MEET THE MAYOR OF PEETZBURGH, PETER SHERAYKO
Back in April, while attending the Cowboy Festival at Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch (click here), I saw a familiar face from the silver screen and blurted out, “You’re Russian Pete!” Indeed it was Peter Sherayko, who portrayed said villain in 6 GUNS, a new western which had just been released by The Asylum. One of the very few actors who today makes a living acting exclusively in westerns, Peter is a western fixture off-screen as well as on. He made his name in the business in TOMBSTONE where, in addition to portraying lawman Texas Jack Vermillian, he was in charge of the authenticity of guns, saddles, costumes and props, and supplied many of the riders from his personal posse, The Buckaroos.
He invited me to visit his ranch in Agua Dulce, where he is building the western town of Peetzburgh, already the location for a number of TV episodes and western movies. I was warmly welcomed by Peter, his charming wife Susan – a busy production manager, and a passel of big, beautiful dogs. Things were jumping at Peetzburgh. For the last few days, both acting and riding auditions were being held for COWBOYS AND ALIENS, making sure that actors could handle a horse as well as they claimed. And that morning, a director who’s preparing a film set in ancient Rome was learning to ride like a Roman.
Susan had been out of town, so Pete was left to his own devices. “At the Cowboy Poetry Festival, a guy told me where I could buy all of the Hopalong Cassidy movies on DVD, in a Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox. My wife was gone so I watched all 66 Hopalong Cassidy movies last week.” But that’s not to say he isn’t busy. “I’m writing a documentary series. It’s the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express, so that’s what we’re doing the pilot about. And I’ve got another documentary coming up for the Nation Geographic Channel called MAN CREATED DOG, about the domestication of dogs twelve thousand years ago.”
HENRY : When did you fall in love with westerns?
PETER: I was always a fan of westerns. A psychologist told me, if a man can make a living doing what he loved from the time he was ten years old, he’ll always be a happy person. Most people don’t do it. That’s why Henry David Thoreau said most men live in quiet desperation. When I was ten years old I played cowboys. They were all the rage on TV at that time.
H: What did you watch?
P: HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL was one of my favorites. I remember it well because of one incident. I grew up on the east coast, in Brooklyn. Remember Zacherly (New York TV’s ‘Cool Ghoul’ horror host) ? I used to watch him on Saturday nights. I was a little kid. And they had THE MUMMY and DRACULA – I love all of the Universal horror movies. But then I don’t want to go to sleep – I’m afraid. One time I saw the curtains moving – the heat from the radiator was making them move – and I called my father. “Now what is it?” I said, “There’s something under the bed – there’s something in the closet!” He said, “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.” Then we were watching HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, and Richard Boone, Paladin, was off in the desert, at night, by a campfire. And my father said, “See him? He’s not afraid of the dark.” And I said, “No. And he’s got a Colt .45.” That kinda got my interest. It goes back to the saying about Colts: ‘Be not afraid of any man, no matter what his size. Just call on me when you’re in need, and I will equalize.’ So I began learning about guns. And when I was ten I had a neighbor whose brother had a rental stable in one of the parks. I used to walk a mile to the park every day, and shovel up after horses, so I could get to ride them. I have a wonderful feeling towards horses.
Peter knew what he loved, but he went through a lot of careers to get to it. “1966, I was seventeen years old. I tried to be a baseball player, left field. But I hurt my shoulder, and that career was over.” Then there was the Air Force. “I was in instrument repair, worked on the last of the Flying Tigers. They sent me from Charleston, South Carolina, with the beach and warm weather, to Maine, where it was 25 below. And I said, what am I doing here? I volunteered to go to Vietnam, went there in 1967. Came back, finished my last four or five months at the 48th in Langley Virginia.” His next stops were radio, then college, at Florida State and the University of Maine. “I fell into radio, as a disk jockey. I went back to college, majored in speech. And my speech teacher got me a part in a play, where I kissed the prettiest girl in the school, and the whole audience applauded. So I changed my major to theatre.”
Peter and Susan lived in New Jersey, Peter acted in plays, and in 1980 landed a continuing role in a New York-based soap opera. Oddly enough, it was a beer commercial, one that he didn’t get, that gave him the final push to move to California. “It was in 1982. In ’80 I got a job on ALL MY CHILDREN. I was doing that, doing stage plays, I did stand-up comedy, western-oriented stuff. I had a horse; I lived in a log cabin fifty miles outside of New York City, no heat, no hot water. Only heat was the fire place. What made me want to come out here was a beer, Lowenbrau beer. My agent sent me up: “You have an audition at twelve o’clock.” So I went. It was for a guy cutting firewood to warm himself, and then drinking the beer. Well, I live in a log cabin, I cut firewood every day, and I drink beer. Perfect. And the casting director comes out, and he says, “You’re not right for this.” Now, as Jerry Seinfeld said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but everybody else is a gay guy in a borrowed flannel shirt, trying to look tough. Then they tell me I’m at the wrong audition – I’m here for a singing quiche commercial. As soon as my contract is up with ALL MY CHILDREN, I’m moving to California. I got a Winnebago, my horse trailer, pick-up truck, and my wife and I moved out, and drove across country. People said to me, why don’t you sell your horses, fly, and get more horses when you get to California? They didn’t understand. I love this country, I love driving cross-country. And how many people have the opportunity, with no place to go, with no time to be anywhere. It took about twelve weeks. We’d go about fifty miles a day, I’d say, that looks like a good place to ride! We’d park, have dinner, saddle the horses, and go up into the hills. We met a lot of wonderful people on the way. And I remember a lot of people saying to me, when I was leaving New York, I wish I was going.”
H: What was your first role here in California?
P: There was a nighttime soap, RITUALS, and I played the father of the main character. But only in flashbacks, when they had a kid actor playing him, in dreams. They wanted me to go on GENERAL HOSPITAL, and I kept on telling my agent, I want to do westerns. They’d tell me, you’re a New York stage actor – you can’t do westerns. And I’d say, I can outride and outshoot any stuntman in town. It took a long time, three or four years, doing a day-player here, a play there, until I did DEATHWISH 4. Everybody else had AK-47s and Uzis. I said to the director, J. Lee Thompson, “I shoot single-actions, why don’t we use a single-action?” (A single-action is a revolver that must be cocked each time before it’s fired) I play a mafia hit-guy who survives all the gun-fights, and I don’t get killed until the end. So I used a Colt single-action. Then I did TARZAN IN MANHATTAN. I starred in a movie called BLACK SNOW down in Texas. I started trying to figure out, how can I start a business, so that I can be in this business, make a living at it, act, and do something worthwhile. And there was a show over at Disney, a western. And the technical advisor told me, “Come on out and see this guy. He’s been in the business forever, knows everything.” And all the guns were the wrong period. I said to him, you know this is all wrong. Why are you doing it? And he said, “Ah, the audience is stupid, a western gun is a western gun!” So I’ve devoted the last eighteen, nineteen years, to making westerns and making them historically correct. We have a research library with over 5,000 volumes on the old west. And we try to make it right. When you’re doing a show, whether it’s about real characters or fictional characters, it doesn’t matter. I’ll take the time period and make sure they have the right guns, the right saddles, the right clothes, and that’s my passion in life.
H: How’d you get TOMBSTONE?
P: I did FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER with John Milius. He became a friend of mine – because I like to shoot, he likes to shoot. I did ROUGH RIDERS for him, and MOTORCYCLE GANG. Kevin Jarre, who wrote TOMBSTONE and was to direct it, was John’s protégé, and we got to know each other. And for a year or two years we rode horses and fired shotguns. He was doing a movie about Dracula, and I was going to lead the Transylvanian Cavalry. He was over in Eastern Europe, scouting locations, and another company came out with their Dracula, and Universal pulled the plug on him. And he was just distraught. For about three months he just disappeared. A few months later he called me up and said, I’m ready to work on a western. Kevin and me and a couple of guys, Frank and Gary, who got Kevin his horse, would go out, two or three times a week. We’d leave at nine at night, ride up into the hills, everyone would have a pint of whiskey, a cigar, and a hundred rounds of ammunition. And we would be doing live-fire shooting, on horseback, from nine o’clock until midnight. We’d come back whenever the ammunition ran out, or the whiskey ran out and Kevin would write. First it was going to be about the Gold Rush, so I started doing research on the gold rush. Then it became TOMBSTONE. And we all worked together. Kevin would write a few pages, call me at one o’clock in the morning. I’d drive to his house, and he’d go, “Here! Here’s five pages! Go home and read them, and tell me what guns the guys should carry.” He wanted me to do the guns, and Frank to do the saddles.
H: How did George Cosmatos end up directing it?
P: The classic phrase in Hollywood: creative differences. Kevin wanted to do it so right! He was a big John Ford fan, he wanted to do it like Ford. You remember in his movies, even though John Wayne was the star, everyone had wonderful roles. That’s what Kevin wanted. But Kurt Russell wanted to star. So he literally took lines away from everybody. My part went from seventy-five lines to five. Kevin put his foot down, and the powers that be fired him and replaced him with George. But George didn’t really direct it – it was really Kurt Russell. You know, most of the guys in Hollywood, we’re all taller than Kurt Russell. The rule on the set was Kurt Russell had to have very high lifts on his boots, and everyone else had to have flat heels. But Kurt taught me one thing, by observation: he taught me what being a star is all about. I came from a repertory theatre background, and in rep, one week you’re the star, and the next week you’re the guy carrying the spear. But with stars in Hollywood, it’s I am the star, and everyone else is cannon-fodder. Look at movies made in the last twenty, thirty years, that’s the way it is. One or two major people are the stars, everything revolves around them, they get all the good lines. If you look at movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was almost an equal thing, and everybody has wonderful parts.
H: And people thought that there was value to being surrounded by good actors.
P: And that’s another reason I do what I do. Will I ever be a star? No. But I love this business, I love telling stories. I often make the joke that I, like John Wilkes Booth, am not going to be remembered for my acting.
H: What are your favorite roles you’ve played?
P: Well, I do a one-man show on Buffalo Bill. I love doing that, I am Buffalo Bill. He loved the west so much that he wanted to bring it to the world.
H: He wanted to preserve it.
P: He made the cowboy a hero, he made the west what it is. He hired an awful lot of people. He paid everyone the same – he paid Indians as much as he did white guys.
And he was the one who kept Indians being Indians. Our society, our government Society, our government, sent the Indian kids to government schools, cut their hair, changed their names, telling them, you’ve got to be like the white man. And Buffalo Bill said, ‘No, be Indians, be what you are.’ Many people still don’t realize how beneficial he was. I try to do the same thing, I hire a lot of people, put a lot of people to work. I’ve got a lot of people their SAG cards.
H: I notice you’ve worked a couple of times with Ernest Borgnine. What is he like?
P: Worked with him on CHINAMAN’S CHANCE and THE LONG RIDE HOME. I love Borgnine, I love all of the old actors that I’ve worked with. Charley Bronson, Charlton Heston, James Garner, Kirk Douglas – every one of these guys was just so open, so much fun to be around. James Garner and I were sitting around and talking, doing a show for The Western Channel. They needed him in front of the camera, the guy says Mr. Garner, we’re ready for you, and he says, “Hey! I’m holding court now. I’m talking.” And Ernie Borgnine, he loves doing what he does so much. And Charlton Heston, when we worked on TOMBSTONE, he was telling all these wonderful stories. And he told me one from Edward G. Robinson. He said, “Acting, I love so much I’d do it for free. It’s the waiting they pay me for.” Because it’s a lot of waiting.
H: When did you work with Kirk Douglas?
P: They did a photo-spread for Vanity Fair, and I had to dress him. The photographer was Annie Leibovitz, and everyone was making a big deal about her. I had clothes for Kirk and Michael Douglas. This is just before Kirk had the stroke. And they’d rented a lot of costumes from me, but they’d also rented other costumes. I had a pair of chaps for Kirk, and she didn’t like them, because they were 1880s chaps. So they had gotten a pair of modern chaps with zippers on them, and they were too small for Kirk Douglas – he’s a big guy. They were very tight, and his..uh…his genitals were kind of exposed. And he’s going, “These are too damned tight!” And she’s saying,“But Mr. Douglas, you’re a sex symbol. This is what people are going to be looking at.” And he goes, “I’m eighty years old: who wants to f*ck me now? Pete, get me a pair of chaps that fit!”
H: I know you’ve worked a lot with The Western Channel.
P: Remember how before and after every show, they’d have a guy walk into a saloon, have a guy draw a gun, the boots coming down with the spurs – that was me. They used that for eight years, and I loved it. Since 1993, the Western Channel calls me for all their shows. I’ve been dressing it or hosting it, part of it somewhere along the line.
H: You recently did AMERICAN BANDITS: FRANK AND JESSE JAMES, for Fred Olen Ray.
P: I’ve worked with Fred a couple of times on a couple of movies, and I love working with him. He called me up. “Pete, I hear you have a western town.” “Yes, I do.” “Okay, I’ll be out there.” So he came out a couple of days later, took pictures. We’ve got about seventeen-hundred acres. He said, “Okay, we’re gonna do the movie in about two weeks.” “Great, can I read script?” He said, “No, I haven’t written it yet.” He wrote the script in those two weeks, and we filmed it. It was a good script, not historically correct, but it was a good story, and I like working with Ray. On another show I did right after, it was… I can work cheap. I can do everything – I call myself the Wal-Mart of westerns. The same quality that I put in TOMBSTONE, I can put in any movie, I don’t care what the budget is. I’ve worked with the first A.D. before. He said, “Peter’s got to do the guns because he knows how to do them right.” So I did the guns, but I wanted to do the costumes, the set dressing and the props, and they said no-no-no, we can’t afford that. They’re regular people that they had. Their art director, she dressed the saloon – she had barstools! I said, there’s no barstools in a saloon! Luckily I got along with the director, and he listened to me. So it was, fix this, fix that, get that out of here. But I get to ride a horse and shoot a gun. What more can I ask for? And I make a living at it.
H: You did the series WILD WEST TECH for the History Channel. And what did you do on that?
P: Everything. I was a talking head, they were all my costumes, props, guns, horses – I hired all the actors who did the reenactments. Those are my Buckaroos. I love working that kind of a show.
H: Your town, Peetzburgh, is your Corriganville. (Corriganville was a western movie-town built piece by piece by actor Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan)
P: I travel across country twice a year. I leave here with an empty truck, and come back with a full one. Maybe five or ten years ago , I was at a flea market, and I found a pamphlet for a town named Peetzburgh from 1892, where you could buy a house for $846 even, a two-story house for $1200. And I said, Peetzburgh: what a great name! If I ever have a town, that’s what I’ll call it.
H: What’s your favorite western movie?
P: I haven’t made it yet. I like the old westerns best. Gregory Peck is one of my best western actors, GUNFIGHTER, BIG COUNTRY. Of course SHANE, THE WESTERNER. Joel McCrea, Gary Cooper, I have all of their movies on tape or DVD. There’s not a day that goes by that I do not have a western on the television. I love Randolph Scott
H: What do you think of the Italian westerns that came out in the 1960s?
P: Sergio Leone, in my opinion, changed the look of the western. You look at Hollywood westerns of the same period, they were dull. They were all shot onstage. There wasn’t the dirt and the grit and the – you’re in my house, I have dogs and horses, you see dust around, you see spider webs. I’ve seen westerns made in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and I’m looking at the walls, and it’s a sound-stage – look how clean it is. How come there’s no dirt anywhere. I’m not a big fan of late 1950s westerns. Sergio Leone changed that look, made it more gritty, made it more real.
H: How about Peckinpah?
P: You know, Peckinpah started doing THE RIFLEMAN series, and I enjoyed THE WILD BUNCH, but again, one of the reasons I do what I do, is because of movies like THE WILD BUNCH. Wrong guns, modern saddles – they used whatever was available to them. PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID, I can’t even watch it. And again he’s using modern stuff when you don’t have to. Most of the companies, most of the people that supply stuff, are just doing it for money, not doing it for art. I’m doing it for art. That’s the difference. You take the tour, I’ll show you the stuff that I have. And I welcome directors or producers, anybody that really cares about their project, to come out here and look at the stuff I have to offer you. Then go to all the other suppliers and look at their stuff. If you know the difference, we have the job.
I took the tour, and was astonished at his collection – the accompanying photos show you just a fraction. I called him yesterday to see what is new, and he told me in that he’s starting work on another western in about a week. A second edition of his book, TOMBSTONE, THE GUNS AND THE GEAR, will be available in early August. CLICK HERE to see Peter’s website.
GOING ONCE, TWICE, SOLD TO RFD-TV!
The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans auction at Christie’s New York is over, and netted $2.98 million. Trigger had been predicted to sell for between $100,000 and $200,000. The folks at Christie’s, concerned that they had overvalued the Smartest Horse in The Movies, considered lowering the estimate. Instead, on Wednesday, Trigger sold for $266,000 to Patrick Gottsch, owner of RFD-TV, which is known as ‘America’s Most Important Rural Network.’ On Thursday, Mr. Gottsch bought Roy’s Wonder-Dog Bullet, for $35,000, nearly twice the estimate.
Gottsch actually wanted to buy the entire collection, but as his chief financial officer Steve Campion explained on Wednesday, “(the auction) came to our attention a little too late. By the time we lined up the right financing and kind of got our arms around the value of the collection, it was literally 24 hours ago.” And on Thursday, Gottsch announced that starting on November 6th, RFD-TV will begin running Roy Rogers movies, introduced by Roy Jr., with Trigger and Bullet in the background. Mr. Gottsch has assured me that he will keep the Round-up apprised of future developments.
Christie’s low-balled the value of many items, all of which came from the shuttered Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, which operated for four decades, first in Apple Valley, California, then in Branson, Missouri. The family dining set, which included a table made by actor George Montgomery, sold for $11,875, three times what was estimated. In their most absurd prediction they estimated that Dale’s hand-written lyrics and music to ‘Happy Trails’ would bring $500. They were $27,000 short. Pat Brady’s Jeep, Nellybelle, was sold to New Jersey horse-trainer Pam Weidel for $116,500, far above the $20,000 to $30,000 estimate.
All items sold, but at least one brought less than predicted, probably for sentimental reasons. Western clothes designer Nudie had given Roy a trailer shaped like a covered wagon. It was estimated to go for $5,000 to $8,000. But it was sold to a single bid of $3,000 to Nudie’s granddaughter Jamie, Mary Lynn Cabrall and Julie Anne Reames, who continue the Nudie Tailoring business. “For it to come back into our family – it’s amazing,” said Reames, who is also the niece of singing cowboy Rex Allen.
Much of this information came from articles by Eva Dou of the Associated Press.
NATIONAL DAY OF THE COWBOY AND COWGIRL AT THE AUTRY
Saturday, July 24th, the Autry celebrates the 5th annual event with a day of activities, all included with Museum admission. It runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and you’re encouraged to dress the part, with the exception of sidearms. Among the entertainments will be blacksmithing and chuckwagon demonstrations, roping demonstrations and lessons, leather braiding, gun engraving, musical performances, book signings, water-melon seed-spiting competitions, gold panning, one of Nudie’s cars, and episodes of The Gene Autry Show is the Wells Fargo Theatre. For more details, CLICK HERE.
THE HOLLYWOOD SHOW – FRIDAY THROUGH SUNDAY
Attention autograph hounds: from July 23rd through the 25th, the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel & Convention Center at 2500 North Hollywood Way, Burbank, California 91505 will welcome movie and TV stars and their fans for one of their seasonal get-togethers. It’s a great way to meet some of your favorites face to face, take pictures and get things signed – you can bring your own items, or buy pictures from the stars, but they charge you either way, and the prices start at about $20. Admission is $20 a day, $15 for Friday only, and there are different deals for multiple days and early-bird admissions. And there is a big cowboy contingent expected. Among them: Angie Dickinson (Saturday only), Ann Rutherford, Anne Jeffreys (Saturday only), Dan Haggerty, Denny Miller, Don Murray, Earl Holliman, Chad Allen (Saturday only), George Hamilton (Sunday only), James Hampton – Dobbs from F-TROOP, Joe Lando, Keith and Kevin Schultz from THE MONROES, Lana Wood, Michael Parks, Morgan Woodward – GUNSMOKE’s most frequent guest star, Peter Brown, Robert Fuller, Robert Horton, DEADWOOD’s Stephen Toblonsky, Ty Hardin and William Smith. Western author and historian C. Courtney Joyner will be signing his books. The hours are Friday 6-9p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, CLICK HERE.
All Contents Copyright July 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved