Archive for March, 2021

A New Cinema Venture – Maybe Not

From time to time, I purchase a film of the era on celluloid and on reels – often 16 mm ones which I don’t think were used so much in cinemas – I may be wrong on that.

Anyway a few weeks ago I purchased this 35 mm Film of Walt Disney’s classic ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ made here in England in 1951 and released in 1952.

This 35 mm format would have been used in cinemas

I must admit that I am pretty chuffed to have acquired this from the USA

The pictures of the cardboard box containing the film are pretty mundane I know but it is what is inside that is exciting – now all we need is a 35 mm Film Projector and away we go.

When we load up the projector, dim the lights and press the button we are there in the greenwood and in TECHNICOLOR

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Mrs Dale – Ellis Powell and Ralph Truman

Just following up on recent articles.

BELOW – This is a picture that was taken at the time of the 2,000 th episode of Mrs Dale’s Diary with Ellis Powell as Mrs Dale and James Dale as Dr Dale. This episode coincided with their son Bob’s wedding

In the last weeks of her life, Ellis Powell is reported to have worked at the Ideal Home Exhibition and as a hotel cleaner. She had been invited to become an announcer at boxer Freddie Mills’s Nite spot in London, but died before she could take the job.

On 19 February 1963, Ellis Powell a fifty-six-year-old character actress walked out of Broadcasting House for the last time. In fact she had earned less than £ 30 a week playing Mrs. Dale in Mrs Dale’s Diary but her voice was as well known in Britain as that of Queen Elizabeth II, for it was heard twice a day by seven million devoted listeners.

The BBC had decided the programme needed a facelift and got rid of Ellis Powell. Typical of the BBC – they haven’t changed much over the years – they have a successful programme like this one with 7 million listeners and then decide to get rid of the mainstay of the show – the leading actress. It defies belief but this is the way it is done there it seems.

Three months later, at the age of fifty-seven, she died. Her friends believed she never recovered from the shock and distress of her sudden departure from the BBC. In the last weeks of her life she worked as a demonstrator at the Ideal Home Exhibition and as a cleaner in a hotel.

Freddie Mills Nite Spot

Freddie Mills Nite Spot

Ellis Powell had been married to fellow actor Ralph Truman who I always remember for playing George Merry in Walt Disney’s ‘Treasure Island’ in 1950.

The Director Byron Haskin allowed and in fact encouraged Ralph Truman to go head to head with Robert Newton in the acting stakes and this he did with much success the resulting in making Robert Newton seem to be almost underplaying his role of Long John Silver at times when they were both on screen together.

Having said that Byron Haskin was full of praise for Robert Newton who had worked so hard on the film with barely a day off

Ralph Truman as George Merry in ‘Treasure Island’

Anyway, I digress – Ralph Truman had a long and successful career as a film actor and his wife too had a good career in Radio drama from before the War and during the War and afterwards.

Ralph Truman was also in a very good Hitchcock film ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ in 1956 as Inspector Buchanan – and later he appeared in Ben Hur and El Cid

Ralph Truman on the Left in The Night My Number Came Up

As for his wife Ellis Powell, her treatment by the BBC afterwards was nothing short of shameful. They even seemed to go along and promote the story that she had a problem with alcohol – but when this is looked into there is very little evidence to support that

Ralph du Vergier Truman, 1900 – 1977

Ralph du Vergier Truman was born 7 May 1900, in London Ralph married Ellis Agnes Estelle Truman (born Powell).Ellis was born in 1905, in London, England.

After her death Ralph married Maria “Mimi” Vittoria H Truman (born Cooper).Maria was born on November 13 1918, in Brentford, Middlesex, England

Ralph Truman died in Ipswich in 1977

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Rose Marie 1954

When you take one of the most popular shows in the world at the time, give it the most lavish treatment accorded to a big colour musical, film it in Cinemascope with such stars as Howard Keel, Ann Blyth and Fernando Lamas and then ensure that the breath-taking backgrounds are the Canadian Rockies you finish up with ‘Rose Marie’

Ann Blyth is Rose Marie Lemaitre, left all alone in the world after the death of her trapper father.  Miss Blyth apparently had no qualms about playing a French Canadian, as her delightful accent is just right.  She seemed to be ok alone in the world, for when the Mountie first encounters her, she is placidly fishing from a canoe, quite contentedly

The Mountie, Sgt. Malone, is Howard Keel, resplendent in that red coat.

He has the job of taking her out of the wilderness,  and bring her into protective custody. 

She is unwilling, almost frightened to go with him. She runs away, and he tracks her down, finding her cuddled up like a bear cub in sleep, but when he disturbs her, she attacks him with a knife.  At the first opportunity, she bites him.

This was the first musical ever to be filmed in CinemaScope, and it’s amazing how fluid the scenes are and how the shots vary.  In later musicals, including The Student Prince, Kismet, really most of the late 1950s musicals that were filmed in CinemaScope, the shots seem almost static. 

Ann Blyth appears in the above publicity photo with Fernando Lamas.  from Rose Marie (1954),

Ann Blyth was twenty-four when she played the title role in this musical, and it is impossible not to be impressed by her ability to appear so young, so naturally and effortlessly a teenager when in her teen years she often played characters who were older, or least more poised and sophisticated.     

She was married in 1953 to Dr. James McNulty and they remained together until his death in 2007 – they had four children – the first was born just before this film was released

Ann Blyth also had a long and busy stage career playing in many of the big musicals

Rose Marie- ABOVE a spectacular scene

By the time this film was made Howard Keel had changed his name – no longer Harold Keel as he had been in ‘Oklahoma’ in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in the late 40s

Rose Marie

Rose Marie 1954

MGM’s first CinemaScope musical is visually splendid, with what looks like on-location filming of the Canadian wilderness. The lake and mountain vistas must be even more spectacular on the big CINEMASCOPE screen as  even on a TV screen they’re impressive.

It is a very well made film and the combination of Howard Keel and Ann Blyth was perfect

About the same time, another big musical was done on the enormous studio sets and that was ‘Brigadoon’ – where that village in the Scottish Highlands comes to life for one day in every 100 years

Prior to ‘Rose Marie’, Ann Blyth had come to England to film ‘The House on the Square’ opposite Tyrone Power – the film was made at Denham Film Studios

Here she is in London on Horseguards Parade ABOVE

Ann Blyth travelled to England to star in this film. She flew over on four days’ notice having replaced the original actress for some reason. Her uncle and aunt, with whom she lived after the death of her mother, were Irish immigrants, as her mother was. They came to England to join Ann on her film shoot, and when the job was done, they toured Europe for a few weeks, and visited Ireland and all the relatives there. I understand Ann made an appearance at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and was well received by the public.

Years later, President Eisenhower invited Ann to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day to sing for the visiting President of Ireland.

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

H Maxwell Coker – a stage career and a marriage to Sally Ann Howes

Maybe not a name that we know well but Maxwell Coker was a very well respected actor of the late forties and early fifties on the West End stage – and here he is below with a signed postcard from when he was appearing in London’s West End in ‘Oklahoma’

Maxwell Coker

Maxwell Coker was born in Corinth, Miss. in 1920 and led an interesting and fascinating life. His is included membership in the legendary Theatre Guild and stage appearances on Broadway, throughout the United States and Europe, as well as in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

He was an original cast member of the London production of “Oklahoma!” in the late 1940’s and continued his long stage career, primarily in London, in productions of, “Sing Out,” “Sweet Land,” “Carousel,” “Tuppence Coloured,” “Three Cornered Moon,” “Jane, High Spirits,” “Bittersweet,” “The Good Fairy” and many others. Mr. Coker was also privileged to appear in several Royal Command performances.

He married Sally Ann Howes in 1950 but sadly that didn’t last – many of the stars below were at their wedding.

This below is from a Newspaper Report of the day

Sally and Maxwell decorating their flat before their marriage

LONDON. March 11 1950 Traffic was brought to a standstill in the Strand as hundreds of office workers ran to get a glimpseof the 19-year-old film star Sally Ann Howes leaving Savoy Chapel after her wedding to Maxwell Coker, one of the original members of the ‘Oklahoma!’ cast.

She arrived five minutes late and stood smiling at a crowd that had already gathered before entering the chapel.She wore a gold and whitebrocade crinoline dress sprinkled with diamente, wornwith a high mandarin collar and long sleeves.

As she entered the chapel on the arm of her actor father.Bobby Howes. 50 of the waitingcrowd surged inside and sat in back pews. -Earlier the crowd stood watching the arrival of the 130 guests, mostly well-known theatrical people.


Mention was made above of the stars at the wedding and they included many of is co-stars from London Productions and included Laurence Olivier, Howard Keel, Sir John Gielgud, Alfred Drake, Mary Martin, Richard Burton, Burl Ives, Cyril Ritchard, Lily Pons, Hermione Gingold, Coral Brown, Vivian Leigh, Salome Jens, Jeanette McDonald, Noel Coward, Patricia Neal and Emlyn Williams. In World War II, Mr. Coker served as an honorary officer in the British Military and toured the South Pacific Islands performing with the cast of “Oklahoma!.”

In 1951, Mr. Coker continued his love of the theatre after he left the stage with the birth of “Brillianteen,” an Evanston Township High School student production. Beginning in 1955 and continuing for many more years, Coker directed several productions. “Brillianteen” continues today as a showcase for young talent with a yearly production.

He was trained at Sanford Meisner’s Neighbourhood Playhouse and George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, the veteran actor returned to the stage after a 30-year absence for his final, “just for fun” performance in 1991 as the title role of Sheridan Whiteside in Kaufman and Hart’s “The Man Who Came to Dinner” at the Country Playhouse in Houston.

After a 26-year show business career, Mr. Coker returned to the United States where he met his wife of 47 years, Patricia Henehan. He worked with American Express as a manager for 21 years and appeared in many American Express travel-related TV and radio programmes.

During his tenure with American Express, he negotiated with the Communist governments of the Soviet Union and China to bring in the first American tourists ever. He also taught in a travel industry school, hosted a Chicago-area TV show “It’s Fun to Travel,” and lectured at the University of Illinois to graduate students about public relations.

In addition to his theatrical and travel agency career, Mr. Coker was a witty raconteur and an accomplished cook whose hospitality attracted young and old alike. His gentlemanly charm, melodious voice and generous nature gained him a worldwide circle of admirers.

In June, the Cokers had relocated to Houston, to be near their children and grandchildren.

To conclude – back we go to 1947 and this review of the Show Oklahoma which I believe was written about it’s Manchester production prior to going into the West End at the world famous ‘Theatre Royal Drury Lane’

Maxwell Coker is cast, as we see, as one of the leading actors in this classic musical that wowed British audiences just after the war

The curtains parted a little and a cowboy stepped forward to apologise for the delay because “our sets and costumes were on the Queen Elizabeth liner stranded on a sandbank off Southampton, but we are almost ready to begin.” He disappeared back through the curtains and a buzz went around the house, slowly subsiding. All of a sudden the orchestra struck up, Aunt Eller was churning the milk and the potent voice of Harold Keel enchanted us with “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow…..”. The gleaming sunshine of the show lit up the auditorium- and the audience with it. OKLAHOMA! utterly thrilled the grey and gloomy British, still reeling from the War. From that moment on, there was no holding this powerhouse of a show, sweeping us off our feet and, two weeks later, Theatre Royal Drury Lane audiences for 1,543 performances.

Harold Keel was soon to have his name changed to Howard Keel

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Bonanza – and Dan Blocker –

Dan Blocker was a major star at the time of his death, as he was still a leading cast member of the Western TV series Bonanza.

One month after the Season 13 finale finished in 1972, Dan — who had been with the series since day one — died at the age of 43 from a post-operative pulmonary embolism following gall bladder surgery. 

In an unprecedented move for television, producers chose to kill off his character, Hoss in the series

Producers made the difficult decision to kill off Hoss after determining that no one else could possibly step into the role. Hoss’ off-screen death marked the first time in TV history that a major young male character had been killed off in a show instead of just written off. 

His cause of death wasn’t revealed until the 1988 made-for-television movie, Bonanza: The Next Generation, which didn’t star any of the original cast members. In the film, it was explained that Hoss had drowned trying to save a woman’s life. 

In Season 14, the writers attempted to fill the hole left by Dan’s death with a new character named Griff King, a parolee looking to reform his life on the Ponderosa Ranch, and the return of cowboy Candy Canaday

However the loss of Hoss caused Bonanza’s ratings to plummet.

All-together, Dan Blocker appeared in 415 episodes of Bonanza, between 1959 and 1972.

In addition to being a family man and a big Hollywood star, Dan Blocker was also a military veteran. He was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War and served as an infantry sergeant from December 1951 to Aug. He was awarded a Purple Heart, after suffering wounds in combat, and also reportedly received the National Defensethe series Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with two bronze campaign stars, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal, Korean War Service Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge.

Always one to have a kind word or good advice, Dan Blocker once commented on his celebrity status by candidly addressing how off-putting it could be at times. “Fame frightens me; it truly does, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it,” he was quoted as saying, “I feel like I have a tiger by the tail. I’m in this business for the money. I need money, like anyone else, because I want to give to my wife and kids a good home and a good life. It’s what any man wants to do for his family. …I’m just an ordinary guy.”

Dan was very much a family man – in fact at least two of his sons are in the film industry to this day

As we all know, Dan played the role of Hoss Cartwright for thirteen seasons, from 1959 until his death in 1972 from complications following an operation, on NBC’s “Bonanza,” one of the longest-running and most popular TV series in history – and one which was shown all over the world

Dan Blocker ABOVE reading

ABOVE – The Stars of ‘Bonanza’ Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and Lorne Greene

I remember Lorne Greene releasing a ‘talking single’ record call ‘Ringo’ which seemed to do quite well in England – I listened to it again via the internet a few days ago – it is good

‘Ringo’ ABOVE

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Rebecca, Mrs Mainwaring and Mrs Ventress

Here are three very well know characters – one from a classic film and the other two from well loved British Television.

Rebecca – a Hitchcock film classic with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine

What a great film this was – beautifully made and superb acting by Joan Fontaine – I didn’t think Laurence Olivier was that good and it is said that Hitchcock wanted Ronald Colman for the role as Max De Winter but for whatever reason he did not get him. I would have thought that Ronald Colman would have been perfect as he was a brilliant screen actor – probably one of the finest.

Laurence Olivier was quite new to films and was never a good screen actor in my view

I always think that this film is dominated from the title onwards by Rebecca who dictates the action and the storyline and indeed nearly every aspect of the film – and yet she NEVER appears.

Anyone reading this will have worked out that these fictional characters all have one thing in common – they are often mentioned and have a significant impact on some of the stories – and yet we never see them on screen

Mrs Ventress

The unseen wife of PC Alf Ventress, although he often mentions her at work, off duty and throughout his retirement. Together, they have at least one daughter, Gail, who is living in Cardiff. She has an unseen sister, who lives in Whitby

Alf Ventress

It is believed that PC Bellamy has probably met Mrs Ventress at some point. In the episode when PC Ventress has gone missing, PC Bradley picks up the phone and says that it is Mrs Ventress, Phil then says ‘I’m not here!’

Also Bernie Scripps has possibly met Mrs Ventress because there was a conversation in one episode when Alf’s chimney came down which someone describes as ‘an act of god’, Bernie then says “Not even God would dare to drop a chimney on Mrs Ventress”

One of my own favourite remarks from Alf was after he had helped apprehend a quite violent criminal inside a farm shed – Alf gave him a ‘rabbit chop’ which results in the crook firing his gun in the air which gave the police the knowledge of where he was. Alf is found lying unharmed but face down in straw and manure.

Oscar Blaketon : Are you all right Alf ?

Alf Ventress : A bit winded, that’s all. A quick karate chop to get away – five years in the Commandos taught me that. And when you’re in trouble, just lie doggo – thirty years of marriage to Mrs. Ventress taught me that.

On another occasion, Sergeant Miller was having trouble in his marriage. Alf brought tea into his office and initially the sergeant was quite short with him, then he apologised and told Alf about it.

He said ‘ I can’t seem to talk to her these days’ to which Alf replied ‘ You might just try listening Sarge – I’ve found that it works wonders with Mrs Ventress

Mrs Mainwaring

Elizabeth Mainwaring was reclusive wife of Captain George Mainwaring, of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard. She did not actually appear ‘properly’ in a single episode of Dad’s Army, but a picture of her personality and character was formed throughout the series.

Mrs Elizabeth Mainwaring was the daughter of the suffragan Bishop of Clegthorpe . She married George Mainwaring, son of an Eastbourne tailor, shortly after the First World War. They spent their honeymoon on a remote Scottish island where George learned to play the bagpipes because “there was nothing else to do”.

The couple lived at 23, Lime Crescent, Walmington-on-Sea, a fictional seaside resort in Kent with a pier and such other attractions as Stone’s amusement arcade and a novelty rock emporium. Mrs Mainwaring’s parents evidently looked down on their grammar school-educated son-in-law, even after he had become assistant manager, with a partitioned cubicle of his own, at the Walmington branch of Swallow Bank.

In one episode, Mr. Mainwaring tells Wilson that Elizabeth is only fond of silent movies because she was so shocked when she heard a character on a film speak a line.

According to Mr. Mainwaring, his wife had led a sheltered life (“she hadn’t even tried tomato sauce before she met me”.) One of her hobbies was making lampshades. The marriage was childless, although Mr. Mainwaring, claimed, rather unconvincingly, that it had been “blissful”.

The Second World War

In 1940, in response to a radio broadcast by the Secretary for War Anthony Eden, her husband George (who by then was manager of the bank) set himself up as Captain of the local Home Guard (initially known as the Local Defence Volunteers).

Captain Mainwaring’s various attempts to involve his wife in the extramural activities of the platoon usually came unstuck. On one occasion he arrived at a function with a black eye which had plainly been acquired during a domestic dispute. His excuse that he had struck his eye on the linen cupboard door was greeted by the cheerful remark of Private Walker “hasn’t your old woman got a rolling pin then?”. Captain Mainwaring usually comes up with some convoluted reason why his wife is not joining in the platoon’s social functions.

He once remarked that Mrs Mainwaring had not left the house “since Munich” (in 1938). Even so, much to her husband’s horror (he fainted), she ended up playing the part of Lady Godiva (who, in the 11th century had, according to tradition, ridden naked through the streets of Coventry) during a carnival to raise money for Spitfire fighter planes. This was intended as a tribute to the city of Coventry which had suffered heavy German bombing in 1941, though the rather stuffy Captain Mainwaring had tried to prevent the town clerk, vicar and others from assessing the merits of predominantly young candidates for the role who were dressed only in their bathing costumes.

There were frequent misunderstandings involving Mrs Mainwaring. When Captain Mainwaring was holding a small party at his house for a section of his platoon, Mrs Mainwaring was heard coming downstairs, but she went back again as soon as an air raid siren sounded. Her husband’s calls for her to come down to say “hello” were ignored. When he went upstairs to encourage her, the Chief ARP Warden Bert Hodges (played by Bill Pertwee and snobbishly dismissed by George as “a greengrocer”) arrived to complain that, contrary to blackout regulations, a light was showing in the house. On being told of Captain Mainwaring’s whereabouts, Hodges misconstrued his motives: “Oh, it’s one of those sorts of parties”.

In another episode, Mr. Mainwaring obtained some cheese (a treat due to rationing) and telephoned his wife, a vegetarian, to say that he “might have a surprise for her tonight”. Predictably, this suggestion was misunderstood and Captain Mainwaring ended up sharing the cheese in his office with his urbane, long-suffering Sergeant, Arthur Wilson (John Le Mesurier).

The closest we, the viewers, ever got to seeing Elizabeth is when Captain Mainwaring is sleeping on the bottom bunk in his Anderson Air Raid Shelter. Elizabeth is above and the heavily sagging mattress gives a clue as to her figure. She is also heard groaning


It is only fair to point out that Mrs Mainwaring did appear in the excellent 2016 Dad’s Army film in which Toby Jones played Captain Mainwaring – quite superbly I would say

Mrs Mainwaring in action in the films dramatic conclusion

ABOVE Toby Jones in superb form as Captain Mainwaring

Dads Army 2015 – a dramatic scene

Whilst writing this I was tempted to include Captain Peacock – but his wife did appear in a couple of episodes of ‘Are You Being Served’

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have Comments (2)

Gene Autry – The Singing Cowboy

Now here is a personality from the early days of films who did very well out of them – first by starring in many and then financing and producing quite a number of Television series including ‘The Range Rider’ which was very popular here in England in the early fifties.

Another one was ‘Champion The Wonder Horse’

Gene Autry another mode of travel ABOVE and BELOW

A barnstorming flight enthusiast, Gene Autry travelled to many of his performances in his twin-engine Lockheed 10 aircraft.

During World War II, he qualified to fly 16 different Army Air Force aircraft and flew the hazardous supply route over the Himalayas known as “the Hump.” Throughout this time, he also entertained at military shows and volunteered at bond rallies and recruiting drives.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Gene Autry but in fairness I can’t even remember seeing any of his films and there were quite a few

He is the only person to have FIVE stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Gene Autry (1907-1998). U.S. Army Air Force WW II. Enlisted 1942. As a pilot and Technical Sgt. he ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms in the China-India-Burma theatre of war.

He also volunteered his talents as an entertainer for numerous Air Force shows. He had his own radio show entitled “Sergeant Gene Autry.” When the war ended, he was reassigned to Special Services where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific until 1946.

His Life Story:

In 1928, Gene Autry had his first big-time audition as a self-taught guitarist and western music singer.

He was so nervous, he flopped.

That only made him determined to get better.

By the time he retired from show biz in 1964, he was headed for unique status in Hollywood.

He would be the only person awarded stars on the Walk of Fame in all five categories: music, live performance, radio, film and TV.

Gene Autry (1907-98) was given the name Orvon upon birth in Tioga, Texas. He spent most of his youth in the Lone Star State and Oklahoma, helping out on his uncle’s farm and working various jobs.

“Even as a boy he took on extra jobs to help support his family and he didn’t mind it, thriving on working hard,” Jackie Autry, his widow, told IBD. “He didn’t have an easy time of it as a youngster, but he was determined to succeed in life.”

In his spare time, he taught himself how to play guitar after ordering one from a Sears, Roebuck catalog at 12. While in high school, he traveled for a few months to provide the opening entertainment for a medicine show.

After leaving school in 1925 to help his family, Autry learned Morse code and served as a telegraph operator for the railroad, keeping himself awake during the midnight shift by strumming the guitar. He got to know dispatcher Jimmy Long, who taught Autry songwriting. Soon they were playing local dances together.

In 1928, Autry took two months off to go to New York City to try to break into the music business.

There, he schmoozed with stars of hillbilly, pop and blues music and learned about music copyrights. He also got an audition with a big producer, who told him he needed to practice for at least six months before coming back.

So back West he went. Autry used a referral letter from the producer to impress radio programmers in Oklahoma while he hired a voice coach, took professional guitar lessons and learned how to yodel like popular western singers.

Taking another break from his telegraphy job, Autry went back to New York in October 1929 to cut test records, which included some of his original songs.

Within weeks, he had commitments to press records with his new stage name, Gene Autry.

His first hit, “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” co-written with Long, came in 1932 and sold a phenomenal half-million copies.

“Early in his career he saw the value in owning or co-owning copyrights to numerous songs, as well as starting music publishing companies, which built a fortune that continues to yield earnings today,” said Holly George-Warren, author of “Public Cowboy No. 1.”

Moving to Chicago, Autry started multiple radio shows, toured the Midwest to promote his records and built a loyal fan base.

“Gene was quite an avid reader, and during those years when he made so many personal appearances, he would make it a practice to read the local newspapers of the town he was in right down to the want ads so that he could get a good feel for the community,” said Jackie Autry.

Her husband said: “It occurs to me that music, with the possible exception of riding bulls, is the most uncertain way to make a living I know. In either case you can get bucked off, thrown, stepped on, trampled — if you get on at all. At best, it is a short and bumpy ride.”

By that standard Gene Autry was one of the all-time recording rodeo champs, cutting 635 songs, half of them his own or co-written, selling 60 million copies and earning a dozen Gold and Platinum records.

Among his holiday discs were “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane),” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” whose 30 million copies make it the second-best-selling holiday single of all time.

From 1940 to 1956 he had a top radio show, “Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch,” featuring the music, comedy and action of his movies.

Eight years into that run he announced his Cowboy Code, which stated a cowboy must:

Never take unfair advantage.

Always tell the truth.

• Be tolerant.

• Be a patriot.

Fans who grew up wanting to emulate him included future music stars Johnny Cash and James Taylor.

The gospel of goodness that Autry preached was a projection of the real man, said his widow: “Everyone in the entertainment business came to know that if you had a handshake from Gene, it was a done deal. No paperwork required.”

Autry’s lesson is to develop a positive reputation and make sure everything you do is aligned with the values behind that.

Autry’s first Western movie was “In Old Santa Fe” in 1934. He was soon a B-movie innovator, bringing cars and planes into the genre.

With his vast touring supporting the popularity of his films, theater owners voted him their No. 1 star in 1937. By then he was receiving 40,000 fan letters a month.

His film plots usually had him capturing bad guys and interspersing action with singing. Some of his movies were even based on his records, such as “South of the Border” and “Back in the Saddle.”

His film producer refused to pay the expense of answering mail, so he hired assistants to help his secretary send autographed photos.

Three years later, Autry was the fourth-biggest box office attraction, behind just Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.

As the Great Depression took its toll, Gene Autry broadcast optimistic messages about America’s economic future. He promoted everything from Western tourism to trade with Latin America, according to Michael Duchemin, former senior curator at the Autry National Center and now director of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles.

“As a small entrepreneur selling cultural products in global markets, Autry knew something about the international economy,” said Duchemin. “He became a national icon as he incorporated these messages. His most significant support was to shape public opinion to favor war preparedness, and he starred in films like ‘Mexicali Rose’ and ‘In Old Monterey’ with that message.”

With America fighting in World War II, Autry joined the Army Air Corps in July 1942. His service salary was $114 a month, although he would report earnings that year of $432,000, worth $6 million today.

His job in uniform involved recruiting drives, entertaining troops and promoting war bonds. After his service ended in June 1943, he starred in overseas USO shows.

Now back in his cowboy suit, he continued to shoot Westerns, but as they faded in popularity he decided to make the last of his 93 feature films in 1953.

By then he had shifted to the new medium of TV. In 1950 the first of the 91 episodes of CBS’ “The Gene Autry Show” was on the air. He also produced other popular programs, including “Annie Oakley.”

“He was the first major movie star to star in a television series,” George-Warren said. “He was the first star to create his own production company. He became a merchandising entrepreneur in the 1930s, licensing his name and image to hundreds of products, including comic books and breakfast cereal.”

Autry’s lesson is to extend your brand by making it appeal to different audiences. Such as:

 Rodeo.  Gene Autry rode that way with his World Championship Rodeo Co., which furnished livestock for the sport. He began as a partner in 1942 and became sole owner in 1956, operating on a 24,000-acre ranch in Colorado.

 Baseball. A huge fan, he tried to strike a deal in 1961 to broadcast games of the American League’s new Los Angeles Angels over one of the radio stations he owned.

Baseball executives were so impressed, they persuaded him to become owner of the team.

By 1966, the renamed California Angels were playing down the road in Anaheim. In 1996 he sold controlling interest to Walt Disney Co. 

“It was a delight to see him sign baseballs at Anaheim Stadium and chat with fans while dressed in his cowboy suit,” said R.L. Wilson, whose “Colt: An American Legend” is dedicated to the Autrys. “Gene never forgot his humble origins and was beloved of all.”

In 1988, the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum opened in Los Angeles to exhibit and interpret the heritage of the West and show how it influenced America and the world. In 2003, it was merged with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum, thereby creating the Autry National Centre

“Of his many triumphs, the National Centre is his most lasting,” said Wilson, who served on its board of trustees. “With over 500,000 items, some of its collections are the best that exist, whether public or private.”

Near his death at 91, Autry’s net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine at $320 million.

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Fury at Showdown 1957

Directed by Gerd Oswald
This western has a very small budget.

However the story and the actors are as powerful and motivated as if it were a blockbuster.

John Derek plays quite a complex character in this film. He is trying to live down his reputation as a gunslinger by running a cattle farm with his younger brother played by Nick Adams.

However a non too honest lawyer played by Gage Clarke and his hired bodyguard – John Smith – try to pressure him into selling his property. When his brother is killed John Derek shows his fury at showdown – shoots the bodyguard and has the Lawyer arrested and marries his girlfriend played by Carolyn Craig. Also in the cast were Robert E Griffin, Malcolm Atterbury, Rusty Lane, Sydney Smith, Frances Morris and Tyler McDuff.

Gerd Oswald directed a couple of films with stories of high morality. This one is his best – and, would you believe, he is said somehow to have pulled this picture off in a week – if so – astonishing !!

This is a quotation from the Director’s Television interview: “That was one of my six or seven day epics… The line producer, John Brett, said, ‘You are only allowed so much money for this picture and tomorrow we’ve got a big lynch scene. We’re supposed to have 50 extras, and I can only give you 12. That’s all — we just don’t have any more money.’ So by necessity I was forced to do certain set-ups that I normally wouldn’t have done. I filled half the screen with the profile of one man, then filled the background. I created a mob scene with just 12 people.”

Of course, you need a good script, capable actors and an ingenious cameraman to cut corners like that and end up with a decent film. The screenplay is by Jason James, adapted from the 1955 novel Showdown Creek by Lucas Todd. Todd is a pen-name for Stanley Kauffmann, the noted film and theatre critic for The New Republic and The New York Times.

There’s a solid performance from John Derek, a terrific one from Nick Adams, who underplays nicely, and appropriately hateful turns from John Smith and Gage Clarke.

Carolyn Craig ABOVE with John Derek as his love interest and later his wife – and a stable of trusty character actors hold their own.

Director of photography Joseph LaShelle was known for his gritty realism, making him an ideal choice for films like Laura (1944, which landed him an Oscar), Hangover Square (1945) and Road House (1948).

Joseph LaShelle had an ability to make a budget look bigger than it really is, which made him perfect for this one

A one-week picture tends to have a rushed feel – not the case with Fury At Showdown. Obviously, planning and rehearsal made all the difference. It was shot on the RKO Western street and at the Iverson Ranch in mid-July 1956.

Upon its release, A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called Fury At Showdown “a surprisingly decent little Western” and said “this unpretentious, low-budget entry is leanly written, tersely acted and, above all, straightforward… Under Gerd Oswald’s sure direction, this tightly authentic atmosphere, the good, blunt dialogue and some discreetly inserted music do much to project the urgency of Mr. Derek’s plight—that of a young man at his life’s crossroads.”

A good review no doubt.

ABOVE – John Derek and Nick Adams – I remember Nick in ‘The Last Wagon’ made just before this one – and a favourite of mine.

Years later, in his massive book The Western, Phil Hardy wrote: “A stylistic tour de force and undoubtedly Oswald’s best film, Fury At Showdown has a formal excellence that belies its five-day shooting schedule and shames many a bigger budgeted movie… Rarely has economy been put to such a positive use.”

Fury At Showdown (1957) is a real gem, one of those neglected little masterpieces that are so fun to discover.

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments