VIRGINIAN 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION Part 2
Roberta Shore, Clu Gulager, Doug McClure,
Randy Boone, James Drury, Lee J. Cobb (seated)
If you read last week’s Round-up (and if you didn’t, the link is HERE ) you know that last Saturday, the 50th Anniversary of the classic Western series THE VIRGINIAN was marked by an all-day star-studded celebration at The Autry, and a marathon of VIRGINIAN episodes on INSP, which is adding the show to it’s Saddle-Up Saturdayline-up. In fact, this coming Saturday they’ll be running five episodes in a row!
Last week I featured my interviews with about half of the cast members who attended. Herewith, the second half.
Randy Boone portrayed Randy Benton in 70 episodes, from 1964 through1966. In addition to acting, he’s a talented singer, as he proved at the dinner later that night.
HENRY: You’re the only actor I know of who starred in two 90 minutes western series, THE VIRGINIAN, and then CIMARRON STRIP. What was it like doing that length of production?
RANDY BOONE: Uh, it was great. I didn’t believe it: I didn’t think the movies would be so demanding on you physically. I remember getting up in the morning, some mornings which people think are cold in Southern California, looking at that shower, and then deciding if I was going to make it, or talk the make-up man into shaving me. It was long, long arduous days, and a lot to learn – I didn’t know how to ride a horse. I had to learn a lot of things. I had to find out about getting a good manager. At first I thought, oh good, I’ve got a manager. I got robbed at first.
got married and left THE VIRGINIAN, a niece of Judge Garth was written in, and lovely Diane Roter was brought onboard for the 1965-1966 season. She’s been busy since then, traveling the world to study and to act, and along the way became a writer as well. Roberta Shore
Clu Gulager and Diane Roter
DIANE ROTER: I’ve done this myself; I’m a journalist. I was a theatre critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, book reviewer for the L.A. Times, and film reviewer; did a regular column for the San Jose Mercury Times.
HENRY: I loved the Herald Examiner.
DIANE: I’m so glad to hear you say that. I loved it. We had so many good writers there. I was their theatre critic until my son was born. I was hired by (legendary editor) Jim Bellows, and it was really a golden era, when he was there. It was the only union paper in the city at that time, because they’d been a ‘scab’ paper for years, and then Jim Bellows came in, from the Washington Star, and everyone was union.
HENRY: How did you get cast as Jennifer Sommers?
DIANE: I was doing a play in
. I was playing the title role in GIGI, and I got really pretty great reviews in the L. A. Times, so talent scouts came out, and I was offered contracts for two different movie studios at the same time, Warner Brothers and Universal. And I did a screen test for Universal. Warner Brothers wanted to put me in movies right away, which probably would have been interesting. But Universal just happened to have a role in THE VIRGINIAN because Roberta had just left. So that’s where I went. I signed with Universal, a seven-year contract, so I was one of the last of the golden era (of long-term studio contracts). I did a bunch of TV shows there, then I did two movies after, then I went to Santa Monica , and I studied mime with Marcel Marceau -- he was one of my great mentors. Then I came back; I did one show at the Mark Taper Forum, I directed theatre, I did some more TV, and then I started having kids. I had my first daughter, and I started writing, and getting published. Paris
HENRY: On THE VIRGINIAN, did you have any favorite guest stars that you worked with?
DIANE: I was so lucky. Norman MacDonnell was my producer on the year I was on. He started GUNSMOKE; he was a brilliant, talented man. And he just had the best actors. I worked with the great ones – and I’m not just talking about Lee J. Cobb, who played my uncle, but as far as guest stars, Ed Begley was wonderful to work with; Jim Whitmore, I enjoyed working with him; Sheree North was one of my favorites.
HENRY: I was madly in love with her.
DIANE: Were you really?
HENRY: Absolutely. I think she was one of the most beautiful creatures to ever be on film. And so funny.
DIANE: She was a great actress. She really was – I watched her every minute. She was a model for me. You know, originally she had been hired to be competition for Marilyn Monroe. Very much like Shelly Winters, when she was young. She had a very demanding role on that show. Really good actors on the show; I enjoyed working with Virginia Grey, Harry Guardino, and I did one with Charles Bronson – he was great to work with. He’s probably the most shy, silent man I’ve ever known. After THE VIRGINIAN I did a movie, I did all kinds of characters. I did an Indian, I played a French courtesan on THE RAT PATROL, and I was on FAMILY AFFAIR, on all different types of shows, playing all kinds of characters. And when you work with people, you realize how different they are from their persona. Particularly Dirk Bogarde – I worked with him in one of George Cukor’s last films, JUSTINE, which was a film of THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET, and he was fabulous. And Anouk Aimee, and Michael York – it was an all-star cast. I’ve been very lucky to work with great people, like Henry Fonda on-stage. We did readings when he was on tour doing THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE. And actually Jane Alexander had the part, I was the understudy, but reading with him was such a thrill. Also, before THE VIRGINIAN I worked with Charles Laughton.
HENRY: When was that?
DIANE: That was on GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE, which was hosted by Ronald Reagan; my first television role. That was an introduction; also worked with Elsa Lanchester.
HENRY: You must have been very young.
DIANE: I was fortunate that I was not a child actor. The one thing that I did as a child, with Charles Laughton, I was about eleven. Then with Curt Jurgens I was fourteen. Then when I did THE VIRGINIAN I was sixteen. But I was never a kid actor, and I never let my kids act when they were young.
HENRY: My wife and I did a series of interviews with child stars of the 1930s and 1940s, and none of them would ever let their children act. They know better.
DIANE: Exactly. Paul Peterson was a friend of mine; he started an organization that works on behalf of child actors (A Minor Consideration). I worked on FAMILY AFFAIR, with Brian Keith. There were a couple of kids on that, who played twins: Johnny Whittaker, who did very well; and there was a little Anissa Jones. She was a wonderful little actress, but I felt that there was trouble ahead. And she committed suicide.
Except for a shock of white hair, Clu Gulager looks just as handsome as he did when he joined THE VIRGINIAN cast starting in season two, in 1963. Looking debonair in a black suit and shirt, he has the same mischievous grin he wore as Sheriff Ryker, that let you know that there was much more going on behind his eyes than he was revealing.
The fact that my first name is Henry was enough to set him off on a riff about Henrys, especially one Henry Starr.
CLU GULAGER: Henry Starr was a bad dude, although he did become a movie actor. I’ve seen posters here at the
, of Henry as a movie star, pointing a gun. But after that, he went back to robbing banks, which he had done before he became a movie star. He killed several people, a lot of people. And his brother Sam married a little girl from Autry Museum ; her name became Belle Starr. She was an outlaw and a killer. They used to broker cattle, to rustle cattle, in the Missouri Indian Territory. And they were selling to City, different places that had a market for white-faced cattle. They were bad people. And they were related to me. Chicago, Kansas
HENRY: Speaking of bad people, before you did THE VIRGINIAN you starred in THE TALL MAN, with Barry Sullivan. You were playing another bad guy, Billy the Kid, opposite his Pat Garrett.
CLU: I was in my 30s when I played Billy the Kid, but I had a baby face. So it was okay. You can fool people sometimes; you tell them you’re a kid, and they believe you, if you have a baby-face.
HENRY: What was it like going from the smaller, 30 minute show to the more elaborate western?
CLU: Same thing; same stuff. You only shoot so much every day. Same camera; same horses; same saddles. Same horse-shit. No different.
HENRY: Around the time you joined THE VIRGINIAN, you did THE KILLERS.
CLU: I did THE KILLERS with an actor I liked a lot called Lee Marvin. And Ronald Reagan and John Cassavettes and Angie Dickinson. We killed Ronald Reagan and Angie Dickinson and John Cassavettes. And they deserved it! Henry, just remember, no matter what happens…. (after a long pause) Just remember. (Laughs). When I said, ‘Just remember, no matter what happens,’ you were supposed to say, ‘What?’ so I could say ‘Just remember.’
HENRY: Sorry. Next time I won’t be late on my cues.
Gary Clarke played cowpoke Steve Hill in 63 episodes of THE VIRGINIAN, seasons one and two. He’d done quite a few episodes of other Western series before then, and even played Teenaged Werewolf in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER.
HENRY: What actors did you enjoy working with on THE VIRGINIAN?
GARY CLARKE: My favorite people on the show? Jim and Doug of course. But working with Lee J. Cobb, that was incredible. Just amazing to work with. And he really touched my life; touched me as a human being. I loved working with Robert Redford, Lee Marvin – Lee Marvin was a hoot.
HENRY: I was just watching your episode with Lee Marvin, IT TOLLS FOR THEE, directed by Sam Fuller. What was he like?
HENRY: Do you have any particular feelings about other directors on the show?
HENRY: After THE VIRGINIAN you did HONDO: THE SERIES, and after that you didn’t do a lot of westerns until you came back with
. How did you like getting back to the west with TOMBSTONE ? TOMBSTONE
HENRY: Andy Fenady, who produced and wrote HONDO, is a good friend. Wonderful series.
HENRY: I will. (Incidentally,
wrote six episodes of GET SMART) Gary
James Drury, Clu Gulager, Doug Butts
Next week I’ll have Part 3 of my VIRGINIAN 50THAnniversary coverage, featuring highlight from the panel discussion, and my interview with INSP’s Senior Vice President of Programming, Doug Butts.
RANCHO CAMULOS CELEBRATES ‘RAMONA DAY(S)’
On Saturday September 29th I trusted my GPS to lead me out of
, through wilderness and desert to Piru, the home of Rancho Camulos, also known as The Home of Ramona. The home of the del Valle family since they were recipients of a huge land- grant (48,612 acres!) from the government of Mexico in 1839, it has rested in the hands of only two families; the del Valles and, since 1924, the Rubels, a Swiss family which owns the land to this day. Los Angeles
Dependent upon weather as much as any farming or ranching concern, it has had its financial ups and downs. At various times its main business has been cattle, oranges, grapes, wine and brandy. Currently some of its acres are planted with jalapeños. In many ways, Rancho Camulos seems frozen in time; it looks today very much as it did a century and a half ago.
Although the stories of the del Valles and the Rubels are compelling enough to earn it an important place in Californio history (which you can read about HERE), there is another connection which lifts the Rancho to the level of national, and even international fame: it is the spot where one of the most beloved romances of American fiction, RAMONA, was conceived and set.
Author Helen Hunt Jackson had previously written A CENTURY OF DISHONOUR, an exposé of Indian mistreatment by a
government which did not honor its treaties. Frustrated at the book’s lack of impact (despite its snappy title), United States determined to try again, this time writing a novel that would illustrate the same notions but in a more entertaining package. Seeking a locale, she was encouraged by her friends the Coronels to place the story at Rancho Camulos, one of the very last of the colonial land-grant ranches. On January 23rd, 1882, she took a train in, visited at the Rancho for a couple of hours, and took the train back. It was a short visit, but it was enough: the tale of Ramona, the young Mexican woman who falls in love with the Indian Alessandro, even as the Americans are moving in and taking the land, would be set at Camulos. Jackson
Although it was not the Indian’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN as she had hoped, it was a tremendous bestseller in its day, has never been out of print, and was for years required reading for all
school children. People found the story so compelling that, unable to accept that it was fiction, they came searching for Ramona and Alessandro, and the Ramona cottage industry was born. California
So on Saturday, RAMONA DAYS was held at Rancho Camulos. It was a remarkable event, and very well-attended. I don’t know the numbers, but there were certainly several hundred people there at any one time for the all-day celebration. After parking our cars just beyond the jalapeños fields, visitors hopped into an open wagon, got settled on hay bales, and a tractor pulled us to the entrance of the park and museum.
a cork tree
All of the adobe structures, from the small kitchen to the large main house, were open for visiting, with knowledgeable docents everywhere. Beautiful ancient cork trees were here and there, their rough pocked bark showing that they had provided the corks when Camulos was a winery and a brandy-maker. The huge adobe winery is, in fact, the only building that cannot currently be visited, as it was seriously damaged during the 1994 earthquake.
the south veranda
As the audience settled in chairs under the shading cork trees, they listened to a violinist, then watched a troop of Flamenco dancers, then listened to ‘The Ramona Song.’ The Ramona Pageant has been presented at The Ramona Bowl, a huge open amphitheater in
, since the 1920s, and it will have its 90th season this coming summer. Next came the highlight of the program: the lead cast from the pageant performed scenes from the show. Dennis Anderson, who directs the pageant, introduced Cesaria Hernandez as Ramona, Duane Minard as Alessando, and Kathi Anderson as the villain of the piece, the Senora. The performances were moving, the story poignant, particularly so in knowing that it was being performed before the unchanged veranda where Helen Hunt Jackson sat and created the story 128 years ago. Moreover, some of those scenes were filmed on that very veranda, 102 years ago, with D. W. Griffith directing, and Mary Pickford and Henry B. Walthall starring. The program continued with traditional Spanish and Mexican dances. Hemet
Kathi Anderson, Cesaria Hernandez and Duane Minard with director Dennis Anderson
In the one-room school-house that now functions as a gift-shop and theatre, documentarian Hugh Munro Neely, of the Mary Pickford Institute, was showing the 17 minute
version of RAMONA, which he’d overseen the remastering of for TCM. As the film played, he pointed out, shot-by-shot, where it was filmed. He pointed out a scene where Ramona, locked in her room, reaches out through the barred windows. “The interior was shot on an outdoor stage in downtown Griffith . The exterior shot, is on the south veranda.” After, I asked him about the research he’d done. “Actually I wasn’t the first person to do research. I work for the Mary Pickford Institute, and some years ago the museum requested a copy of the film, which we had in our collection. We sent it to them, and they did a lot of the first research. About two years ago I did the research on the countryside, that’s in the later parts of the film. And we were able to get permission to go up in the hills, on the private land, behind Piru, and we found that the mountain scenes look almost exactly as they did 102 years ago. Just like the scenes here at Camulos look exactly as they did 102 years ago – it’s really amazing.” Los Angeles
Mary Pickford, locked in her room, reaches through the bars
window on the far right is the one Mary Pickford was reaching through
Outside of the schoolhouse I caught up with Cesaria Hernandez and Duane Minard, Ramona and Alessandro. I asked them what it was like to be playing their roles in the spot where they were originally imagined.
CESARIA: Doing it here, and knowing that Helen Hunt Jackson was actually here, wrote it – it’s incredible. Because there’s so much history associated with this place, and I think we kind of feed off of that – that kind of spirit, that maybe she left behind here, a little bit.
DUANE: We always like to walk the grounds. The first time we came out here, it was just like, so this is part of a true history. This part of what we’re playing was actually written right here. And that is just like going to sacred ground for me. And as a Native American, coming back to the original place, and then being part of bringing this history to life; it’s something that’s really been a
for us. high point
HENRY: How many seasons have you both been involved with the RAMONA pageant?
CESARIA: This will be my thirteenth season of being involved; I have played Ramona six times during that time.
DUANE: And this will be my twelfth, and I’ve played Alessandro four times.
HENRY: When did you first read the book?
CESARIA: I read the book originally from cover-to-cover back in 1998, and I fell in love with it, I went up there and saw the production director Dennis Anderson put on, and the very next year I decided that I was going to audition for it. And that was my first year of being Ramona, in 1999.
DUANE: I read it in 1990. I had heard about it so many times, (being told) you’ve got to read the story, it’s all about Native American history in
. And I’m a California Native American, maybe I should. So by the time 1990 came around I actually read it. And I read it. And I read it again, and I really enjoyed the story. And lo and behold, there was the pageant right there in California . Hemet
CESARIA: And we go back to it, between seasons; we’ll go back and read different sections, to try to bring different nuances to the scenes. You can gain a lot from the book, so sometimes we go back and do a refresher course, especially on certain scenes.
HENRY: Have you seen any of the film versions? And what do you think of them?
CESARIA: I think we’ve seen just about all of the film versions over the years, and it’s great because you get to see these stars – Mary Pickford being the first – and it’s just so great to see people that you know doing these roles.
In addition to the pageant, Duane can currently be seen as Golden Eagle in the current DVD release COWBOYS & INDIANS, and will soon be seen in THE LONE RANGER. Cesaria co-hosts the cable show THE VALLEY CONNECTION, which you can find at www.thevalleyconnection.net.
I strolled the grounds some more, watching demonstrations of blacksmithing and Indian weaving, admired the rose gardens and drank in the history. A docent showed me a century-old photograph of forty members of the del Valle family, then pointed out that I was standing at the top of the steps where they had been posed.
del Valle family a century ago...
...and where they posed
It was about one, and getting very hot. I had a burrito and a soda, and was about to leave when I saw director Dennis Anderson passing by. He’d already directed RAMONA so many times, but I asked how it felt to do it where the story had been originally imagined. “On a historical and spiritual level, it feels really good. Because we’re at the heart of where Helen Hunt Jackson created her novel. On a production side, though, it’s very different, because we do this in this huge outdoor amphitheatre, the Ramona Bowl, where the audience is like three or four thousand people spread out across the hillside. So it’s different in a production sense, but it feels equally as good, and when I see the wind blowing, and Ramona there with her rose, it’s like I can almost see Helen Hunt Jackson’s imagination; it’s pretty cool.”
While RAMONA DAYS is actually just one day, and comes just once a year, Rancho Camulos is open every Sunday. Go to their link for details.
CALICO DAYS, YERMO Oct. 5-7
A western parade, a burro run, gunfighters, barbecue, a miner's triathalon, 1880s-era contests and live music at Calico Ghost Town. 760-684-0849 calicotown.com
SAN DIMAS WESTERN DAYS Oct. 6-7
PRCA Rodeo, parade, craft and food fair, music, entertainment. San Dimas Civic Center Park and Rodeo Grounds. 909-592-3818, 909-394-7633 sandimasrodeo.com
BIG HORSE FEED HARVEST FESTIVAL, TEMECULA Oct.. 6-31
11 acre corn-maze, hy rides, pony rides, pig races, pumpkin bowling, etc. Big Horse Feed and Marcantile. 951-389-4621 bighorsecornmaze.com
GHOST TOUR, SIMI VALLEY Oct. 5-28
Guided walking tour of sites where historical ghosts tell stories of Chumash, pioneers, and eccentrics who once lived in the Valley. Friday-Sunday nights, Strathearn Historical Park. 805-526-66453 simihistory.com
And that’s the Round-up for this week. I had a couple of little up-dates, but they’ll have to wait until next week. After all, I’m already three episodes behind on HELL ON WHEELS, and I want to catch up before anyone tells me who is getting killed!
All original contents copyright September 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved