Sunday, January 7, 2018


Christian Bale

HOSTILES – A Film Review 

A decade ago, Christian Bale played the reluctant temporary deputy escorting outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crow) to a train in the remake of Elmore Leonard’s 3:10 TO YUMA. In HOSTILES, he’s more than reluctant; he’s defiant. A heroic, much-honored veteran of both the Civil War and Indian Wars, Cap. Joseph J. Blocker (Bale), is ordered to escort captive Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his homeland in Montana, presumably to die. Having lost many friends at the hands of Yellow Hawk and his men, Blocker refuses, and it is only the threat of court martial, and loss of his pension, by Col. Briggs (Stephen Lang), that induces Blocker to transport Yellow Hawk and his family through deadly territory.

Jonathan Majors & Wes Studi

The movie becomes, in a sense, a ‘road picture’, with Blocker and Yellow Hawk gradually coming to grips with their intersecting pasts and their terrible memories. There are chance encounters along the way. En route they meet up with Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike, Oscar-nominated for GONE GIRL), a settler whose husband and three daughters have been piteously butchered by Comanches. Her mind shattered by her pain, she is brought along, and begins healing along the way. Soldiers and Cheyenne must do battle with Comanches, enemies of both. They’re also asked to transport a soldier to a court for trial and presumably a hanging – Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster) hacked a family to pieces with an axe. Wills has a history with Blocker – they soldiered together – and Wills is eager to convince Blocker that his crimes are no worse than Blocker committed, and that they’re a pair of angels next to Yellow Hawk. Interestingly, Foster, who all but walked away with last year’s HELL OR HIGH WATER, as the bank-robbing brother with no off-switch, has a history with Bale, as he played Crow’s obsessively-loyal right-hand in 3:10 TO YUMA. Come to think of it, he all but walked off with that movie as well.

Rosamund Pike

HOSTILES, written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart, an Oscar-winner for 1983’s MISSING, is a deeply felt story, peopled by soldiers, Indians and civilians who express their feelings with utmost caution.  Despite the familiar premise, the flow of the story, and the people who populate it, are happily unfamiliar. The cavalry soldiers assisting Blocker include a young Frenchman (Timothee Chalamet – currently starring in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME), a sergeant recently treated for melancholy (Rory Cochrane), and a loyal black corporal (Jonathan Majors) ironically in charge of chaining the Indians. It’s full of both quiet passages, and jarring, unflinching violence – in some ways it’s the SAVING PRIVATE RYAN of Westerns.  

Christian Bale & Adam Beach

Scott Cooper made CRAZY HEART with Jeff Bridges, but his Western credentials go back further, to his acting career, in GODS AND GENERALS, with Stephen Lang, and the excellent miniseries BROKEN TRAIL. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who also shot Cooper’s BLACK MASS, makes full, beautiful use of the New Mexico and Arizona locations, and at times effectively thrusts the viewer deeper into the action than we want to go. There is also frequently a classical look to the images – his doorway compositions are not merely an homage to John Ford, but a jumping-off point.
My one disappointment is that the excellent Adam Beach, who plays Yellow Hawk’s son, has virtually nothing to do. But with a performance by Bale that runs from barely contained fury to understated grace, and a story that is frequently grim, but never without hope, HOSTILES is one of the finest Westerns in several years. From Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, it opens in theatres on January 19th.

TOMBSTONE – RASHOMON – Alex Cox at the O.K. Corral!

There is probably no more polarizing incident in the Old West than the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral or, as those involved demurely referred to it, ‘the difficulties.’ 132 years after the Earp and Cowboy factions faced each other, all that can be agreed upon is that 30 seconds after it started, Billy Clanton, and Frank and Tom McLaury were dead.  There is no consensus as to whether or not it was avoidable, and who was at fault.    

“I was a kid at grammar school in England, and in the school library was a copy of Stuart N. Lake’s book, WYATT EARP -- FRONTIER MARSHALL,” remembers wildly-independent filmmaker Alex Cox – whose previous Westerns include 1986’s punk neo-Spaghetti STRAIGHT TO HELL and ‘87’s classical WALKER. “I read that, and of course it’s a total hierography of Earp. But it was well-written, entertaining, and it got me interested in the subject.” His favorite of the films on the subject is John Ford’s 1946 MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. “It’s so beautiful. It doesn’t have a lot to do with the events; it’s a made-up story, for the purpose of entertaining and myth-making.” He also liked 1971’s DOC, “the anti-Earp version. And I kinda like TOMBSTONE – it’s a bit long, but it tells a bigger version of the story, so you know who Johnny Behan is, and Curly Bill Brocious, and all these guys who don’t normally make it into the story.”

Christine Doidge as Kate, Eric Schumacher as Doc 

To tell his own version, Cox took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON, 1951’s Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner. The story of a crime is told repeatedly from several different perspectives, and it’s up to the viewer to decide what to believe. RASHOMON, whose title refers to the gate of a walled city, was remade as a Western, THE OUTRAGE, in 1964, starring Paul Newman in the Toshiro Mifune role.

The premise is explained in the film’s opening title: “On 27 October, 1881, a time-travelling video crew arrived in Tombstone, Arizona, to film the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Realizing they were a day late, they started interviewing the survivors.”

Adam Newberry as Wyatt

Cox’s research is as journalistic as his premise is whimsical. The various tellings come directly from Judge Spicer’s hearings, and the coroner’s report. Those who testify include Wyatt Earp, Ike Clanton, Johnny Behan, and saloon-owner Roderick Hafford. Cox also uses newspaper interviews with Doc Holliday, and a letter ‘Big Nose Kate’ Haroney wrote to her niece. Talking-head interviews lead to filmed versions of each participant’s memories, which overlap, and oppose each other. Among events leading up to the shootout, Wyatt offered Ike Clanton a reward for turning in three men for stage-robbery and murder. But their versions of the proposed deal, and involvement of Doc Holiday, differ radically.  And when it comes to the walk-down, and Sheriff Johnny Behan’s words, do we believe Wyatt’s version, that Behan said he’d disarmed the Cowboys, or Behan’s version, that he said he was there to disarm them?

The casting-for-resemblance is striking: Adam Newberry as sulky Wyatt, Eric Schumacher as manic Doc, and Benny Lee Kennedy as Ike seem to have emerged from the pages of The Tombstone Epitaph. Kennedy’s Ike is unexpectedly sympathetic, but Christine Doidge, as Kate, walks off with the movie as a character who is by turns hilarious, tragic, savvy and innocent. Doidge recalls, “Alex had given (Kate) a real space to be herself. Which is great, because he could have easily written this film without her, or with her in one scene; I think having Kate’s perspective is important.”

Hafford's - Richard Anderson as Hafford, 
Benny Lee Kennedy as Ike

It wasn’t a film easily put together. After a “disastrous” crowd-funding campaign, Cox spent a month preparing at Old Tucson, accomplishing the impossible. “We shot a five-week movie in a week.” Having recently taught a learn-by-doing film-production class at University of Colorado Boulder, making the feature BILL THE GALACTIC HERO, he hired several ex-students as crew. 

The real Hafford's Saloon

Cinematographer Alana Murphy remembers, “I was an assistant camera for HERO.  I suppose I made an impression. When I graduated in 2015, Alex said, hey, I’ve got a project I might want your help with - very mysterious.” A year later she was cinematographer on her first feature. She loved working with Cox. “He starts with a lot of inspiration; he gave me a lot of homework, a lot of films to watch, that inspired. That’s how I got to know him, through the source material.”  The biggest challenge?  “The heat. We were having technical issues with batteries not lasting very long. And we were working on a bigger scale then I’m used to.”

Production Designer Melissa Erdman marveled at Cox’s ability to pull it off. “Alex really had great planning skills in the way that the film was structured. So we had an ‘A’ unit and a ‘B’ unit operating pretty much the entire shoot: the B unit was doing the interviews, and the A unit was shooting the various reenactments.” Recreating the interior of Roderick Haffords’ Corner Saloon, famous for hundreds of pictures of birds on its walls, required major planning.  “We had a pretty limited team – it was me, and my art director, who helped to construct the inside of Hafford’s. We had two days of load-in, and most of the stuff came pre-painted, and then putting the bar together, and then getting all the birds put up. I had three people cutting out birds for two days.”

Cox, like Kurosawa, has no intention of telling the viewer if any version of the shoot-out is the unvarnished truth, but he gives each speaker, without pre-judging, a chance to state his or her case. While some differences are flagrant, some are surprisingly subtle. Doidge remembers that after the shootout, as Kate remembers it, “When Doc comes back, grazed by a bullet, I’m there, and I’m horrified.  And in Doc’s version he’s just sitting on the bed by himself. I’m not there.”
TOMBSTONE – RASHOMON will be available on video in 2018 – stay tuned for details!


For years The Autry has had their monthly ‘What is a Western?’ screening series – they’re showing STAGECOACH on January 20th -- and every second month they screen a Gene Autry double feature. They’re now adding a new film series, The Silent Treatment, featuring silent Westerns with a live piano accompaniment by Cliff Retallick, starting on January 27th with James Cruze’s epic, THE COVERED WAGON (1923). 

Also at the Autry, on Tuesday, January 16th, Rob Word’s Cowboy Lunch and Word on Western series, Rob will look at the role of women and children in Western films, and Rob always gets terrific guests.


I don’t mean to brag, but like Ralphie’s old man, I just won a Major Award. I won first place in the Western Writers of America’s ‘Tweet Us A Western’ contest, where you were challenged to write a complete Western story in 280 characters or less – the length of a tweet.  My winning entry was as follows:

“Eureka!” shouted the old sourdough, sluicing the last of Columbia River silt from his pan to reveal the glitter of color. He straightened.

'Thwack!' The Indian's arrow pierced his back between the shoulders. For a moment he knew his gold rush was over. Then he knew nothing.


...and my New Years resolution is to get the Round-Up out a lot more frequently in 2018. I've got a huge backlog of stories and interviews, and books and movies to review, and I'll get to them as soon as I can. In the meantime, please check out the February 2018 True West, where we asked readers to help us choose the Most Historically Accurate Westerns. And in my column, I take a look at continuing popularity of  The High Chaparral series. Have a wonderful 2018!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright January 2018 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 12, 2017



Status Media & Entertainment, the same folks who brought you 2016’s TRADED, where vengeful father Michael Pere was turning the Old West inside out to find his abducted daughter, have returned with a new Western, based on events in the early career of soon-to-be legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickok, entitled HICKOK, starring Luke Hemsworth in the title role.  Back in the saddle is director Timothy Woodward Jr., cinematographer Pablo Diaz, production designer Christian Ramirez, and costume designer Nikki Pelley. 

I was invited to visit the set on the second day of shooting, at Peter Sherayko’s Caravan West Ranch, and spoke to all of those fine folks – you’ll be reading that article very soon in the Round-up. But I was particularly excited to speak with the legendary actor, singer, songwriter and Rhodes Scholar, Kris Kristofferson, who would be playing the supporting role of Abilene Mayor George Knox. It was a busy day, and Kris was a busy man, but at around 7 p.m. I was invited to the make-up trailer to talk with Kris about both the current movie, and his career in Westerns.

HENRY: I was wondering what attracts you to Westerns? I know your first movie, THE LAST MOVIE, was more or less a Western, this one is, and you’ve done so many in between. What’s special about the genre to you?

KRIS: Well, I grew up in Brownsville Texas, down at the very bottom of Texas, and I had my first horse when I was five years old. And I had horses all the time until I was a teenager, and we moved to California. I’ve always felt comfortable riding a horse.

HENRY: Do you watch a lot of Western movies growing up?

KRIS: Yes, I did. We went to a Western movie every week.

HENRY: What particularly attracted you to this movie?

KRIS: Well, I liked the story, I like the script, and I like the guys that I’m working with, the director, Tim Woodward. And a Western is something we can have some kind of fun with.

Kris with his wife Lisa Meyers

HENRY: Of course, he directed you in TRADED, a very nice film, and you were very good in it.

KRIS: Thank you.

HENRY: You’ve worked with the very best directors – Peckinpah, Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorcese.  
What makes a great director?

KRIS: It’s someone who knows the script, and knows the potential of the story, whatever it is. And never forgets it during the filming; doesn’t get sidetracked.

HENRY: Which is your favorite, of your Westerns?

KRIS: Boy, I don’t know. I loved working with Sam Peckipah, and we did a couple of things together. But there’s another, HEAVEN’S GATE.  I think it was a really beautiful film that got clobbered.

HENRY: Why do you think it got beat up on when it first came out?

KRIS: I think it had to do with our director. It just seemed like that was not an uncommon thing, to get in a film, and all the rivals running it down in the papers and everywhere. And it was so long a production that there was plenty of time to get down on Michael Cimino.

HENRY: You’ve been joined both in music and onscreen with The Highwaymen.

KRIS: They were my heroes. And the notion that they would one day be my friends and working partners – I look back on it as probably the best ten years of my life. Willie (Nelson) and Waylon (Jennings) and John (Johnny Cash).

HENRY: Are you still close with Willie Nelson?

KRIS: (laughs) Oh yes! He’s a hero, and just a plain funny person. He’s probably the best musician I know. He plays the guitar like Segovia. And just a funny man.

HENRY: You all worked together on that 1986 STAGCOACH remake. I heard that it was originally supposed to be a musical – is that correct?

KRIS: I couldn’t tell you; I remember that it had a lot of trouble getting started, and we ended up in the stagecoach for most of it. I look back on those years with The Highwaymen as a real blessed time in my life. With my heroes; and we were really good together.

HENRY: You were wonderful together; I loved the music you produced, and I enjoyed the movies.

KRIS: Yeah, I did too. And everybody, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, were perfect all the time. I’m not saying they weren’t all crazy too. We had a wonderful ten years.


1st Prize - Buffalo Mask with intricate beeding

I’m just back from The Autry’s annual American Indian Arts Marketplace where over 200 artists from over forty tribal affiliations are showing and selling their art at the from 10 a.m. ‘til 5 p.m. Sunday, November 12th.  The work is in every medium imaginable – paintings, sculpture, jewelry – wonderful silver work, pottery, beadwork, basketry, photography, paintings, textiles, wooden carvings, from very traditional to very modern. 

There are also family activities, various demonstrations, informative talks – if you are interested in American Indian culture you don’t want to miss this event.  I’ll have a full article in the next Round-up. Be prepared to walk a distance – the Marketplace, and the L.A. Zoo next door, attracted huge crowds today. And bring your appetite – the Indian Fry Bread is excellent as always. 


If you are in the Austin, Texas area, and 18 or over, you might get a gig as an extra in season two of AMC’s terrific Western series, THE SON. It’s the story of Eli McCullough, founder of a Texas cattle and oil empire, seen in two different times in his life: as a young captive of the Comanches, played by Jacob Lofland, and as a grown man and head of the family, played by Pierce Brosnan. They are looking for all ethnic groups.  Here’s a link to the BACKSTAGE casting notice:
Good luck, and please let us know if you get a part!


Just in case you didn’t think you had enough to be thankful for, Bruce Dern, the wonderful actor who made a million enemies (and as many friends) when he killed John Wayne in THE COWBOYS, will be hosting sixteen Westerns on HDNET-Movies during Thanksgiving week, his introductions filmed at the Autry Museum.  It’s a really delightful jambalaya of films – CHATO’S LAND with Charles Bronson, DUEL AT DIABLO with Sidney Poitier and James Garner, all three MAGNIFICENT 7 sequels, two Peckinpahs, DEATH RIDES A HORSE with Lee Van Cleef, HOUR OF THER GUN, COMES A HORSEMAN, THE KENTUCKIAN…  My only disappointment is that they’re only showing one of Bruce’s own, POSSE, with Kirk Douglas.  

They start on Monday, Nov. 20th, and run through Sunday, the 26th.  For the full schedule, go HERE.  And you can read my TRUE WEST article on the making of THE COWBOYS, featuring my interview with Bruce Dern, HERE.


In the 1880s, in the town of La Belle, New Mexico, a mining disaster abruptly wipes out the male population. And when word gets out that the town’s women are fending for themselves, it doesn’t take long for bad men to take notice. This six episode series from writer/director Scott Frank and exec producer Steve Sodergergh, stars Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary Crawley from DOWNTON ABBEY; Jeff Daniels; Sam Waterston; and Kim Coates from SONS OF ANARCHY. Check out the trailer!


Morgan Creek is considering rebooting the YOUNG GUNS franchise as a series and a feature. The original films, 1988’s YOUNG GUNS and 1990’s YOUNG GUNS II rejuvenated interest in the Western movie by focusing on the young Regulators of the Lincoln County War, and made stars of Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid, Kiefer Sutherland as Doc Scurlock, as well as Charlie Sheen, Loud Diamond Phillips, and Dermot Mulroney.  Although not much is known about Morgan Creek’s plans, Deadline: Hollywood says talks are underway with a streaming service.  Remarkably, a list of 48 episode titles have been released!


On Tuesday, November 21st, at the Wells Fargo Theatre at the Autry Museum, producer, writer, historian and Western crazy Rob Word will host another of his A Word on Westerns events, this time celebrating arguably the greatest of Western TV series, GUNSMOKE!   Among his guest will be actors Bruce Boxleitner, Charles Dierkop, Jacqueline Scott, Tom Reese, Jan Shepard, director Jerry James, and the man who guested more often on GUNSMOKE than any other, Morgan Woodward. 19 episodes, 17 characters, and Matt Dillon killed almost every one of them! 

Admission is free with Museum admission, doors open at 10:30, the program starts at eleven, and the chatter continues afterwards across the courtyard at the Autry’s Crossroads West CafĂ©.


The 2nd annual Tumbleweed Township Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, November 18th and 19th, at 3855 Alamo Street in Simi Valley, California. This is a Wild West living history re-creation run by folks who also run renaissance fairs. You are encouraged, though not required, to come in costume (not that superhero junk, Western costume!) and among the real-life characters you may find yourself interacting with are Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harriet Tubman, Joaquin Murrieta, Annie Oakley, Cole Younger, Calamity Jane, and Nat Love. For more information, visit the official website HERE.  Tickets are $15 a day at the gate, and a buck less online.


When I was growing up, in Brooklyn as it happens, every girl I knew was reading Laura Ingalls’ Little House on the Prairie books.  I was not – I was a boy after all (still am), and those cute Garth Williams illustrations with girls in bonnets holding dolls was too girly for me. I didn’t read one until I was thirty, and then I devoured them – it’s the best series of books about pioneer life that I’ve ever read.  I’ve also grown to appreciate Garth Williams’ illustrations.

At the Old Stone House & Washington Park, location of one of the greatest battles of the American Revolution, at 3rd Street between 4th & 5th Avenues in Park Slope, Brooklyn, author Marta McDowell explores Wilder's deep connection with the natural world, following the wagon trail of the beloved Little House series. She'll discuss Wilder's life and inspirations, pinpoint the Ingalls and Wilder homestead claims on authentic archival maps, and talk about the growing cycle of plants and vegetables featured in the series. You can learn more, and buy $20 tickets, HERE.  


The new True West is out with my article on the Kinder, Gentler Side of Sam Peckinpah – I spoke  with Mariette Hartley, L.Q. Jones, Max Evans, James Drury, about making RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE.

I spent much of this past week at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, where hundreds of independent producers and distributors and filmmakers from all over the world meet to do business, and I was thrilled to track down about a dozen new Westerns and Western projects that I’ll be writing about soon here, and in True West. Most are American, but not all – one rolled camera this week in Luxembourg! 

P.S. - At the American Indian Arts Marketplace I ran into actor Zahn McClarnon, who was terrific in THE SON, playing Toshaway, mentor to the captive young Eli McCullough (Jacob Lofland). When I told him I thought it was his best role to date, he grinned. "Wait until you see the new season of WESTWORLD." Something more to look forward to!

Happy Veterans Day!

All Original Material Copyright November 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 8, 2017



John Legend, who has been relatively quiet on the subject since UNDERGROUND was cancelled this May after its second season, has come out swinging. Legend exec-produced the series about runaway slaves and abolitionists, and by all reports it was a hit, the biggest ratings success WGN America has had with original programming.  But WGN America is owned by Tribune Media, which was acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group. They’re geared to less expensive reality programming, and the UNDERGROUND per-episode price tag is $4.5 million.  Legend also claims that Sinclair has a policy of acquiring TV stations and shifting their news policies to the far right.

The series, while it was aired by WGN America, is produced by SONY, and has been shopped to a number of other possible venues, including BET and OWN, without success. In attempt to stir up interest, Legend has taken to social media, saying the following:

John Legend as Frederick Douglas 

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, America has had a conversation about history and memory, monuments and flags, slavery and freedom. We’ve had a debate about the Civil War and how we remember the Confederate leaders who provoked the War in order to perpetuate the evil institution of slavery. How do we tell the stories of this era? Who is celebrated? Who is ignored? Do we give hallowed public space to those who fought to tear the country apart so that millions would remain in shackles? Or do we celebrate those who risked their life in the pursuit of freedom and equality.

As storytellers, producers and creators of content for film and television, we have the power to take control of the narrative. As an executive producer of the critically-acclaimed television series Underground, we’ve been proud to celebrate those like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who were true American heroes whose legacy we can be proud of. Their words and their actions helped make it possible for my ancestors to be free. I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to make sure they are not forgotten. Along with the stories of historical luminaries, our series features fictionalized characters and plot lines directly inspired by the courageous real narratives of the first integrated civil rights movement in the United States, the movement to abolish slavery.

In its first two seasons, Underground was undeniably a hit series, setting ratings records for WGN America, receiving rave reviews and sparking conversation in the media. It was screened at the White House and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was acknowledged by the NAACP, NABJ, and many other highly respected institutions, and generated widespread engagement on social media as a trending topic during every new episode… yet here we are, still fighting for a future for the series.

How did we get here? WGN America was bought by media conglomerate Sinclair Communications. Sinclair has pursued a strategy of buying up local networks and moving their news coverage to fit their far-right agenda. In addition, they’ve bought Tribune Media, the parent company of WGN America and immediately turned away from high-quality original dramas such as Underground and Outsiders in favor of cheaper unscripted entertainment.

We know there is still an appetite for high-quality scripted dramas on network and cable tv and streaming services. We also know that, in this particular moment in history, there is an urgent need to tell the powerful story of the Underground Railroad. Even today – in the 21st century – we rely on a sort of underground network of individuals and organizations willing to put themselves at risk to help those who are not yet seen as equals in the eyes of the United States government. When our elected officials tell undocumented individuals who boost our economy, who strengthen our workforce, and who see the U.S. as the only home they have ever known, that they are at risk of deportation, those individuals are forced to live in the shadows. They may be sent to a land they can’t remember, that they fled in fear, or in some instances where they have never even set foot. Who will tell their stories when they are made to feel unsafe when they go to work, drop their kids off at school, seek medical help, or report a crime? Putting a spotlight on these types of stories creates an opportunity for recognition, understanding, discussion and learning, bringing a humanity and context that allows people to experience our past and present in a way that is not possible in other media.

For all of these reasons and more, the cast, producers and our studio Sony Pictures remain committed to a future for Underground because of a belief that this story is important and invaluable… and it remains our hope that not only is there a future for this show, but for many others like it.
Let’s #SaveUnderground so that we can continue to inspire and educate the American people about these true American heroes.


Casa Verdugo in 1910

No, this is not some clever plot by the Alcalde to force ‘the fox’ into the open. The home in Glendale, California where Zorro creator Johnston McCulley lived in the late 1930s and ‘40s, just closed escrow this week for $1.85 million. Built in 1907 in the Mission Revival style, the house on North Louise Street was recently designated historic by the City of Glendale, and Realtor Shannon Cistulli tells me there has been a proposal to declare the neighborhood an historic district, and name it after the home, which has long been known as Casa Verdugo.

Postcard of Casa Verdugo's Indian Room

The home was famous long before McCulley moved in, and was in fact named after a neighboring house. Legendary land speculators Huntington and Brand wanted to attract tract buyers to Glendale. They acquired a historic adobe mansion called Casa Verdugo, named after the original land-grant owners, and made it the end-of-the-line of their Redcar system. This was the time of an international literary obsession with Helen Hunt Jackson’s RAMONA, and visitors to Southern California were desperate for a taste of the early Spanish culture. A fine Mexican chef and restaurateur, Piedad Yorba de Sowl, was induced to give up her Los Angeles restaurant and turn Casa Verdugo into an elegant and very high-end eatery. It flourished.

Casa Verdugo today

Piedad and her husband acquired a neighboring tract of land and built their own home there. The restaurant was such a success that Brand and Huntington got greedy (I know, it’s hard to believe), refused to renew Sowl’s lease, and decided to run the restaurant themselves. Piedad turned her neighboring home into a restaurant and it became the new Casa Verdugo – she was foresighted enough to have registered the name, and successfully sued Brand and Huntington when they tried to reopen the adobe restaurant under that same name. In the first year of operation as a restaurant at the new location, it was a filming location for THE MANICURE LADY (1911), a one-reel comedy produced by D. W. Griffith’s BIOGRAPH company, directed by and starring Mack Sennett, with Vivian Prescott and Eddie Dillon.  (I haven’t seen it, but it’s been shown on TCM.)

Visiting the ZORRO TV set. L to R Guy Williams,
Johnston McCulley, Henry Calvin, ?

When Piedad relocated the restaurant yet again – it would have six different addresses over the years – the place became a home again, and eventually Johnston McCulley’s home. Best known as a novelist, McCulley’s works, especially related to Zorro, would be frequently filmed, first notably in 1920, with Douglas Fairbanks in THE MARK OF ZORRO, and in many versions, here and abroad thereafter. His only credited screenplay was for the 1941 Hopalong Cassidy film DOOMED CARAVANS, but his stories for the movies included 1937’s ROOTIN’ TOOTIN’ RYTHYM for Gene Autry, as well as films for Bob Steele and Johnny Mack Brown. His story for the Duncan Renaldo Cisco Kid film SOUTH OF THE RIO GRANDE (1945) led to a writing collaboration with Renaldo, DON RICARDO RETURNS (1946); McCulley wrote the story and, using a pseudonym, Renaldo both co-wrote the screenpay and co-produced. Interestingly, DON RICARDO was shot in part at the historic Leonis Adobe, which still stands and is open to the public.


Actor and stuntman Ben Bates, stunt double for James Arness in GUNSMOKE, has died. A former rodeo cowboy and one-time Marlboro man, Bates became best known within the industry when in 1972 he took over stunt-doubling duties for Arness, a job he would continue on Arness’ later series and movies, including HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE ALAMO: 13 DAYS TO GLORY, RED RIVER and MCCLAIN’S LAW. He also played Ranger Post in 1982’s LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, and Arcane Monster in THE SWAMP THING.  His viewing will from 10 a.m. until noon,  at the Miller Jones Mortuary, 26770 Murrieta Road, Sun City, CA 92586, 951 672-0777, followed by services at the church directly across the street at 1 p.m.  A second service will be held in Texas this Friday, but we don’t have details yet.  Close friend Julie Ann Ream adds, “Anyone wishing to contribute, no matter how small, to a 'Cowboy Wreath' which will be at the service in Texas, please contact me here or via e mail @ Your name will also be added to the card that will be going to his family. Val loved the idea that it will rest with Ben at his final resting place.”


The only digest-sized magazine people are familiar with today is Readers Digest – all the others have expanded, like TV Guide, or disappeared. But from 1936 until the mid-1970s, Coronet Magazine offered general interest stories in a pocket-sized magazine. In the ‘70s, publicist, screenwriter, playwright, and film director Michael B. Druxman wrote a monthly column for Coronet called Yesterday At The Movies, interviewing stars from the golden age of Hollywood.

Druxman has gathered the best of these interviews for HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS, and they mostly are people who rarely spoke on the record. Druxman is a skilled and knowledgeable journalist, and all of the interviews reveal thoughtful insights into the subjects’ lives, and often character.  Among the stars discussing their careers are Jack Oakie, Claire Trevor, Paul Henried, Ann Miller, John Carradine, Howard Keel, Gale Sondergaard, several of the Our Gang kids, even the notoriously reticent Mary Pickford.  Also included are interviews that never saw the light of day, including one with David Jansen that never ran, and a talk with Yvonne DeCarlo for The Enquirer, which they killed because she didn’t talk enough about her diet.

Best of all, without the inflexible word count required by the magazine, Druxman provides each with an introduction, providing a context to when and how and where the interview took place – he talked with Gale Sondergaard at The Brown Derby!  Often there are moments that would have been unkind to include at the time, such as the actor’s wife who asked Druxman not to reveal how much her husband drank during their chat. And after each piece he includes quotes that there just wasn’t room for – often among the best stuff!

Druxman has written several non-fiction books about filmmaking, as well as one-man shows based on great stars, including Clara Bow, Orson Welles, Clark Gable, Al Jolson and Errol Flynn.  Culled from the research for these projects, the second half of the book includes an array of quotes from actors, producers, writers, and editors he interviewed. Among the directors alone are Herb Ross, Edward Dmytryk, George Sidney, Gordon Douglas, Raoul Walsh, and Howard Hawks. HOLLYWOOD SNAPSHOTS is published by BearManor Media, for $19.95 in paper and $29.95 in hardback.


Happy Trails,
All Original Contents Copyright October 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved