr. Ed, were ordered to write a theme song for Copper Canyon, the Ray Milland/Hedy Lamarr Western filmed in Sedona in 1949. The pair dusted off an old melody and refit with new lyrics a tune written for Bob Hope’s 1948 Western spoof The Paleface and shelved. The song they replaced it with, “Buttons and Bows,” won them an Oscar.

But by the time Copper Canyon’s February 1950 premiere was pushed back to November, Paramount Music Co. had already contracted for the song’s release, and five recordings of it were on the radio. Teresa Brewer’s version cracked the Top 40 in March. By November, Para­mount dropped it from the film in favor of an orchestral theme by musical director Daniele Amfitheatrof.––Joe McNeill

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

The woman some call the most beautiful in movie history earned her only Best Actress Academy Award nomination in 1945's Leave her to Heaven: her best scene was shot on Sedona's Schnebly Hill.

Co-starring Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price, Leave her to Heaven will air on Turner Classic Movies November 22 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Family Ties

Chances are good that if you live in Sedona, you don’t believe in coincidence. Just ask Jayne and Phil Feiner, who have lived in the Village of Oak Creek for two years. Phil lost touch with his grandfather after his mom passed away, and for the past 14 years, Jayne has been on a mission to find out anything she can about James (Jimmy) Phillips. Imagine her surprise when she opened Arizona’s Little Hollywood: Sedona and Northern Arizona’s Forgotten Film History 1923-1973 and found a photo of Jimmy Phillips staring back at her.

Jimmy Phillips worked at Universal Pictures until he retired in 1959. Jimmy was a livestock wrangler and extra who eventually became head animal wrangler for Universal; according to Jayne, he taught Francis the Talking Mule how to talk and Clint Eastwood how to ride a horse for TV's Rawhide. His wife worked as a stuntwoman. “We knew little things about him, and about five or six years ago, I started researching him on IMDB [Internet Movie Database],” says Jayne. “That’s when I realized that he worked under the name Jimmy.”

This past Father’s Day weekend, Jayne and Phil sat down to watch Broken Arrow, filmed in Sedona in 1949, and followed along with Arizona’s Little Hollywood. On a whim, Jayne looked up Universal Pictures in the book’s index, and then opened to the chapter on Stormy, filmed by Universal in 1935. That’s when she found the photo of Jimmy, who had an uncredited role as a cowhand. “He must have been about 35 at the time, and he looks exactly like my husband,” she says.

That’s Jimmy Phillips clapping behind the guitar player.
While Jayne and Phil, who own PJF Productions – a post-production company in Studio City, Calif. – have letters Jimmy wrote to family members while he was on location along with a few black-and-white photos, they never realized he filmed a movie in Sedona until they were already living in Red Rock Country. Jimmy died in 1974, and Jayne is still trying to track down information about his ethnic heritage. Until then, the couple takes heart in knowing “Grandpa” once looked at the same red-rock vistas that are now out the Feiners’ back door.

“It’s a weird connection,” says Jayne, “and it’s even more bizarre that out of all the stills taken from Stormy, Joe chose the one that includes Jimmy.” – Erika Ayn Finch. Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Sedona Monthly

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Truth or Dare?

“When I read Roy Chanslor’s turbulent drama of the legendary woman known as Vienna and her Johnny Guitar, I wanted to do it on the screen. For me there was a special excitement in the role of this fascinating woman and in the fast-paced drama of this story of the West. Republic brought it to the screen in a Trucolor film I think you’ll enjoy.” – Joan Crawford’s introduction to Pocket Books' 1954 movie tie-in edition of Johnny Guitar.

“I should have had my head examined. No excuse for a picture being this bad or for me making it.”– Joan Crawford, Conversations with Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist (Citadel Press, 1980)

Monday, November 1, 2010

You Can’t Please Everyone

Claiming Warner Bros.’ Mission to Moscow “is a lie by the GPU” (the Soviet state security organization), members of the Socialist Labor Party picket in front of Chicago’s Roosevelt Theater on June 16, 1943. Four years later, Mission to Moscow was one of three Hollywood films targeted as pro-Soviet propaganda by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. It was produced by Robert Buckner, who also made the filmed-in-Sedona Cheyenne with Jane Wyman, who was married at the time to Ronald Reagan. Ironically, it was testifying in October 1947 before HUAC investigating communist influence in the motion picture industry that Reagan began developing the political persona and contacts that would lead him to the California governorship in 1966.––Joe McNeill

Monday, October 25, 2010

Redhead Alert, Part 2

Rhonda Fleming starred in two westerns filmed in Sedona – The Eagle and the Hawk (1950) and The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951). In part two of our edited 2007 chat, the 1950s’ movie queen recalls working with John Payne, Glenn Ford and Ronald Reagan, her problem with horses, and the charitable causes she’s made her focus in recent years. For more on Rhonda's life and work, visit her Website at––Joe McNeill

JM: You made quite a few pictures with [Eagle and the Hawk costar] John Payne.

RHONDA FLEMING: I did four films with him. I think The Eagle and the Hawk was the first. I did Tennessee’s Partner [1955] with John and Ronnie [Reagan], who was just a wonderful, nice actor when I worked with him. [Fleming and Reagan made four movies together in the 1950s] We had some wonderful love scenes. I had no idea I was kissing the 40th President of the United States!

In looking back, I recognize the peacemaker he was to become. In one of our films together, as we were rehearsing a scene, the director for some reason became very rude to me. Whatever he said upset me terribly – I started to cry and had to go to my dressing room and my makeup was ruined. I’d never had that happen in my life. Pretty soon, Ronnie came around and said “Rhonda, just put yourself together – I’ve taken care of it and he’ll never act like that again.” He did it in such a quiet, nice way. I returned to the set and [the director] never behaved like that to me again.

Fleming with Eagle and Hawk co-star John Payne.
You were friendly with Glenn Ford, your Redhead and the Cowboy co-star; what was it like to work with him?

Oh, Glenn and I were just wonderful friends. He was great to work with. We remained friends for years, and even now I’m friends with his son, Peter, his wife, and their daughter. Glenn and I had kind of a little crush on each other – he was a darling guy.

You appeared in a number of Westerns: were you experienced on a horse?

No, I wasn’t. My mother got me a beautiful English riding outfit when I was little; she just forgot to give me the training on a horse. We went to the stables down in Malibu with a young boy who wanted to go horseback riding. They saw me in my riding outfit and must have thought I knew what I was doing, so I got a pretty strong horse. We started out and the boy’s horse just took off and ran, and my horse took off after this kid’s horse. I’m hanging on for dear life when all of a sudden the horse veers to the left and begins galloping as fast as he can with my foot stuck in the stirrup and dragging me along. The next thing I know, I’m waking up in someone’s car after having been knocked unconscious. I was petrified, and my clothes were torn and I remember the young boy looking for me and making me get back on the horse to ride back to the stables.

I looked good on a horse [on screen], but the horses knew better. [On a movie set,] you didn’t have time to get to know the horse and the horse didn’t have time to get to know you. You just got on. I remember one time a horse took off with me on him; I was side-saddled, and everybody’s trying to catch me. I stayed on that time, but the horse kept wanting to get rid of me on a tree somewhere. I love horses, they are so beautiful, but I never want to get on one again.

For many years now, you've been focused on charitable work; please tell me a little about the cancer center you founded at UCLA.

Charitable work is where my heart is. My sister and her husband both died of cancer. She lived with me after he passed away. When she was diagnosed, I called [industrialist] Armand Hammer and asked where can I take her to get the help she needs. He lined it all up for me at UCLA. When we got there, I saw such a need there for a place where women and their families could go to find some peace and some help. I started the Rhonda Fleming Clinic for Women’s Comprehensive Care at UCLA, and about a year later we opened the Rhonda Fleming Resource Center for Women with Cancer. Back then, doctors would not give you any hope, they’d say there’s no more that we can do for you, you have to go home and die. I went all over UCLA and said, Don’t you ever say that! You’re never going to say that again! We’re there for them, you send them to us. My sister said to me before she died, “Honey, always make it a place for hope.” Those were her last words to me and that is what we did.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Redhead Alert, Part 1

1950s movie queen Rhonda Fleming made her mark in Hollywood quickly, turning heads with her first high-profile role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spell­bound in 1945, followed by striking character roles in enduring thrillers The Spiral Staircase in 1946, and Out of the Past in 1947. Lead roles in films with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope followed, and she’s been Hollywood royalty ever since. She starred in two westerns in Sedona – The Eagle and the Hawk (1950) and The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951). I chatted with her in 2007 about how she went from jittery teen running late for school to a featured role in a Hitchcock classic. For more on her life and ongoing charitable works, visit her Website at––Joe McNeill

JM: Your “discovery” is the stuff of Hollywood legend; is the story true?

RHONDA FLEMING: It’s a Cinderella story. I was about 15, 16 years old. It was early in the morning, there wasn’t anybody around. I was running because I was late for school in Beverly Hills. I noticed a big black car with a man inside who kept looking at me. It scared the heck out of me, and I ran faster. By the third block he got out and I froze. He came up to me and said, “Young lady” – and this sounds so silly now, but it’s exactly what he said – “have you ever thought of being in motion pictures?” I said, “No sir, I haven’t and I’m late for school.” Mother warned me about men like that! [Laughing] So I said, “I have to go.” He asked “Where do you live?” I said, “I live with my mother.” I told him the address, and I ran. By the time I got home he’d already been to see my mother. The man was Henry Willson, a very famous agent. In those days an agent would find a “would-be/could-be” actress or actor, get them under contract, and get their ten percent. Later, Henry became David O. Selznick’s right arm. He called me and said, “I want you to meet Mr. Selznick.” I didn't know who Mr. Selznick was. Of course, I was to learn he made some of the biggest pictures ever.

Like Gone With the Wind...

I have to give Henry all the credit, because he saw something in me I didn’t even know I had. I went to meet Mr. Selznick, he asked me a few questions, and I left. About a week later, Henry called and said they wanted me to do a cold reading. They handed me a paper and I read the lines. Then he said they’d probably want to give me a screen test.

This is so funny. We went down to the commissary for lunch; I was wearing a cute little skirt with a little off-the-shoulder blouse. Pretty soon a group of men came in and sat at a table. I was trying to eat, but they all kept looking at me. I said to Henry, “I can’t eat [with them staring].”

He said, “Just keep eating…keep eating.”

“Well, what are they looking at?”

“Just keep eating…”

Pretty soon, they got up, came over to us and one man leaned down and whispered into Henry’s ear. Afterward, I asked Henry what the man said. He told Henry, “Never mind the screen test, we’ll just sign her.”

Later, Henry called me and said, “Well, you've got your first part.”

I said, “I did? Well, what is it?”

“It's a film called Spellbound and you are going to have a top featured role with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. You’re going to play a nymphomaniac." What on earth did they see in me?

I didn't even know what a nymphomaniac was. My mother had to look it up in the dictionary! From a cute, youthful summer outfit, they saw a nympho­maniac? Maybe it was the way I read the lines. I don’t know. But Spellbound was incredible. The part was strong and ahead of its time. It was a great start for my career and I went on to make over 40 films.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

‘Arrow’ Misses the Point

Over the years, the multiple working titles of the obscure 1952 shoot ‘em up Flaming Feather have been a source of confusion to a bunch of well-meaning but misguided Sedona filmographers. At various times during its planning and production, the film ultimately released by Paramount Pictures as Flaming Feather was known as Canyon Diablo, Devil’s Canyon, and Fort Savage. Almost 60 years later, those temporary names still haunt, and distort, Sedona movie history.

A contributor to the Internet Movie Database picked up on a connection between the title Devil’s Canyon and Sedona, but wrongly assumed it meant the 1953 Howard Hughes-produced 3-D Western with that name was filmed here. Not so – it was almost entirely shot on a Hollywood soundstage. Similarly, the Sedona Heritage Museum’s error-riddled filmography wrongly lists the 1947 Red Ryder series “B” western Rustlers of Devil’s Canyon, which was filmed entirely in California, as a local product.

At least two online filmographies compiled by amateur Sedona movie buffs list Fort Savage and Flaming Feather as two different movies made in the area (one also mistakenly lists The Bowie Knife, the working title of 1950’s Comanche Territory, as a separate film). The simple fact is, no Hollywood sound film has ever been released by the name Fort Savage; the closest match is the 1951 Durango Kid “B” western Fort Savage Raiders – which has no Sedona connection.

But the most lasting, glaring misrepresentation of Flaming Feather dates back to its erroneous listing as “Flaming Arrow” in a May 1959 Arizona Highways story about Sedona’s movie history. This mistake was formalized with the naming of the street “Flaming Arrow Way” in the Sedona West subdivision, where roads such as Johnny Guitar St., Pony Soldier Rd., and Last Wagon Dr. honor Westerns made in the vicinity. For the record, no movie filmed in Sedona – or anywhere else in the talkie era – was ever released with the name “Flaming Arrow.”––Joe McNeill

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Touched by an 'Angel'

Behind the Scenes Photo Number Two: It’s hard to overstate the significance of John Wayne’s 1946 visit to Sedona to film Angel and the Badman, which helped give life to the Sedona Lodge movie camp (the only permanent complex ever built in the United States specifically to service movie companies on remote location), and left the town a Western street set, two keys to the boom years of local movie production to follow.

Pictured above is Angel’s key personnel on location in Sedona. From left: Cameraman Archie Stout, producer-star John Wayne, second unit director Yakima Canutt, and director James Edward Grant.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Film Rouge (Rocks) No. 3

While the bulk of Desert Fury’s exteriors were filmed in Sedona and other scenic spots around northern Arizona (with a quick detour to Palmdale, California, for a short bronc riding sequence), most principal photography took place on Paramount soundstages in the City of Angels. Which makes this staged promotional still (the kind of lurid hoopla studios don’t produce anymore, but should) an entirely appropriate peek at the over-the top tone of the movie. That’s John Hodiak on the receiving end of a whack from Burt Lancaster, with film noir goddess Lizabeth Scott being restrained by Wendell Corey.––Joe McNeill

Monday, September 27, 2010

Maureen O’Hara Jumped Out of the 'Saddle'

When RKO Radio Pictures began promoting its upcoming films for the 1944 season, Maureen O’Hara was announced as John Wayne’s Tall In The Saddle co-star (this ad spread from the studio's exhibitor book confirms it). But by the time shooting began, O’Hara was out and Ella Raines was in as the female lead. Tall, shot partially on location in Sedona, would have been the first teaming of the soon-to-be legendary screen couple; they eventually made five films together, starting with Rio Grande in 1950 and ending with 1971’s Big Jake.––Joe McNeill

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Blood on the Moon launched Robert Wise onto the “A” list of Hollywood film directors in 1948. The Western noir starring Robert Mitchum gave the Sedona terrain a darkly sinister look, though some credit must go to Mother Nature, who sent in the ominous clouds that provided the familiar scenery a chill unique in its on-screen history.

Co-starring Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston, Phyllis Thaxter and Walter Brennan, Blood on the Moon will air on Turner Classic Movies September 28 at 4 a.m. Eastern Time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy

Grace Bradley Boyd stepped off a train in Flagstaff on July 15, 1937, having just barely missed out on a rare treat  in those days – a Sedona honeymoon. Greeting her at the station was her husband of five weeks, actor William Boyd – better known to a legion of young fans as cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy – who had just spent six days filming scenes for his 14th Hoppy picture, Texas Trail, at Foxboro Ranches, which sat on a rim above Sedona’s Schnebly Hill.

Mrs. Boyd was sparkling and mischievous during a memorable 2005 phone interview about Texas Trail that turned into a three-hour chat covering, among other things, Brooklyn, kids, home invasions, and the benefits of a Tai Chi workout. She died at age 97 on September 21, 2010. Here’s a sampling of some of the many things Grace Bradley Boyd told me that afternoon.––Joe McNeill

"Bill had a career of marrying his leading ladies; I was number 5. He said to me, 'Why didn’t you grow up a little faster, it would have saved me an awful lot of trouble!' And I said, 'Well, I grew up as fast as I could!'

"I fell in love with him when I was 12 years old and saw him in The Volga Boatman. We only knew each other three weeks when we married. We met and he proposed on the third night. But we had to wait three weeks because he was that far away from getting a divorce. In those days, it was a year. It turned out we were married on his birthday, June 5th 1937; he was on a picture, Hopalong Rides Again. And when it came out in the papers that we were married, they headlined the story with the title of the picture, Hopalong Rides Again. Everybody said, 'Oh my God!' because they didn’t even know we knew each other.

"People said it wouldn’t last six months, but of course, it turned out to be just perfect. We were married 35 years and were only separated two nights, and both times he had very serious accidents. So he said, 'OK, that’s it. I’m not going to go for that third time!' So I stayed real close.

"Judith Allen [Texas Trail's leading lady] was at Paramount when I was, but I didn’t know her too well. When I first came out to California from New York in ‘33, they picked me up in Pasadena and took me right to the studio and ushered me into Cecil B. DeMille’s office; DeMille was casting for this picture he was going to do about a young girl coming into womanhood (This Day and Age, 1933). So he was insisting upon hiring a virgin. Well, I had come out with my teddy bear and my mother!

"He sat me down and looked at me and said, 'No. You don’t look like a virgin. I see you on a couch with a tiger skin and two Nubian slaves, one on each side, both with a big fan.' I said, 'Oh, sure!' I did not get that part, but DeMille did pick Judith to be the virgin. Then it came out, maybe a few weeks later, that she was married to the top professional wrestler at the time!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

‘Stay Away’ WAS a Play

Elvis Presley made his comeback in Las Vegas but he had a comedown in Sedona, where most of Stay Away, Joe, arguably the bottom of the barrel of his film career, was shot in 1967. The most unfortunate side effect of decades of critical trash talk is that the movie hides one of the most beautiful Sedona moments ever filmed: The main title sequence features Elvis singing “Stay Away” while you see a breathtaking aerial sweep over the open spaces and jagged peaks of the red rock landscape play out on the screen.

But Elvis’ flop Sedona film was a flop on the Great White Way first. When I reported that the novel Stay Away, Joe previously had been the basis of a Broad­way bomb entitled Whoop-Up, some people accused me of putting them on. As this theatrical footnote has rarely ever been acknowledged in accounts of the movie, I was challenged to provide proof; after much coast-to-coast rummaging, behold the Whoop-Up smoking gun: a Play­bill from Jan. 12, 1959.

Somewhat familiar names involved in the musical comedy included Ralph Young as Joe (the role later played by Elvis), who would go on to co-star in sexploitation auteur Doris Wishman’s Blaze Starr Goes Nudist in 1960 before gaining renown in Vegas and supper clubs as half of the duo Sand­ler and Young; and Norman Gim­bel, who would later compose the themes for TV’s Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.

Alas, despite the bounding enthusiasm of the “Native Ameri­can” chorus boys you see on the Playbill cover, the show closed after only 56 performances. If I hear about any 52nd anniversary celebrations in January 2011, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, there’s a full account of this long-forgotten Broadway dud in the Stay Away, Joe chapter of Arizona’s Little Hollywood.––Joe McNeill

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kevin McCarthy: A Flashback to 'Horseback'

Smug murderer Tom Bannerman (Kevin McCarthy, right) taunts crusading Judge Thorne (Joel McCrea) in Stranger on Horseback.

Actor Kevin McCarthy passed away on September 11, 2010 at age 96. His film career began with an Oscar nomination for his first major big-screen role in 1951’s Death of a Salesman, and by 1956 included the key performance in a defining – and enduring – sci-fi movie of the era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In between, in 1954, he visited Sedona to film Stranger on Horseback. Sedona Monthly spoke to him in July 2006 about the film and excerpts from that interview can be found in Arizona’s Little Hollywood. Here are a couple of things he told us that didn’t make it into the book.

KEVIN MCCARTHY I was so glad I did [Stranger on Horseback]. I got to know [lead actor Joel] McCrea, he was very gracious to me. I remember he called a producer at Fox about me [getting a part] in a film he knew about. He recommended me. [Co-star] John Carradine was something – a lot of stories he told. My agent then was Ingo Preminger, [film director] Otto's brother, and he was as nice as Otto was unnice [laughs]. Ingo, who passed away just recently, within the past month or so [Ingo Preminger died on June 7, 2006], he said, well, Mr. McCrea is recommending you for a part in a film at Fox, I was working for a Fox subsidiary at the time, and so I went and talked to the people at Fox. And they said [to Ingo], “No, no! McCarthy? No, we don't think he's right.”
So, Ingo says, “What do you mean he's not right? Joel McCrea thinks he’s terrific.”
“Yes, but he didn't get the girl.”
“What do you mean he didn't get the girl?”
“He didn't get the girl in Death of a Salesman.”
And Ingo says, “There isn't any girl in Death of a Salesman!”
“Just the same, he didn't get her.”
They’d decided I wasn't the romantic type. So I didn't get the job.

SEDONA MONTHLY: You mentioned that you weren’t familiar with Stranger on Horseback director Jacques Tourneur prior to working with him, but what did you think of him when you began working with him?

Well, I guess I didn't think much against him. And I didn't think, Gosh, this guy's brilliant. He was a worker there and we were all working together, and trying to make the most of it. I haven't seen the film in a long time. I didn't know at the time that he was a famous French director – I was pretty much a new guy, it was my second, maybe third picture, I did Drive a Crooked Road (1954) with Mickey Rooney, and Stranger on Horseback it seems to me was maybe the next one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Republic Pictures Celebrates 75 Years

Forget MGM – how many tapdancers have you noticed bucking and winging across the screens of your local multiplex lately? The Golden Age movie studio that has really had the biggest influence on modern-day Hollywood is Republic Pictures, the legendary B-picture factory once located in the Studio City district of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Republic specialized in pop escapism decades before the phrase “summer blockbuster” was invented, mass-producing a steady stream of serials, Westerns, action adventures, sci-fi flicks, mysteries, melodramas and yes, even musicals, between the mid-1930s and the late-1950s. In that dinosaur era before computers and green screens, Republic’s films boasted the best special effects in the business; and in 1941 the studio even made the first live-action movie based on a comic book superhero, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. But it wasn’t all explosions, masked heroes and cliffhangers. Republic had more sedate moments, too, releasing critical darlings like Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948) and John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952).

The “Thrill Factory” has faded into history, but on Sept. 25 movie fans will have the rare opportunity to walk where cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers rode when the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Studio City Neighborhood Council and Museum of the San Fernando Valley salute the 75th anniversary of Republic Pictures with a celebration on its former lot, now CBS Studio Center.

The Republic Pictures lot, circa the early 1950s.
The festivities will include appearances by Republic stars Adrian Booth, Anne Jeffreys, Hugh O'Brian, Jane Withers and Theodore Bikel; screenings of classic Republic films; stunt shows; fast-draw demonstrations; rope twirlers; trick horses; lectures; book signings; live musical performances and on-site cancellation of the United States Postal Service’s Cowboys of the Silver Screen commemorative postage stamps. Best of all, admission to the shindig is free. John Wayne, Republic’s biggest contract star, would have been mighty pleased.

The 40-acre Republic/CBS Studio Center lot has seen its fair share of Hollywood history. Opened in 1928 as Mack Sennett Studios, it was built by the King of Comedy as an assembly line to churn out two-reel slapstick shorts. Sennett went bankrupt five years later, and the property became an independent production facility for low-budget filmmakers. Mascot Pictures, which specialized in Saturday matinee serials like The Phantom Empire (1935), took over most of the space and the lot became known as Mascot Studios.

In 1935, Mascot merged with three other Poverty Row companies along with film-processing laboratory Consolidated Film Industries to form Republic Pictures. Over the next 25 years, 1,081 features, serials, animated cartoons, short subjects and training films were produced on studio grounds, some even starring A-listers like Errol Flynn, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum.

Sedona and Republic are historically joined at the hip. In 1946, the studio built a Western street set for John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman near Coffee Pot Rock that was left standing at the end of filming and became a major enticement for other companies to shoot their movies there. The Fabulous Texan, a Republic A-Western starring B-cowboy William Elliott, was partially photographed around the area in 1947 and was soon followed by a pair of experimental two-day location shoots Republic saw as a way to keep production values high and costs low for its mid-budget Western opuses, Hellfire and Singing Guns.

Without question, the greatest collaboration between Republic and Sedona was Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray’s over-the-top 1954 Truecolor Western starring adversaries Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. The film, a critical dud when originally released, is now considered a masterpiece and listed on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as an American cultural treasure.

Despite its later acclaim, by 1963 Republic was under siege. CBS leased the studio lot from the ailing company, which by then was reduced to surviving by renting its old film library to TV stations, and the lot was formally renamed CBS Studio Center. (The network bought the property in 1967.) Today, CBS Studio Center is one of the busiest sitcom production facilities in Los Angeles.

CBS Studio Center is one of the few lots in Hollywood that doesn’t offer tours, and it isn’t open to the public. So don’t miss this rare opportunity to celebrate the late, great Republic Pictures on its home turf. Who knows? You might have to hang on for 75 years to get another chance – and time is the only cliffhanger with no chance of an escape.

Director Nicholas Ray (kneeling) and Joan Crawford check out Johnny Guitar’s script during filming at Republic studio.

Republic Pictures’ 75th Anniversary Celebration will take place Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at CBS Studio Center, 4024 Radford Ave., in Studio City, Calif. Admission is free. For more info, call the Studio City Neighborhood Council at 818-655-5400, e-mail or visit

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rocky Road to Rome

Obsessiveness, madness, and an immoral female hellbent on destruction were the signature themes of film noir, and in 1945’s Leave Her To Heaven (“the first psychological drama to be shot in color”), Gene Tierney, the woman Darryl F. Zanuck once called the most beautiful in movie history, earned her only Best Actress Oscar nomination for portraying a sociopath with a deep-rooted Oedipal complex. After World War II, American films made during the conflict received belated distribution in Europe, and Leave Her To Heaven finally reached overseas screens in 1948. This Italian photo­busta boasts a stunning view from Sedona’s Schnebly Hill; the title literally translated means “Crazy Female.”

John M. Stahl’s Leave Her To Heaven, starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, and Jeanne Crain, will air on Turner Classic Movies September 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Champion of the West

Marge Champion is on the fence with Bob Baker in Honor of the West.
91 year-old dance legend Marge Champion will join Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne in Sedona to present George Sidney’s Show Boat on September 7 as part of the Sedona International Film Festival’s Living Legends series. Ms. Champion, an acclaimed choreographer, director, teacher and actress, is perhaps best known for working as a dancing team with her former husband, Gower Champion, and the duo will be seen tripping the light fantastic in the 1951 MGM adaption of Jerome Kern’s classic musical play showing in Sedona. My colleague, Erika Ayn Finch, had the chance to interview Ms. Champion before her visit and they discussed, among other things, her early film work for Walt Disney Studios as live action model for the title character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940) and the ballet dancing hippopotamus in Fantasia (1942). You can read the interview in the September issue of Sedona Monthly, on sale at Barnes and Noble, Borders Books, and independent booksellers across the country.

I couldn’t resist asking Erika to include a few questions for Ms. Champion about the most obscure job of her distinguished career, playing the heroine in Honor of the West, a 1939 B-Western starring forgotten singing cowboy Bob Baker. Billed as Marjorie Bell (she was born Marjorie Celeste Belcher), the seventeen year-old Champion had her first credited movie role in the picture, which was filmed on location in Kernville, California, about three hours north of Los Angeles.

Bob Baker (left) and Forrest Taylor
defend the Honor of the West.
Her ridin’, ropin’, vocalizin’ leading man, Bob Baker, had been a singer on WLS’ Chicago-based National Barn Dance radio show in 1935 (billed as “Tumble” Weed; his real name was Stanley Leland Weed) and was a longtime resident of northern Arizona. He’d been employed in the license division of the Arizona State Highway Department and worked for “Shirley’s Cowboy Guides and Entertainers” at the Grand Canyon prior to going to Hollywood in 1937.

Baker starred in twelve B Westerns for Universal Pictures (and was demoted to Johnny Mack Brown’s second banana for a final six); after playing a few small roles for Monogram and United Artists he quit the movies in 1944 and returned to Flagstaff to work as a police officer. Baker died in 1975 and is buried in Clear Creek Cemetery in Camp Verde, Arizona, about 40 miles from Sedona.––Joe McNeill

ERIKA AYN FINCH: How were you cast in Honor of the West?

I had just graduated from Hollywood High School and had a great friend, one of [character actor] Fred Stone’s daughters, and they had a friend named Henry Willson, who was an agent. He took me on because he said I was right for certain kinds of movies. He sent me out to Universal to audition for Honor of the West. And I was terrible. I was 17 and had no acting experience except through pantomime and dancing. Its a hilarious movie but not because it’s any good (laughing).

You’ve seen the movie?

Oh, yes! They’ve shown it at Film Forum [a repertory movie house in New York City] and a few other places and I’m always embarrassed. They invite me to come and talk about it.

Why didn’t you make another Western?

Because I was not exactly trained in horsemanship (laughing). I went over to Griffith Park and took six horseback riding lessons when I knew I had the part.

In the movie I had to lead the posse to rescue the hero, which was kind of a twist, but I was nearly brushed off the horse on the very first day of shooting. They gave me the fastest horse and it was sheer terror. If not for one of the extremely talented cowboys who saw what was going to happen I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. That was the only time a second shot was taken by the director [George Waggner] because they never took more than one.

In the film Bob Baker never takes his hat off, the reason being that he didn’t have any hair. I had only seen him on the set with his hat on and when I met him in the evening (everybody had supper together) he had his hat off and I didn’t know who he was!

Do you have any other memories of Bob Baker?

No, I never saw him again. He did quite a few of those one week [Westerns] and he would have a different leading lady every week.

He made three pictures in three weeks and it took seven days to make that picture. The scripts were done just about as fast as they do a television show now. They were filmed on location with not one indoor shot. And you had to supply your own jeans or whatever costume you had to wear. In those days they didn’t make girls’ jeans so I had to buy boys’ jeans, the kind with the buttons on the wrong side––I still have them, as a matter of fact. You learn some things along the way and one thing I learned is that if you’re not right for Western movies you’d better stick to what you know how to do. Copyright © by Bar 225 Media Ltd.

Monday, August 23, 2010

That’s My Pup!

Behind the Scenes Photo Number One: Bright-eyed and bushy-haired Marion Morrison––who was just starting to answer to the name “John Wayne”––gladhands a pooch he and Marguerite Churchill (his first-ever screen leading lady) chanced to encounter while strolling the Fox Movietone lot with a publicity cameraman in 1930. Wayne and Churchill, reportedly an item at the time, were toplining Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail, which did some location filming at the Grand Canyon. Three years later Churchill married actor George O’Brien, who starred in four Westerns filmed in Sedona.––Joe McNeill

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Catch a film ­featuring our red rock scenery on TV: The Strawberry Roan (1948, filmed in Sedona) starring Gene Autry, Gloria Henry and Jack Holt; directed by John English. Airing on Encore Westerns August 22 and August 25 at 12 p.m. Eastern time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Republic Pictures Birthday Bash

The Republic lot in the 1950s. Photograph courtesy of Marc Wanamaker, Bison Archives

Don’t miss this one! The Cultural Affairs Committee of the Studio City Neighborhood Council and the Museum of the San Fernando Valley will salute the 75th Anniversary of Republic Pictures with a free event on Saturday, September 25, 2010. The celebration will take place at the former Republic studio lot, now CBS Studio Center (4204 Radford Ave., Studio City, California) from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and stars like Joan Leslie, Adrian Booth, Hugh O’Brien, Anne Jeffreys, Peggy Stewart, and Jane Withers are slated to attend.

The big blowout will feature screenings of Republic films, serials and trailers; memorabilia exhibitions; live performances of swing and western music, and entertainment by gun spinners, rope twirlers, trick horses and cowboy poets. There will be panels of industry experts and celebrities talking about everything from the early days of movie special effects to what it was like to work at the studio; film historian/critic Leonard Maltin will moderate one of the star panels. A special Republic Pictures commemorative cancellation for the U.S. Postal Service’s "Cowboys of the Silver Screen” stamps will be available onsite, and I’ll be there signing copies of my book Arizona’s Little Hollywood, too.

There will also be a pair of warm-up acts commemorating Republic Pictures prior to the main event in Studio City. On Sept. 15, the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood (6712 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-466-3456) will screen a double feature of Republic films, and on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., film historian Marc Wanamaker will give a free talk about the history of Studio City and Republic Pictures at the Studio City Library (12511 Moorpark St.; 818-755-7873).

Republic’s backlot western street. Photograph courtesy of Marc Wanamaker, Bison Archives

Founded in 1935, Republic Pictures specialized in B-movies heavy on action and adventure, the twin staples of Saturday afternoon matinees. The studio launched the careers of American icons John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers, and rocketed cliffhangers like 1941's The Adventures of Captain Marvel into the pop culture stratosphere during its 24 years of active production. Other classic Republic films include Under Western Stars (1938), Macbeth (1948), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), and the Sedona-filmed Johnny Guitar (1954).––Joe McNeill

Visit for more information.

FACEBOOK: Republic Pictures 75th Anniversary Event

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Catch a film ­featuring our red rock scenery on TV: Leave Her to Heaven (1945, filmed in Sedona, Flagstaff and Prescott) starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde and Jeanne Crain; directed by John M. Stahl. Airing on Turner Classic Movies August 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Republic Tries to Draw Kids to the Matinee

To promote 1950’s Singing Guns, Republic Pictures had crooning star Vaughn “Old Leather Tonsils” Monroe pitch cereal in an ad that ran in Sunday Comics sections and urged theater managers to hold coloring contests for kids with art that prominently featured Sedona’s red rocks. Prior to taming the celluloid West, Monroe scored Hit Parade smashes with “Mule Train,” “Riders in the Sky,” and the traditional campfire ditty “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”––Joe McNeill

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Catch a film ­featuring our red rock scenery on TV: Virginia City (1940, filmed in Sedona and northern Arizona) starring Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins and Humphrey Bogart; directed by Michael Curtiz. Airing on Turner Classic Movies August 7 at 6 a.m. Eastern time.