Monday, September 27, 2010

Maureen O’Hara Jumped Out of the 'Saddle'

When RKO Radio Pictures began promoting its upcoming films for the 1944 season, Maureen O’Hara was announced as John Wayne’s Tall In The Saddle co-star (this ad spread from the studio's exhibitor book confirms it). But by the time shooting began, O’Hara was out and Ella Raines was in as the female lead. Tall, shot partially on location in Sedona, would have been the first teaming of the soon-to-be legendary screen couple; they eventually made five films together, starting with Rio Grande in 1950 and ending with 1971’s Big Jake.––Joe McNeill

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Blood on the Moon launched Robert Wise onto the “A” list of Hollywood film directors in 1948. The Western noir starring Robert Mitchum gave the Sedona terrain a darkly sinister look, though some credit must go to Mother Nature, who sent in the ominous clouds that provided the familiar scenery a chill unique in its on-screen history.

Co-starring Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston, Phyllis Thaxter and Walter Brennan, Blood on the Moon will air on Turner Classic Movies September 28 at 4 a.m. Eastern Time.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy

Grace Bradley Boyd stepped off a train in Flagstaff on July 15, 1937, having just barely missed out on a rare treat  in those days – a Sedona honeymoon. Greeting her at the station was her husband of five weeks, actor William Boyd – better known to a legion of young fans as cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy – who had just spent six days filming scenes for his 14th Hoppy picture, Texas Trail, at Foxboro Ranches, which sat on a rim above Sedona’s Schnebly Hill.

Mrs. Boyd was sparkling and mischievous during a memorable 2005 phone interview about Texas Trail that turned into a three-hour chat covering, among other things, Brooklyn, kids, home invasions, and the benefits of a Tai Chi workout. She died at age 97 on September 21, 2010. Here’s a sampling of some of the many things Grace Bradley Boyd told me that afternoon.––Joe McNeill

"Bill had a career of marrying his leading ladies; I was number 5. He said to me, 'Why didn’t you grow up a little faster, it would have saved me an awful lot of trouble!' And I said, 'Well, I grew up as fast as I could!'

"I fell in love with him when I was 12 years old and saw him in The Volga Boatman. We only knew each other three weeks when we married. We met and he proposed on the third night. But we had to wait three weeks because he was that far away from getting a divorce. In those days, it was a year. It turned out we were married on his birthday, June 5th 1937; he was on a picture, Hopalong Rides Again. And when it came out in the papers that we were married, they headlined the story with the title of the picture, Hopalong Rides Again. Everybody said, 'Oh my God!' because they didn’t even know we knew each other.

"People said it wouldn’t last six months, but of course, it turned out to be just perfect. We were married 35 years and were only separated two nights, and both times he had very serious accidents. So he said, 'OK, that’s it. I’m not going to go for that third time!' So I stayed real close.

"Judith Allen [Texas Trail's leading lady] was at Paramount when I was, but I didn’t know her too well. When I first came out to California from New York in ‘33, they picked me up in Pasadena and took me right to the studio and ushered me into Cecil B. DeMille’s office; DeMille was casting for this picture he was going to do about a young girl coming into womanhood (This Day and Age, 1933). So he was insisting upon hiring a virgin. Well, I had come out with my teddy bear and my mother!

"He sat me down and looked at me and said, 'No. You don’t look like a virgin. I see you on a couch with a tiger skin and two Nubian slaves, one on each side, both with a big fan.' I said, 'Oh, sure!' I did not get that part, but DeMille did pick Judith to be the virgin. Then it came out, maybe a few weeks later, that she was married to the top professional wrestler at the time!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

‘Stay Away’ WAS a Play

Elvis Presley made his comeback in Las Vegas but he had a comedown in Sedona, where most of Stay Away, Joe, arguably the bottom of the barrel of his film career, was shot in 1967. The most unfortunate side effect of decades of critical trash talk is that the movie hides one of the most beautiful Sedona moments ever filmed: The main title sequence features Elvis singing “Stay Away” while you see a breathtaking aerial sweep over the open spaces and jagged peaks of the red rock landscape play out on the screen.

But Elvis’ flop Sedona film was a flop on the Great White Way first. When I reported that the novel Stay Away, Joe previously had been the basis of a Broad­way bomb entitled Whoop-Up, some people accused me of putting them on. As this theatrical footnote has rarely ever been acknowledged in accounts of the movie, I was challenged to provide proof; after much coast-to-coast rummaging, behold the Whoop-Up smoking gun: a Play­bill from Jan. 12, 1959.

Somewhat familiar names involved in the musical comedy included Ralph Young as Joe (the role later played by Elvis), who would go on to co-star in sexploitation auteur Doris Wishman’s Blaze Starr Goes Nudist in 1960 before gaining renown in Vegas and supper clubs as half of the duo Sand­ler and Young; and Norman Gim­bel, who would later compose the themes for TV’s Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.

Alas, despite the bounding enthusiasm of the “Native Ameri­can” chorus boys you see on the Playbill cover, the show closed after only 56 performances. If I hear about any 52nd anniversary celebrations in January 2011, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, there’s a full account of this long-forgotten Broadway dud in the Stay Away, Joe chapter of Arizona’s Little Hollywood.––Joe McNeill

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kevin McCarthy: A Flashback to 'Horseback'

Smug murderer Tom Bannerman (Kevin McCarthy, right) taunts crusading Judge Thorne (Joel McCrea) in Stranger on Horseback.

Actor Kevin McCarthy passed away on September 11, 2010 at age 96. His film career began with an Oscar nomination for his first major big-screen role in 1951’s Death of a Salesman, and by 1956 included the key performance in a defining – and enduring – sci-fi movie of the era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In between, in 1954, he visited Sedona to film Stranger on Horseback. Sedona Monthly spoke to him in July 2006 about the film and excerpts from that interview can be found in Arizona’s Little Hollywood. Here are a couple of things he told us that didn’t make it into the book.

KEVIN MCCARTHY I was so glad I did [Stranger on Horseback]. I got to know [lead actor Joel] McCrea, he was very gracious to me. I remember he called a producer at Fox about me [getting a part] in a film he knew about. He recommended me. [Co-star] John Carradine was something – a lot of stories he told. My agent then was Ingo Preminger, [film director] Otto's brother, and he was as nice as Otto was unnice [laughs]. Ingo, who passed away just recently, within the past month or so [Ingo Preminger died on June 7, 2006], he said, well, Mr. McCrea is recommending you for a part in a film at Fox, I was working for a Fox subsidiary at the time, and so I went and talked to the people at Fox. And they said [to Ingo], “No, no! McCarthy? No, we don't think he's right.”
So, Ingo says, “What do you mean he's not right? Joel McCrea thinks he’s terrific.”
“Yes, but he didn't get the girl.”
“What do you mean he didn't get the girl?”
“He didn't get the girl in Death of a Salesman.”
And Ingo says, “There isn't any girl in Death of a Salesman!”
“Just the same, he didn't get her.”
They’d decided I wasn't the romantic type. So I didn't get the job.

SEDONA MONTHLY: You mentioned that you weren’t familiar with Stranger on Horseback director Jacques Tourneur prior to working with him, but what did you think of him when you began working with him?

Well, I guess I didn't think much against him. And I didn't think, Gosh, this guy's brilliant. He was a worker there and we were all working together, and trying to make the most of it. I haven't seen the film in a long time. I didn't know at the time that he was a famous French director – I was pretty much a new guy, it was my second, maybe third picture, I did Drive a Crooked Road (1954) with Mickey Rooney, and Stranger on Horseback it seems to me was maybe the next one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Republic Pictures Celebrates 75 Years

Forget MGM – how many tapdancers have you noticed bucking and winging across the screens of your local multiplex lately? The Golden Age movie studio that has really had the biggest influence on modern-day Hollywood is Republic Pictures, the legendary B-picture factory once located in the Studio City district of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Republic specialized in pop escapism decades before the phrase “summer blockbuster” was invented, mass-producing a steady stream of serials, Westerns, action adventures, sci-fi flicks, mysteries, melodramas and yes, even musicals, between the mid-1930s and the late-1950s. In that dinosaur era before computers and green screens, Republic’s films boasted the best special effects in the business; and in 1941 the studio even made the first live-action movie based on a comic book superhero, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. But it wasn’t all explosions, masked heroes and cliffhangers. Republic had more sedate moments, too, releasing critical darlings like Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948) and John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952).

The “Thrill Factory” has faded into history, but on Sept. 25 movie fans will have the rare opportunity to walk where cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers rode when the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Studio City Neighborhood Council and Museum of the San Fernando Valley salute the 75th anniversary of Republic Pictures with a celebration on its former lot, now CBS Studio Center.

The Republic Pictures lot, circa the early 1950s.
The festivities will include appearances by Republic stars Adrian Booth, Anne Jeffreys, Hugh O'Brian, Jane Withers and Theodore Bikel; screenings of classic Republic films; stunt shows; fast-draw demonstrations; rope twirlers; trick horses; lectures; book signings; live musical performances and on-site cancellation of the United States Postal Service’s Cowboys of the Silver Screen commemorative postage stamps. Best of all, admission to the shindig is free. John Wayne, Republic’s biggest contract star, would have been mighty pleased.

The 40-acre Republic/CBS Studio Center lot has seen its fair share of Hollywood history. Opened in 1928 as Mack Sennett Studios, it was built by the King of Comedy as an assembly line to churn out two-reel slapstick shorts. Sennett went bankrupt five years later, and the property became an independent production facility for low-budget filmmakers. Mascot Pictures, which specialized in Saturday matinee serials like The Phantom Empire (1935), took over most of the space and the lot became known as Mascot Studios.

In 1935, Mascot merged with three other Poverty Row companies along with film-processing laboratory Consolidated Film Industries to form Republic Pictures. Over the next 25 years, 1,081 features, serials, animated cartoons, short subjects and training films were produced on studio grounds, some even starring A-listers like Errol Flynn, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum.

Sedona and Republic are historically joined at the hip. In 1946, the studio built a Western street set for John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman near Coffee Pot Rock that was left standing at the end of filming and became a major enticement for other companies to shoot their movies there. The Fabulous Texan, a Republic A-Western starring B-cowboy William Elliott, was partially photographed around the area in 1947 and was soon followed by a pair of experimental two-day location shoots Republic saw as a way to keep production values high and costs low for its mid-budget Western opuses, Hellfire and Singing Guns.

Without question, the greatest collaboration between Republic and Sedona was Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray’s over-the-top 1954 Truecolor Western starring adversaries Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. The film, a critical dud when originally released, is now considered a masterpiece and listed on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as an American cultural treasure.

Despite its later acclaim, by 1963 Republic was under siege. CBS leased the studio lot from the ailing company, which by then was reduced to surviving by renting its old film library to TV stations, and the lot was formally renamed CBS Studio Center. (The network bought the property in 1967.) Today, CBS Studio Center is one of the busiest sitcom production facilities in Los Angeles.

CBS Studio Center is one of the few lots in Hollywood that doesn’t offer tours, and it isn’t open to the public. So don’t miss this rare opportunity to celebrate the late, great Republic Pictures on its home turf. Who knows? You might have to hang on for 75 years to get another chance – and time is the only cliffhanger with no chance of an escape.

Director Nicholas Ray (kneeling) and Joan Crawford check out Johnny Guitar’s script during filming at Republic studio.

Republic Pictures’ 75th Anniversary Celebration will take place Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at CBS Studio Center, 4024 Radford Ave., in Studio City, Calif. Admission is free. For more info, call the Studio City Neighborhood Council at 818-655-5400, e-mail or visit

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rocky Road to Rome

Obsessiveness, madness, and an immoral female hellbent on destruction were the signature themes of film noir, and in 1945’s Leave Her To Heaven (“the first psychological drama to be shot in color”), Gene Tierney, the woman Darryl F. Zanuck once called the most beautiful in movie history, earned her only Best Actress Oscar nomination for portraying a sociopath with a deep-rooted Oedipal complex. After World War II, American films made during the conflict received belated distribution in Europe, and Leave Her To Heaven finally reached overseas screens in 1948. This Italian photo­busta boasts a stunning view from Sedona’s Schnebly Hill; the title literally translated means “Crazy Female.”

John M. Stahl’s Leave Her To Heaven, starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, and Jeanne Crain, will air on Turner Classic Movies September 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.