Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love on the Rocks?

The most enduring Sedona legend surrounding Angel and the Badman is that John Wayne and Gail Russell had a love affair during local filming in spring 1946, but no evidence has ever surfaced to prove this story. The world will never know what really happened, but consider that, at the time, Wayne was a newlywed, having married second wife Esperanza “Chata” Baur Diaz Ceballos on Jan. 17, 1946. And, he was said to be a micromanager involved in every detail of production. With the responsibilty to be the film’s producer, act in almost every scene, and keep an eye on novice director James Edward Grant, would Wayne have added the pressure of a clandestine tryst?.

The Wayne-Russell rumors became an issue in Wayne and Chata’s scandalous October 1953 divorce. During the trial, the Los Angeles Herald Express reported Russell threatening legal action against Chata because of several inflammatory accusations about her relationship with Wayne. Russell, who was married to actor Guy Madison, issued a statement saying that “It is upsetting to me that an appearance of impropriety has been placed by some upon the events of the day.” The report added that she’d instructed her attorney to “demand a full and complete retraction under penalty of suit for defamation of character.” Ultimately, the frail Russell checked into a Seattle sanitarium to begin intensive psychotherapy. Wayne’s divorce from Chata became final on Nov. 1, 1954; he married Pilar Pallette that same day.

“Why did Chata have to drag that poor kid’s name into this?” Wayne reportedly asked friends when the story broke. “I never had anything to do with Miss Russell except to make a couple of pictures with her.”

Chata testified in the trial that Wayne refused to allow her to attend Angel’s wrap party being held at a restaurant across the street from the nearby Republic Studios lot, but assured her he’d be home in time for dinner. When he hadn’t returned by 10 p.m., she called the restaurant and was told the party had ended four hours earlier. When a drunken Wayne finally arrived home at 1 a.m., the distrustful Chata, who was also drunk, almost shot him with a .45 handgun when he broke a window to gain entrance into the locked house.

Wayne explained away the incident by telling the court that “We [he and Russell] were following some friends who wanted to stop in a bar for a drink. We lost them in traffic and couldn’t find them again. We looked in several bars, then wound up at Carl’s Café on the beachfront.

“We had some food. I saw some old friends from Glendale who called me ‘Marion,’ as I was known in grammar school days [Wayne’s birth name was Marion Robert Morrison]. An artist did a charcoal drawing of Miss Russell, and I drove her home at about 11:30 p.m. Her mother was there and we talked. I took a cab home around 1 a.m.”

Chata also testified that a few days after this incident, she found out Wayne had bought Russell a car. “I wondered why unless there was some relation between them, some friendship or closeness,” she said.

In rebuttal, Wayne explained that Russell was under contract to Paramount, and while he paid the studio $30,000 for her services, she only received her regular $125 weekly salary to make the picture. So he and Grant chipped in $500 each to give her a bonus she could use as down payment on a new car. “I gave $2,500 in gifts after that picture,” he added. It was my first production effort.” Wayne’s attorney asked him under oath if he had an affair with Russell and he replied firmly: “Absolutely not.”

And yet, Wayne and Russell did ignite sparks. Harry Carey Jr. is quoted by author Herb Fagen in his 1996 book Duke, We’re Glad We Knew You as saying, “I think [Wayne’s onscreen chemistry] was most special with Gail Russell in Angel and the Badman. My father was in the picture, and my mother was there with him while they were filming in Sedona. My mother said he and Gail definitely had tremendous chemistry between them. Yet I don’t think it ever got into a big affair.... But according to my mother, he had a definite attraction to Gail.”––Joe McNeill

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

Throughout the 1930s, Sedona was seen on screen as the setting for low-budget "B" Westerns. That all changed with 1940's Virginia City, the first high-gloss, big-name studio production to feature Red Rock backgrounds in the sound era.

Starring Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins, Randolph Scott and Humphrey Bogart, Virginia City will air on Turner Classic Movies November 30 at 1:15 p.m. Eastern Time. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unsung Heroes

Paramount Pictures staff songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who would pen the Doris Day hit “Que Será Será” and hummable theme songs for TV’s Bonanza and Mr. Ed, were ordered to write a theme song for Copper Canyon, the Ray Milland/Hedy Lamarr Western filmed in Sedona in 1949. The pair dusted off an old melody and refit with new lyrics a tune written for Bob Hope’s 1948 Western spoof The Paleface and shelved. The song they replaced it with, “Buttons and Bows,” won them an Oscar.

But by the time Copper Canyon’s February 1950 premiere was pushed back to November, Paramount Music Co. had already contracted for the song’s release, and five recordings of it were on the radio. Teresa Brewer’s version cracked the Top 40 in March. By November, Para­mount dropped it from the film in favor of an orchestral theme by musical director Daniele Amfitheatrof.––Joe McNeill

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sedona Movie Alert!

The woman some call the most beautiful in movie history earned her only Best Actress Academy Award nomination in 1945's Leave her to Heaven: her best scene was shot on Sedona's Schnebly Hill.

Co-starring Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price, Leave her to Heaven will air on Turner Classic Movies November 22 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Family Ties

Chances are good that if you live in Sedona, you don’t believe in coincidence. Just ask Jayne and Phil Feiner, who have lived in the Village of Oak Creek for two years. Phil lost touch with his grandfather after his mom passed away, and for the past 14 years, Jayne has been on a mission to find out anything she can about James (Jimmy) Phillips. Imagine her surprise when she opened Arizona’s Little Hollywood: Sedona and Northern Arizona’s Forgotten Film History 1923-1973 and found a photo of Jimmy Phillips staring back at her.

Jimmy Phillips worked at Universal Pictures until he retired in 1959. Jimmy was a livestock wrangler and extra who eventually became head animal wrangler for Universal; according to Jayne, he taught Francis the Talking Mule how to talk and Clint Eastwood how to ride a horse for TV's Rawhide. His wife worked as a stuntwoman. “We knew little things about him, and about five or six years ago, I started researching him on IMDB [Internet Movie Database],” says Jayne. “That’s when I realized that he worked under the name Jimmy.”

This past Father’s Day weekend, Jayne and Phil sat down to watch Broken Arrow, filmed in Sedona in 1949, and followed along with Arizona’s Little Hollywood. On a whim, Jayne looked up Universal Pictures in the book’s index, and then opened to the chapter on Stormy, filmed by Universal in 1935. That’s when she found the photo of Jimmy, who had an uncredited role as a cowhand. “He must have been about 35 at the time, and he looks exactly like my husband,” she says.

That’s Jimmy Phillips clapping behind the guitar player.
While Jayne and Phil, who own PJF Productions – a post-production company in Studio City, Calif. – have letters Jimmy wrote to family members while he was on location along with a few black-and-white photos, they never realized he filmed a movie in Sedona until they were already living in Red Rock Country. Jimmy died in 1974, and Jayne is still trying to track down information about his ethnic heritage. Until then, the couple takes heart in knowing “Grandpa” once looked at the same red-rock vistas that are now out the Feiners’ back door.

“It’s a weird connection,” says Jayne, “and it’s even more bizarre that out of all the stills taken from Stormy, Joe chose the one that includes Jimmy.” – Erika Ayn Finch. Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Sedona Monthly

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Truth or Dare?

“When I read Roy Chanslor’s turbulent drama of the legendary woman known as Vienna and her Johnny Guitar, I wanted to do it on the screen. For me there was a special excitement in the role of this fascinating woman and in the fast-paced drama of this story of the West. Republic brought it to the screen in a Trucolor film I think you’ll enjoy.” – Joan Crawford’s introduction to Pocket Books' 1954 movie tie-in edition of Johnny Guitar.

“I should have had my head examined. No excuse for a picture being this bad or for me making it.”– Joan Crawford, Conversations with Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist (Citadel Press, 1980)

Monday, November 1, 2010

You Can’t Please Everyone

Claiming Warner Bros.’ Mission to Moscow “is a lie by the GPU” (the Soviet state security organization), members of the Socialist Labor Party picket in front of Chicago’s Roosevelt Theater on June 16, 1943. Four years later, Mission to Moscow was one of three Hollywood films targeted as pro-Soviet propaganda by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. It was produced by Robert Buckner, who also made the filmed-in-Sedona Cheyenne with Jane Wyman, who was married at the time to Ronald Reagan. Ironically, it was testifying in October 1947 before HUAC investigating communist influence in the motion picture industry that Reagan began developing the political persona and contacts that would lead him to the California governorship in 1966.––Joe McNeill