About Code of Honor
His last movie that was a box office success was Magambo with Clark Gable in 1953. Long Gray Line, which I love, didn’t connect with audiences. Mister Roberts did, but Ford left the film early on. He and Henry Fonda, who played the title role on Broadway for several years, did not agree with Ford’s vision. Fonda tried to speak to Ford one night about his concerns and Ford belted him. Things grew very cold between the two men. When the company came back from location on Midway Island, Ford left the film. The story released by the studio was that Ford had to have emergency gall bladder surgery, although some suspect it was over his dispute with Fonda. The two men didn’t speak to each other until 1970.
Ford was close to being labeled “box office poison” by studio executives because his films were not making money and the mess on Mister Roberts. He desperately needed a hit and The Searchers came along at the right time for him. With this film, Ford proved he was at his best.
Hell, yes! In this film Wayne shows his emotional maturity and growth as an actor. No one − and I mean no one − could play Ethan Edwards like he did and still retain the audience’s sympathy at the end. It is a brilliant performance and every time I watch it I am still amazed at his work.
Kramer had one film left on his deal with United Artists before he could take up a much more lucrative deal at Columbia. High Noon was his “get out of jail” card. He let Carl Foreman, who wrote the script, take over as producer and moved to his new offices at Columbia Studios. During production, the film was considered an insignificant Western with a star who was past his prime.
Once the film was released to great reviews and box office, Stanley Kramer was very quick to claim it as one of his favorites. Suddenly he was taking credit for making the film better (it had a disappointing sneak preview), especially after the Oscar nominations came out.
Kramer originally distanced himself from the film because Carl Foreman refused to name names at the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC). No doubt Kramer did this to avoid being dragged into the malestorm that had engulfed Hollywood and ruin his deal at Columbia.
That he did. Originally when Palance’s character of Jack Wilson makes his first appearance, Stevens wanted the actor to gallop into town. Unfortunately, Jack wasn’t a very good rider and bounced a lot in the saddle as he tried to gallop in. Stevens then suggested that the actor trot the horse in, yet the result was not good. Finally, Stevens told him to walk the horse into town. The result is a very ominous entrance for the character, who throughout the film moves slowly, except when firing his gun.
Ford loved Monument Valley. One visit there and it is not hard to fall in love with that place. For a filmmaker, it offers unlimited scenery. You just cannot film a bad shot in that Valley. He also dearly loved the Navajos and they loved him. On this film they gave him a scared deer hide and named him “Natani Nez,” which means “Tall Soldier.” I honestly think he would have chosen Monument Valley as the location for every one of his movies if it was possible. Woody Strode once told me he though Ford should have been buried in Monument Valley. I agree.
Man, talk about painting me into a corner! Well, The Searchers (along with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) is my favorite John Ford film, and there is a lot of them. I would say that The Searchers is tops. It is such a compelling film, and as I watch it over and over (I have seen it well over 100 times), I still find things to marvel over. Monument Valley never looked better on the big screen, and Ford is at the top of his game with this film. Then there is John Wayne’s performance, as well as every one else, that just makes this movie grab your attention. I am a huge fan of Max Steiner’s score and despite Ford not liking it, I think it fits the film so damn well. I never tire of watching this film and every time it is on TV, everything stops for me and I will stay with it to the fade out.
But I also have to say I love High Noon. Not just because of my dad being in it, or Tiompkin’s great score, but the story. Any kid who had to face down a bully at the end of school can relate to Gary Cooper’s Will Kane. The strength that comes from having to face a fear alone can do one of two things: break you or strengthen you. Cooper’s Kane does not break. On a final note, the film has one of the greatest shots in film history as the camera crane goes up in the air and we see Kane all alone on the street walking to his destiny. Man, that is such a great shot!
Not really. It garnered good reviews and the box office was very good, but most critics and the film industry just shrugged it off as another teaming of John Ford and John Wayne. It needed a few years to be reexamined and then the appreciation for it took off.
No. Stevens wanted Montgomery Clift for the role, but the studio balked because Cliff was not under contract, so his salary would be higher. Stevens settled on Ladd because he was under contract. He also wanted Katherine Hepburn and William Holden as Marian and Joe Starrett, but wound up casting Jean Arthur and Van Heflin, because they had deals at the studio.
It was based on a very popular novel, which is still in print today. Yes, it was a big hit for Paramount studios, which was worried about making its money back.
No one but Cooper could have done justice to the role of Will Kane. He could say less with dialogue and let his face and body speak volumes. He was simply great and deserved the Oscar he won. High Noon was the boost his career needed.
Four people, in this order: Carl Foreman, Fred Zinnemann, Elmo Williams and Dimitri Tiompkin. Foreman had written the script, using his dealings with HUAC and subsequently being shunned in Hollywood, gave depth to the story. Zinnemann had a great vision as director, picking the right actors for the various roles. He was the one who determined that the clock would be an integral piece of the film, not Kramer. Williams, the film editor, drew the film tighter with his editing. The subplot with the other deputy was jettison and the focus of the film stayed on Gary Cooper and the approach of the noon hour. Tiompkin created a mono-thematic score for the film, which had never been successfully incorporated before. He also started the trend of a ballad/song that reflected the basis of the film’s plot.
Aside from appearing on nearly every Top Ten Westerns list in recent years, they are three of the best films ever made. Also, the basic theme of each protagonist sticking to his personal code of honor despite any setbacks is very heroic.
Paramount had the mentality that an Alan Ladd film (he was under contract to Paramount) only made X amount of dollars. Anything over that amount was a waste of money and did not guarantee a box office success. Plus, being filmed in Technicolor made it very costly (even in 1951) compared to a black and white film.
The studio heads had little faith in director George Stevens, who made the film. He was a great craftsman, who shot a lot of footage, covering scenes. That meant a bigger expense, as was going on a location (Jackson Hole, Wyoming). To make matters worse, the weather was uncooperative with almost daily rain storms. After Stevens finished principal photography, he spent nearly a year editing the film. The studio began to panic as costs mounted. At one point they considered selling Shane to Howard Hughes, who was running RKO, but the idea went nowhere. In the end, Paramount had not only a major critical and box office hit, but a true classic. (It was nominated for 6 Oscars, winning Best Cinematography.)
Yep, he plays Gillis, the owner of the saloon. Matter of fact, he has the first spoken line in the film as the bad guys ride past the saloon. Of course, he later gets punched by Gary Cooper when he bets Kane will be dead five minutes after Frank Miller gets off the train. He was very proud of that role and in being part of a classic.
About Lon Chaney
Honestly, as we get closer to the film’s 100th anniversary release, I doubt it. Back then films were released on nitrate film stock and the shelf life for those prints, even in the best conditions, is dicey. Supposedly, the only known print at MGM was destroyed when several film vaults caught fire in the late 1960s. (Nitrate film stock is highly flammable.) I am always hopeful a print may surface, as we have seen several films from Lon’s days at Universal (1913-18) recently come to light. I think the odds of an existing print of London After Midnight surviving is pretty slim.
How simple, yet effective everything was. His makeups used what was available at the time, mostly carry-overs from the theatre. I was fortunate to speak to Fred Phillips, a veteran makeup artist, who looked at photos and told me what Lon would have used. He actually knew Lon when he started as an apprentice at MGM. Cecil Holland’s book on makeup for the Screen, published in 1927, was a great reference. Holland was head of the makeup department at MGM back then and Lon wrote the preface for his makeup book.
I was 10 when I watched Man of a Thousand Faces on a local TV station, mainly to see my dad, who appeared in it. When it was over, I wanted a makeup case and wanted to know more about Lon Chaney.
Unfortunately, at that time there were no books written about him, and whatever information there was in any film books were limited to a paragraph at the most. Luckily for me, my dad was a member of an actor’s club in Hollywood, The Masquers, and some members had actually known and worked with Chaney. At the age of 12, I bombarded them with questions.
Sadly, yes. Only 47 exist in complete or partial form, but in the past two decades, four of his early Universal films have come to light, so there is always hope we may find more missing films.
One day on the MGM lot he was walking to his dressing room when he noticed some baby birds had fallen out of their near-by nest. He scooped them up and gently placed them back into their nest. As he climbed down he noticed actress Peggy Woods had been watching the whole thing. “Don’t say anything,” he pleaded. “Everyone thinks I’m so hard boiled I’ll never hear the end of it!”
Absolutely! The video market allowed his existing MGM films to be available, although the vast majority were “bootleg” copies, some had awful quality. But a poor bootleg print of something you never had seen was better than nothing. The DVD market has been a boon to many silent film stars, as folks have access to many films that were only shown occasionally at a retrospective.
Not at all! There were no such things as home videos, no Turner Classic Movie channels. The first film I saw was Shadows on a PBS show called Toy That Grew Up. In Los Angeles we had the Silent Movie Theatre, where the owner occasionally showed some of Chaney’s films like Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Shock, Nomads of the North and Flesh and Blood. To see any of Lon’s MGM films back then was like finding the holy grail because they were rarely, if ever, shown. For my 15th birthday, my dad rented a 16mm print of The Unholy Three, Chaney’s only talking picture. That was a big thing for me.
Thunder is one. What footage I have seen, makes me yearn for the complete film. After that, I’d have to say The Miracle Man, Treasure Island, A Blind Bargain and Tower of Lies.
Tied for first place is While the City Sleeps and Tell It To the Marines. Those are, hands down, my two favorite films. The Unknown, The Penalty, The Unholy Three (talking version) and He Who Gets Slapped.
Honestly, I never intended to write a book. Robert G. Anderson wrote a book on Lon in 1971, although it was very light on biographical material. But for a long time, it was the ONLY book on Chaney anyone could get their hands on. I started collecting information on Lon merely as a hobby. When I was working with Burt Lancaster on Tough Guys in 1986, and we talked a lot about Chaney. He urged me to write a book on Chaney.
Not long after that, I sat down and wrote three pages. It was the worst piece of crap I ever read. I tried to sound biographical. It was dreadful, just boring. I became frustrated, as Chaney deserved a good biography. A friend of mine, who heard me speak about Lon to a historical group, suggested I try writing like I was speaking to a person about Lon. After a few false starts, I gradually found my rhythm and “my voice.”
The biggest influence of my writing style was Kevin Brownlow, the great film historian. His writing style of informative and interesting, yet eschewing the academic dryness always impressed me. As far as film historians, he is my hero and greatest influence. I was a self-taught film historian, observing things when I worked on films, talking to people and reading works by Brownlow, Bob Thomas and Bosley Crowther. Kevin’s work, both in books and his great documentaries, is what inspired me to be a film historian.
My first book was greatly helped by two people: writer James Curtis and my wife. Jim has written several film biographies and one day sat down with me and went through my manuscript, praising the good work and brutally hard on the bad. He opened my eyes to things I never thought about as a biographical writer and was of immense help. My wife was equally helpful. She knew very little of film history, but loves movies. When she read the manuscript, she’d ask me questions I took for granted
To finally answer your question, I wanted to write a book about Lon Chaney for me, that 10-year old kid who was hungry to learn about this man. I also wanted to document the life of a remarkable artist and a man who has been a major influence in my life.
Never. I thought the first book was it. I thought I had uncovered everything possible. Boy, was that a silly thought. Never say never, in this case, was very true. About six months after my book had been released, I was introduced to the family of Alfred Grasso, who was Chaney’s business manager in the early 1920s. Turns out they had letters, telegrams, and other things, including material that re-wrote the history of how The Hunchback of Notre Dame was made at Universal. (It was Chaney’s idea for the film, not producer Irving Thalberg.)
While seeing this stuff was so amazing, it was also depressing. I kept saying I wish I had access to this before my book had been released. It put me in such a funk, I wouldn’t look at my book for weeks. Then I decided to do what any Hollywood studio would do − a sequel! As I went along writing the second book, more and more material literally fell into my lap. People called me and said, “Oh, I know someone who worked with Lon,” and I’d go talk to them. One friend said a lady in a nursing home he knew worked at the New York hospital when Chaney was there shortly before his death. It was amazing.
I was originally going to call the book The Films of Lon Chaney, but between all the new material I had assembled and the “Films of…” section, it would be impossible to publish it at a reasonable price. My publisher agreed to split the book into two, and leave the “Films of…” section as another book.
About The Cowboy President
He’s my favorite US President, with Lincoln a close second. I have always been fascinated with Theodore’s time in the Dakota Territory from 1883-1887, and I wanted to write about that period, which was close to his heart and mine.
Yes, and that is one of the things that frustrates many people in understanding Theodore. He could instantly establish a bird sanctuary with the swipe of a pen, yet go out and shoot a bird.
One thing people need to understand about Theodore, he was a romantic. He had one foot firmly in the 20th century, yet he was also in love with the romanticism of the earlier centuries. He saw hunting as a way of proving one’s manhood, which was a common belief in the 19th century. He also loved the thrill of the hunt, stalking his prey, much like a lion or tiger.
As a hunter he was not one to waste his prey just for the thrill of a hunt. He often hunted pronghorns in the Dakotas not just for the trophy head, but for the meat. Same with the deer, elk and other game. He was strongly against those who hunted for profit, killing game for just the hides that would be sold.
However, if he had not been a hunter, many believe that Theodore would not have had the great awakening to lead the conservation fight. By 1887, he creates the Boone and Crockett Club (named after two of his childhood heroes, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett), which pushed for laws to protect game and natural resources. From that point on, he becomes a champion for conservation of animals and the land. This club is still in existence today.
I was given a pictorial book of US Presidents when I was 8. I knew about Lincoln because of the Civil War, but being a cowboy crazy kid, I was disappointed all the presidents during the American West era (1865-1899) all wore suits and none had been a cowboy. When I turned the page and found Theodore Roosevelt, all that changed.
The first photo I saw of him he is dressed in his buckskins, gun on his hip, wearing a cowboy hat, and stands next to his horse. I read how he had a cattle ranch in the Dakota Territory, and was thoroughly impressed this guy had been a cowboy. Then I saw the famous picture of him and his Rough Riders at San Juan Hill. Well, this fellow just fit my pistol, and he became my favorite president. As time went on, the more I read about him, the more I came to greatly admire him. He was an amazing fellow.
Amazing. Thanks to the establishment of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you can see the land like Theodore experienced it. That was his desire for establishing national parks and monuments. He wanted people over a hundred years later to be able to experience the beauty of the land as he did.
I followed the example set by Louis L’Amour, who believed if you are going to write about a place you need to see it and experience it personally, not simply rely what was noted in a book. Being in the actual places where your subject once stood, gives a writer a completely different perspective.
Theodore went West originally to hunt a buffalo and he winds up buying a cattle ranch. Five months later, a horrible tragedy hits him. He loses his mother and wife on the same day – Valentine’s Day – within hours of each other. Adding to the tragedy, his wife had given birth to their first child a day earlier. It was more grief than anyone could handle. For Theodore, he sought solace in the vastness of the Dakota Badlands (what is now Medora, North Dakota) to grieve. The land challenged him to live in a way nothing else could. He thrived out there, relying on his own inner-strength and skills, with help from a few close friends.
The land eventually restored him, helped him come back from such a major loss. As a way of paying back the land for what it gave him emotionally, he went on to preserve Western lands for future generations to appreciate. By the end of his Presidency in 1909, Theodore had set aside over 230 million acres of land for the public, half the size of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. He also established 51 bird sanctuaries, 18 National Monuments, 6 National Parks, and created or expanded 150 National Forests.
Oh, man! There are SO many I cannot really just say one is my favorite. So here are three that give you an insight into his personality.
The first one is about the three outlaws who stole his small boat from his Elkhorn Ranch in the frigid days of February. Theodore was incensed that his property was stolen and wanted to go after the thieves, but the Little Missouri River was full of ice chunks. Three days later, he and his two friends, Wilmot Dow and Bill Sewell, launch after them in a small canoe. The weather was just miserable, and they are constantly stopped by the ice build-up on the river. They finally captured the three men and Theodore arranges for a rancher to take his prisoners in a wagon to the sheriff in the town of Dickinson. He walks behind the wagon, in cold, ankle-deep mud, for 45-miles. He never slept during this trip, until he delivered his prisoners. Many admired his pluck, but wondered why he just didn’t hang the three men when he caught them. People didn’t understand Theodore. He didn’t want vengeance, he wanted justice prevail.
The second story centers on Jerry Paddock, a man with a hard reputation. He made a boast that Theodore’s Elkhorn Ranch land belonged to him, and if “Four Eyes” wanted the land so badly he could pay for it − even in blood. When Theodore learned of the threat, he went right to Paddock’s cabin and banged on the door. When the door opened, he informed Paddock, “I understand you have threatened to kill me on sight. I have come over to see when you want to begin the killing, and to let you know that, if you have anything against me, now is the time to say it.” Paddock could only stammer that he’d been mis-quoted. Ironically, after this incident, they became friends!
In 1902, Theodore went to Mississippi to hunt a black bear. He had horrible luck in finding one, while newspaper reporters had a field day commenting on his lack of bagging a bear. Finally, the guides caught an old bear and tied him to a tree. Roosevelt, hearing they had trapped a bear, grabbed his rifle and came running, only to discover the animal was not in sorry shape and tied to a tree. He adamantly refused to shoot the bear like that, noting that it was unsporting. Theodore ordered the bear be put down and walked away. When newspapers carried the story, the public just loved what Theodore had done. Clifford Berryman, an editorial cartoonist, drew a cartoon of Theodore refusing to shoot a small bear cub, which just increased his popularity. A man in Brooklyn, New York, Morris Michtom, had a small novelty store where his wife made stuff dolls. They made some small bears they called “Teddy’s Bears” and the birth of the Teddy Bear began.
“It is better to be an original than an imitation.”
I wanted to come up with a way to make Theodore Roosevelt relevant to people today. Now, I can just stand there as the author and tell you about him, but that is rather dry. I wanted to do something different with the desire to hold the audience’s interest. I come out and start talking about Theodore, and become him in front of the audience. With a few wardrobe additions and glasses, I am no longer Michael F. Blake the author, but Theodore Roosevelt. It’s a short one-man performance, where Theodore relates stories about his time in the west and how it influenced him. I’ve designed it so it can be a 30-minute performance, or as short as 15 minutes, depending on the schedule. It believe it is a unique way of telling people about the man.
My original idea was to focus on his time in the Dakotas, which it still does, but during the course of my research, the people and the land of the American West greatly influenced him. His passionate interest in conservation began with his first trip to the Dakotas. He saw that game life was not as plentiful as he had once believed, and the demand for strong laws to protect the wildlife, and the land, was needed.
The people of the West were the kind of folks he easily gravitated to. They didn’t say a lot, but what they did say was meaningful. Their word was their bond. A handshake was more important than a written contract. People out west relied on themselves, not help or handouts from their government. This type of lifestyle suited Theodore perfectly, and it quickly became part of who he was and would become. In my book I show how the West and the people influenced him in his career and life.
Absolutely! He asked for no favors as a cattle owner when it came to the Spring and Fall round-ups. Since his eyesight was not great, he did little roping, but was very active in gathering cattle and branding them. During a round-up he was involved in a cattle stampede, which I detail in the book. He also stood off a small band of Sioux Indians when he was riding alone in the Badlands. One thing you can say about Theodore Roosevelt is he truly was the real deal.
Hollywood and the O.K. Corral
I have three. Tombstone is my favorite. It just looks so damned good, the writing sparkles, the acting is great and I love Bruce Broughton’s score. A few facts are missing but it doesn’t hurt the narrative flow of the story. Hour of the Gun is another favorite. And, of course, there is John Ford’s My Darling Clementine. Such a wonderfully made film, with outstanding cinematography. It shows why black and white movies were so effective. I never tire of watching these three films.
Sturges was interested in the story after the gunfight when two Earp brothers are ambushed. One is seriously maimed and the other dies. That sparked what became known as the Earp Vendetta ride.
This was the first film I saw about the gunfight, and is a favorite of mine. It was my cinematic introduction to the Wyatt Earp-Tombstone story. James Garner is so good as Wyatt, and Jason Robards is equally wonderful as Doc. The final scene between the two is very touching. Plus, it has a great score by Jerry Goldsmith.
Yes. In many cases, producers and directors will toss out names as casting begins for a film. They had seriously thought about Bogart, but he was terribly sick with cancer. Wallis wanted Burt Lancaster, who was under contract to Wallis and reluctantly agreed to do it to finish his contract. They never worked together again.
Believe it or not, John Ford wanted Stewart. 20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck talked him out of that idea, convincing Ford to use Victor Mature, who was under contract to the studio. Personally, I think it’s Mature’s greatest performance.
In order of release, Frontier Marshal (1939), Tombstone-Town Too Tough To Die (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Hour of the Gun (1967), Doc (1971), Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994)
In many ways. It gave the city of Tombstone a needed boost in tourism. It was a vibrant Western, wonderfully written and acted. When you look at that film, the visual look is completely due to Kevin Jarre, the writer and director.
It is a tie between Val Kilmer and Dennis Quaid. Quaid is probably closer to the darker side of Doc and certainly makes his screen time well used. He’s about the best thing in Wyatt Earp. Kilmer is equally great and makes his dialogue just sparkle. I also like Jason Robards in Hour of the Gun.
Unfortunately, yes. Jarre was replaced three weeks into filming. Kurt Russell, who played Wyatt, held the film together. The director they hired to replace Jarre, George Cosmatos, wasn’t the best, but was basically hired because he agreed to start work the following Monday (Jarre was fired the previous Friday). No one at Disney, who released the film, had much faith in it, but it had a good word-of-mouth helped it along. It wound up earning $60 million at the box office, and when it was released on video, it shot through the roof.
As a kid I had heard of the famous gunfight. I was never a fan of the Hugh O’Brien television show (I was devoted to Gunsmoke and Marshal Matt Dillon), but had read some books about it. As I got older and learned more about the events, I was struck how the Earp story in Tombstone was a Shakespearean tragedy. Plus, I have always loved My Darling Clementine, and then Tombstone came along.
Without a doubt, Doc has to be one of the worst made films. It was an anti-Western, where the filmmakers tried to debunk the Western myth. Badly written script by Pete Hamill, a New York newspaper writer, who claimed he finished the script in three days, and it shows. It is just an awful mess which I had to watch for the book. I refuse to ever watch it again. Just complete garbage.
James Garner and Kurt Russell. They really nailed the man behind the myth. It is not just me who thinks that, but several Wyatt Earp historians feel the same way. Interestingly, when I told Garner that, he said that he though Henry Fonda made the best Wyatt Earp.
Two things: Stuart Lake’s biography on Wyatt Earp and Hollywood. The gunfight, which did not take place in the O.K. Corral, but in an empty lot next to it, was not big news when it happened in 1881. It was noted in a very small article in a couple of newspapers, but its real popularity began with Lake’s 1931 biography. He was the one who claimed that the gunfight happened in the O.K. Corral, a myth that continues to this day.
Hollywood, always in search for a good story, made the gunfight in several films, some using fictional characters. My book focuses on the 8 films that used most of, or all, the actual characters.
Yes. Virgil was serious wounded in an ambush crossing a Tombstone street at night in December 1881. He died in Goldfield, Nevada in 1905. Morgan was killed in an ambush in Tombstone in March 1882 while playing billiards with Wyatt. Doc Holliday died in Glenwood Springs of tuberculosis in 1887. Wyatt lived in Los Angeles and died in 1929 at the age of 80. His last words were “Suppose….suppose.”