A good Q & A interview piece is a work of art, and what might seem pretty easy and straightforward on first glance actually isn't. It takes a good deal of skill and research to come up with good, memorable questions to get the subject of the interview to open up and hopefully deliver some tasty nuggets of backstage, bird's-eye-view history. Tom Weaver is a past master of this kind of interview format, having spent much of the past 30 years talking to many lesser-known, overlooked - or sadly, in some cases, mostly forgotten, by all but the most diehard movie aficionados - actors, actresses, writers, directors, producers, etc., ranging from those who worked on big Hollywood studio A-level projects, to the many who toiled thanklessly in the B-movie, cult, fringe and independent movie world.
Weaver's usual purview is 1930s - 1950s horror and science fiction cinema (perhaps his most famous book being the wonderful Universal Horrors, co-authored with Michael and John Brunas), but he also has published many interviews with people who have worked heavily in the western genre as well. Back in the day, there was a lot of genre cross-pollination with studio employees, and so both in front of camera and behind-the-scenes personnel would often hop around, working hard churning out all manner of straight dramas, horror films, crime flicks, sci-fi monster mashes and, yes, shoot-'em-up cowboy pics.
Weaver, in the process of interviewing those who worked on various sci-fi and horror films which are his bread-and-butter, doubtless had a chance to get plenty of additional material about their work in other genres. Most of the interviews in the catchily-titled Wild Wild Westerners: A Roundup of Western Movie and TV Veterans, first appeared in Western Clippings magazine, and nearly each one is a delightful read, full of fun anecdotes and engaging reminiscences about the making of many classic TV and movie westerns. Highlights include:
* Kenneth Chase' recollections of working on The Wild Wild West (where he was responsible for bringing to life many of the disguises donned by secret agent extraordinaire Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), partner of James West (Robert Conrad).
* Ed Faulkner warmly recalls his time acting alongside big "Duke" Wayne, in films like McClintock, The Undefeated, The Green Berets and Hellfighters.
* Robert Colbert, best known as one half of the time traveler team on The Time Tunnel, dishes candidly and with good humor in an all-too-brief but splendid piece about his abortive appearance as brother Brent on Warner Bros.' seriocomic gem, Maverick: "You couldn't buy a vacation like any one of the western shows I did. Just bein' out there in the wide open spaces with great guys and horses and beautiful women and good food...and then you got paid for it. Not much, but you got paid!" (1)
* Andrew J. Fenady, writer/producer of the fine western series The Rebel, starring Nick Adams, goes into fascinating detail about making that show and his complex lead actor (and friend). One sample: "I sure as hell am not ashamed to put my name alongside The Rebel. In some ways it was completely different and ahead of its time. I'm not going to say it was a work of art, but it certainly came from the heart." (2)
* Pat Fielder, the woman who wrote the screenplays for such fun sci-fi/ horror flicks as The Monster That Challenged the World, The Vampire, The Flame Barrier, and The Return of Dracula (not to mention Geronimo with Chuck Connors), discusses her work on TV's famous western The Rifleman.Telly Savalas menaces Paul Picerni in THE SCALPHUNTERS.
* A lengthy and lively Q & A with the man forever known as Davy Crockett (and to a lesser extent, Daniel Boone), Fess Parker.
* Paul Picerni relates some unbelievable anecdotes about his co-stars in The Scalphunters, Burt Lancaster and Telly Savalas.
Other interviewees include Robert Clarke, June Lockhart (who has nice things to say about the roster of TV leading men she co-starred with, from Richard Boone to Chuck Connors to James Arness and Ward Bond), Bill Phipps, Ann Robinson, Maury Dexter and Paul Wurtzel, and many others.
My only complaint about the book is it's too short (at 197 pages, less than half as long of the usual Weaver interview collection), and I flew through it all too quickly - it was that entertaining. In other words, I wanted more! Weaver does his homework and generally avoids obvious, boring questions, and the results speak for themselves. These pieces are loaded with fun background facts and stories about some big-name stars in the western pantheon, and, taken together, create a vivid picture of what it was really like making movies once upon a time in Hollywood's dream factory. Highly recommended, as are Weaver's many other similar books on sci-fi and horror cult filmmakers.
My Rating: A -
Source Note: (1) and (2) excerpted from Wild Wild Westerners: A Roundup of Interviews with Western Movie and TV Veterans, by Tom Weaver, published by BearManor Media, 2012.
Welcome to the Armchair...
Look out the window. It’s a dark, cold, rainy day. Too nasty to go outside.
Better stay inside, read a good book.
There’s a bookcase over to your left. Run your fingers over the spines. Books of all shapes, sizes and genres; hardbacks, paperbacks. Take your time browsing through the titles. No rush. Find something that feels just right.
Now turn around. Over in the corner is a beat-up, black leather armchair. The leather is faded and cracked in places, the cushions battered. This chair has seen better days. But boy, does it look inviting...
Next to the chair is a standing lamp and a small table. Plenty of room for a nice cup of tea, a plate of cookies, whatever’s your poison.
So switch on the light, settle down with your book, open to page one, put your feet up, and let the author whisk you away to another world.
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The Charlie Chan Family Home
The Agatha Christie Official Website
The Stone House (The Gladys Mitchell Official Site)