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