Monday, December 26, 2011

Selective Short Subject

MGM sent a film film crew to Sedona—its last to make the trip to Red Rock Country for twenty years—in May 1943 to photograph scenes for Roaming Through Arizona, a one-reel “Traveltalks” short released in 1944 that included Technicolor views of Oak Creek Canyon. An entry in the long-running series produced by James A. FitzPatrick, Roaming Through Arizona is a simple travelogue that extolls the virtues of various state attractions, although the Grand Canyon, filmed during FitzPatrick’s visit to Arizona, isn’t included here; that footage was saved for use in a separate Traveltalk, Grand Canyon, Pride of Creation (1943).

The nine-minute Roaming Through Arizona, silent with a voice-over narration and music, does offer pleasing postcard views of the Mission of San Xavier, south of Tucson, as well as the statues of World War I aviator Frank Luke (on the grounds of the state capitol building in Phoenix) and Captain William “Bucky O’Neill” (organizer of the Arizona unit of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders) in Prescott, along with Prescott’s Granite Dells. It tells the histories of the cliffside mining town of Jerome, the Petrified Forest National Monument, and Wickenburg’s Hassayampa Well, Rodeo, and wedding chapels.

However, Sedona is the only location visited in Roaming Through Arizona that’s not identified by name, despite the beautiful views of Bell Rock, Capitol Butte, and Gibraltar Rock (near Lee Mountain). The intimidating switchbacks of Oak Creek Canyon are mentioned by name in passing, but FitzPatrick mistakenly gives credit to Mayhew’s Oak Creek Lodge as the place “where Zane Grey wrote his famous book The Call of the Canyon.” The film fades to black as the camera offers a sweeping panoramic shot of Sedona’s anonymous terrain while an offscreen chorus warbles “Home on the Range.”––Joe McNeill

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chief Spokesman?

To promote Indian Uprising (released in 1951, long before the dawn of political correctness), Columbia Pictures flacks suggested theater owners should “see if you can get a local Indian to act as your special press agent. If so, dress him in ceremonial Indian costume, and have him make personal appearances on local television and radio shows.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Karolyn Grimes, Part 2

George “Gabby” Hayes with Karolyn Grimes 
(hopefully not too soon after his buttermilk and cornbread lunch)
Now all grown up, actress Karolyn Grimes, Albuquerque’s little “Myrtle Walton,” tells us how much fun she had in the film’s “runaway” stagecoach, and really only got scared by “Gabby” Hayes’ lunch.

SM: As a child actor, were there different directors who would take the time to work with you a lot? 

KAROLYN GRIMES: Oh yeah, uh-huh. But some of them were scary. I mean John Ford (Rio Grande, 1950) was. [Laughing]

He was intimidating? 

Oh, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!

He didn’t have a lot of time for child actors?

No, no, no, no. And he had a big temper. He didn’t care who was there, whether there was a kid there or not; the words flew. But Leslie Fenton (Pardon My Past, 1945) was a very nice director, I remember him. Henry Koster on The Bishop’s Wife (1947) was super. He’d get on the floor and tell me what to do. Of course, Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946) was just delightful.

What are your memories of “Gabby” Hayes?

He was fun to be around. When he was off camera he acted totally different [than his screen persona]. He was a very capable man, very smart. One thing I will never, ever forget is his lunch. They had all the food catered, tables and tables of all this delicious food. But every single day, he ate the same thing: ­buttermilk with cornbread in a glass, and I thought it was the sickest stuff I’d ever seen! It stunk, it was awful, it would get in his beard. [Laughs] And I remember he did not want to ride in that stagecoach. He did not ride in that stagecoach. He had a stunt double, he didn’t get up there. And he thought it was ­dangerous for me and Catherine Craig to do it. But he didn’t win; we did it.

And you had fun doing it! 

I had a blast, I didn’t think of it as dangerous at all. I thought it was great. But anything could have happened. Horses stumble, fall. It wouldn’t have passed today. They had a [prop] stagecoach, with a thing that the men pushed and pulled on either side to make it jump around. They told me the horses were running away with me and I was supposed to hang out the window. They tell you everything you’re supposed to do. So it was fun; I mean, everything I did on that whole set was fun. I loved the western town and all the horses. And to ride on a stagecoach with all those horses? Wow, for goodness sakes! And what’s really funny is there’s [supposed to be] a dead man in the back of that stagecoach. [Laughing] When you think about the whole thing, [Myrtle is] sitting in this stagecoach, just saw this man shot dead – and it didn’t bother me one bit! ––Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, December 5, 2011

Karolyn Grimes, Part 1

Karolyn Grimes on the Albuquerque set

During the mid- to late 1940s, Karolyn Grimes was one of Hollywood’s busiest child actors. She made her movie debut at age four and achieved pop culture immortality two years later as “Zuzu” in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life when she delivered the picture’s unforgettable closing line, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” A year later, she appeared in Albuquerque, which had some second unit action filmed in Sedona. We chatted with her at the Memphis Film Festival in June 2006. For more on Karolyn's life and career, visit her Website at

SM: Prior to the DVD, had it been a while since you had seen Albuquerque

KAROLYN GRIMES: I made appointments at UCLA; I saw it maybe four times. I kept trying to figure out who really had the rights and how I could pursue them to get it out again. I wrote to Paramount and all different places. Well, nothing I did did any good. And then it was a miracle. Somebody wrote to me and then I got about ten calls: ‘Did you know...?!’ And I was so thrilled, oh my gosh, it’s out!

It sounds like the movie meant a lot to you. 
Well, after seeing it I remembered so much and I loved it! The color is so gorgeous and I just love my part –– I’m hilarious! [Repeating lines from the film] “I’ll be a-knittin’ and a-sittin’”! [Laughs] “Whoa, horses! Whoa!”

What was a typical day like on Albuquerque

The limo would come and get me at 5 in the morning – it would still be dark – and they’d drive us up to the ranch [outside L.A.]. And there was this one building with a room for makeup and wardrobe and hair, with a big wood stove. And we’d have to spend a long time in makeup. I remember one day I got superheated, I think, and as a little girl I fainted a lot. So they’d done my hair, I had wardrobe on, I was ready to go. I was just walking to go outside and [indicating a fall] right on the floor. Randolph Scott carried me out into the cool air. I think he realized I was overheated. When I woke up, he was looking down into my eyes, saying ‘Are you alright, Karolyn?’ He was so tall. A bit aloof, but he was kind. He was good to me, very easy to work with.

What was Lon Chaney Jr. like? 

You know, Lon Chaney was probably friendlier and more personable than any of the rest. He kind of stayed to himself and was so grouchy and grumpy-looking that he fascinated me as a little kid. And the fact that he was The Wolfman and all that stuff, he just scared me. But he seemed so mean that I couldn’t’s like when I did Rio Grande. They told me to stay away from the Indians. Naturally, I just peeked and spied and was there all the time; you know, the opposite of anything they tell you. So you get the impression that Lon Chaney doesn’t want you around and, naturally, I’m going to be around. So I approached him and he turned out to be really nice. But he would try to scare me, in a way. He wanted to be stern and see what he... he loved to play with people. He told me I was very ugly. When I asked why, he said ‘Because you have freckles.’ Well, I felt freckles really were ugly, so I liked that he told me the truth. He was a straight-shooter, and I liked that. We were friends from then on.

He and Randolph Scott have this fight in the film, an unbelievable battle. [Laughing] He took me aside, because everybody was going to watch, and he said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m going to bleed, and I want to show you how I’m going to do this.’ So he had this capsule and he said ‘It’s just like ketchup. I’m going to slip it in my mouth, nobody’s going to know, and I’m going to break it and then I’m going to bleed all over my face. It’s going to run down, but I’m not hurt.’ I watched that fight with eyes peeled, and it went very well!

And how about Catherine Craig? 

This was the second movie I’d done with her; we were in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947). She’s very sweet. She married Robert Preston and sort of gave up her career. She told me years later there was a scene cut out [of Albuquerque]; my line was, [perkily] ‘And I’ll help too!’ For the rest of their married life, she and Robert used that phrase. She said they always remembered me because of that. That was kind of neat.––Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, November 28, 2011

German Spectacle

Since its publication last year, the chapter in my book Arizona’s Little Hollywood that’s raised the most eyebrows is the one that revealed that Der Kaiser von Kalifornien, a German-language Nazi Western, was shot on location in Sedona in September 1935. Readers find it incredible that such an off-the-wall film could have been shot in patriotic Red Rock Country; as pop culture pundit Fern Siegel commented in MediaPost, “Like Woody Allen, my Nazi radar is highly attuned, so Der Kaiser von Kalifornien, a 1936 piece of anti-capitalist propaganda, was a surprise.”

I didn’t believe it either until I tracked down a German DVD copy and saw for myself. Sure enough, local landmarks Schnebly Hill, Oak Creek, Munds Mountain Trail, even the dirt trail that is today’s paved State Route 89A are all easily recognizable locations in the movie. There’s even a slow sweeping panorama of the entire area shot from high atop the Mogollon Rim that is probably the best photographic record we have of the Sedona landscape before development.

The question I'm most frequently asked is “How can I see this movie?” It’s not easy. Der Kaiser has never been released on home video in the United States, but pristinely restored DVD special editions (in German and without English subtitles) are available from in Germany, as well as through international dealers on eBay. Thankfully, because the intent of Der Kaiser was strictly to vilify capitalism and twist the story of Sutter’s Mill and America’s 19th-century belief in Manifest Destiny into an analogy for Hitler’s plan for German expansion into foreign territories, there is no anti-Semetic or racist content in the film. But one word of warning before purchasing a DVD: Because the discs are produced in the European PAL video format, you’ll need a multi-region DVD player to watch it.––Joe McNeill

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dan Gordon, Part 2

Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino in Gotcha! (1985)
DAN: “The first successful movie I wrote was called Tank. It was with Jim Garner, Tommy Howell, Shirley Jones and Jamie Cromwell. After that, I did a picture called Gotcha! with Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino. Today, if I meet any 45-year-old man, they tell me they were in love with Linda Fiorentino. Evidently it was a big hit for 15-year-old boys, who would ditch school to see the movie. I did one of the first HBO films called Gulag, and then I did Passenger 57.

Passenger 57 was a really big hit movie. That made me flavor of the month for a while. As a writer, you don’t ever deal with fame like a movie star. No one knows who writers are, which is the joy of being a writer. You make a very good living, and you get the fun of working in movies, but you don’t have to worry about the paparazzi. [Passenger 57] gave me access to any studio for anything that I wanted to do. You can probably get a good two or three years off of a movie like that.

“Character-driven drama at the studios no longer exists, and the movies [today] usually end in the word ‘man.’ Batman, Superman, X-Men. I actually turned down writing Transformers because I said I didn’t have anything to bring to the table. None of the movies that I did, including The Hurricane with Denzel Washington, would be made today. The best you could hope for would be to make the movie as an indie and hope a studio would distribute it.

Wyatt Earp took a few years to get made. I had pitched it to Kevin Costner when he was editing Dances with Wolves. He was a very bankable actor but not yet the Oscar-winning megastar that he became. It was a very, very easy pitch. The problem was, he got very hot, and Kevin had the habit of immersing himself in a character and not doing any other work while he was working on that particular character.
Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57 (1992)

“I hate Wyatt Earp. When I finished the screenplay, I think it was one of the best Western scripts that anybody had done. I was enormously proud of that screenplay. The idea was to do a Western Godfather and make it the story of two crime families and one law enforcement family. If you saw the movie, you saw it was about one law enforcement family, but there was no crime family. It was really God-awful. When Kevin and I developed it, we talked about Marty Scorsese directing the picture. We wanted it done in black-and-white. Instead of Marty Scorsese, Kevin felt indebted to Larry Kasdan. He became the director of the movie. From what I understand, Larry Kasdan wanted to write the screenplay. Kevin, from what I understand, said he liked the script. Kasdan, I felt, wrote a horrible, God-awful piece of dung. It was so boring and pretentious and wooden and lifeless. The final screenplay became an amalgam of those two screenplays. So anything you like in the movie, I wrote [laughs]. Anything that was long and boring and dull, Kasdan wrote. You watch that movie, you lose the will to live. It’s a heartbreak to me because I know what could and should have been. I was so pissed off about it I wrote the book called Wyatt Earp. That is actually based on my screenplay.

“I was the second writer on Hurricane. Armyan Bernstein, who was and still is the head of Beacon Pictures, wrote a screenplay but felt the material got away from him. He said he needed to bring someone in to do a rewrite, which is an incredibly egoless, wonderful thing for him to have done. I was working on the production draft in New York. My son Zaki had just graduated from NYU, and he was working on an HBO picture as a production assistant. Zaki and I would meet after work around midnight, split a couple of steaks and a bottle of wine, and it was the best. Here was my firstborn, the only one of my three boys who went into the same business as me. There we were in the same business, and I see how mature he is, what a wonderful man he turned out to be. If I had to say what was the happiest time of my life that was it.

“We broke for the holidays. I came back from LA, and Zaki came back from New York to celebrate the holidays. The last in-depth conversation that Zaki and I had, he outlined his vision for a film school. He felt compelled to talk about it. He thought it all out – class size, curriculum. It would be a film school unlike any other – completely for independent filmmakers. The school became the Zaki Gordon Institute for Filmmaking. That was at Hanukkah. We were home, and he was exhausted that night. The next morning, he was killed in a car accident. When that happened, there was no way I could go back and work on [The Hurricane]. At the end of the day, I think the value of that movie is Denzel Washington’s performance more than the screenplay.

“After the accident, I thought I would establish some screenwriting scholarships for Zaki at various schools; that’s how I would memorialize him. About six months after the accident, I was on a plane going to Canada for my cousin’s wedding. I was sitting next to a woman, passing the time. She was going to Calgary to see a cultural park like the one being built in Sedona. Part of the deal with the cultural park was the addition of a film school, but she didn’t know anything about film schools. I told her exactly what the school was going to be: the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking. I pitched her my son’s vision. She said it sounded great and asked me to be in Sedona in two weeks. I met with the president of Yavapai College, Doreen Dailey. I liked the idea of doing [the school] in Sedona because for years I had a ranch in Colorado, and we actually used to drive through Sedona to get there. I had memories of Zaki in Sedona. The negotiations were very hard because I wanted to make sure academia didn’t screw up Zaki’s vision. I wasn’t going to have my son get rewritten.

“We finally made it happen. About six months after the school opened, Doreen asked if I wondered why she was so good about helping me make it a reality. She said that she had grown up in a challenging environment in Alaska and she owed everything she had become to a mentor who made her college education possible. His name was Zack Gordon.” ––Interview by Erika Ayn Finch. Originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dan Gordon, Part 1

Screenwriter Dan Gordon has written the scripts for some of Hollywood’s most popular films, including Passenger 57, Wyatt Earp, Murder in the First and The Hurricane. He also wrote and directed numerous episodes of the television series Highway to Heaven. But Sedona residents might be more familiar with Dan as the founder of Red Rock Country’s Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking, which is named after Dan’s firstborn son, Zaki, who was killed in a car accident when he was 22. Dan’s life experiences are not unlike those in the character-driven dramas he writes: He had a stint in the Israeli army, lived on a kibbutz, spent a year in New York unknowingly working for the mafia and turned down the opportunity to write the script for Transformers. Dan spoke to us from Los Angeles in an extremely forthright interview. “I’m being more candid with you than most writers would ever be,” he said. Here’s an inside look at what it’s like to write films in Hollywood.––Erika Ayn Finch

DAN: “I was born in a little town called Bell Gardens, California. It was mainly people who came out from the Grapes of Wrath era and stayed. We abounded in churches and bars. We had probably more storefront churches and more honky-tonk bars than anyplace I’ve ever been. It was actually a great place for a writer to grow up because you were around a lot of characters. It was a colorful town. One of my neighbors was Eddie Cochran, who wrote Summertime Blues. I remember my brother and me in his garage listening to him and his pals jam. My friends from my childhood are all still my friends today.

“When I was 16, I more or less ran away from home with my parents’ active encouragement. I went to Israel. I went to a kibbutz and went to high school in a kibbutz. My father was born in 1895 in then czarist Russia. He was 52 when I was born. After his experiences, to expect that he would understand two American teenagers was insane. Everything we did seemed disrespectful to him, and everything he did seemed nuts to us. He and I weren’t getting along, and it was getting physical. I had been raised on Zionist lore, and I had seen Exodus. There was a very fetching young girl who played Paul Newman’s sister. She had these rather fetching kibbutz shorts on, so I decided I’d go and try to find her or her surrogate somewhere in the valley of Jezreel. I fell in love with the lifestyle and people in Israel.

“I came back to the United States to go to college. I went to East Los Angeles College and then UCLA. I worked for a couple of years in the business – I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter/director. I had sold my first screenplay to Universal when I was 20. I sold it as fluke, and I made the princely sum of $1,860. This made me about the richest Jew in LA.

“I worked for a couple of years, and I made one film that, unknown to me, was a money laundering operation for the mob. They were hiring the stupidest kid they could find, and I fit the bill perfectly. They said the budget of the film was $1 million, but they gave me $100,000 assuming I could never make the picture for that. I was closing in on finishing the film, and they told me the film could never be finished because they would be audited. They needed to write off the film as a loss. It was sort of like The Producers. This was 1972, and I was in New York. It was in the middle of the Colombo-Gallo war, and they gave me a bodyguard who was also there to keep me from running because I was getting squirrelly. I lived with these guys in that world for the better part of a year, and I knew I had to get out. I’d been around some very dangerous people and seen some dangerous things. I went back to the kibbutz.

“In 1973, I went into the Israeli army in time to serve in the Yom Kippur War. I was in the army for two years. During that time, on a 48-hour pass, I wrote a screenplay. A friend managed an R&B group and asked me to write a musical for them. Oddly enough, it got financed and that was Train Ride to Hollywood.

“Like everybody of my generation, [the Yom Kippur War] was a traumatic war. So there was a biological response – I assume not unlike what happened after World War II – of everyone who came out of that war wanting to get married and have children. I didn’t know who I was going to marry, but I knew I was going to marry – now. I was discharged in May or June in 1975, and I was married two months later. My oldest boy, Zaki, was born in June 1976. My then wife was an American girl who didn’t take to life on the kibbutz, so we left. We lived outside of Jerusalem, and I worked three jobs. There was no such thing as a screenwriter in Israel. I’d been milking cows on the kibbutz and working in the field. So I taught at a film school and at Tel Aviv University and wrote ad copy for an advertising agency to make ends meet.

“By the time I had two kids, there was no way to make a living at a film studio in Israel. I had a lot of friends tell me if I came back to LA, I could get all the work I wanted. So in 1980, I came back to the United States. That was a heartbreak. I had hoped and planned to live in Israel and put down roots there. I love this country, and I love that country. In short order, I started making a living as a screenwriter. I had a couple of hard years, but then I began selling on an ongoing basis. I had a string of movies that had varying degrees of success, and I went on to work on some very good television series.

Highway to Heaven was one of my favorites. I’m as proud, if not prouder, of the work I did there as I am of anything else in my career. I had a great time working with Mike Landon. He was another mentor in my life – he and Don Simpson. He was like a big brother to me, and it was great fun to work on that show. I had a degree of freedom that I’ve never had since because Mike was such a big star and powerful force at NBC. I wrote 45 of the first 100 episodes, and I did the rewriting on all the others. Mike would do the final rewrite. It was a great place to learn to be a writer, and he would insist that I direct because he wanted me to learn production. I use what I learned from Mike to this day. – Originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, October 24, 2011

Quiet on the Set!

James Stewart confers with Italian-American “Indian” Iron Eyes Cody in Sedona.
Suspicious PR item from the pressbook for Broken Arrow, filmed in Sedona in 1949: 

Broken Arrow star Jimmy Stewart was known as a nice guy throughout his life, but he was never much of a talker. While on location in the Coconino National Forest near Sedona, the tall, gangling actor stopped for a moment to admire the magnificent view. An uncredited Apache player, Phillip Sky Bird, sidled up to gaze in the same direction.

Minutes passed and not a word was exchanged between the two. Finally, Stewart, feeling the awkward silence, let himself go and came up with an observation.

“Nice country,” he ventured.

“Yes,” replied Sky Bird, “but don’t spoil it by your idle chatter.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Crystal Ball

Silent movie star Richard Dix listens to the radio––still a technological marvel at the time––while filming Redskin on northern Arizona’s remote Navajo reservation in November 1928. Ironically, Redskin sputtered at the box office due to the rising clamor for talkies and was one of Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation’s last completely silent productions.––Joe McNeill

Monday, October 10, 2011

Paid Sedona Vacation

Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, Frank Marlowe, Royal Dano, Joan Crawford, and Scott Brady in Johnny Guitar (1954).

An unpublished pearl of wisdom from Johnny Guitar co-star Ben Cooper, from a 2004 interview for my book Arizona’s Little Hollywood:

Joe McNeill: “Johnny Guitar may be the greatest film ever made in Sedona, but it was a rather unhappy set – did you think it would turn out so well?”

Ben Cooper: “I was just 20 years old. I had my own horse when I was 12 and didn’t know they had stuntmen in movies. So I used to practice so I could do some of the crazy things they did on horses. Now here I was, 20 years old, working on a Western movie, riding the same horse that Alan Ladd rode in the movie Shane – and they were paying me! Can you picture this kid being unhappy? Not a bit!”––Joe McNeill

Monday, October 3, 2011

'Kingdom of the Spiders' Reunion

In 1977, spiders – and William Shatner – invaded Camp Verde, Arizona, for the filming of the B horror movie Kingdom of the Spiders. It’s a claim to fame the town embraces, so on Oct. 29, the Second Annual Kingdom of the Spiders Reunion takes place at the ball field behind Camp Verde Town Hall. The fun starts at 3 p.m. with music and a barbecue. At 6:30 p.m., the movie will be shown on a 30-foot screen. Admission is free.

“It’s a really good bad movie,” says Steve Goetting, who organized the reunion along with his wife, Barbara. “It’s very dated, but downtown Camp Verde is recognizable. The scenery is recognizable and the buildings are recognizable. There are even scenes filmed in Sedona, though Sedona is referred to as Camp Verde. This really is a part of the Verde Valley’s history.”

Last year, more than 700 people showed up for the reunion including dozens who were extras in the film. Since Kingdom never played in Camp Verde, many people were seeing themselves on the big screen for the first time. “There was lots of cheering – the crowd was thrilled,” says Steve, who also organizes the Camp Verde Pecan, Wine and Antique Festival and who owns The Horn Fine Wines and Craft Brews. “There were kids from the high school in the movie and now they are adults, but they recognized themselves.”

Though Steve extended invitations to the movie’s stars, including Shatner and Tiffany Bolling, don’t expect any big names at the event. You can, however, expect a mini museum featuring Kingdom memorabilia such as photos, newspaper clippings, stencils used to paint larger-than-life spiders on building walls and plastic spiders. An arachnid-lover will also be on hand with a collection of live spiders. Bring your lawn chair, snacks (no alcohol) and a sweater for the movie screening (popcorn and soda will also be sold). Look for a Kingdom of the Spiders float in this year’s Fort Verde Days Parade on Oct. 8. – Erika Ayn Finch. Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Sedona Monthly

Second Annual Kingdom of the Spiders Reunion, Oct. 29 at the ball field behind Camp Verde Town Hall (395 S. Main St. in Camp Verde). The fun starts at 3 p.m. with a movie screening scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Free. For more info, call 800-827-1160 or visit

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sedona: “The Edge of the World?”

That’s how clever studio flacks (not New Agers fearful of cataclysm in 2012) described the view from Sedona’s Schnebly Hill in the caption of this 1930 publicity still:

George O’Brien stops on the edge of the Painted Desert to enjoy the beautiful location selected for his next Fox Film Corporation outdoor romance, adapted from the novel The Last of the Duanes by Zane Grey.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Celebs Celebrate John Mitchum

John Mitchum in Noises Off.
When Cindy Mitchum Azbill’s father, actor, singer and poet John Mitchum, passed away in 2001, she had the idea of commemorating his life with a memorial website. But a few of John’s celebrity friends, including actor Ernest Borgnine and producer A.C. Lyles, said he deserved something bigger. An idea was born: Contact John’s friends and ask each one to pick their favorite John Mitchum poem and record it. The result is Old Friends, Why I Love Them: a 10-year project of 50 recorded poems featuring some of Hollywood’s brightest stars – many of who have connections to Arizona’s Little Hollywood. (Though John never made a film in Sedona, his brother, Robert Mitchum, starred in Blood on the Moon; John is best known for his role as Clint Eastwood’s partner in three Dirty Harry films.)

Among the talent who have filmed movies in Sedona and recorded John’s poetry, you’ll find Ernest Borgnine and Ben Cooper (Johnny Guitar); James Drury (The Last Wagon); L.Q. Jones (Stay Away, Joe); Jane Russell (actress and former Sedona resident); Morgan Woodward (Firecreek); Bruce Boxleitner (Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Part III: The Legend Continues); and Ann Rutherford (Out West with the Hardys). Though he doesn’t have a Sedona connection, Academy Award winner Robert Duvall recorded John’s best-known poem, America, Why I Love Her (written at his home in Los Angeles in 1969). John Wayne originally recorded the poem, which became the title track for John Wayne’s only album, released in 1973. John Mitchum was nominated for a Grammy for the record.

“There’s been a remarkable outpouring of love and respect for my father, his poetry and each other,”says Cindy. “I think every Western [film] is represented on this record.”

Though the album won’t be released until the end of this year, at press time plans were in the works to screen a video of Robert Duvall reciting America at the unveiling of the 9/11 memorial in New York City this month. For more info, visit––By Erika Ayn Finch. Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, September 12, 2011

Proud Papa

“Father of Film” D.W. Griffith (right) presents the 1946 Oscar for Best Color Cinematography to Leon Shamroy for his work on Leave Her to Heaven, the first Technicolor film shot in Sedona's Red Rock Country.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trail to Lone Pine

Roy Rogers and Trigger greet Dale Evans, Beverly Lloyd and Peggy Stewart
in a scene from
Utah (1945) shot in Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills.
Lone Pine is a dot on the California map, but it’s the town where manly movie legends, like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Errol Flynn, and Robert Downey Jr., made scenes during visits. Still, even with the cavalcade of stars spied hoofing Lone Pine’s Main Street over the past 90 years, it’s a good bet some people would never make the connection between glamorous Hollywood and the unpretentious hamlet located 177 miles north of Los Angeles (and 65 miles west of arid Death Valley National Park) at the foot of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. But it’s a completely different story for movie geeks – they get goose bumps at first glimpse of the town’s most distinctive landmarks: those surreal Daliesque boulder formations of the Alabama Hills just outside of town. Pilgrim, this is an iconic pop culture landscape, and not only for big men wearing big hats and riding even bigger horses; just about everyone who’s who in Tinseltown action movies has been captured on film in front of these rocks, from roly-poly silent movie comic Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to blockbuster comic book hero Iron Man. Not to take anything away from our own beloved Arizona’s Little Hollywood, but with a résumé of almost 400 feature film appearances (including two credits shared with Sedona, Der Kaiser von Kalifornien and Broken Arrow) plus dozens of TV episodes and commercials, Lone Pine is arguably the most popular outdoor location in the history of movies.

That’s a pretty good reason for the town to pat itself on the back, so for more than two decades residents have thrown an annual shindig to commemorate their ongoing cinematic history. And this year’s Lone Pine Film Festival, taking place Oct. 7-9, is shaping up to be a three-day cowboy movie bonanza.

Among the archival films scheduled to be shown are The Stolen Ranch (1926) and Blazing Days (1927), a pair of rarely seen silent Westerns made in Lone Pine by William Wyler, the Oscar-winning director of The Best Years of Our Lives and Ben-Hur. Sam Peckinpah’s 1962 classic Ride the High Country, with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, will also be screened, with several people involved in making the film slated to be present.

Jimmy Ellison and William Boyd in a scene from Hop-Along Cassidy (1935).

One of the themes of this year’s festival is a celebration of the 100th birthday of Lone Pine action figure Roy Rogers, and among the gifts to be unwrapped is a rare screening of Macintosh and T.J., the King of the Cowboys’ final film (made in 1975), with some of the cast members scheduled to appear at the party. As usual, there will also be hours of classic Westerns starring other B-movie big shots like Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry in picture shows that offer lavish views of Lone Pine, Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra. Best of all – and this is what sets apart the Lone Pine Film Festival from, say, the vastly overrated festivals at Sundance or Cannes – after watching the movies you can take guided tours of the locations you just saw on the big screen. How cool is that?

Festivalgoers won’t just spend the weekend losing their tans in a darkened screening room because there are plenty of other activities going on, like in-person celebrity panels, live Western street theater, musical shows, a rodeo, an arts-and-crafts fair and the Parade of Stars down the main drag. Action scenes won’t be confined to celluloid, either; look for live stunts in a show spotlighting the machismo talents of Diamond Farnsworth, stunt coordinator for TV’s NCIS, and Loren James, the veteran stuntman whose 300-plus film credits include McLintock!, Bullitt and Planet of the Apes. Other notable guests will include Republic Pictures’ leading ladies Peggy Stewart, Donna Martell and Marie Harmon, who’ll recall their days toiling in the Hollywood Thrill Factory. Wyatt McCrea (grandson of actor Joel McCrea), Peter Ford (son of actor Glenn Ford) and Cheryl Rogers-Barnett (daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans) will reminisce about their illustrious family trees.

Screenings and events take place at various venues around town, including at the festival’s most important outgrowth, the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History. The 10,500-square-foot nonprofit archive displays Lone Pine movie artifacts, posters, props, costumes and other memorabilia. It also boasts a 85-seat theater that regularly screens hard-to-see films. Most vital, the museum is far more than a depository of black-and-white nostalgia. Since opening in 2006, it has compelled thousands of tourists year-round to visit isolated, dot-on-the-map Lone Pine, and that’s the best legacy movie history can bequeath a location town. Paying attention, Sedona?––Joe McNeill.

The 22nd Annual Lone Pine Film Festival takes place Oct. 7-9, 2011, in Lone Pine, Calif. For info and tickets call 760-876-4301 or visit the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History is located at 701 S. Main St. Call 760-876-9909 for information.

Monday, August 29, 2011

'The Call of the Canyon' is Still Lost

Bad news, Sedona movie fans. The Russian film archive Gosfilmofond’s much-heralded gift to the U.S. of a digital copy of The Call of the Canyon has proven a bust. The long-lost silent film, shot in Oak Creek Canyon in 1923, had its first viewing on June 24 at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va.; unfortunately, the copy yielded just four minutes and 10 seconds of footage. Image quality is reportedly good, but scenes are so brief, and interspersed with Russian intertitles, that archivists found it difficult to even tell how they fit into the story.

Quite a disappointment. The Russian archive always promised the best chance that a copy of The Call of the Canyon still existed somewhere. But at least we can see a few short fragments of it now.––Joe McNeill

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monumental Pictures, Part 2

Even though Monument Valley has less than four minutes of screen time in Stagecoach, it made an indelible impression on Moviegoers in 1939. But it wasn’t the first time they’d seen it in a film. In late August 1938, six weeks before he brought John Ford to Monument Valley to scout locations for Stagecoach, Flagstaff rancher/movie coordinator Lee Doyle arranged for an MGM crew to film exteriors there (and in Sedona) for George B. Seitz’s Out West With the Hardys; inexplicably, the Mickey Rooney-starring sitcom would pull into theaters (more than three months before Stagecoach) with no easy-to-ID Monument Valley real estate in sight. In 1940, Seitz returned to Monument Valley for the third time to direct indie producer Edward Small’s Kit Carson with Jon Hall.

After Stagecoach delivered boffo box office, moviemakers rolled into Monument Valley. Before he was replaced by producer Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks planned to direct a scene or two there for Jane Russell’s controversial “sex Western” The Outlaw at the exact same time in 1940 that MGM had a unit among the buttes shooting action sequences for its competing Billy the Kid. MGM would send a cameraman back in 1945 to film rock eye-candy backdrops for George Sidney’s Judy Garland songfest, The Harvey Girls.

Following the lifting of World War II travel restrictions, a Republic Pictures second unit shot a chase sequence in Monument Valley for its 1946 William Elliott Western, Plainsman and the Lady (aka Drumbeats Over Wyoming). Oh, by the way, Wild Bill’s people beat John Ford to the valley by a few days when he went back (his first visit since Stagecoach) to make My Darling Clementine for Twentieth Century-Fox. Concurrently, Yakima Canutt, Stagecoach’s stunt coordinator, was there too, directing the main title action of John Wayne’s Sedona-based Angel and the Badman for Republic.

Curiously, not every Monument Valley movie was actually filmed in Monument Valley. Then as now, Hollywood producers were quick to pounce on trends, so to cash in on the valley’s post-Stagecoach mythic status, Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures released King of the Stallions (aka Code of the Red Man) a 1942 obscurity that on-screen credits ballyhooed as being “filmed in Monument Valley, Arizona.” In fact, the “Monument Valley” turf seen in the flick is mostly Sedona’s Red Rock Country, courtesy of extensive footage lifted from Grand National Films’ 1938 King of the Sierras, a slapdash B picture that quickly put fading Rex the Wonder Horse out to permanent show-biz pasture.–– Joe McNeill. Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monumental Pictures, Part 1

Forget the legend. Monument Valley wasn’t unknown to Hollywood before 1939’s Stagecoach, and director John Ford only “discovered” it in the daydreams of a studio flack. The place was pitched for movie business as early as 1917, when Kayenta, Ariz., trading post owners John and Louisa Wetherill, in cooperation with the Santa Fe Railroad, hyped an “elaborate moving picture advertising scheme of the Monument Valley and Rainbow Natural Bridge country.” Not only that, there’s proof that a Famous Players-Lasky (now Paramount Pictures) camera crew visited the area in 1920, although it’s not known what, if anything, they may have photographed. But it is the same studio’s The Vanishing American, a 1925 silent film based on the novel by Zane Grey and directed by serial auteur George B. Seitz, that holds the honor of being the first to include sequences shot on location in Monument Valley. It was a low-key screen debut: A couple of quickie bits were staged in front of the valley’s distinctive rock skyline, but the bulk of production took place near Tuba City, 90 miles to the southwest. Paramount returned to Monument Valley in June 1928 to take a few shots for The Water Hole, a long-lost silent movie also based on a Zane Grey story.

In September 1929, a company from Fox Film Corp. traveled to Monument Valley to shoot parts of The Lone Star Ranger, the first talkie Zane Grey Western, and the first sound film of any genre made in northern Arizona. Ten years before he blazed into the national consciousness in Stagecoach, John Wayne, still answering to the moniker Duke Morrison, worked in Monument Valley as The Lone Star Ranger‘s prop man. Eleven months later, Fox Film announced it would trot him in front of cameras there as leading man of King of Wild Horses (aka Alcatraz and Wyoming Wonder), a never-completed remake of Tom Mix's silent Just Tony in which the newly anointed actor was set to play opposite the more prominently billed (and much bigger movie star) Rex the Wonder Horse.

When buzz reached Zane Grey in 1931 that Fox Film was prepping a third movie based on his venerable Riders of the Purple Sage, he compiled a list of preferred locations in Utah and Arizona for studio executives to consider. Among his suggestions was Monument Valley, conveniently located, he noted, “one day from Kayenta.” Fox took the hint and declared its intention to stage a cattle stampede in the valley for Riders. But for reasons unknown, the rampage was photographed at the far more easily accessible and equally butte-iful Sedona. Fox Film would likewise announce, but not shoot, a Monument Valley segment for Riders’ 1932 sequel, The Rainbow Trail. The valley did show up briefly on-screen in 1931 in Howard Higgin’s The Painted Desert, made by Pathé Exchange with future Hopalong Cassidy star William Boyd and pre-crowned Hollywood king Clark Gable.

In 1932, Universal Pictures beat the drum for its plan to photograph scenic backgrounds in Monument Valley for William Wyler’s production of Laughing Boy, Oliver La Farge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of Native American life. Universal abandoned Laughing Boy after just a few days of filming on the Navajo reservation, but MGM scooped up rights to the book and two years later released an adaptation with slumping Latin lover Ramon Novarro in the title role. Monument Valley vistas are briefly spotted in the finished picture (which did its location work near Safford in southeastern Arizona), but facts remain murky about when (or by whom) the footage was photographed.–– Joe McNeill. Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ford's Theatre

Monument Valley and Sedona share a unique distinction – thanks to the movies, both symbolize “the West” in the American subconscious and to the world at large. But unlike Sedona, Monu­ment Valley was never anonymous. Thanks to its link with director John Ford from 1938 on, there was always a name attached to its iconic buttes. Another difference: If Ford were here today, he’d have no problem recognizing “his” Monu­ment Valley. 

Every time the door swings open at Goulding’s Trading Post – man’s tiny contribution to the topography of Monument Valley near the Arizona-Utah border – a cowbell clangs loud enough to make any moo-ver shaky. But, the arrival of any person around here, historically, probably would be an event requiring fanfare – Goulding’s is in what most people would consider the middle of nowhere, except for one thing: Its front step looks out on a view anyone who’s ever seen a Western movie would recognize in a heartbeat.

Such was the power of Monument Valley as defined through the lens of John Ford and his team that for decades, reviewers who saw an unidentified Sedona on screen reflexively assumed our red rocks must be Monument Valley. But one look around at the actual location is all you’d need to see to never make that mistake again. Perhaps the most famous of the buttes – the East and West Mittens, and the Sisters – are set in relief against a vast backdrop of...nothing. Their power, inseparable from the way Ford showed them in the many movies he made here, starting with Stagecoach in 1938 and ending with Cheyenne Autumn in 1964, is timeless.

Monument Valley today is a Navajo Tribal Park. Guided tours are available, which allow access to areas and views closed off to drivers in their own vehicles who choose the self-guided tour along a 17-mile unpaved loop road. Horseback rides are available to fulfill any John Wayne fantasies.

Apart from the Navajo-owned View Hotel, which opened in December 2008 adjacent to the Tribal Visitors Center, there is Goulding’s. Opened as a trading post by Harry Goulding and his wife, known by her nickname “Mike,” in 1928, it is now a museum. Behind it stands a tiny cabin seen as John Wayne’s cavalry headquarters in Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – “Mike” Goulding used it to store her potatoes – and next door is Goulding’s Lodge, for those who plan to stay.

Ford and his crews were frequent guests, and letters of Thanks from the director, John Wayne (“Harry, you and I both owe these monuments a lot, Duke”), Henry Fonda, and others are framed in the front room of the trading post/museum. You’ll pass through the Ware Room (used to store dry goods, now filled with vintage blankets, riding boots, rugs, and photos), the “Movie Days Film Gallery” (film memorabilia), and the upstairs living quarters, preserved as it was in the Goulding’s day – save for the air conditioner now in the window that frames the classic cinematic view. We trust Harry and “Mike” would concede this one nod to “progress” – at least in the summer. –– Steven Korn. Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, August 1, 2011

Good Mourning!

In Bernard Eisenschitz’s 1993 biography Nich­olas Ray: An American Journey, Johnny Guitar’s credited screenwriter Philip Yor­dan (who may or may not have actually written the 1954 Sedona-filmed classic) recalled a chat with the director, who was at wit’s end dealing with combative Joan Craw­ford. “Well, why don’t you do this, Nick?” Yordan suggested. “It’ll only be another six weeks. Get up every morning, look in the mirror, and when you shave, say, ‘Look, I’ve only got five more weeks and I’ll never have to see Joan Craw­ford again.’ ... He looked at me a long time – I’ll never forget this – and he said, ‘You know, never is a long time.’ ”

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Arizona’s Little Hollywood’ Receives Nod

Here’s some news that put a hitch in our giddyap this spring: Arizona’s Little Hollywood: Sedona and Northern Arizona’s Forgotten Film History 1923-1973 is a finalist in the Contemporary Nonfiction category for the Western Writers of America 2011 Spur Award. Sedona Monthly’s creative director Joe McNeill wrote the hardcover, 692-page book, which was published in 2010.

Since 1953, the Spur Awards have been given annually for distinguished writing about the American West ( The awards are among the oldest and most prestigious in American literature; past winners include Larry McMurtry for Lonesome Dove, Michael Blake for Dances With Wolves and Tony Hillerman for Skinwalkers. This is the first time a film history book has been nominated.

“To have my name mentioned along with such illustrious company is one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive,” says Joe. “But this is really Sedona’s honor. The town made the history – I was just the messenger who delivered the news.”

Arizona’s Little Hollywood includes numerous revelations about moviemaking in northern Arizona. The book tells the story behind Der Kaiser von Kalifornien, a German-language anti-American Nazi propaganda Western filmed in Sedona in 1935, as well as the true history of filmmaking in Monument Valley including the most detailed account ever published of John Ford’s Stagecoach.––Erika Ayn Finch. Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sue Ane Langdon Exposes ‘The Rounders’

Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford tip their hats to Hope Holiday and Sue Ane Langdon.
Despite its “naughty” (for 1965) nude scenes, the biggest taboo The Rounders broke had nothing to do with sex  – the lighthearted MGM Western finally ended Hollywood’s longtime view of Sedona as the town that dare not speak its name. Here are a few tidbits taken from a chat I had with Sue Ane Langdon, the film’s still-lovely co-star, during a return visit she made to Sedona in 2004. For more, including the inside scoop on her memorable skinnydipping scene with Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, check out The Rounders chapter in my book Arizona’s Little Hollywood––Joe McNeill

JM: First off, I want you to know that I get a big kick out of The Rounders...

SUE ANE LANGDON: Oh, thank you! I think it’s a loveable movie. It’s a great movie for horse lovers – although you could learn to hate them, too (laughing). But you can never hate [equine co-star] Ol’ Fooler! It’s a wonderful movie about people, a great study of those two guys.

It really holds up. It’s still funny.

It still plays. I went to a private showing for the Kiwanis Club, I think it was in Thousand Oaks, California. And Peter Ford, Glenn’s son was there and I didn’t realize that he and Peter Fonda (Henry’s son) were in the movie. They’re in the big barroom fight scene; they hit each other. So next time you see it, if you see a fella that looks like Glenn Ford, but younger, that’s his son. He looks just like him. And Peter Fonda you may know from his other movies.

What are your memories of Burt Kennedy, The Rounders’ director?

Oh, I loved Burt. Fortunately, I was able to spend a lot more time with him later. We would see each other throughout the years, at parties and things. We began to go every year to his birthday party. Burt did some very nice things for me and he was just a darling man. He was a dear man – almost the “king of the Westerns,” next to John Ford. He made so many Westerns. I miss him very much.

When you were in Sedona, did you get a chance to sightsee or was it just all work?

I think it was mostly just work, work, work – but where we worked was sightseeable. Where is there a place [in Sedona] that’s not sightseeable? As we drove in today, I remembered the scene where Hope Holiday and I are leaning over the car, the scene where Glenn and Henry first spot us and they skid to a halt. We’re leaning over, looking under the hood because the vehicle has stopped and I say something like “I think it’s the carburetor or the brakes,” whatever that infamous line was. But that’s no longer a two lane highway. That’s all it was when we shot there.

Monday, June 13, 2011

‘California’ Gold

There’s no record of any complaints from Golden State historical societies or politicians when most of the advertising materials Paramount created for its 1947 gold rush epic California featured Sedona’s recognizable red rocks, but studio honchos must have liked the imagery; after a long absence, over the next decade, the studio would release six films shot on location in Red Rock Country, including Copper Canyon (1950) which reteamed California’s lead actor Ray Milland and director John Farrow.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mystery Girl

The Outlaw’s Daughter is easily the most obscure Hollywood movie made in Sedona after 1950 – to this day most people have not seen it and, frankly, few moviegoers in 1954 did either. It effectively ended the short film career of its star, Kelly Ryan – mainly because there was no “Kelly Ryan.” It was a screen name assigned by the movie’s producers to Sheila Connolly, an American-born Irish model-turned-actress – remarkably, they felt “Sheila Connolly” didn’t sound Irish enough. Connolly is pictured above wearing a sexy cowgirl outfit that, apart from not being very practical for ranch work, you never see her wear in the film.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Jerry Hartleben: From 'Yuma' to Sedona

10-year-old Jerry Hartleben in 3:10 to Yuma with Van Heflin and Leora Dana.

The original version of 3:10 to Yuma spent two days in Sedona in late 1956 filming a few exterior scenes. Jerry Hartleben, who played costar Van Heflin’s son as a 10-year-old, didn’t have any scenes here then – but he now calls Sedona home. While he acted in a few films (most notably, he played Lon Chaney as a boy in 1957’s The Man of a Thousand Faces), it was never his passion—that was photography. He went on to become a respected cinematographer, working on feature films (Wilder Napalm, 1993), television series (thirtysomething), and commercials. Over lunch in September 2007, Jerry talked about working on Yuma, and how acting prepared him for a career behind the camera.–Joe McNeill

JM: Did you like working with director Delmer Daves on 3:10 to Yuma?

JERRY HARTLEBEN: He was great. He included me in... every night before the next day’s filming he would get the actors together and have a little rehearsal for the next day. He got me involved, and I thought that showed a lot of respect. He listened to me, I still remember that. He, as a director, gave me respect as a kid. I sure liked him.

Did you ever see Glenn Ford again after 3:10?

No. Over the years I wanted so much to film Glenn Ford because he did a series of [car] commercials in the late ’80s-early ’90s, and a big, big part of my career was commercial photography. I did major big-budget commercials all over the world and my specialty was cars. So I always wanted to do a project with Glenn Ford; I thought it would be really great to film him. But it never happened.

Did the Sedona  connection with Yuma come to mind when you moved there?

I don’t think I knew 3:10 to Yuma was shot in Sedona until the first time I saw the DVD. Maybe I knew, but I didn’t put it together; Sedona standing in for Bisbee is kind of weird. I knew they filmed at different parts of the state; I was only in the scenes that took place in an area called Texas Canyon, that’s where the ranch was. There wasn’t too much shot [in Sedona]. A couple of pan-bys, a couple of shots of the swinging doors, and then they would cut to the stage in Hollywood on the reverse side. Sedona was intercut with parts of southern Arizona. They go through the Sedona forest, the junipers and the pines and then the cactus and big boulder rocks [down south]. It wasn’t jarring, they were able to make it seamless.

What did you think of the remake of 3:10 to Yuma?

I think the new 3:10 to Yuma is a fantastic film, but there’s a shot in the original movie that [remake director] James Mangold didn’t get anywhere near. It’s the scene in the bar. Probably because he was restricted and couldn’t take them into bed back then, all Delmer Daves had to deal with was The Look. If you watch the film again, there’s a shot where she [Farr] turns and looks into his [Ford’s] eyes. It’s an extremely close shot of her face, and her eyes are tracking back and forth and the music hits it. It’s the sexiest scene. I didn’t find the scenes with the bar lady [in the 2007 version] done with any of the import that Delmer Daves got out of that one close shot, which was an extremely unusual shot for its time. But the ending of the new movie blew me away. It transcended the original idea and became something else. It’s a real shocker.

When you were on the set as a kid, were you interested in photography?

I was always interested in the camera. On The Buccaneer [1958; starring Yul Brynner, supervised by Cecil B. DeMille and directed by Anthony Quinn] because I had so much time – it was, like, six months – if I wasn’t needed that day, I’d still go there to school, or I’d have to wait maybe [to do] one scene at the end of the day. So I had free time. The studio had a photographer – and these were all master photographers assigned to each production on the lot – who would record the shoot all day, and when he saw that I was interested in what he was doing, I started to basically take a course from him for six months. We would go out to the backlot every day when I finished filming. The backlot had everything; there was a western street, there were pirate sets, you name it. And we would just shoot. [Photography] became my career. I always loved it. ––Originally published in the November 2007 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, May 23, 2011

Designing ‘3:10 to Yuma’

Russell Crowe (as outlaw Ben Wade) and Peter Fonda in 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma.

"You know, I think Sedona was considered as one of our locations,” says Andrew Menzies, production designer on director James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma, based on the Delmer Daves-directed Glenn Ford western that spent a couple of days filming in Sedona in December 1956. “It was a very close contender, but it was very hard,” Menzies explained in a phone chat in early August 2007. “Films are dictated not only by the look, but by the finances. So when you have New Mexico offering [big rebates] of the money you spend in the region, it’s very hard to turn that down.”

But that’s not to say Sedona’s look didn’t influence the film, which centers on a battle of wits and wills in the old West between charismatic outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his captor, struggling but principled rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale). In his job, Menzies was responsible for the look of the movie, working with Mangold to create a visual style and setting to support the storytelling. “There’s a place called Ghost Ranch, two or three hours from Santa Fe (where Yuma’s location shoot was based), which actually has a similar landscape to Sedona, with beautiful pink and peach rocks.

How do the two films compare? One difference between 1957 and 2007 Menzies mentions is today’s realism vs. 1950s’ theatricality. “We were very concerned with research,” he says. “We had thousands of pictures [as reference for] buildings, colors, wardrobe. It was a major concern of mine and James Mangold’s. Obviously, the movie has to be entertaining, so we break from [reality] for some of the action, but it was cool. It was very exciting.”

How exciting? Yuma was Menzies’ first western, but “I would cut my rate to do another.” Note to producers: He was chuckling as he said that.––Steven Korn. Originally published in the September 2007 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting ‘3:10 to Yuma’ Remake on Track

Christian Bale (left) and Russell Crowe in the 2007 3:10 to Yuma.

In 3:10 to Yuma, the 2007 western directed by James Mangold, the title refers to the train that will carry charismatic outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to face justice – if his captor, financially struggling but principled rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale), can put him on it without either a) giving in to the smoothtalking Wade’s efforts to convince him to take the easy way out, accept a payoff, and walk away, or b) getting killed by the bandit’s gang en route. But this wasn’t the first time movie fans boarded the 3:10 to Yuma – in 1957, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin matched wits as Wade and Evans. Mangold’s version was filmed in New Mexico, but the original 3:10 to Yuma made several stops in Arizona, including a quick one in Sedona in December 1956.

After the commercial and critical success of Walk the Line, their 2005 Oscar-winning Johnny Cash biopic, a report in Variety on Feb. 21, 2006, revealed that director Mangold and his producer-wife Cathy Konrad planned to remake 3:10 to Yuma for Sony/Columbia Pictures as their next project. Shooting was to begin in summer 2006 from a script by Stuart Beattie, screenwriter of Michael Mann’s 2004 Collateral, that was based on earlier drafts by writing team Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious). The following day Variety broke the news that actors Tom Cruise and Eric Bana (2005’s Munich) were negotiating to star in the remake; Cruise planned to play the Glenn Ford role in 3:10 as his followup to Mission: Impossible III.

But four months later, despite having spent four years developing the project, Sony put 3:10 on ice, reportedly because Cruise had changed his mind about the project, even though Oscar-winner Russell Crowe had come on board in his place. There was industry speculation that Sony was shopping the property to other studios or looking for a financing partner.

“This is deja vu all over again,” Mangold told Variety, recalling that Walk the Line had also been set at Sony until the studio suddenly pulled the plug and he brought it to Fox. He and Konrad planned to start talks with other studios immediately and still hoped to begin filming Yuma in October.

“This is a very middle-priced movie,” Mangold said. “I’ve never made a movie that has exceeded $60 million, and this one won't either.” Variety indicated Sony may have had concerns about the money it would owe $20 million star Crowe if he got a share of the movie’s back-end profit, and how the western would play internationally.

“Westerns have come to mean a kind of narcissistic, ponderous film –– and that ain't what we're making," Mangold told the industry newspaper at the time. "We’re making something with balls, taste, and emotion. And I think it’s something that’s an answer to the kind of saturated, digital overload we’re seeing on screens. This is about real people and real action.”

Shortly afterward, Relativity Media agreed to finance the film and by August 4, The Hollywood Reporter disclosed that Christian Bale (2005’s Batman Begins) was close to signing on to co-star and the movie was on track for a fall start. A few weeks later, Peter Fonda (Easy Rider, 1969), Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page, 2005), Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006), Vinessa Shaw (The Hills Have Eyes, 2006), and Dallas Roberts (Walk the Line, 2005) joined the cast.

By Sept. 17, 2006, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Lionsgate would distribute the 3:10 to Yuma remake. With a budget now reportedly swollen to close to $80 million, Yuma was a bigger risk than usual for Lionsgate, known for inexpensive hits like the Saw and Madea franchises. The long journey for the 3:10 to Yuma remake finally ended when shooting began on Oct. 23, 2006.

The weekend before filming was scheduled to finish, a freak storm dumped nearly two feet of snow on the set of the supposedly drought-ravaged town. But still, after almost three months of shooting at locations around New Mexico, filming of 3:10 to Yuma wrapped on Jan. 20, 2007, exactly 50 years and three days after the original did.––Joe McNeill; originally published in the September 2007 issue of Sedona Monthly

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dick Jones Revisits ‘Virginia City’

Dickie Jones (bandaged) with Errol Flynn in Virginia City.

Dick Jones was one of Golden Age Hollywood’s busiest kid actors. At age four he began his career as the “World's Youngest Trick Rider and Trick Roper,” performing roping and riding tricks in “B” movie cowboy star Hoot Gibson’s rodeo. In the early ‘30’s he appeared in a few “Our Gang" shorts and by decade’s end had amassed dozens of credits in both "A" and "B" productions, such as John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln and Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (both 1939). In 1940 Jones gained movie immortality as the voice of Pinocchio in Walt Disney's animated classic; later that same year, he appeared in Virginia City, a western starring Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart that filmed scenes on location in Sedona. In a 2005 chat, Jones remembered Flynn’s pet tricks, Bogart’s quick exits, and Curtiz’s ‘goobers’––Joe McNeill

JM: Did you stay in Flagstaff while filming Virginia City?

DICK JONES: Oh yeah, I remember it real well. I just about ate myself to death with trout. I loved it. I actually came back to Flagstaff later that year to do The Outlaw.

What can you tell us about the personal appearance you made at Flagstaff’s Orpheum Theater while filming here?

I don’t remember it at all. I probably did a trick roping act, because that was the only thing I knew. (Laughing) I could strum a ukulele but that wouldn’t have been much!

Do you have memories of working with Errol Flynn in Virginia City?

The one thing I can remember was that he had this standard-sized schnauzer. He had that dog trained. [Flynn] had this swagger stick and he’d be slapping his boot with it, then he’d stop to talk to somebody and he’d slap them on their boot with that swagger stick. Then when he walked away the dog would come up and lift its leg up on them. I think [co-star] “Big Boy” Williams almost wanted to kill him!

I really enjoyed working with Errol Flynn. I worked with him again on Rocky Mountain (1950); that was my favorite of all the films I ever made. [Flynn] was one of the best journeyman actors. He knew his trade and worked his craft real well. What he did afterwards, that’s another story.

What do you remember of Humphrey Bogart?

I worked with him again after Virginia City, but he was very quiet and didn’t mess around with kids. It was always very much just work; you’d come in, the director would say ‘I want this, I want that,’ we’d rehearse our lines together one time, then boom – we’d do it and that’s it. I’d go back to school and he’d go back to his dressing room. So I didn’t spend much time with him. I’d have liked to.

What about Michael Curtiz, Virginia City’s director?

I loved him; he was a great director and I got along with him fine. I remember he’d say [in Hungarian accent], “I got to vait for der ‘goobers.’ “ He wanted to match the scenes and have the clouds look the same. And sure enough, ten, 15 minutes later, he’d say, “Here comes der ‘goobers,’ ” and we’d say, OK, let’s go do it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Old Tucson Studios––Arizona's BIG Hollywood

“When in Southern California, visit Universal Studios.” That was the pitch Universal used back in the 1960s to cross-promote its La-La Land backlot tour in print ads, and later (to the chagrin of some of its snootier directors) in the end titles of its movies. Since 1915, the allure of making the scene at a working film studio has provided a cushy side business for Universal, but if you have a hankering to visit a movie factory, head to southern Arizona’s very own historic studio, Old Tucson.

Old Tucson Studios was originally a western town set built by Columbia Pictures in 1939 for its $2.5 million Oscar-nominated epic, Arizona, which starred Jean Arthur and William Holden (in his cowboy movie debut). The structures were left standing after the completion of shooting and were reused sporadically – at the bargain basement rate of $60 per day – for cowboy extravaganzas like the partly filmed-in-Sedona 3:10 to Yuma (1957), The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959). Midwestern businessman Robert Shelton leased the property (John Wayne, who would shoot four Westerns at Old Tucson, was reportedly among his silent partners) and opened it to the public in 1960 as a movie studio/mini-amusement park, offering set tours, live stunt and musical shows, gunfights and a small area with rides and attractions. Shelton eventually built “Arizona’s Hollywood in the Desert” into what was dubbed the second-most-visited tourist destination in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. In 1968, a 13,000-square-foot soundstage was opened to allow Old Tucson to provide its Hollywood clients complete on-site filmmaking facilities. Later pictures shot at the studio ran the gamut from the avant-garde (Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys, 1968) to blockbuster actioners (Tombstone, 1993). In 1970, Wild Rovers, another partly made-in-Sedona Western, did a single day of exterior filming at Old Tucson, with William Holden making his first return visit 31 years after he helped open the studio.

Only Los Angeles and New York could brag louder than Old Tucson about being the most popular filming location in America until real-life disaster struck in 1995, when approximately 40 percent of the original movie buildings were destroyed in a fire that investigators labeled “suspicious.” But, just like in the movies, good triumphed over evil; the studio soon reopened for business (albeit at three-quarters of its original size) and it remains a working film location today. Since 1939, more than 500 movie and television projects as well as dozens of TV commercials, music videos, industrial films and print photo shoots have been made at Old Tucson Studios.

Getting there is half the fun. The studio lies within Tucson Mountain Park, which borders the biologically diverse (and awesome looking) Saguaro National Park, so the drive through the lush Sonoran Desert provides an eyepopping look at the never-ending forest of ginormous cacti. Even there you’ll find a movie connection: The 2009 dramedy Away We Go, with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, filmed a sequence at this scenic spot.

Once inside the studio walls, you’re standing in the dusty bootprints of cowboy movie Shangri-la, so the 30-minute historic walking tour is highly recommended as the ideal way to soak it all in. On the day we visited, we were fortunate to have our tour conducted by the very knowledgeable historian Paul J. Lawton, who could write a book on the place (actually, he did: Old Tucson Studios, Arcadia Publishing, $21.99).

Among the movie-related attractions is a 20-minute film commemorating John Wayne’s connection to the studio, a continuously running video history of Old Tucson, and a mini-museum that displays posters, props and costumes from many of the movies and TV shows shot there. Also on the lot is the Reno, a 34-ton locomotive built in 1872 that has been used in dozens of films and is considered to be the most photographed train engine in the history of motion pictures. Red Rock Country film fans please take note: Just beyond the Reno stands the actual “Contention” train station that the original 3:10 to Yuma pulled into in 1957. This hitch means there is exactly one more historic Sedona movie set at Old Tucson Studios than the former “Arizona’s Little Hollywood” has within its entire city limits.––Joe McNeill;  originally published in the January/February issue of Sedona Monthly. Photographs © 2011 by Debbie Weinkauff