Monday, July 25, 2011

Burl Trouble

In 1948, popular folksinger Burl Ives was one of the main selling points for RKO Radio Pictures when it was promoting Station West, the partly filmed-in-Sedona cowboy film noir; he was fourth-billed in the credits and featured in all promotional materials. But when the film was re-released in 1954, Ives’ name mysteriously vanished, and his screen time greatly reduced. Bizarrely, Ives’ role in Station West seems to have been a little-noticed casualty of Cold War paranoia.

In May 1948, Obsessive-Compulsive millionaire Howard Hughes took control of financially struggling RKO. A virulent anti-Communist, Hughes fired approximately 1,900 of RKO’s 2,500 employees, virtually shutting down production for six months while his investigators dug into remaining workers’ pasts. “It is my determination to make RKO one studio where the work of Communist sympathizers will not be used,” Hughes told the Holly­wood Reporter in April 1952. To that end, Hughes set up a “security office” at RKO; one of its tasks was to purge suspected Communists from the credits of older RKO films being re-released to theaters.

Here’s where Ives appears to have run into a problem. In 1950, Counter­attack: The Newsletter of Facts To Combat Com­munism, published a book called Red Channels: The Report of Com­munist Influence in Radio and Television, which listed 151 people in entertainment and broadcast journalism linked to “subversive” organizations, either at the time or in the past. Red Channels claimed Ives had had past association with three obscure leftist organizations in the early 1940s.

But on Sept. 25, 1952, under the headline “Reds Dupe Artists, Senate Group Says,” The New York Times reported that the Senate Internal Security Sub­committee cited Ives and three other show business personalities as examples of how Com­munists were using the respected American entertainers to unwittingly strengthen subversive aims. Ives was not accused of being either a Communist or a deliberate “fronter.” In a statement included in the Times story, Ives wanted it on the record that he’d voluntarily gone before the Senate to show he “never knowingly approved anything Un-American.” He closed the statement by saying: “I am not and never have been a Communist.”

By the looks of it, Hughes was not impressed. With no fanfare Ives’ name was erased from posters, ads, and the film’s credits when Station West was re-released to theaters in 1954. Look at the poster from 1948 (at top), which displays Ives’ name and image. This was typical of the film’s entire publicity campaign, which clearly aimed to leverage the folk­singer/radio personality’s popularity. In ‘54, however, Ives is conspicuously missing from all promotional materials, such as the poster above– funny that the campaign now sported a “red” color scheme.––Joe McNeill

Monday, July 18, 2011

‘Legion’ of Honor

I uncovered a lot of obscure facts while researching my book Arizona’s Little Hollywood, but one of the most unexpected finds was a gushing trade review for The Vanishing Legion, the 1931 Mascot Pictures serial that paired cowboy star Harry Carey with Flagstaff’s own Rex, the King of Wild Horses. So now we have confirmation: The Vanishing Legion is American cinema’s most critically lauded examination of an unseen archvillain’s use of radio to command minions to do his evil bidding.––Joe McNeill

“This is probably the best serial ever turned out by an independent. It has everything that a thrill serial can pack into the footage. Harry Carey and Edwina Booth, with the reps they made in Trader Horn, are a strong combination to exploit. Directed by B. Reaves Eason, who has utilized every device to crowd the reels with action, thrills, surprises and some beaucoup camera work that is not often seen in a serial. The story is a hummer, with Harry Carey as the contractor engaged to drill an oil well on a property that seems to have a jinx. Mysterious forces are at work on the oil field. Harry starts with a fleet of trucks loaded with machinery and equipment. Then you see the gang at work, with several different groups all endeavoring to stop the hero, also to get their hands on a certain mysterious person who knows some damaging evidence against them. This person is the father of Frankie Darrow. Frankie and his dad secrete themselves in one of the trucks to escape the sheriff. The trucks are wrecked by the gang, who destroy the brakes, and they go crashing over the side of a precipice. This is a big thrill scene, with the runaway trucks careening down the side of a mountain and the drivers jumping for their lives. This bit has been realistically handled, and packs a terrific wallop. In fact the first two chapters caught are replete with fine bits of this calibre that will have the fans hanging onto their seats. Frankie Darrow does splendid work in a strong part. His acting on the death of his father is as good a bit as any juvenile has ever done on the screen. Can’t miss on this one. It should pack ’em in––kids and grown-ups, who like their thrills fast and plenty.”––The Film Daily, August 2, 1931

Monday, July 11, 2011


A sketch of a costume designed by Edith Head and intended to be worn by Hedy Lamarr in a sequence in Paramount's Sedona-filmed Copper Canyon. The scene was deleted and the dress is not seen in the film.––Joe McNeill

Monday, July 4, 2011

Out-Fox Radio

Don’t tell the top brass at Fox Film, but their 1933 Robbers’ Roost wasn’t the first adaption of Zane Grey’s novel for another medium; listeners in Detroit heard the story acted out on the radio almost two years before the movie hit theaters. Details of the Robbers’ Roost radio play have faded into the ether, but station WWJ aired the program in May 1931, shortly after the story was serialized in Collier’s magazine and a few months before it was published as a book by Harper & Brothers. What can be confirmed is that actor/director Wynn Wright and actress Florence Hedges (seen above in a publicity still for the show) originated the roles George O’Brien and Maureen O’Sullivan played in the Dudley Nichols-scripted B western, which Fox shot on location in Sedona during late 1932. Wright must have been keen on turning pre-sold literary properties into radio shows; in 1941 he created the NBC anthology program Author’s Playhouse, which dramatized the works of famous authors and playwrights.––Joe McNeill