Friday, November 23, 2012

Arizona's Little Hollywood Museum Needs Your Help!

Please support Sedona's efforts to build a world-class film history museum. Check out the new Arizona's Little Hollywood Foundation fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo: http://www.indiegogo.com/arizonaslittlehollywoodmuseum?a=380398

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Lightning" Deal

Smoke Lightning had a two day run at Fredonia, New York’s Winter Garden Theatre in May 1933, but the headline attraction wasn’t all-American George O’Brien. Topping the bill that week was Mussolini Speaks!, A six-reel documentary produced by Columbia Pictures and promoted with ad art showing a crowd of Blackshirts giving “today’s man of the hour” the fascist salute. Cult director Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour) reportedly worked on it as a director.


When Hollywood cowboy George O’Brien left Flagstaff for Los Angeles in October 1932, having completed three weeks of filming in and around Sedona for Robbers’ Roost, he had good reason to expect he’d be back. Before Roost’s cast and crew departed, Fox Film representatives told The Coconino Sun that David Howard (who’d directed O’Brien’s Mystery Ranch in Sedona six months earlier) was coming back soon to film the Zane Grey story Canyon Walls. Beyond that, Fox intended to shoot one or two unspecified Zane Grey stories in the area immediately afterward. Local rancher Lee Doyle was already engaged to help select locales and, as usual, handle transportation and supplies. O’Brien, whom Fox was now declaring the “most popular Western actor in pictures” had every reason to expect he’d be back on the train soon to star in one or all of these pictures.

But it didn’t turn out that way. While O’Brien did star in Canyon Walls, it wasn’t in Sedona. When the project was released on February 17, 1933, it was retitled Smoke Lightning, bore little resemblance to Grey’s story and was filmed entirely in California. Fox cameras would return to Red Rock Country, but not until almost a year later, in August 1933. And then it was not for an O’Brien/Grey western, but for Smoky, based on a best seller by cowboy author/illustrator Will James and starring Victor Jory. Given that Fox would chalk up a devastating $19.96 million loss in 1932, and surely had an inkling of that by the time the Roost company left town, it’s not such a leap to imagine that filming a low-return Western in Arizona had become a luxury Fox decided it could no longer afford; the three post-Roost Grey adaptations starring O’Brien (Smoke Lightning, Life in the Raw, and The Last Trail), were filmed entirely in California, a sign of the changes to come that would contribute to O’Brien and Fox parting ways.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Arizona's Little Hollywood Museum Update No. 1

Planning for Arizona’s Little Hollywood Museum has been moving full speed ahead, with committees of local volunteers meeting to begin brainstorming exactly what patrons will experience during a visit. The one thing everyone agrees is that ALHM must educate and entertain through a state-of-the art interactive experience unlike anything ever seen before in northern Arizona. “The goal is to create a constantly evolving museum that will be just as relevant 50 years from now as it is today – one that other cultural institutions will look to for ideas,” says Joe McNeill, the museum’s creative director. To stimulate outside-the-box thinking, committee members recently visited other high-tech cultural institutions – like The Atomic Testing Museum and The Mob Museum in Las Vegas (where visitors get to fire the Tommy gun simulator pictured above), and the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Check out www.ALHMuseum.org for updates and to make a tax deductible donation.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Twin Beauts

Bet this photo grabbed your attention! The babe is Irish McCalla, 5' 9 1/2" pin-up glamazon and future star of TV's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, seen here lounging in front of the slightly more statuesque but not nearly as sexy Merrick Butte in Monument Valley. This shot was probably snapped by prolific girlie magazine photographer David Sutton in September 1950 during the filming of River Goddesses, an indie travelogue that documented the adventures of five curvalicious pin-up models taking a sightseeing trip down the Colorado River in wooden rowboats. Footage from this obscure feature film hasn't been seen in decades, but based on the evidence of this picture, the goddesses also made a detour into bone dry Navajoland to pay a visit to John Ford's neighborhood in Arizona's Little Hollywood.

River Goddesses has one heck of an oddball pedigree. Its believed to have been produced by a Hollywood company called Capital Enterprises, which may or may not be the same outfit that later distributed Crusader Rabbit, the first made-for-TV cartoon series. It was directed by former German Communist Party member Carl Junghans, one of the leading documentary filmmakers of the Weimar period, who jumped sides in the '30s to work as a writer/director/editor for Nazi Germany's Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. His documentary short Jugend der Welt (Youth of the World) received the Coppa dell’Istituto Nazionale Luce award at the 1936 Venice International Film Festival, the same year that the partly photographed-in-Sedona Nazi Western Der Kaiser von Kalifornien won the Mussolini Cup as best foreign film. After falling into disfavor with Hitler, Junghans hot-footed it to the United States, where he worked as a gardener and landscape photographer. In 1946, he made a comeback as a filmmaker to write, produce and direct a pair of short documentaries about Monument Valley: Memories of Monument Valley and Monuments of the Past, the latter movie narrated with typically stiff upper lip aplomb by British actor Herbert Marshall. Junghans (disparagingly monikered “the Colonel” by Goddesses’ crew) was reported to have been a somewhat less-than-charming Teutonic misogynist; forty-three years after working with him, McCalla recalled to author Richard E. Westwood that he "openly said women should be kept in concentration camps for breeding purposes only: that's all we were good for."

Four boats carrying the Goddesses gang shoved off from Hite, UT, at the northeast end of Lake Powell, and went ashore for numerous photo ops along the Colorado before landing at Lee's Ferry, Ariz., 7.5 miles southwest of the town of Page, Ariz., and the Glen Canyon Dam. Joining McCalla in the on-screen escapades were shipshape mates Becky Barnes, Lee Moi Chu, Irene Hettinga and Martha Moody; with the exception of Chu, who later did walk-ons in a pair of clinkers released by major studios (Universal-International's Forbidden and United Artists’ Dragon's Gold), the other models booked return passage into obscurity at the end of the nearly monthlong cruise.

The see-worthy sirens were chaperoned during the excursion by pioneering female river-running guide Georgie White Clark, who told Northern Arizona University researcher Karen Underhill in 1991 that the travelogue wasn't really about the scenery, but "was more to show the girls... they just showed the beauty of the girls more than anything. I mean, the thing was [they] really wanted to show more of that as they hiked around, which they did, up to Rainbow Bridge and all––[it was] more to show their beauty while they were doing it."

In her 1977 autobiography, Georgie Clark: Thirty Years of River Running, she recalled a Goddesses “action sequence” that featured Irish McCalla: “Next, they had Iris [sic] walk along the top of the cliff. Actually, it was just a little spot outside of camp. Next she fell and grabbed the top of the cliff. Next scene, the camera zoomed in to show her hanging hundreds of feet above the river. I almost died laughing over that one. They actually made that girl hang from the top of that little rock with her feet barely a foot above the ground. All she had to do was let go and drop easily to safety.” The march of time hadn’t dimmed Clark’s memory of Herr Junghans, either. “The first thing the director did after they unloaded [his boat], was to pop down in his chair on the beach and order martinis. I remember watching him drink that martini and thinking, ‘Boy, this is going to be some trip.’”

The idea for the cinematic nautical tour was apparently dreamed up by cameraman Sutton, who photographed the movie and at the same time snapped cheesecake stills of the frolicking short-shorts and bikini-clad bombshells to peddle to various “gags and gals” rags, like Brief, Peril, and Laff. The slightly classier Night and Day (modestly taglined "America's Picture Magazine of Entertainment") published shots from the trip for years; photos even showed up in the big circulation and appropriately named Look magazine, which ran a five page pictorial titled "Six Girls Against the Colorado" in its May 8, 1951 issue. Unfortunately, these titillating images are all that remain of River Goddesses. Every frame of it has vanished and there are no posters, newspaper ads or other types of publicity materials to be found anywhere. This lack of a paper trail could be telltale proof that the film never made it into theaters, although Georgie Clark claimed that she saw it once, so its a good bet that the movie was actually completed before it sank into oblivion.

Prior to making her invisible big screen debut in River Godeseses, Irish McCalla was one of the triumvirate of post-war American pinup superstars, along with sister va-va-voom icons Betty Brosmer and Bettie Page. Her filmography consists of just six post-Sheena features, mostly low-budget drive-in schlock like The Beat Generation, Hands of a Stranger, and She Demons, the cheesy 1958 grindhouse classic in which she portrayed a haughty society girl who washes up on an uncharted tropical island inhabited by a love-frenzied mad scientist, renegade Nazi storm troopers, sloppily made up zombie women and a bevy of over-rehearsed hoochie coochie dancers.

McCalla moved to Prescott, Ariz., in 1982 to devote her time to painting, her first love. She was the subject of numerous gallery exhibitions in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a longtime member of Women Artists of the American West; her paintings are even in the permanent collection of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. But it is her brief reign as pulp pinup queen that has made Irish McCalla immortal; the river goddess was named one of “The Top 100 Sex Stars of the Century” by Playboy magazine in January 1999.––Joe McNeill

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stock Answers

Richard Dix and Lois Wilson in 1925's The Vanishing American...
Between 1923 and 1928, Paramount Pictures released almost a dozen films based on Zane Grey stories that were photographed on Arizona locations, including To the Last Man, The Call of the Canyon (1923), The Heritage of the Desert (1924), The Light of Western Stars, Code of the West, Wild Horse Mesa, The Vanishing American, (1925), The Last Frontier (1926), Drums of the Desert (1927), Under the Tonto Rim, Avalanche, The Water Hole and Sunset Pass (1928). But when talkies took the movie business by storm the studio decided to cut costs by shooting its Zane Grey westerns close to home in California.

However, Paramount continued to churn out low budget movies in the 1930s based (sometimes barely) on novels written by Grey, and by cleverly stitching in footage lifted from the silents, these also appear to have sequences photographed in Arizona. Some of the film shot on location in Payson for the lost silent version of To the Last Man has survived because cash-stricken Paramount saved a few dollars during the Great Depression by recycling scenes from it for the 1933 sound remake with Randolph Scott. A few glimpses of the silent Heritage of  the Desert (filmed north of Flagstaff at Cameron) can still be seen because Paramount plundered it as economy footage for its 1939 remake.

... and Buster Crabbe wearing Dix's duds in 1936.
Even The Vanishing American, the only northern Arizona-lensed silent Grey adaption that still exists in good condition, was mined for stock. The 1936 remake of Desert Gold had star Buster Crabbe dressed identically to Vanishing’s Richard Dix, which made a reasonable enough illusion in longshot to fool unsuspecting matinee crowds into thinking that the California production had crossed the state line into Arizona.––Joe McNeill

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sedona's Citizen Welles, Part 3

Orson Welles and cinematographer Greg Toland at work on Citizen Kane.
Orson Welles lived in Sedona for nearly two years in the ’70s. His daughter, Beatrice Welles, offers a rare glimpse into his private life in the third and final part of our exclusive interview.

SEDONA MONTHLY: Your mom, Paola Mori, was an Italian countess who thought Sedona was beautiful, but what did she think of living in such a rural area?

BEATRICE WELLES: It was difficult for her – more difficult for her than me. I left London for her because she was going to be alone in Sedona. We knew nobody. She got to know people through me. I worked for [Sedona watchmaker] Geoffrey Roth for a while just to have something to do. But it was tough for her. There was nothing.

Did your mom consider coming back to Sedona? 

She wanted to, she loved it here, but she didn’t think about coming back. She needed to stay in Vegas.

She painted, right? 
She was very artistic.

Did she paint Sedona? 

Yes [gestures to room behind her] – they are in there. But there was always a dog in it or me – Sedona was the background. They are very sweet and charming paintings. I come from a very artistic family. And here I am…making handbags [laughs]. I am artistic. I realize that now, but it never dawned on me that I was artistic. It took forever to realize it was there.

Your father seemed to like working with family members. His second wife, Rita Hayworth, was in The Lady From Shaghai. Your half-sister, Christopher, was in Macbeth. Your mother was in Mr. Arkadin and you were in Chimes at Midnight. Did it make him feel more comfortable to be around familiar faces or was it a matter of economics? 

I think it was both. He did a lot of adaptations, and he thought of specific people while he was doing the adaptations. Economics was always a huge part because he put all of his money into his movies. Everyone thinks I must be rolling, but they don’t understand. He made all of these movies, put all of his money in, and then it ended up being owned by someone else.

Parts of The Other Side of the Wind, his last, unfinished, film were shot in Carefree [Arizona] just prior to the time he lived in Sedona. Was any filming done in Sedona or other parts of northern Arizona? 

No, only Carefree and Los Angeles.

Did he ever mention the possibility of shooting in Sedona?

No. He was home. The moment there was my mother and me, it all changed. Not when we were traveling, but when we settled in London. We didn’t think about making movies. [Editor's note: Welles filmed a conversation with lifelong friends Roger and Hortense Hill in Sedona in June, 1978, that he may have intended to use as a segment in a never-completed self-portrait to be titled Orson Welles Solo. Portions of this footage, renamed Orson Welles Talks With Roger Hill, have been restored and were screened at Switzerland's Locarno International Film Festival in 2005] 

You all three left Sedona at the same time?

Yes, and we left because of him. He needed us to be closer, but he really loved it here.

Did he ever express any regrets about leaving?

Yes, because he hated Las Vegas. We all did. He said he wished there was a way we could have stayed. Leaving was purely logistical.

Did he ever return to visit?

Never. My father didn’t vacation – it didn’t exist in his life. Vacation was coming home. At one point we talked about flying here, but the airport was much smaller. You couldn’t get a jet in. He didn’t want to be crammed into a tiny plane – he had a bad back. He said it was the same as driving. There was nothing to do. And I got tired of driving him back and forth. But he loved the drive [from Phoenix]. He loved Bloody Basin Road. He thought it was the most wonderful name. It’s so Southwest. Every time we passed it, he had to say something about [deep male voice] Bloody Basin Road [laughs].

Did you have any involvement in his film projects? 

No. I never worked on anything. I was always just with him.

You didn’t appear in any other films? 

No.

But you modeled.

I modeled. I did it out of necessity. I had been show jumping – I was short listed for the Olympic games – and then I busted my knee. My whole life stopped. I had four horses. Nobody bought me the horses. I went out and dealt and got the horse and worked on them and made them into jumpers. That was the fun part, more than the competing. They were all ex-racehorses. You could do that in England. Then my whole life stopped. I had been modeling now and again, so I decided to do it. I was so depressed – my life was the horses. So I did a lot of runway work, which was what I enjoyed the most. Unfortunately, I also wanted to make money. In those days, supermodels didn’t exist. I only worked for Vogue, and they paid a flat rate of 25 pounds a day. It didn’t matter how many hours you worked. I didn’t really like it. I wanted to do catalogue work because you would get paid, but you had to be shorter. The clothes were made for shorter people in the early- and mid-’70s. I was almost six feet – nothing fit me. But I did the Milan and Paris shows. It was fun. Angelica Houston was modeling at the time – she was a friend. There wasn’t the snobbism there is now. I think it’s unbearable now.

What did your father think of the modeling? 

He was fine with it.

Did he encourage you to be creative? 
No. He was the worst father in that sense. He was the most wonderful father in teaching me about the world. I knew things that no one else knew about because he had read about it. He was always interested in learning, and he would talk about what he learned. But he was never the father that guided you. I got no schooling and no guidance. I didn’t know what to do, so modeling seemed right.––Interview by Erika Ayn Finch and Joe McNeill