WHO IS MORGAN KANE?
That’s what the teaser poster asks, the eyes of the cowboy in the picture obscured by the angle of his battered Stetson, his right hand touching the brim, but probably not tipping it to a lady. What kind of a man is Morgan Kane? There’s a popular song by Benny Borg and the Penthouse Playboys, called A Man Like Morgan Kane, or the Ballad of Morgan Kane – you can find several versions on Youtube. But it won’t help you much, unless you happen to speak Norwegian.
You see, Morgan Kane is the most popular Western character in Norway. In 1893, Karl May took the German-speaking world by storm with his Winnetou and Old Shatterhand Western tales. Three quarters of a century later, a Norwegian banker named Kjell Hallbing did the same with Morgan Kane. Hallbing changed his own name to Louis Masterson, and between 1966 and 1978 – just twelve years -- he wrote 83 novels about the Texas Ranger and U.S. Marshall. They’ve sold twenty-million copies internationally – ten million in Norway alone, which has a population of only five million! They’re popular in Spain and France and Germany and, translated into English, they sold well in Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada by Corgi Books.
But they’ve never been sold in the United States until now. Now several of the western tales are about to be issued here as e-books, which is why, a little more than a week ago, a crew gathered at Peter Sherayko’s Caravan West Ranch, to photograph ‘covers’ for the eBooks.
John Michaels, President of Production for WR Films explained, “We’re redoing the covers to make them a little more interactive, so when you go to the site to download the book, you see the cover, hit it, and you’ll get a two or three second video. We’re going to sell these e-books globally, as part of our awareness campaign for the film franchise.”
Because, just like you guessed, it’s really all about movies. The plan is to start with three movies. The first, to be titled MORGAN KANE: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, will be based on two of the Kane novels, EL GRINGO and EL GRINGO’S REVENGE. Ryan Wiik, who created WR Films to make the Morgan Kane films, is from Norway, but with scarcely a hint of an accent. When the crew broke for lunch, I asked him how he pulled the project together.
RYAN: (laughs) I worked day and night for the last four years, almost. I was sitting with an investor in Spain, and we were talking about another movie project. And then he said, “You will do well with this. But what you really need to do, Ryan, is Morgan Kane.” And I didn’t even know what Morgan Kane was. He said, “It’s James Bond of the West. You need to do this.” It’s weaved through (American) history, the same way as Forrest Gump; it’s based on this book series that’s sold 20 million copies, and I was one generation too late for it. So I had to start researching, and reading the books. I’ve read forty or fifty by now.
HENRY: Wow, out of 83?
RYAN: (laughs) I’m playing catch-up. I’ve spent about two years securing the rights, pulling the people together that I thought were the right ones to do this. Started WR Films, and we’re getting closer.
HENRY: So today you’re shooting eBook covers.
RYAN: That is correct. We thought (the covers) needed modernizing; each cover will show the essential scene of each book.
HENRY: How many covers do you plan to do – not all 83, I assume.
RYAN: Over a few days, twenty-two covers.
HENRY: What kind of a hero is Morgan Kane?
RYAN: He’s more of an anti-hero. He drinks too much, he smokes too much – it’s always a battle with this guy.
HENRY: Do you think that’s a lot of his appeal?
RYAN: I think so; it makes him easy to identify with. Because he’s not this over-muscled man (who does) everything with the flick of a finger. He goes through a lot of struggles, he’s afraid of dying, and he gets nauseous whenever he kills someone. But he’s so focused, and trains so hard. It’s part of what sets him apart, but it’s more complex than that.
(John Michaels consults storyboards)
HENRY: Were you a big western fan before you got involved in this project?
RYAN: No, I wasn’t really. This is a new world to me. And it’s extraordinary to get back to the elements with this thing. I grew up in Norway, and the Wild West – I always liked it; I just was not a western buff.
(Peter Sherayko tells propman Zack Smith and Kyle Kalama how not to handle a single-action Colt)
HENRY: Are you influenced by any other western books or movies?
RYAN: I’ve been researching a lot of movies, watching everything -- THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I’m trying to go through all the stuff I should have seen. And as far as books – I’ve got enough with these books, trying to get through all the material. I think the first movie will be what BATMAN BEGINS was for Batman, the origin. And we’re very excited about it.
(plenty of artillery to choose from)
A couple of days later I spoke again to John Michaels, who had just been looking at some of the footage. He was in a very good mood. “We felt good about it when we were shooting it, but it exceeded our expectations. We’re very satisfied with the performances. The costumes were very authentic, thanks to our consultant Peter Sherayko. We have some really great material to promote the project further.”
Michaels has a long history in film financing and producing in both the U.S. and Europe, but actually began on the other side of the camera. “I started my internship as an actor, in a film called THE ZERO BOYS in 1984. I wanted to learn more about the process, the physical production, so I started as an assistant to the producer, and I learned hands on how to do it.
(Costumer Nikki Pelley gets to act as well)
“One thing I found about working internationally for many years is there’s an absolute interest still in the United States, especially anything to do with the western genre and the desert and landscapes of the west. It peaks their curiosity much more than anything on the east coast: the rugged West. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and the west was always something of a fantasy to me. The discovery was when we travelled west on vacation, and it was everything we thought it was; it was boundless.
“But I learned (that Westerns) were not the most salable. It represented more risk than action-adventure or sci-fi. Certainly through the 1940s,’50s, ‘60s, ‘70s the western genre was very hot, especially domestically, before foreign markets became very important in the financing of films. People are still fascinated by the western genre of yesteryear, but the future has to have a hook. I don’t think you can do a traditional western per se, unless it’s a TNT original or other cable movie, where you don’t need big numbers for recoupment. People like to watch them; they’re family-safe generally.
“But our picture will be for adults. There will be violence in it – love, lust, money, greed, temptation, betrayal: all those wonderful things that make a theatrical picture. It’s going to be an actioner that can carry to foreign markets, appealing to the domestic, too, who warm up to these kinds of pictures, as evidenced by TRUE GRIT, and of course COWBOYS & ALIENS that is opening this weekend.”
There’s still a lot to do. They’re talking to directors and actors, but no one is set yet. They will be making announcements soon. And a first draft of the script is coming soon. “The script is being written while we speak. We have a very edgy writer who read the books and has a great understanding of the characters, of story. We’re expecting a first draft the first week in August. He’s an interesting guy, but he’s not a marquee name, at least not yet.”
What’s the approach to casting Morgan Kane? “It’ll more than likely be a non-familiar face. We’re going to break a new star with Morgan Kane, and have a very visible supporting cast to surround him. People won’t have a prejudice against this person coming in. They’ll see him as Morgan Kane – that’s our hope.
(Megan Albertus getting made-up to look man-handled)
“Our plan is to do it in New Mexico. It has the correct terrain, that stark western sagebrush look; also we’re enticed by the New Mexico tax incentive. And we feel that they have competent crews that’ve been established over the years. We want to make a big picture and put all the money onscreen.”
Kjell Hallbing died in 2004. I wondered how his son feels about the project. “He’s excited. There’s always been people who wanted to film Morgan Kane. There was a Norwegian television movie made about him, but it wasn’t very good, and that’s all that’s been done. We’re doing it on a large Hollywood scale. I think it’s going to be a real tribute to his father, and he’d love to see that happen.”
(Ardishir Radpour slightly ahead)
AMC’S ‘HELL ON WHEEL’S GETS PLAYDATE!
AMC announced today on Thursday that their Western series HELL ON WHEELS, centered on the building of the trans-continental railroad, will premiere on Sunday, November 6th, following an episode of their highly successful THE WALKING DEAD.
Starring Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Wes Studi, and Common, it follows Mount’s character, a former Confederate soldier out to avenge his wife’s death. The title refers to the traveling saloons, brothels and gambling dens that moved on wheels to follow the track-layers -- Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote a wonderful book on the subject by the same title. Here’s a preview:
BBC AMERICA ANNOUNCES NEW ‘EASTERN’ DRAMA SERIES
Not a Western but still of great interest, COPPER will take place in 19th Century New York City. It’s the story of a young Irish cop in the infamous, teeming immigrant community of Five Points, the area brilliantly portrayed in Herbert Asbury’s history, GANGS OF NEW YORK, later filmed by Martin Scorcese. The flatfoot will also be dealing with the black community of Harlem, and Manhattan high society. The first-ever original drama from BBC America, it will lens in Toronto, Canada starting this fall, and begin airing next summer. It will have a ten episode season.
It’s co-created by writer/producer Tom Fontana, who won Emmys for writing HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET and ST. ELSEWHERE, and recently wrote BORGIAS, and writer/producer Will Rokos, who was Oscar-nominated for writing MONSTERS BALL. In addition to Fontana and Rokos, series will be also exec-produced by Christina Wayne, late of AMC, where she exec’d on MAD MEN and the terrific BROKEN TRAIL, and Barry Levinson, whose writing, directing and producing credits would take all day to list, who won his Oscar for directing RAIN MAN, and is in pre-production to direct Al Pacino as GOTTI.
‘UNTITLED WESTERN’ ACTUALLY TITLED ‘THE MASTER’
In Facebook on Thursday I reported that a movie was being shot around 5th and Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles. My informant told me that there were many dress extras bustling about, and a glimpse in a production truck had revealed paperwork referring to the film as ‘Untitled Western.’ Further investigation on Friday revealed more, and the fact that the film was neither untitled nor a western, and I was not asked to say more until the location wrapped on Saturday.
The film is ‘THE MASTER,’ and the period is the 1950s. It’s a work by writer director Paul Thomas Anderson, who has previously brought you such films as BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Apparently The Master fiction story parallels the story of an actual religion started in the 1950s, and still quite active, and the filmmakers wish to keep a low profile. It stars Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.
TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!
That's right, the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here:
THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.
WELLS FARGO HISTORY MUSEUM
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.
FREE WESTERNS ON YOUR COMPUTER AT HULU
A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.
The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.
TV LAND - BONANZA and GUNSMOKE
Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.
NEED YOUR BLACK & WHITE TV FIX?
Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.
RFD-TV has begun airing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW on Sundays at 9:00 a.m., with repeats the following Thursday and Saturday.
Also, AMC has started showing two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN on Saturday mornings.
On Saturday mornings at 8:00 a.m. Pacific time, TCM is showing two chapters of ZORRO RIDES AGAIN, Republic’s fine western action serial, starring John Carroll, Duncan Renaldo, and featuring action directed by John English and William Whitney.
WHY THE ROUND-UP MAY SAY ‘HAPPY TRAILS’ TO TWITTER
When I started writing the Round-up about a year and a half ago, skeptics told me I’d never find any readers because you can’t balance a laptop on a saddle. I went ahead anyway, and thanks to you good people, I know I’m not wasting my time. For the record, I’m averaging now better than 2,600 hits a month, and growing. A few months ago I added a Facebook page, so that when news stories broke I wouldn’t have to keep rewriting the Round-up, and the Facebook page has been very successful as well.
I’d been encouraged to add a Twitter feed, but I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea. It seemed to me that it was repetitive of Facebook, and not as good: you’re so restricted in the number of characters that about all you can say is ‘See Facebook page.’ Besides, no one cares what I’m doing every minute – not even me. And Tweeting stuff like, ‘Am waiting on line for C’boys n Aliens’ is like saying, “I’ll be away from my home for three hours if you’d like to rob it.”
But I thought I’d give it a try. I started my Twitter feed, and immediately had four followers: women so beautiful that I don’t believe any of them are real. Over the next several weeks I Tweeted interesting stories, and soon had six followers! I thought I was making progress. In truth, I had already peaked. I am now down to two followers, an actual Western person, and a beautiful woman from Alabama who likes NPR. Today I was checking for interesting stories, and came across a man who had just come back from seeing Cowboys & Aliens, and loved it. Great! I reTweeted it to all of (both) of my followers. Then I realized that the original message had come from my one Western guy, and I had Tweeted it back to him! And to the beautiful NPR-fancier in Alabama. I feel like a horse who’s been chasing his own tail. So unless anyone has a good reason not to, I’m going to let that last Tweet by my Twitter swan song.
That's it for tonight, folks! Keep an eye Facebook for updates, and on Twitter if you have nothing else to do! Next week, Part One of my interview with TV's BRONCO LAYNE, TY HARDIN!
All contents Copyright July 2011 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved