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Six Shooter -- The Radio Western Starring Jimmy Stewart Debuted 20 September, 1953

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 20, 2013 02:16pm | Post a Comment


On this date (20 September) in 1953, one of my favorite old time radio Westerns debuted on NBC -- Six Shooter. It was created and written by Frank Burt, who'd also written for The WhistlerThe Man Called X, and The Unexpected. It was produced by Jack Johnstone (Buck Rogers, The CBS Radio Workshop, Richard DiamondSomebody KnowsYours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and others). The music director, Basil Adlam, arranged and conducted the theme,Ralph Vaughan Williams’s "The Highland Lament." The announcers were Hal Gibney (and John Wald), who introduced each episode with the words "The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged. His skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both "the Six Shooter."

The only recurring character was Britt Ponset – played with greatness by Jimmy Stewart, who'd been interested in starring in a radio drama for some time before Six Shooter. Other actors that frequently appeared on the series included Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell, Howard McNear, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Alan Reed, Marvin Miller and William Conrad (though often credited as "Julius Krelboyne" since, at the same time, he was starring on Gunsmoke over at NBC's rival network, CBS).


ADULT WESTERNS

Six Shooter is one of the finest examples of the Adult Western (no, I'm not talking about Bareback Mountain or How the West Was Hung). Unlike their juvenile counterparts in which a quick-draw sheriff in all white nearly always disposes of the villain in all black in a duel, Adult Westerns were more concerned with inner turmoil and moral gray areas, leading some to call them Western Noir.

The subgenre first arose in the 1940s with radio westerns like Hawk Durango (1946) and Hawk Larabee (1946) and films like I Shot Jesse James (1949). In the early 1950s, when TV began to erode the audiences of both film and radio with family-friendly fare, both film and radio responded by offering more examples of Adult Westerns with movies like Winchester '73 (1950) and High Noon (1952) and radio series like Frontier Town (1952) and best of all, Gunsmoke (1952).


JIMMY STEWART

Six Shooter had something in its chamber that most radio programs didn’t – a movie star – in this case, Jimmy Stewart. As Britt Ponset, Stewart portrayed the wandering gunslinger as a reluctant, yet highly efficient, ronin cowboy. As is still mostly the case, even then film, radio, and TV stars rarely dabbled in more than one format (as they were and are competitors). Stewart was primarily a film actor, having built a reputation on films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), among others.

His first adult western film had been Destry Rides Again (1939). Beginning with 1949’s Winchester '73, Stewart also began a fruitful collaboration on a series of noir-influenced adult western films with director Anthony Mann which continued with Bend of the River (1952) and Naked Spur (1953) before coming to radio.

Six Shooter
wasn’t Stewart's first foray into radio.  He'd previously graced anthology programs like Lux Radio Theater's The Screen Guild Theater as well as Screen Guild Theater, Theater Guild of the Air and others with his widely-imitated, slow, fumbly, South Midland drawl. He also appeared numerous times as a guest on radio variety shows. Six Shooter, however, was his first and only starring radio role. 


THE PRECURSOR AND AUDITION 

On 13 April, 1952, NBC's Hollywood Star Playhouse anthology series aired an episode called "The Six Shooter" that -- like the series to come -- was written by Burt, directed by Johnstone, and starred Jimmy Stewart. A subsidiary of MCA-TV called Revue Productions expressed interest in fleshing out the episode into a series and reunited its participants. 

The following year the group produced an audition script with guest stars William Conrad as Sheriff Ed Scofield, Ben Scofield as the sheriff's son, Parley Baer as Fred Wilmer, and Herb Vigran as 'Heavy' Norton, the town blacksmith. 


SERIES PICKED UP



Less than a month later, Coleman Home Heaters became the series' sponsor. It debuted on 20 September and ran for 39 more episodes. The episodes veered between tense action and light comedy, sometimes in a single program. In most, Ponset found himself drawn into a situation that he often ended up reluctantly shooting his way out of. It seems that the series was popular but Stewart probably found starring on a weekly series and continually making films too time-consuming. Although I haven't seen any reputable sources to confirm it, by most accounts Coleman oddly dropped their sponsorship and Liggett & Meyers stepped in but Stewart was unwilling to star in a show hawking Chesterfields. It seems to me that, since the program was possible, some other sponsor could've been found if Stewart really wanted to continue doing the show. Whatever the reasons, it ended but luckily for modern fans, all episodes of the series remain in circulation today. 


MORE
 SIX SHOOTER

Six Shooter moved to television in 1957, re-titled The Restless Gun, and without the involvement of Stewart or Johnstone but with Burt on board for its two year run as consultant. Instead of Britt Ponset its protagonist was Vint Bonner -- played by John Payne.

Stewart revived the Ponset character for two 1957 episodes of the television anthology series General Electric Theater -- "The Town with a Past" and "The Trail to Christmas" (although in the latter his name was for some reason changed to "Bart"). Two years later, the anthology Startime, based the episode "Cindy's Fella" on Six Shooter's "When the Shoe Doesn't Fit" although in it Stewart played an unnamed character rather than Ponset.


AFTER RADIO

Stewart continued making films (including adult Westerns with Anthony Mann) like The Man from Laramie (1955 -- co-written by Frank Burt), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and many more. In 1989 Stewart published a collection of poetry titled Jimmy Stewart and his Poems that I used to own a copy of although sadly seem to have long ago lost or misplaced. 


*****

Big thanks to the incomparable old time radio researchers at Digital Deli Too. Old Time Radio programs are located in Amoeba's Spoken Word section.

Gower Gulch and the sort of beginning of Hollywood

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 27, 2012 01:40pm | Post a Comment

The Hollywood neighborhood emerged as a small village in the late 19th century and was incorporated as its own municipality in 1903. But for most people in the world, “Hollywood” is synonymous with the commercial American film, which established itself there first in an area that came to be known as "Gower Gulch."


Before Hollywood emerged as a film-making hub, various companies produced films around the country – especially in Chicago, FloridaCalifornia and especially New York. In Los Angeles, the first filming was done by Thomas Edison’s company around 1898 on South Spring Street, in Downtown.In 1909, William Selig and actor director Francis Boggs moved their company, Selig Polyscope Co, to the Edendale neighborhood (in what’s now Echo Park). Bronx Films, Fox Film Corporation, French & Forman, Keystone Studios, New York Motion Picture Company, Norbig Film Company, The Pathé West Coast Film Company, Reaguer Productions, Western Arts, Westwood Productions, and other studios followed, in the process turning Edendale into the capital of American film production, taking the title from New York City in 1915.

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Herman Stein - Architect of the Sound of Science-Fiction

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 19, 2012 07:45am | Post a Comment
Though his name isn’t widely recognized, Herman Stein was a very influential American composer. Though he composed hundreds of film scores, he was most influential in for his work within the genres of horror and science-fiction. Some of his most recognized scores were created for Creature from the black lagoon, The incredible shrinking man, It came from outer space, Love slaves of the Amazons, The Mole People, The Monolith MonstersRevenge of the Creature, and This island EarthTarantula.



Herman Stein was born 19 August, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began playing piano at the age of three and made his concert debut when he was six. Reportedly he was almost entirely self-taught, having spent many hours studying scores at his local public library.
He became a professional arranger when he was 15. In the 1930 and ‘40s he arranged for bands, including those of Blanche Calloway, Bob CrosbyCount Basie, David Rubinoff, Don RedmanFred WaringGus Haenschen, and Red Norvo. He also composed for radio programs, cartoons and commercials, as well as absolute music like 1967’s A sour suite.







During World War II he served in the army. In 1948, he moved to Los Angeles, California. There he studied with Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1949 he wrote Suite for Mario for his mentor, although it  wasn’t recorded until 2008. In 1950 he married Anita Shervin, a violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In 1950 he was hired by Universal-International Studios, where the writing staff also included Hans J. Salter, William Lava, and Frank Skinner. He's said to have ultimately worked on the scores for about 200 films, usually uncredited, and often collaborating with fellow greats like Salter, Skinner and most often, a young Henry Mancini, who was hired by Universal in 1952. For the scores on which they collaborated, Stein would handle the opening titles and dramatic scenes whilst Mancini would handle the lighter moments and “Mickey Mousing.”

Stein also scored comedies, dramas and westerns such as
Abbott and Costello go to Mars, Has anybody seen my gal?,
Drums across the river, Horizons west, The intruder, Willie and Joe Back at the front as well as about half of the Ma and Pa Kettle films. He left Universal in 1958 and went on to score other films and primarily TV. One of his last film score's was for William Castle’s 1966 film, Let's kill Uncle.
For TV he composed for such series as Daniel Boone, Gunsmoke, The life and legend of Wyatt Earp, Lost in space, M Squad, The time tunnelVoyage to the bottom of the sea, and Wagon train. His very last film score was for Al Adamson’s 1975 comedy western, Blazing stewardesses. After composing 1979's Mock march, he retired.




       Credit: 
Kathleen Mayne, 1996 



Stein's wife, Anita, died in 2001. On 15 March, 2007, Stein died of congestive heart failure in his home
at the age of 91.
Dick Jacobs - Theme from Horror Movies

My introduction to him (and Hans J. Salter and William Lava, for that matter) was as a child listening to an vinyl copy of Themes from horror movies (1959) performed by Dick Jacobs and his Orchestra and quirkily narrated by voice-over actor Bob McFadden (to text written by Mort Goode). At the time I hadn’t seen any of the films whose scores were included so I’d just listen to Stein's themes, look at the posters, and let my imagination take over. Almost inevitably, once I would get around to seeing the films they usually disappointed but Stein’s themes still managed to elevate even the worst of them. 

*****

Happy birthday Bronze Buckeroo - Herb Jeffries turns 98 today.

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 24, 2011 02:18pm | Post a Comment
HAPPY 98th


Today is the 98th birthday of actor/singer Herb Jeffries. Although not widely recognized today (especially among non-black audiences, during his heyday in the 1930s and '40s he was an enormously popular singer and the first black actor to star in Westerns. I'd probably know nothing of him except for my tenure in the Black Cinema section at Amoeba, where elderly gentleman regularly treated me to their reminiscences about a black singing cowboy they'd idolized as kids. 

 

Herber Jeffries was born September 24, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan to Afro-Sicilian pianist Umberto Balentino and his Irish-American wife, Mildred. He never knew his father and was raised by his single mother, who ran a boarding house. Although light-skinned and almost surely able to "pass," he identified as black and associated himself with Detroit's Howard Buntz Orchestra, which brought him a measure of local fame.

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Happy Birthday, Gunsmoke - The Greatest Radio Western of All Time

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 26, 2011 12:24pm | Post a Comment
Gunsmoke was, without question, the greatest radio western of all. It debuted 59 years ago today, on April 26th, 1952. Having been exposed to juvenile westerns like The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder as well as the boring Gunsmoke TV series, for a long time I avoided the radio program. Besides, it was set in Kansas.
 
Then one day, I tuned in to an episode already in progress. Not knowing what it was, I didn't immediately change the station and was drawn into what sounded like a vivid, violent film noir, albeit set in 19th century Dodge City. When I realized it was Gunsmoke, I was surprised to say the least, but also hopelessly hooked.
 

Gunsmoke was created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston at the behest of CBS's programming chief, Hubell Robinson. His boss, CBS chairman William S. Paley, was a fan of another classic CBS program, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Robinson had suggested to the West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to create a 
"Philip Marlowe of the Old West" in the 1940s.
 
In 1949, Ackerman and the famed scriptwriting duo of Mort Fine and David Friedkin created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Crooked Wheel." It starred Michael Rye as Matt Dillon. A second audition used Howard Culver, who employed a lighter approach. CBS OKed the latter but Ackerman's contract as the star of Straight Arrow (on the Mutual Network) interfered. Gunsmoke was thus shelved until three years later, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it whilst working on their own adult-oriented western.
 

The new version cast the inimitable William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell and Parley Baer as deputy Chester Proudfoot. The writers sought to create the first realistic western, one populated by sociopaths and without untarnished heroes. Stories unflinchingly depicted rape, lynchings, murder, prostitution, scalping, massacres, theft, drug addiction and more. Justice was often not served. 

What made the dark tone even darker was the unrivaled sound effects department, who created the most vivid and soundscape I've ever heard on any radio program through use of subtlety and multiple layers of rich and realistic sound.
 

Almost immediately there was discussion about adapting the hit program for TV. MacDonnell was naturally reluctant. TV was almost always sanitized, neutered and dumbed-down almost beyond recognition. CBS didn't care. The radio cast was given a token audition out of respect although they were never serious. Though an amazing actor with a great voice, William Conrad was not traditionally photogenic. The portly Kentuckian looked old for his age. His TV replacement was the square-jawed, tall James Arness... the sort of spotless archetype the radio program so successfully avoided. The pictures taken at Knotts Berry Farm, given the fact that it was all show, make the charade all the more sad.
 
The TV series went on until 1975. The radio series ended in 1961, only one year before the date generally given as the death of old time radio. Lucky for those of us too young to have caught it the first time around, Gunsmoke remains popular on internet radio stations and episodes are available for purchase on CD.
 
 
 
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