Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The History of A Scene: "Commanche Station" (1960)

October 19, 2016
   I'm developing a new feature for True West in 2017. Since so many classic Westerns were filmed over a half century ago, it seems like a good time to go behind the scenes and document how they were made.

   When I was recently in Lone Pine, California for the Lone Pine Film Festival, I got a tour of the Alabama Hills with stunt rider and horsewoman, Sylvia Durando, who doubled for the female lead in the Randolph Scott classic Western "Commanche Station" (1960).

The History of A Scene: "Commanche Station" (1960)

   The movie opens with an 11-minute-montage-setup with very little dialogue. A loner, Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) is moving through the desert landscape with a pack mule. He is soon surrounded by Commanches who he hopes will want the bounty he is packing on the back of his mule. They actually don't and take him to their chief, and after Scott throws in his Winchester, the Commanches trade the goods for a captive white woman, Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), they have been holding. He puts her on the pack mule and the two ride quickly out of the stronghold and make their way towards Lordsburg, and safety. Their flight makes up the heart of the story. Sylvia Durando doubled for the female lead, Nancy Gates, and here we see Sylvia, doubling for Gates, riding through the Alabama Hills in August of 1959 when the movie was filmed.

   When I mentioned that the rider looks younger than Randolph Scott in this sequence, Sylvia replied, "Yes, that is Hal Needham, he was the double for Randolph Scott in the long shots. He also doubled Richard Boon in Have Gun Will Travel, and I worked with him for nine months on that series.  Look close at his horse, above, and you will notice he is also a stunt double as well. He he."

   Sylvia also had this to say about the riding gear, "The mule did not have a bit in her mouth, just a halter with a frayed rope so I asked for a wire or light reins be attached to the halter just in case the rope were to break or if the rope should get dropped. The wrangler fixed it up for me. I was sitting upon a packed pack saddle, no stirrups for my feet and only the wooden forks of the pack saddle to hang on to."

   Here is a still from the movie that shows Sylvia full face to the camera. Evidently the PR department thought she looked enough like the star that no one would notice:

Sylvia Durando and Randolph Scott in a still from "Commanche Station"

And here's another shot of Sylvia on location taken just before the water trough sequence:

Sylvia Durando in the Alabama Hills, 1959

And here is the female lead, Nancy Gates, when she is thrown down on top of the trinkets Randolph Scott brought to trade with the Commanches.

Nancy Gates as the Commanche captive.

A mohawked Commancche extra, Nancy Gates and Randolph Scott

   Sylvia also doubled Gates in the water trough scene when Scott throws her in the trough to save her from the rain of bullets pouring into Commanche Station. The script was written by Burt Kennedy and was his last script before becoming a director himself.

Scott and Gates in the water trough scene.

 Sylvia describes the setup: "I was tossed into the water several times by Hal Needham (Randolph Scott's double) for the long shots and once by Randolph for the close shot. He picked me up facing the water and tossed me, I didn't go all the way in and my legs were on the end of the trough so for the sake of avoiding a cut in the scene, Randolph Scott grabbed my feet and shoved, scraping my chins on the wood edge of the trough. They got the close up in one shot!"

"Commanche Station" Lobby Card

   Sylvia added, "The lobby card is me in the water, had it been Nancy Gates the face would not of been hidden. I don't recall her ever being tossed into the water, they just cut and she got into the trough. I was in it the whole time they were filming the battle. I would duck and then come up for air than duck again. The crew let me do that about five more time after the cameras stopped rolling and they were all laughing at me ducking and diving. I was paid an extra seventy five dollars overtime for all the times I got tossed that day!"

 It was a thrill to see these sites with Sylvia who knew all the behind-the-scenes stories on the last Western Randolph Scott made in the Lone Pine area.

Sylvia Durando at the scene of the filming of Commanche Station this October 7, 2016. Today she is 82-years-young and is still riding horses and mules. Quite a Western gal, she is.

When I asked Sylvia how we can tell if it's her riding the mule in the film, she said, "If she isn't bouncing, that's me."

POV studies

October 19, 2016
   After two weeks of traveling, I buckled down this morning to try and find my way back to the groove Did a page of POV studies for our upcoming graphic novel, "The Trickster With The Sidewinder Gaze."

Daily Whip Outs: "POV Studies"

   Rather rusty, but that's what I get for being out on the road. As a famous pianist once said, "If I don't practice for a day, I notice it. If I don't practice for two days, the critics notice it and if I don't practice for three days the fans notice it."

   It's only been two weeks, but even my art teacher notices it, and he has been dead for a decade or so. Anyway, the "Trickster" will pay off our cover stories on this stray cat:

The December 2008 issue of True West (at left), and the August, 2016 issue.

"If you want a long career you have to drive people away now and again, so they realize they miss you."
—Elvis Costello

Monday, October 17, 2016

Adventures of An Old Man In The Air And On The Sea

October 17, 2016
   It's our last day on the island. Got to see most of Kauai—the garden island—including the rugged, northwestern quadrant where there are no roads and very little rain.

The Hawaiian Grand Canyon

  According to our sea faring guide—Captain Aaron—Mount Waialeale is the second wettest spot on earth receiving more than 460 inches of rain per year and the westside of the island gets a meager 14 inches of rain, which is darn close to Arizona (we usually get about 12 inches a year). That's why the western part of the island resembles Arizona, above, and the eastern part looks like, well, Hawaii:

Waterfalls galore on the northeastern mountains

Many movies have been made here: South Pacific King Kong, Pagan Love Song, Raiders of The Lost Arc, Diamond Head, The Hawaiians, Six Days And Seven Nights, The Perfect Getaway, the list goes on.

The waterfall used in the first Jurassic Park

That's our condo, the white spot at far left as we glide over Hanalei Bay.

Yes, the Hanalei Bay made famous in the Peter, Paul and Mary song. And here's the view looking back the other way:

The view off our deck.

   On Friday we took a helicopter tour of the island and I got to witness this spectacular view out of the front window of our Bell (no relation) Helicopter.

Na Pali Coast, the rugged northwest corner of Kauai where there are no roads.

   First we flew over the "Barking Sands" and then, on Sunday, Kathy booked us on a swift boat, which zipped along the above coast bouncing over the waves like a Navy Seals extraction boat. And, according to our crew, that is what our boat is—a Navy Seal Extraction Boat. 

   Our trip took off from Waimea Bay, which is, of course, famous for its 50 foot waves and for being in the lyrics to "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys. It took us an hour-and-a-half to get to the boat dock from our Princeville address, but the drive was delightful as we motored through the mid-land farms and villages to get to the arid west side of the island.

   The swift boat tour took off at ten and for most of the ride, I sat in the back in one of the three Princess Chairs (the crew has a rougher name for the chairs, that being the anatomical area Donald Trump allegedly grabbed with abandon back in the 80s). But the position did give me the opportunity to use my camera:

My fellow swift boaters hanging on for dear life.

   Being the oldest pussy, I mean, GUY, on the boat did have its advantages. Less spray, less kidney punishment and more relaxation. After an hour of salt spray and wave jumping we arrived at the first of several sea caves and much to our amazement, Captain Aaron turned the boat around and BACKED into the caves, even as waves crashed into the surrounding walls which lifted the boat up near the ceiling in the smaller ones.

The view from inside one of the larger sea caves.

   The water along the shore is a crazy blue. A kind of hot turquoise that looks fake. And, speaking of fake, the locals have little nice to say about the hippies, who first infested this region in the early seventies. According to our native guide, the national guard had to come in and round them up and deport them. He said they found 1,000 hippies living off the land and 20,000 cubic feet of garbage. He also added that the wilder bands are still out there in the canyons. Shades of the Apaches in the Sierra Madre!

Another ho-hum sunset in the land of spectacular sunsets

So that's the report. I didn't talk about the kayaking but that's another story. It's expensive in this paradise. Gas is $3.50, a burrito is $9, the helicopter ride was $650 and the Captain Andy Boat Tour is $280. I'm not complaining, just reporting the facts. And as for the overall expense, I have to say this:

"Thanks Mike Lacey!"

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A beautiful wedding at a beautiful spot

October 15, 2016
   It was windy and the sand was lumping up in my sockless, boat-deck shoes. There was no place to sit. I felt a little cranky. And then the bride showed up, walking along the beach with her stepfather Charlie. And, yes, that is a flute player out front playing hippie music like they insist on playing in movies about Apaches.

  She was radiant.

Here comes the bride

She was evidently meeting up with this guy.

The man of the hour

The groom's friends built this little shelter for the ceremony. A woman came out of the bushes and complained about us being here. Everyone laughed her off.

The ceremony

The location is on the north shore of Kauai. Sweet kids. I wished them well.

Yes, it was ridiculously wonderful. A storybook wedding and it was an honor to be there.

"Get off my beach!"
—An old woman (my age) who was full of it because all the beaches in Hawaii are public

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

If The Suit Fits, Wear It

October 11, 2016
   In 1984 I was in Kansas on a road trip with my family when we stopped in an antique store where I found an 1890s three-piece-suit that fit me like a glove. I came home, grabbed a hat, a pistol and a Winchester and had photographer Ralph Rippe take a photo for posterity.

BBB Channeling Blackjack Ketchum

Found this when I was looking for the New Times photo. I still have the suit, but it doesn't fit anymore.

"If the suit fits, wear it."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Every Blind Dog Finds an Acorn From Time to Time

October 12, 2016
   Somewhere I have a great photo of the New Times staff taken in about 1979 and I can't find it. However, I did find a couple other gems:

BBB and Apache, my blind Australian Shepherd.

   The high-backed saddle is from my Great-uncle John Guess of Steins Pass, New Mexico and the clock on the mantle is also from his humble home. This photo was taken by Barbara Buros in 1985. During this photo session, she also took another photo on our back porch.

Thomas Charles, at left, Apache, BBB and Deena C. on the back porch.

   This was at our old home at 707 W. MacKenzie in Phoenix. The A-1 sign is off the old Nogales Cafe and the sandblasted window was done by an artist I can't remember. The dog's name is Apache.

"What did you do to deserve those good looking kids?"
—my production manager, Robert Ray, on looking at this photo in the scanner

Monday, October 10, 2016

Why Did Mike Lacey Give Me $5,000?

October 11, 2016
  Why did Mike Lacey give me $5,000? The short answer is, I earned it. 

New Times crew, 1978, that's Larkin and Lacey,  fourth and fifth from left. And Jana Bommersbach,  far right.

BBB in the shadow of the Alabama Hills

   Here's what happened:

 Several weeks ago I got a request from my former boss, Mike Lacey, through a law firm: Becker & House, and in the request they asked for my contact info, so I emailed them my mailing address. A week or so later, I got a check for $5,000 made out to me with this message:

Dear Bob:

It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been named as a
beneficiary of a gift from Michael Lacey. Mr. Lacey has asked us to
convey that this gift is a small token of his appreciation.

In order to fulfill the statutory requirements for gift tax purposes,
please fill out the attached form to confirm your date of birth and
current address information. You will not be liable for any tax (in
bold) as a result of this gift. However, Mr. Lacey is required to
report the gifts he is making.

For security purposes, please mail the attached form via the enclosed
self-addressed postage paid envelope. If you have any questions or
concerns, please contact my office (myself or Nicole Casaus) for

Yours very truly,

John R. Becker

   End of letter. I signed the attached piece of paper and sent it back with a note of thanks. And, of course, cashed the check and gave half of it to Kathy because, as I told her, "this is a community property state." I also sent Mike a copy of my book "The 66 Kid" with another note of thanks.

   Did my opinion of Mike go up after the gift? Absolutely. Has the gift "conflicted" me about talking of the sordid charges against him and Jim Larkin, my former bosses at the Phoenix New Times


   First of all, I would never even mention any of this if certain online bloggers hadn't made the claim that Lacey is using these gifts to silence journalists from doing their job on reporting the Back Page controversy (Google it). So I'm talking about it to show I have not been silenced, and, just for the record, Lacey and I had a contentious relationship, to say the least. But he's a smart guy and, from my viewpoint, he has absolutely nothing to gain by giving me this money. I accept it just as his lawyer presented it: "this gift is a small token of his appreciation."

  Frankly, I deserve the money. I started at New Times Weekly for $110 a week in 1978 and my take home was around $85, and, I held down three jobs there: art director, weekly column writer (Scoops) and comic strip generator (Honkytonk Sue and, later, The Doper Roper). Full disclosure: I got an extra $25 for the comic strip. I worked very hard to make New Times a successful newspaper. In my view, Lacey is merely acknowledging my hard work all those years ago when we were both young bucks trying to make our mark in the media world. We were all poor. When I first met Mike Lacey he had just had his car repossessed. Our first office in the Westward Ho had bums lying outside the door and we had to step over them to get in the office. I used to joke that the only way to tell the difference between the homeless and the New Times employees (all five of us) was that the bums had better taste in pants.

   I accept the gift with a clear conscience: it is fair payment for work done and I do appreciate the gesture and the gift.

"He was an unpredictable, capricious boss."
—Dick Reavis, former writer for The Dallas Observer, on working for Lacey

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Last Call for Lone Pine

October 9, 2016
   We drove out into the Alabama Hills one more time today and took a look around. Paige Williams took this photo of me standing under a leaning boulder, with Mount Whitney looming over my shoulder:

BBB In The Alabama Hills

Needs a little dodging in Photoshop, but it's a cool shot. She also took one with me kneeling:

Better composition but not quite as dynamic.

After our class photos were taken we retired to a sprawling home on the edge of the Hills and had a delightful brunch.

One of our hosts, Packy Smith, at left, and Larry Floyd,
 of the Williamsburg Film Festival, at right.

After the brunch we went back to Main Street to ride in the Lone Pine Film Festival Parade. I was thrilled to ride in a cherry Lincoln Continental:

My Lone Pine Ride

   Before the parade I was asked if I wanted to do a guest spot on a radio broadcast and we walked across the street to a typical radio tent, with open sides, the kind of setup I have done numerous "remotes" from, back in the day. I looked around for the equipment and there wasn't any, I looked around for the satellite truck and there wasn't one. The radio guy did the entire interview on HIS PHONE! The DJ told me the quality of the mic is so good, they don't need all that old school equipment any more. Yikes. There goes 25 jobs and a slew of equipment that is no longer needed. Actually, it's probably closer to 100 jobs if you factor in all the manufacturing, etc.

   Tonight is the closing ceremonies with a dinner down at Boulder Creek, one of the sponsors. I learned a lot about the history of the area and also about filmmaking. It's been a ton of fun and I definitely plan on coming back.

"Education is hanging around until you've caught on."
—Robert Frost

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Truth About Custer According to Thom Ross

October 8, 2016
   I gave a talk this morning in the Lone Pine Museum theater on the truth about Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Before I started, I told the audience everything I was going to tell them came straight from my artist friend Thom Ross. I've had to outrun angry crowds before, so that wasn't much of a problem, but I did give them Thom's home address and most of them dropped off my trail after about ten miles. I told Ross to expect a call.

The sweet lobby card for "Rio Lobo" which hangs in the Lone Pine Museum Theater

   Here's one of the tidbits Thom gave me: "Over half the men of the 7th cavalry survived the battle. The doomed men who died at the "last stand" were only the 210 (+/-) men who went with Custer himself (Companies C, E, F, I, and L). Three Custer brothers (George, Tom, and Boston) a nephew, Autie (the son of CUster's older half-sister) and a brother-in-law, James Calhoun (married to Custer's sister, Margaret) were all killed there that much for the Custer family Christmas card list!"

  And here's another little bon bon from the Kid: "The 7th Cav. had the Springfield .45-70 carbine which had an effective range of 600 yards. It was a single-shot, long range weapon. But as the battle unfolded, it became a much closer fight....the Indians using the natural terrain to their advantage where the distances were not so radical...hence their lever-action, multi-shot Winchesters were both deadly, rapid, and at such close range, accurate. As the Indians killed the soldiers, they captured the Springfields and used them not only against the last of Custer's men, but later on in their long-range siege of the Reno-Benteen survivors. (The men with Reno-Benteen commented on how the sounds of the Indian's fire changed from the softer "pop pop pop" of the Winchesters to the more guttural "BOOM BOOM BOOM" of the Springfields; thus they knew that the Indians had somehow overpowered some other troopers and had taken their weapons and were now using them against the survivors of the 7th.) I own a lithograph (printed in Paris in 1929) of the battle drawn by the Indian participant, Amos Bad Heart Bull. In this print he drew several Indians with rifles....yet most of them are shown shooting their bow-and-arrow! This was probably the last major fight in world history in which the bow-and-arrow was a serious weapon: it was deadly accurate at close range and could be fired very rapidly. (The Springfield carbines also had a nasty habit of over-heating and often the spent shell became jammed in the breech due to swelling from the heat and this rendered the weapon, if not useless, at least inoperative until the trooper could extract the spent shell with his knife; a frustrating activity while being attacked by 1,500 people who don't like you!!!)"

   And this: "The cavalry sword was no longer used except when the troopers were "on parade". Lt. Charles DeRudio brought his along on the Little Bighorn campaign and used it to kill snakes. (They could also be used as picket pins: driven into the ground, a trooper could tie the reins of his horse to the handle). Swords also made a lot of racket and this was a drawback. Custer had ordered them left behind. Custer also ordered his band to give up their white horses as he needed more mounted men. The band was left behind when the 7th began it's last, ill-fated march. The band leader was a man named Felix Vinateri and because he survived the campaign his lineage continued and his great-grandson, Adam, won 3 Super Bowls with last second winning field goals!

    Great stuff. And I used a couple of these gems, but in the end I told them my source for all the Custer info came from Paul Andrew Hutton and Robert Utley and I got a pass on the mob action, but, all in all, it was a ton of fun. Sold all my books and met some fine people.

"I can see by your outfit that you are a magazine publisher."
—A Lone Pine Film fan