Monday, December 12, 2005


… and talks …. And talks …..
(Run originally 7/31/04 on our old site)

Even More Movie Memories


I'm glad to hear of another Gunsmoke fan, Anita. Remember William Conrad, who was the voice of Matt Dillon on the radio series in the mid '50s...then, when they started the Gunsmoke TV series, Bill Conrad had the great voice, but he was a little too rotund (read; roly-poly) to be the real Marshall Dillon. They got James Arness, who was the ONLY Matt Dillon during the whole TV series.

Tom Pry

Actually, Ern, William Conrad actually auditioned for the TV role. In a short scene, a bad guy was in Dillon’s office and, suddenly, threatened to gun him down. Dillon was supposed to jump up and outdraw the villain.

Unfortunately, when Conrad jumped up, the chair went with him, stuck to his hips.

Draxie’s wonderful piece popped a lot of memories up in my mind, not all of them 100% germane to the point but, hopefully, of some interest.

WILLIAM BOYD aka Hopalong Cassidy. Smart man, as well as an actor who knew his artistic limits. He ultimately bought the rights to all the Hopalong films and made a ton of money off of them, one of the few “B” movie stars who did. Foreign languages were dubbed onto most of them, and I think one of the funniest things I ever saw in my life was one Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, when I turned on the TV and here was a Hoppy film … with a soundtrack in Japanese! “He went that-a-way” is unmistakable in any language.

Boyd was also extremely protective of the Cassidy character, allowing nothing in his personal life to besmirch it.

TIM HOLT seemed to have never really caught on, although he made a total of 68 films in his long career. I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear he’d hit the bottle. Let’s face it, when you make personal appearances in towns the size that Searcy was, you’ve worked your way pretty far down the scale. A child actor, originally, he was in his first film in 1928 (9 years old) and his last in 1971. His last “cowboy film,” though, was made in 1952, and he did small roles in only 3 films thereafter.

He was that rarity: a Los Angeles (actually, Beverly Hills) native. Holt died in 1973, in Shawnee, OK, of cancer.

GENE AUTRY made his money by investing his film earnings in non-film businesses, like radio (and, later, TV) stations, and the Los Angeles Rams. He ended up immensely wealthy.

Lonnie Glosson (from Judsonia, and of folk music fame) and Autry were buddies for years and, in fact, when Gene started doing well in films, he invited Lonnie out to L.A. to do likewise. Lonnie recounted later that he went for a visit and, while he found it interesting, “I just didn’t think them things had any future.”

Gene didn’t forget his friends: the two of them talked by phone not too long before their respective deaths.

The one time I saw Autry in person was during World War II. They had a huge military pageant in Chicago’s Soldiers’ Field (where the Bears play), on the lakefront, the climax of which was Gene driving a tank around the field (tank commander was one of his two occupational specialties: the other one was riding in the open turret of the tank and waving to the crowd while it ran around in places like that gigantic arena to hype the war effort). I remember the fireworks display scared the living hell out of me and I cried most of the way home on the streetcar.

WHIP WILSON and LASH LaRUE If an increasingly-shaky memory is holding true, Whip came first. Dressed in white and laying low the bad men, even if he gave the impression he was constantly fighting a midriff bulge at the same time. Then came Lash, dressed all in black … and the sudden realization that Whip was a fake! The camera would show him drawing his whip back, then cut to the bad man getting the painful end of it. Lash, on the other hand, did his whip thing with a full shot that showed both him and his target at the same time. Inarticulate brats that we were, I think we recognized the difference without being consciously aware of it. Anyway, Whip didn’t last long after Lash came along.

Besides, Lash all in black seemed much more menacing than Pudgy .. uhh, Whip .. even if he did end up as a used car salesman in Memphis (or was that Snooky Lanson, one of the stars of “Your Hit Parade,” remember that one?)

JOHNNY MACK BROWN or SUNSET CARSON Never could keep those two straight. Young ex-football player (as was John Wayne) with a boyish face. Always the same plot: town bully would beat hell out of him in a street fight, causing him to finally get his act together and cleanse the town of the bully. Somehow or another, we just couldn’t get attached to a “hero” who got the crap beat out of him, then sat at the curb sniveling about it. Too much like our own personal lives, and we were living them, thank you: we didn’t need reminders.

JAMES ARNESS Yep, he was “The Thing.” I think he was also Klatu, the robot in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” When CBS came up with the idea for “Gunsmoke,” they wanted John Wayne to do it, but he wasn’t interested, and suggested Arness instead.

Thus the legend started.

PERSONAL APPEARANCES Our heroes got to keep the money they made from personal appearances, and it’s a damn good thing, because they didn’t make much from the studios. Most of them were locked into studio contracts that paid them a few hundred a week, with no residuals (payments for future use, like TV), and no ownership rights to the films. Roy and Dale made their money on personal appearances, not movies.

In fact, during that era, the stars we near-worshipped were operating on pretty tight purse strings. Band singers like Doris Day and Frank Sinatra and Helen Forrest were paid just what the musicians in the band were paid, no more, no less. If they did a recording with the band, they got a flat $15-$25 per recording, period. No royalties, no matter how popular the recordings proved to be. Guys like Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and Glenn Miller are remembered by insiders as tyrannical businessmen, not as the lovable, benevolent artists they’re portrayed to be in the movies about them.

Ah-Lawrence uh-Welk was about the last of the breed. Everyone on that show, even accordionist/assistant bandleader Myron Floren, got musicians’ union minimum, period, and if you complained, you were out. That’s what happened to the Lennon Sisters.

If you’ll remember “The Godfather,” and the story about the bandleader getting a pistol shoved in his ear with the explanation that, in one minute, either his signature or his brains was going to be on that singer’s contract release, it is rumored, was actually Sinatra’s contract with Tommy Dorsey, in real life.

Just thought you might find it interesting.

FYI, if you have the Starz SuperPak available on your cable system, as we do on DirecTV, the Westerns Channel on Starz has regular doses of Gene Autry (or, as Pat Buttram called him, “Mr. Artery”), Gunsmoke, and Hoppy.

Now, a name from radio, just to see if anyone remembers her besides me: Judy Canova. Any takers?


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