This week’s Tim Holt Tuesday is a real treat, an interview conducted by John Brooker in 1970. John sent this as a comment to a previous Holt post, but it screamed for a better showcase than that. It appeared in Western Clippings about five years ago. I’m really stoked to be able to feature it here. Thanks so much, John.
The Tim Holt Westerns that were released in the UK had a high profile with us Front Row Kids because, more often than not, they were shown in tandem with the latest Disney feature. But they were shown in haphazard order so while some of the later ones never made it across the Atlantic the occasional pre-War title such as Bandit Trail didn’t get a UK release until the early 50s.
The first time I met Tim Holt was in October 1967 at the KLPR Radio and TV Station in Oklahoma where he was sales manager, but my recording equipment had quit on me so I had to be content with a chat, a look around the station and a couple of pictures.
I decided if I returned to the US I would call on Tim again, and I did just that three years later. I found him very much like his on-screen Western character — matter of fact and unassuming — and a little dismissive of his movie career. I waited for Tim to light his pipe and then turned on the recorder…
John Brooker: Tim, how did you get into Westerns at RKO?
Tim Holt: The first time was with George O’Brien in The Renegade Ranger with Rita Hayworth who was just getting started. I believe George O’Brien quit over money so RKO needed another Western star and I was put forward.
JB: How many Westerns were there in your RKO series?
TH: Too many I think (laughs). All in all I think I made 141 (Tim gave this figure in other interviews around this time, but he actually appeared in just over 70 movies, 47 of them starring B Westerns at RKO – JB)
JB: Did you have your own screen horse in either series?
TH: Oh yes…. before the war I had a horse called Duke which was, strangely enough, American standard bred and after that I had a horse that was half thoroughbred and half quarter horse… called Lightning.
JB: Are they still alive?
TH: No, they’ve both passed away… and I probably should have (laughs)
JB: Can you remember the budgets on your series?
TH: They were very, very low — anywhere between 65 and 75 thousand.
JB: Was that pre-War or after?
TH: That was the early ones….the later ones ran 90… that’s when the producer would tear his hair out.
JB: That was a high budget for a B Western.
TH: Oh yes… and they would still net half a million apiece.
JB: Did you do your own stunts and fights?
TH: Most of them, yes. Strange thing, John… they’d leave all the dangerous stuff where you might get hurt or cut up or something like that until the last day of the picture. That way, if you got hurt you wouldn’t delay production…they were very considerate that way.
JB: Davey Sharpe doubled you in a couple…
TH: Davey was in the early ones…. I did most of it in the later ones. (In Dynamite Pass, for example, Tim does a fast horse to wagon transfer – JB)
JB: What sort of stunts would you not have been allowed to do… because of insurance?
TH: I don’t think there were any… of course in those days we didn’t have what they call a falling horse like they have now… we used a running W… that would automatically fold up the horse’s front legs… but you knew exactly when it was going to happen… you either put your foot in the stirrup or you used a set of steps on the side of the stirrups… and then as the horse would fall out from under you you would just hit the ground and tumble…
JB: Did you get hurt?
TH: I had my share of knocks… broke a few bones…
JB: Could you give brief details of your working day.. what time you got to the studio…
TH: In those days it was a long day… for the simple reason that we would have to travel an average of.. I would say.. about 80 miles to locations.
JB: Where were they?
TH: Oh, they were all over… Victorville.. the Garner Ranch… Agoura… Lone Pine. Now at Lone Pine, we would have to travel and stay there. We went to work when the sun came up and it was light enough to shoot… and we kept shooting til the sun went down… bit like KLPR… a daylight to dusk operation…. we did most of the interiors on the RKO lot.
JB: How long was each film in production?
TH: You mean the actual filming… average about eight days… but then it had to be scored… the music had to be put into it… it had to be edited… it would take about three months to get a picture out in general release.
JB: Why did the series come to an end?
TH: Howard Hughes decided he didn’t want to make any more B pictures. TV was hitting the theatres hard. It wasn’t economically viable to make our pictures any more.
JB: Is that when you left Hollywood?
TH: Yes. I came to Oklahoma in 1947 with a rodeo and that’s where I met my wife. When the series finished I headed back here for good. I never did like Hollywood that much… there was nothing magical about it for me.
JB: What’s happened generally since then, since your series ended?
TH: Well, I went up to Iowa to get a degree in animal nutrition. Then I went into the home building business until 1962… then in ’62 I came here with KLPR.
JB: How about film-wise?
TH: I’ve done about six or seven.
JB: The Monster That Challenged The World (1957).
TH: It wasn’t bad for a science fiction… wasn’t too bad a picture at all.
JB: The last time we met you mentioned making a Western with Nick Adams but since then he passed away.
TH: Yes, we were going to do a sequel to Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. It was his idea… and it was a great idea but unfortunately he passed away a couple of years back.. Treasure Of The Sierra Madre was one of my favourite films… that and The Magnificent Ambersons. They gave me a change from the Westerns. I just finished a film that was a satire on hillbillies ….the story about a Reverend who’s a moonshiner. I don’t think they’ve decided on a title yet (This Stuff’ll Kill Ya – JB).
JB: Do you know the name of the production company?
TH: Yes. Ultima… out of Chicago.
JB: Is it a full length feature? What sort of running time?
TH: Feature length… it will be shown in theatres. I have also just done an episode of The Virginian (Season 8’s “The Woman Of Stone”— TR). And I thought we worked fast at RKO!
JB: Do you keep in touch with any of your Hollywood contemporaries?
TH: Not really. Richard Martin’s still a good friend… we keep in touch. We had such fun together on the series.
JB: Don Barry’s talking about launching a new series of B westerns in colour. Do you think they could ever come back?
TH: I think so…. the time could be right….we need family entertainment… in the old days children identified with their cowboy heroes and stars like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry set them a good example…. nowadays the sex and violence is overdone…. I think the pendulum could swing the other way.
The interview was finished but Tim took me around the station and loaded me up with a dozen or so country music albums. In the movie library there was just about every Three Stooges two-reeler on the racks. They were being shown over and over again on a daily basis. But there wasn’t a Tim Holt Western in sight.