Scribblings From the Desert

I am a published author and produced screenwriter living in Rancho Mirage, California with my wife, Beth, and two dogs, Crystal and Misty. I have spent most of my life in and around the Hollywood Motion Picture Business.

Location: Rancho Mirage, California, United States

Monday, October 03, 2011

I was honored with a wonderful review and interview for my book, And Action! on September 25th; it was posted by my new friend Henry Park on his blog Henry's Western Roundup ( I thought I would re-post it here for those who follow my blog. There were photos in his review but they did not transfer - sorry about that; but you can see them in the
And Action! book if need be.

By Henry Park
Henry's Western Roundup
September 25, 2011

And…Action! is the story of a fascination with the Western film as seen through the eyes of four people: a kid who grew up on the edge of the film business, an aspiring teenage actor, a TV and movie costumer, and a screenwriter. The odd thing is, they’re all the same man, Stephen Lodge.

Stephen was eight years old in 1951, and like most American boys of the time, he and his kid brother Bobby were obsessed with Westerns -- the B kind and the TV variety. But unlike the rest of us, he was in a position to do something about it that went far beyond wearing his cap-gun rig and watching the tube. Not only did he live in the San Fernando Valley, where so many of the movies were made, his Aunt Bette was a secretary at Monogram Studios, and his Uncle George was a script supervisor for Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions!

(Steve and Bobby with Johnny Mack Brown)

So Stephen begged and bugged his mom until she finally broke down and got his Aunt and Uncle to arrange a visit to a set. The first time it was the Iverson Movie Ranch, for a Johnny Mack Brown film, and from that moment on, the kid was hooked. Soon mom was driving the kids to Corriganville to watch the GENE AUTRY SHOW being filmed, where they met Gene, Pat Buttram and Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan; the family vacationed at Big Bear Lake, where a small movie town was the location for the WILD BILL HICKOCK series. Best of all, Stephen’s mom broke all the rules, and always brought a camera to the set: the book is full of snapshots and 8mm frame blow-ups of the boys and all the stars they met.

(Gail Davis shooting ANNIE OAKLEY at Melody Ranch)

And Stephen could be a pretty conniving little cuss: he pretended to have started a Jimmy Hawkins fan club to get into Melody Ranch, where THE ANNIE OAKLEY SHOW was being filmed – Hawkins played Annie’s kid brother, Tagg. Over the next few years he had the chance to visit Pioneertown, Bell Movie Ranch, Spahn Movie Ranch (yeah, the one the Manson Family moved in on). As teenagers, he and his friends even got kicked off the set of BAT MASTERSON, although Gene Barry turned out to be such a nice guy that he shared his lunch with the outcasts.

Though written by an adult, the stories are told from the perspective of the little kid who lived them, which is so much of their charm, although the adult world peeks in occasionally: Dickie Jones, BUFFALO BILL JR., is unhappy with negotiations with Flying A, and after he does his scenes, drives away like a bat out of Hell. Another time, the family leaves Iverson Ranch, disappointed that a Roy Rogers shoot has been cancelled, only to learn the reason: one of the Rogers children had suddenly died.


Stephen pursued an acting career for a time, appearing in TV shows like FURY, THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER, DR. KILDARE and MY THREE SONS, and features like DINO with Sal Mineo. At age sixteen Stephen spent a summer working as an actor/stuntman at Corriganville, and gives a fascinating and nostalgic description of that summer job most of us would have killed for. (Although maybe not on the day Ken Maynard showed up drunk and belligerent!)

But his long-term film and TV career was as a costumer, starting in 1963 with THE FUGITIVE, followed by the short-lived John Mills Western series, DUNDEE AND THE CULHANE, which took him to Flagstaff, Apache Junction and Old Tucson Studios in Arizona. He worked on many series over the years, and even those like the sitcom CAMP RUNAMUCK, which would seem to have no western tie-in, often did. RUNAMUCK was shot at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, where Gary Cooper faced down the villains of HIGH NOON. The RUNAMUCK location was soon the home for another of Stephen’s series, HERE COME THE BRIDES. No wonder Stephen considers the Columbia Ranch his ‘home’ studio.

Over the years he worked at all of the studios and ranches, and his passion for them is palpable. He has plenty to say about which were great, like Republic; which were ridiculously small, like Allied Artists (once Monogram, then a PBS station and now a studio for the Church of Scientology); which were chopped down to nothing, re-dressed until they were unrecognizable, or nearly burned to the ground. He worked on Western comedies like THE DUTCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX, TV series like THE DEPUTIES (which introduced Don Johnson), TV movies like THE SUNDANCE WOMAN, and has insights into them all. He worked for Quinn Martin and worked around Andrew Fenady (THE REBEL), and tried desperately to work for Sam Peckinpah. He hung out at the last of the great Western Cowboy Saloons, the Backstage Bar, right outside the Republic gate. Now it’s a sushi bar.

And then there was another career, as a screenwriter. With Steve Ihnat, an actor he met as a guest star on DUNDEE, he co-wrote the rodeo comedy THE HONKERS (1972), starring James Coburn and Slim Pickens. But aside from co-writing KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), it was a long time between writing gigs. When he got RIO DIABLO made in 1993, starring Kenny Rogers and Naomi Judd, it was after more than a decade of trying.

Now retired from costuming, and writing full time, he and his wife have moved to Rancho Mirage, not far from one of his favorites haunts, Pioneertown. When I spoke to him about AND…ACTION! recently, he told me he hadn’t set out to write a book. “I wrote every individual story when I felt like writing one. They were stories that I wanted to share with people, and I’d send them to all my friends. And finally I decided that maybe I ought to put them all together into one big compilation of stories.”

HENRY: What was your favorite experience as a kid visiting a set?

STEPHEN: I would have to say it was Johnny Mack Brown at the Iverson Western Town. (WHISTLING HILLS, 1951) The fact that Jimmy Ellison was there, too. And I was not even aware of who Noel Neil was until much later.

H: Well, she hadn’t done the SUPERMAN series at that point. What was your favorite encounter on a set, with a star, when you were a kid?

(Steve with Andy Devine)

S: I think probably the coolest guy was Andy Devine. He was nice to my brother and me; let us sit in a chair with him, offered to buy us a Coke. Pat Brady was just great – he really entertained me.

H: You visited pretty much all of the ranches. As a kid, did you have a favorite?

S: Corriganvile. And I ended up working there. That was kind of a dream. I was sixteen years old, believe it or not, with a .45 tied to my side, out there every weekend.

H: What was Crash like to work for?

S: A very pleasant man. I mostly worked for a guy named Charley Aldrich, who ran the street shows. Crash was there every weekend, and had pictures taken with kids, on his horse, and all. He wanted to do movies in the middle of the week, during the summer, for the people, when there were no movie companies out there. He had an old script for a Billy the Kid show, an old 16mm camera, and a sound system. He cast me as Billy the Kid, so I’d go out there every day, and put make-up on – we had a small number of people pretending to be the crew. We started with film in the camera – and I’d love to get my hands on it, and I think Tommy Corrigan’s got it someplace. We shot two weeks or so, and I rode Flash, his horse, and he let me borrow his gun for the whole thing. That went on until September, when I had to leave abruptly, because I got a real job in Hollywood, doing a pilot for a show called THE WRANGLER. It was the first videotaped Western ever – they shot it out of a truck, with three cameras. Jesse Wayne was the other stuntman. They did the pilot right on the KTLA back lot. He and I had a fistfight, he knocked me down some stairs. I turned around, pulled my gun and shot him, and he fell off a balcony. And that was the pilot. They wanted to see what it would look like on videotape. Actually, they made (the series) with Jason Evers. It went for a summer replacement.

H: You acted on shows like FURY.

S: That was basically a silent bit. But I did shows like MY THREE SONS, and DR. KILDARE. And not too many more.

H: What was it like, after spending so much time on sets, behind the camera, to suddenly be in front of them?

S: (laughs) It’s a little more scary being in front of them.

H: You have a lot to say about Pioneertown.

S: I grew up near Pioneertown. We were up here in the 1950s, when Pioneertown was in pristine shape. We never saw Gene Autry shooting here, but he was shooting up here at the same time. The Red Dog Saloon was open for business, the bowling alley was open for business, the restaurant was open for business – it’s not anymore, but that’s the way it was. It was kind of nice in the old days. I haven’t been there lately, but I’ll be going up there this week. There’s a friend from out of town that I’m going to take up there.

H: What was your first show as a costumer?

S: My first was a commercial at Columbia, and then I did two or three days on THE LUCY SHOW, then I got a quick call to replace the set man on THE FUGITIVE, and I stayed there for the next two seasons.

H: That was a show that was always on the road.

S: We had a lot of fun with that. It was like being in the Army.

H: As a costumer, are Westerns more fun than non-period things?

S: Oh, for me it is. A lot more fun, because that’s what I always wanted to do: whether I was a cowboy or a costumer really didn’t matter.

H: Is it very different being an in-town costumer, versus being off to the Painted Desert or Old Tucson?

S: Well, when you’re on location you get a lot more freedom. So does the director; so do the actors. You get too far out, and someone will make a phone call. I enjoyed the locations more than the at-home stuff.

(Steve at Old Tucson)

H: Do you have any particular memories of Old Tucson?

S: Yeah, that it was awful hot. I always ended up there in July, and it was in the monsoon season. It would rain all night, and bake you during the day. The other little town that Old Tucson owns, I don’t know what they call it now. They used to call it Harmony.

H: Now they call it Mescal.

S: That’s it. They used that in TOM HORN, and I was out there on GUNSMOKE. That was a nice little town. Looked like it was out in the middle of nowhere, but it was actually not that far off the road.

H: You worked on one of my favorite quirky Western series of the late 1960s, HERE COME THE BRIDES.

S: Oh yes! I’m still in touch with a lot of the fans – the middle-aged women. I was on that for half of the first season, and the last season. (We shot that at) Columbia Ranch. And sometimes we’d go up into the mountains of Burbank, or behind Glendale, and we’d go up to Franklin Canyon. We had a ‘green set’ on the stage, and we had a lagoon set, right close to the town set.

H: What’s a ‘green set’?

S: That’s where there’s trees and rocks and it looks like outdoors, but it’s really on a stage. Like WAGON TRAIN, whatever was set up was set up on a green set. That was a fun show to work on. A lot of good people to work with, not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera.

H: In 1972 you went from costumer to screenwriter with THE HONKERS.

S: (laughs) But didn’t stay too long. The money runs out and you go back to rag-pickin’ again. I got three more (movies made) than most.

H: How did THE HONKERS come about?

S: I’d gotten to know Steve Ihnat, we’d done about four, five shows together, and we’d always talk. He’d just finished making this little movie he’d shoot on the weekends I said I’d just written a screenplay, called HONCHO, with Dave Cass, who was my writing partner at the time. I let him read it, and he came back and said, ‘Do you want to write a rodeo script with me?’ I’d go to his place every weekend, write everything down, and during the week I’d put everything into a screenplay format, and come back. We worked on it four weeks. Then we went to a rodeo, to see if we got it right, to get the color, to get the announcer’s way of saying everything. His agent told him to write a script and he could get him a deal directing it, too. They got us a deal immediately with Filmways, for Martin Ransohoff, but Marty passed on it. You’ve got to remember when this was, and we were talking about shooting in real locations, in real houses, and he was talking about building sets in the stage. He passed, and that was a big disappointment. They went to Levy-Gardner-Laven (producers of THE RIFLEMAN and THE BIG VALLEY), and they set up a deal. And before I knew it we were in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and before you knew it, it was over. A year later it was the premiere, and a week after that, Ihnat died.

H: Any particular memories of James Coburn or Slim Pickens on that?

S: Slim Pickens is probably my favorite guy I ever worked with. And he drove his Mustang like he rode that bomb in DR. STRANGELOVE. A crazy sonofabitch, I’ll tell you. All cowboy.

H: He started out as a rodeo clown. You can’t get much more dangerous than that.

S: No, and in THE HONKERS he fought the bull a little bit.

H: You continued as a costumer and a writer – KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS is a notable success.

S: (laughs) They didn’t pay me too much for that; it was a success for everyone else. But it’s a good credit to have, because it became a ‘midnight classic.’

H: You didn’t write another western movie until 1993’s RIO DIABLO.

S: Actually we wrote that in 1975, and it was optioned a few times here and there – we probably made more off the option money than on the sale. We made some pretty good money on it when CBS picked it up, but that was way later.

(Steve with Dickie Jones on the BUFFALO BILL JR. set)

(Steve with Dick Jones recently at Lone Pine)

H: Was that a cathartic experience, to get it made so many years after you wrote it?

S: Yeah, and it’s also a very disappointing thing when they start cutting big chunks out of it. There was a lot more with Kansas, that was Stacy Keach Jr.’s part. We had a big scene where they drop bodies off of the stagecoach, and that’s when you first meet Kansas.

H: Are you still writing screenplays?

S: Yes I am, still trying to sell ‘em. (The one I’m working on) is called SHADOWS OF EAGLES; it’s one of my novels that I turned into a screenplay. It takes place in Texas during World War II. I wanted to do a play on THE GREAT ESCAPE, but I wanted to do it in Monument Valley. One time I’m driving down to Terlingua, Texas with a friend of mine, and we go through a little town called Marfa, that’s where they shot GIANT, and he says, “Right over there is where the old German prison camp used to be.” And I did a double-take. So in my story it’s the furthest prison camp from the east coast, and a very important prisoner gets put in there, he’s a Blue Max guy from the First World War. So he’s an older guy, and now he’s been captured, and the Germans decide if they can break him out it’ll be good for moral. So they send in some guys who break him out, and maybe fifteen or twenty other Nazis. And the Army doesn’t have enough men to run the prison and chase escapees. So the Texas Rangers offer to do that, and it ends up with Texas Rangers with six-guns and Winchester rifles on horseback, against Germans with automatic weapons and quad trucks. And it’s a big chase across Texas’ Big Bend. I have a guy who’s publishing it as an e-book.

If you’d like to purchase AND…ACTION!, or any of Stephen Lodge’s other books, or look at his remarkable collection of on-set photos, visit his website HERE.