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Archive for the ‘William Witney’ Category

Slim Pickens (Louis Burton Lindley Jr.)
(June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983)

When we think of Slim Pickens, what comes to mind are his performances from the 60s and 70s — One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Getaway (1972), Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973) and more.

But before Brando and Peckinpah ever called, he’d already in a slew of stuff like William Witney’s Colorado Sundown (1952) with Rex Allen. Of course, he was a rodeo clown before that. And he was never less than terrific.

He was born 99 years ago today.

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Republic Trucolor logo

Martin Scorsese has curated a retrospective of Republic movies, for February and August at the Museum Of Modern Art, from the restored material at Paramount.

There’s some great stuff in February’s lineup, including Trigger, Jr. (1950), Stranger At My Door (1956) and one of my all-time favorite films, Hellfire (1949). Three of my favorite directors are represented: William Witney, George Sherman and Allan Dwan.

Working with the fine folks at Kino Lorber on commentaries for some of their Republic releases, the quality of the material coming out of Paramount is incredible. (I’m in the middle of Singing Guns right now.) So glad to see these films are being treated with the respect they deserve.

Thanks to Laura for the news!

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Here are, left to right, Foy Willing, Roy Rogers, Penny Edwards and Gordon Jones getting ready for some turkey in William Witney’s Trail Of Robin Hood (1950). I know it’s a Christmas movie, but I went for the turkey thing.

Anyway, here’s wishing you all a safe, happy, food-filled Thanksgiving. And I hope you can get away from the parades, dog shows, football, traffic and sales long enough to watch something like, say, Waco (1952) with Bill Elliott, one I’ve been meaning to revisit.

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George Vincent “Skip” Homeier
(October 5, 1930 – June 25, 2017)

Skip Homeier, who passed away on June 25th, is one of those actors who made every picture he was in better — no matter how good, or bad, it would’ve been without him. And from The Gunfighter (1950, above) and The Tall T (1957, below) to Cry Vengeance (1954) and The Ghost In Mr. Chicken (1966), he’s in a whole bunch of my favorite movies.

You’ll find him in about every genre there is, but the vast majority of his feature work was in Westerns — and his list of cowboy credits is remarkable. In The Gunfighter, he pretty much invented the punk-kid-looking-to-make-a-name-for-himself character as we know it — everybody who came after him seemed to be doing a Skip Homeier impersonation. William Witney’s Stranger At My Door (1956) also stands out. As a kid, I knew him as “the guy who gets his face blown off in The Tall T.”

His TV work was more varied, and he was always good — The Rifleman, Death Valley Days, Climax!, The Addams Family and many, many more. But like so many actors that appeared on Star Trek, that’s what most people know him for these days (he’s in two).

In the old days, it was often the character actors who made movies truly special (particularly Westerns). Skip Homeier was one of the absolute best.

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white-rogers-witney

Producer Eddie White, Roy Rogers, Director William Witney.

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.

witney-happy-trails

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.’

dale-roy-script

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 studios yellow

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.”

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witney

Came across something I wanna share. During World War II, some directors were standing around at Republic, talking. The only one of them of draft age was William Witney (above) — who eventually joined the Marines and served in their combat photography unit.

During this conversation, George Sherman said, “Anyone who quits Republic and joins the Army is a coward.”

If Sherman’s quip isn’t terrific enough, the very idea of these guys standing around jawbonin’ really knocks me out. I shook Mr. Witney’s hand at a Western film festival many years ago, and was too young, stupid and intimidated to really say anything. What a missed opportunity that was. Of course, he was as nice as he could be.

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sunset-in-the-west-capture-3

Directed by William Witney
Starring Roy Rogers, Eselita Rodriguez, Penny Edwards, Gordon Jones, Will Wright

I have the extreme honor of preparing a commentary for Kino Lorber’s upcoming Sunset In The West (1950). The work copy they sent was so gorgeous, I had to share it (and they were kind enough to say OK).

They also say there’s a little work left to do on it. Judging from this, it’s gonna be quite a thing.

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