While doing some research on Sunset In The West (1950), I came upon an intro to Under California Stars (1948) that aired on Roy Rogers’ Happy Trails Theater. William Witney was the guest, and he gave a bit of a rundown on how the Rogers pictures came together. Very interesting stuff, coming from a brilliant craftsman.
William Witney: “Our producer, the greatest guy, Eddie White… was from New York. He didn’t know which end of a horse was which, but he had good taste. And they brought me along and put me with him. I’d been a horseman all my life. I’m a jumping horse rider, and I love horses. So, we made a very excellent team, the two of us. We became the best of friends.
They would give us a title from the front office, and I remember a couple of ’em. One was North Of The Great Divide. I said, ‘How in the world did they get North Of The Great Divide? There is no north of the great divide.’ But Bill Saal came up with that title… Now, that’s all they gave us, just the title. So we hired a writer. We had three of four stock writers that were excellent. Sloan Nibley comes to mind… Eddie and myself and Sloan would sit down and we would decide what we wanted the story to be about. Then Sloan would go back — now we might be working on three pictures at the same time, or maybe four… They’d go back and they’d kinda block it out, bring it back, and we’d say ‘No, you’re on the wrong track… Let’s do it this way or do it that way.’
Now we come up with a finished script. Eddie and I would go through it, check the dialogue, check it out, and give it to the production department. Now Jack Lacey was our unit man for years. He’d lay it out on the board for a budget, and we would put the budget down, and if that was what the studio would okay, now we had to find the locations. We knew every location locally. I knew every location we could afford to go to. We’d pick the location — Big Bear, someplace like the Iverson… So now we’ve got the locations, we’ve got the departments — wardrobe department, makeup department… These crews that we had were held together with a tight hand. They were our friends.
Republic was a small studio. I was under contract there for 28 years, and this studio, everybody used to say, was the hardest studio to work at in the world, but our crews were excellent. They had people in there that were just brilliant… Incidentally, the guy who swept the horse stuff off the street was called a sportsman — because he followed the horses. ‘Sportsman!’ We’ve got a casting office, and they read the script and they make suggestions. You also have a book of actors, and you know actors after all these years. You got through the book and you say, ‘See if you can get him, I wanna interview him.’ And you’d interview these people to look at them. You knew their ability, most of them, because you’d worked with them before. Once I said, ‘Oh, I know him. I just made a picture with him. Cast him.’ Well, he came in, and he’d just had all his teeth pulled out. It made it a little difficult.”