On Saturday, September 22nd, The Autry and INSP marked the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking television series THE VIRGINIAN with a day-long event, and by returning the series to the airwaves. (To read part one of my coverage, go HERE To read part two, go HERE . ) One of the highpoints of the Virginian 50thAnniversary Celebration was the panel discussion, featuring all eight VIRGINIAN cast attendees, moderated by Boyd Magers. Boyd is best known as the author and publisher, for over nineteen years, of WESTERN CLIPPINGS MAGAZINE, and maintains the WESTERN CLIPPINGS WEBSITE (HERE), which can be searched for any western-related topic.
The Wells Fargo Theatre at The Autry was completely packed, and thunderous applause greeted each member of the panel as they were introduced: Diane Roter (Jennifer Sommers), Randy Boone (Randy Benton),
Sara Lane (Elizabeth Grainger), Gary Clarke (Steve Hill), (Betsy Garth), Don Quine (Stacey Grainger), Clu Gulager (Sheriff Emmett Ryker), and the Virginian himself, James Drury. Boyd’s first question was to Gary Clarke. Roberta Shore
BOYD: What did being on THE VIRGINIAN, and being part of this reunion, fifty years later, mean to you?
BOYD: Clu, what did it mean to you? Plus, I know you have a few words to say about Gene Autry, too.
Clu Gulager and Gary Clarke
CLU: When you’re in the public eye, people ask you a lot of questions. And the question most people ask me is, what’s with your name? Clu? Well, that’s my name, I’m an Indian, a Cherokee Indian. In my day, most Indian babies were named the first thing their mother sees after the child is born. They tell me that when I was born my mother looked out the window and saw a red bird flying, and the Cherokee name for the red bird is ‘clu.’ So they call me Clu. I’m always glad she didn’t look out and see an out-house.
Gene Autry came to my home town,
, when I was a kid. And he brought Smiley Burnette with him. He sang and danced and told stories, and I believed him. And Smiley bulged out his eyes, and talked like a bull-frog sometimes. And he could play any musical instrument you put in front of him. And I believed him. So when I came out of the Marine Corps, I became an actor, because I believed Gene Autry, and I believed Smiley Burnette. And what is an actor if it is not someone who has the ability to make us believe? Gene was a mess on a horse, when he started his pictures at Republic for Herb Yates, and later on for Muskogee, Oklahoma . Herb Yates smelled money, but he said, ‘This singing cowboy lacks virility.’ So he hired a guy that I knew, named Yakima Canutt – a lot of people felt he was the greatest stuntman that ever lived. So was Davy Sharpe. Herb had Yak take Gene behind the barn and teach him about horses. (aside to Gary Clarke) Like they should have taught you. They had to teach him how to sit a horse; how to mount a horse; how to dismount a horse; how to fight; how to throw a punch; how to receive a punch. And one thing he taught Gene, and very few people can do this even to this day: how to mount a horse from the back. You run up to the horse’s butt, you spring up, you put your hands on their flanks, you pull yourself up, jump into the saddle, and just ride like Hell. And Gene could do that. Gene, who was from Columbia , actually became a very good horseman. But (with a grin), not as good as me. I’m a cowboy from Oklahoma . And I used to ride the fences. When the weather was below freezing, my hands would turn grey, and sometimes my fingers would turn black. But when I saw a hole in that damned fence, I got off my pony, cut that wire, and foxed that hole. And I’ve got to tell you, not one white face (steer) got out of any of those pastures on my watch. Not one. And that’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life. That and my two children, John and Tom. Oklahoma
BOYD: Roberta, I think Diane and Sara owe an awful lot to you; because if you hadn’t gotten married, they probably wouldn’t have been on the show.
ROBERTA: (laughs) I hadn’t thought about that! I just want to say how fun it is to be with Clu! This is the first thing he has ever done with us, and oh my gosh… When I left the show I was under a seven year contract. After I left I was put on two or three years of suspension. And when I left, they honestly didn’t believe I would leave, so they didn’t write me out of the script. And when they realized I was leaving the did bring me back, and married me off to handsome Glenn Corbett.
BOYD: Jim, you’re all here except for one particular person, who is missing. I’d like you to pay tribute to him.
JAMES: I don’t know how I can start that. Doug McClure was a man who would ride the rivers with you. He had my back for nine years, and I had his. And there was never a day or a moment when he wasn’t dedicated to the task at hand. He couldn’t walk into a room without everyone breaking out into a great big smile. If they didn’t know him, they knew him pretty soon. He was a great man, a great actor, and a great friend. And he would be so happy if he could be with us. Because the resurgence of the show – they were showing the episodes on Encore for a couple of years, and now the Inspiration Channel, just starting today, as a matter of fact, a three year run of the show. He would be so pleased and so proud and so much in the middle of it. I really don’t know how we get along without Doug – it’s damned hard. I loved him; that’s all I can say.
James Drury, Roberta Shore, Clu Gulager, Gary Clarke
BOYD: Diane, you were actually underage when you came to work on THE VIRGINIAN.
DIANE: (melodramatically) Yes: I was underage. But I looked older. And I never told Clu that. Or
. But I wouldn’t have to have told you anyway, because you’re such a gentleman. What is the expression – a gentleman and a clown? Gary
BOYD: Were the other guys on the show protective of you?
DIANE: Everyone on the show was just so nice; it’s like having big brothers. And it’s still like family. And Jim is my go-to wisdom man. And every time I call him it’s, ‘No, it’s okay. Sure I can talk. I’m going about 65, 70 on the freeway.’
JAMES: She always gets nervous when I’m driving. I never get nervous when I’m driving.
BOYD: Randy, when did you realize you wanted to be a singer and an actor?
RANDY: My last year of high school I was at a summer camp, and I was doing some waterskiing. I got a funny feeling from this one ski, and it was a parasite that got into my toe. Now our school was crazy about football, an I wanted to get my school letter in football, because you can’t get a girl if you can’t get a letter. And the doctor said if I get the parasite cut out of my foot before early practice, then I couldn’t run for a while. But he had some pills he could mix with water, soak my foot in, and that would poison it, and I could still practice. Six hours a day he wanted me to do it. I had a friend from camp who would play Kingston Trio songs on his guitar. And I’d tied a couple of coffee cans together as bongos, and played along with him. So he’d sit with me, with my foot in the poison, and play the guitar. I don’t think I would have learned to play the guitar if I didn’t have to sit still all that time.
Randy Boone, Diane Roter
BOYD: Sara, you’re a horsewoman. Did that come from your father? I don’t know if everyone’s aware that your father was an actor named
SARA: If my father not been an actor, he probably should have been a vet. He loved animals; he took care of animals. When I was ten years old we lived in a place where I could have a horse; everyone in the neighborhood had a corral. And I got a horse that was right on his way to the glue factory. His saddle sores were so bad that you couldn’t put a saddle on him anymore. So we got this horse home, and I didn’t know how to ride. I got a bridle on her, and the first time I rode her, I rode her into the house. It was a sort of rustic house, but momma was not too happy, so that’s the last time we did that. But I really learned to ride on a backyard horse.
BOYD: Did you ever get to work with your dad?
SARA: Yes; it seems to me we did a VIRGINIAN together, when I was still on the show, but I’m not sure. He came with me every day to the set. I started also underage, as a minor, and had to have a chaperone with me, in addition to a welfare worker/teacher. And Dad came every day; and he had a certain way of learning lines. And he taught me. He was from the theatre, and boy was he strict: you didn’t mess around. You knew your lines, you got there on time. So even though I didn’t get to work with him on camera very much, I sure did work with him a lot. He did 500 live TV shows in
in five years. He moved out here when TV moved out here, and he had to be in every western at least once. New York
BOYD: Don, one person who often gets overlooked in the producer. Don, what are your memories of Frank Price?
DON: Frank Price was a very talented man. He was responsible for starting THE VIRGINIAN. He got it going, and they brought him back in the fifth season. Things had sort of fallen down in the fourth season, when they replaced Lee J. Cobb with John Dehner.
Don Quine, Sara Lane
CLU: Frank Price was my best friend at that time. He worked for a subsidiary of
, which I considered Gene Autry’s home. And these subsidiary companies, like Screen Gems for Columbia , were interested in properties and material and stories for television. So Frank found a property that he liked. He said, ‘I like this book, THE VIRGINIAN.’ This was a long time before the big show came. Looking for a half-hour subject, free and clear, meaning it was unencumbered. For some reason Owen Wister, the writer’s, family had given up the rights to it. He said I’ve got to have a guy to play the Virginian who’s warm. He has to come into people’s living rooms every week. And he found a guy who seemed like he was perfect, to Frank. He had a square jaw like Charlton Heston. He had a baritone voice like Orson Welles. He could act, he could ride, he had a good personality. It was James Drury. (big applause) Now I’m coming to the bad part. (laughs) He hired James, and James did a helluvah job, and it failed. He couldn’t sell it. So skip to Universal a few years later, and that was the home of the grey fox, Lew Wasserman. That was his empire. And Frank Stanton of NBC called Lew and said, ‘We’ve got a problem. Our big show fell out.’ So Lew called Frank Price, who worked for him as a writer-producer. Genius in film creativity in my view. He said, ‘Frank we have to come up with something for Wednesday nights, for NBC. I think I have the solution. Let’s do a movie. Every Wednesday night, let’s put a movie on in that slot.’ Frank said, ‘That’s a good idea. We’ve got a lot of good pictures we’ve made over the years – ’ ‘No, that’s not what I meant. I want us to MAKE a full length motion-picture to show each week, on that vacant slot on NBC on Wednesday night.’ And then Frank had a long silence. He sh*t his britches. Then he said, ‘Okay.’ Lew said, ‘I want you to make a format. I want you to come up with something that will be viable for us. I don’t care what subject you pick. I want to know how long it’ll take, hoe much money it’ll take.’ Frank went outside, got to work, and fell in love with this long form. He said, ‘This is something else, that damned genius Lew Wasserman came up with. I think I’m going to use THE VIRGINIAN again.’ Columbia
Well, he did. And he made kind of a prototype of Gene Autry’s films. Five days at Republic to shoot a film, twelve days at
: I’ll put it in the middle. We’ll do it in eight days. And he took the format into Lew, and Lew said, ‘That’s terrific.’ And Frank Stanton, President of NBC, ‘That’s terrific. Let’s go with it.’ So they had to find a cast. Lew said, ‘I’ll leave it up to you.’ And he put together the damndest cast you’d ever seen. He got James Drury again – there’s no one better; he can do everything. Then he had to have someone to match his acting prowess. He’d just done RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY for Sam Peckinpah, with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, and almost buried the other actors, he’s that good. So they got Lee J. Cobb, considered the second or third best actor in the nation. And he hated television. He hated the concept of THE VIRGINIAN – he hated everything about it. He hated everything we did out here in Columbia . And he signed on. And the show needed someone to help this guy, good as he was. So they found a volleyball player from Hollywood Hawaii, who had made a little splash in , Doug McClure. He could smile, he could ride a horse better than me – and I’m not chopped liver. He could do anything with a horse. He was the Smiley Burnett to James Drury. He was the Pat Buttram. They hired probably the handsomest young actor in town at that time (indicating Gary Clarke). They hired a cast second to none, and all through THE VIRGINIAN they kept adding people like this great actor Quine; Sara Lane. In a bonnet she looked more like a pioneer woman than anyone I’d ever seen except this girl (indicating Hollywood ). She became beloved as the epitome of the pioneer woman in the west. And I will never forget her work; it was so pure. Randy was so natural in his acting, I never knew when he was acting; he was like Will Rogers. He’d go up there and mumble, and I’d say, ‘What did you say?’ ‘I gave you my first line in the script.’ That natural; that good. That’s called film acting. He was brilliant in front of the camera. He could sing. That’s the kind of quality they started with. I wasn’t in it for two years; they wouldn’t have succeeded had I been there. It was an amazing amalgamation of great acting talent. Frank brought this together, and I will never ever forget Frank’s work. And I wish he’d call me up some time. Roberta Shore
Next week I’ll have part 4 of THE VIRGINIAN 50thAnniversary Celebration, featuring the rest of the panel discussion highlights, and my interview with INSP Senior Vice President of Programming Doug Butts. My thanks to Melissa Prince for the panel photographs!
JARROD IS STAYING IN ‘THE BIG VALLEY’
As detailed in the September 9th Round-up (see it HERE) , the feature film of THE BIG VALLEY, partially in the can, has met some serious roadblocks, but as producer Kate Edelman Johnson, daughter of co-creator Louis Edelman put it to me, “I desperately want to see this film made.” A side issue was that the character of Jarrod, played by Richard Long in the series, had disappeared from IMDB and other on-line listings, leading to speculation that his character has been dropped from the story. Kate assures me this is not the case. “Jarrod was being played by Stephen Moyer and, subject to his availability I'd still love him in that part.” Moyer is going into his 6th season as the male lead in the hugely popular vampire saga TRUE BLOOD.
GOOD NEWS DELAYS ‘DEAD MEN’ WEB SERIES
If you read my September 16th Round-up (and if you didn’t, you get another chance HERE ) you learned from my interview with director Royston Innes that the new Western web-series DEAD MEN was about to premiere on-line on Wednesday, September 26th. Only it didn’t. Which may have led you to wonder what went wrong. The fact is, it isn’t online because something went right.
Royston tells me they have a producer attached, are talking to distributors, and won’t make a move until they hear all offers and consider all options. While DEAD MEN may go on-line eventually, it may very well get expanded into a feature. Stay tuned!
VIRGINIAN’S DON QUINE ADDS ANOTHER WESTERN TO HIS RESUME’
In part one of my coverage of the VIRGINIAN 50THANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION (see it HERE) , Don Quine, who played Stacy Grainger in THE VIRGINIAN, confirmed to me that his only other western acting role was a single episode of RAWHIDE. After reading the article, Don emailed me: “About an hour ago I was going through some old photos and came across one that had me in a cowboy outfit where I was a member of an outlaw gang in the ‘Foley’ episode of 20th Fox's LANCER TV series. So I was in three, not two, westerns.”
Don't strain your eyes -- Don Quine
is not in this shot.
For those who might not remember, LANCER was a solid series that ran for two seasons, from 1968 to 1970. It starred Andrew Duggan as the patriarch Murdoch Lancer, with his two sons by different mothers, James Stacy as Johnny Madrid Lancer, Wayne Maunder as Scott Lancer, Elizabeth Baur as Teresa O’Brien, and RAWHIDE’S Paul Brinegar as Hop Sing – I mean as Jelly Hoskins.
DISNEY PLAYS ‘HIDE AND SEEK’ WITH LONE RANGER TRAILER
Those who watched JAY LENO on Tuesday night were treated not only to an interview with Armie Hammer, who plays the Lone Ranger to Johnny Depp’s Tonto, but the first-ever airing of the LONE RANGER trailer. I linked it up to the Round-up Facebook page on Wednesday morning, got a lot of comments, then got the word that Disney had yanked it off of Youtube! Well, the good news is, it’s back! Enjoy (unless they yank it again!)
IMPATIENT FOR JOHNNY DEPP? ENJOY JAY SILVERHEELS!
As Gore Verbinski’s take on the Masked Man chugs its way towards its July 3rd 2013 release, you can renew your relationship with everyone’s favorite “…faithful Indian companion Tonto,” by catching THE LONE RANGER weekdays on WHT-TV, at 1:30 p.m. Western time.
’ TRAILER UNVEILED LINCOLN
Here's the re-cut
trailer, with a bunch of 1960s stock footage thrown in. I have great respect for Steven Speilberg, and for Daniel Day Lewis, but I have grave doubts about the voice he's using. It seems incredibly weak, especially in the opening narration. I thought Bill Oberst Jr.'s voice was much more effective in ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES, especially delivering the Gettysburg Address. Let me know what you think! LINCOLN
This coming weekend, October 10th, 11th and 12th, the festival, taking place in Almeria, Spain, home of the Spaghetti Western, will focus on several films long followed and championed by the Round-up Rounders: YELLOW ROCK (review HERE , on-the-set visit HERE), GOOD FOR NOTHING (review HERE) , LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE ( review HERE , interview with writer/director HERE ), HEATHENS AND THIEVES (interview with director HERE , review HERE ) , and GOODNIGHT FOR JUSTICE – THE MEASURE OF A MAN (Luke Perry interview HERE. ).
And that's all for this week's Round-up! Can you believe that tonight's HELL ON WHEELS was the finale for season two? Thank goodness I'm four episodes behind, so with my DVR I'll still have something new and western to watch for a few more weeks. There is much talk about this being a new 'golden age' of TV writing, and I think it's true. But one reason is that seasons for cable series are ten episodes long -- a far cry from when producers were expected to crank out 39 or more episodes per season. So don't dis the old-timers -- everyone could do better work if they had four times as long to do it!
All Original Contents Copyright October 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved