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!