Shirley Temple was, perhaps, the biggest star of the Silver Screen throughout the depression years, her death at 85 on February 10 means that the Good Ship Lollypop has taken its last voyage. The young American icon sang and danced her way into the hearts of a financially stricken U.S. and during a time when many were committing suicide because of lost fortunes and millions of American’s were on the bread lines and in soup kitchens Temple made America forget her financial woes for at least an hour and a half.
Looks like none of those “ten other stories” that Quentin Tarantino had up his sleeve sounded as good as his Western homage The Hateful Eight and he may be reviving it from the realms of the shelf. The Pulp Fiction director threw a fit earlier when a website got hold of his draft first script of the film that he says was to be a homage to The Magnificent Seven and leaked it all over the Internet.
The film I worked on this summer has now been made available for public viewing on Vimeo. It was filmed in July around Sidmouth, England with an intimate cast and crew. I worked with some brilliantly talented people and hopefully will work with them again. The experience was another life changer for me.
I had given up the idea of ever working in a profession that I’d been hooked on since my teen epiphany that this was the ideal occupation for me. When I reluctantly turned my back on it, I knew that I would never have the chance to prove that I still had the chops for this type of work. I was wrong about that, just as I’ve been wrong about many things in my life. One thing I think I’m right about is, I have always honestly believed that people are born to be actors, writers, directors, et al. I still do.
Just as there are people who have certain party tricks; like being able to imitate Christopher Walken or John Wayne after a couple of drinks, there are others who have a talent that they were born with. They enter the world as a sort of idiot savant. The ability; the talent, exists already. All they need is the opportunity to develop the skill required to polish and hone that innate talent. Like the joke goes, it takes practice to get to Carnegie Hall.
My month of July 2013 (my summer vacation, if you will) was filled with excitement. Not only did I get to step in front of the camera for the first time in years, I also got to prove to myself that I had not lost the urge, or the ability, to act. It was still a part of me and though I’d turned my back on it, the creativity had not left me. Nor had the imagination needed to “pull it off.”
The end result was a project that I could take pride in. All because Natasha Harmer took a chance to use an old out-of-practice actor, who could have turned out to be a ham or an actor who could not act. She writes a blog titled Films and Things, which was the name of the production company incidentally, and if you haven’t already, you should go check her out.
For those of you who want to see the film, Once Bitten, Twice Shy, just click on the link. Once you’ve seen it, drop by and let Natasha “Tash” know what you thought. Personally, I think that every single person attached to the film did a bang-em-up job, but I could be a little prejudiced.
The second thing I did in July was to travel to South Africa to track down a couple of sources who’d turned our paper, the Las Vegas Guardian Express (guardianlv.com) onto the news that Nelson Mandela was no longer with us. Despite the huge smoke screen thrown up by the world’s press, based on news released from his children who have their own reasons for not acknowledging the great man’s passing, we received information that was disturbing and obscene. We’d been told by quite a few sources that the man was really gone.
I will not go into the story, you can follow the above link to see the articles written by myself and other journalists in the paper. I was chosen, at the last minute, to fly to the country and search for the truth. I have written about my experiences and will be adding more of what I learned about the country in the paper itself.
I met people in Johannesburg who watched over me in this dangerous area of the world and treated me like a long lost family member. I travelled around the local areas, saw where the poor lived and the rich. I went to Pretoria visiting the hospital where Madiba was interred. I spoke to fellow journalists who were camped outside the hospital waiting for the next act in this tragedy to unfold.
This trip was another life changing event. It made me realise that I was addicted to the adrenaline rush. The feeling of hyper-reality that comes with the territory of increased heart rate and focussed vision. Johannesburg emits a feeling of underlying danger, somewhat akin to working in the prison service when there is trouble brewing from certain elements. You are on edge and, seemingly, aware of everything going on. Afterward, you are exhausted by all of the hyper-awareness.
I have been incredibly lucky in the time following my near brush last year with the grim reaper. I have, in essence, rediscovered myself. I’ve learned that there are some things in me that will never change. The actor in my soul will never die and my yearning for adventure, aka adrenaline addiction, will always be a constant companion. I have also rediscovered my love of writing.
I’ve written about all the above mentioned things before, but, I’ve been a bit lackadaisical with my blog of late. My work for the paper has pretty much overtaken everything in my life at the moment. But I will remember to make time for my inner actor and will soon be preparing a showreel to see if anyone else would like to hire an old “not-so-out-of-practice actor again.
Until then, my summer vacation with its adventures in acting, world news, and dangerous surroundings will be in my memory book. If I close my eyes, I can see South Africa unfold before me just a vividly as the day I arrived. It is amazing that the end result of being so close to death has made me feel more alive than ever before.
I have been truly blessed by whoever, or whatever, is in charge. I thank all of you lovely people who take the time to follow my little blog and who leave comments or like my efforts. May you all find what makes you feel truly alive in your lifetime.
18 October 2013
Published in 2010, The Nicest Fella is about one of the last of the cowboys. Ben Johnson was not just a “screen” cowboy, he was the real deal. Growing up in Oklahoma Son, as he was known to family and friends, earned his spurs on the back of a horse before doing so on screen. Johnson came to Hollywood to deliver horses to the film industry at a time when westerns were all the rage and the demand for horseflesh was high.
After discovering that he could make more money in a single day than he could for an entire month working on a ranch, he decided to stick around and began doing stunt work. He worked a lot with another stuntman who became an actor in his later years, Richard Farnsworth who was later nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Straight Story. Ben would actually win an Oscar for his work in the film The Last Picture Show, which he referred to as a dirty movie because of the cursing and nudity in it.
Richard D Jensen does an excellent job chronicling the life and times of one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. He had an enormous amount of help from Helen Lee Johnson Christenson, Ben’s sister, who had collected over 30 years worth of information on her famous brother. Jensen himself met Johnson in 1984 at a film festival and the two got on so well that they ditched the festival and spent the evening at a cafe talking. Jensen says that it was then that he knew he would write about Johnson one day.
The book goes back to Ben Johnson’s own famous father Ben Johnson Sr. A rodeo champion and manager of the largest ranch in Oklahoma, he was well known and well respected. Ben Jr, or Son, new that he would have to do something different from his father if he wanted to make his own tracks in the world. Although he would later return to the rodeo world and attempt everything his father had done as a sort of catharsis.
When Johnson first came to Hollywood, the industry was still in it’s infancy. He was not the only real cowboy in the industry. In fact the famous Tom Mix had not only started life as a cowpuncher, but he had worked on the same ranch as Ben Johnson Sr.
Ben Johnson was the last of the cowboys though. His code and moral stand stayed saddle bound his whole life, He did not hold with using foul language in front of women or children and he would stop others from doing so. This same “code” meant that he continually attempted to get Hollywood money funnelled into his home state to help those who needed it.
Johnson also took a “break” from Hollywood to go back to the rodeo. He is the only actor who won an Oscar and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association‘s Team Roping World Champion title in 1953. Ben was later inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association‘s ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.
The title of the book came from paraphrasing Johnson’s acceptance speech for winning the Oscar in 1972. At the end of his very short speech, he announced that what he was going to say would cause a lot of conversation but, “It couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.”
He was right. What the book shows is that very few, certainly not any in the book, had an ill word to say about the man. The cowboy turned stuntman; turned actor; turned rodeo star and back to actor, was a man of his word and had time for everyone. His strict moral ethos gave him the strength to stand up to notorious bully John Ford, and it says volumes about Johnson. Even more so that Ford, later in his career, would talk Ben into working in The Last Picture Show. If Ford had not “pushed” Johnson to do it, he would have kept turning the role down.
At 299 pages, the book is not overly long, but after biography finishes, Jensen has one of the most complete filmography’s I have ever seen. This was a monument to a great man and the author has laid his foundation carefully and built a wonderful bio of a brilliant character actor.
If you are a fan of westerns, you’ve seen Mr Johnson in countless roles in films that range from John Ford’s epic paintings to Sam Peckinpah‘s brutal realism. Well known as the “sidekick” of Duke Wayne and the best horseman in Hollywood. It is a wonderful read and definitely a book for anyone who is a fan of this excellent character actor.
I have to give this a five out of five stars just because Richard D Jensen does a brilliant job and he is the only writer who has taken the time to write a Ben Johnson biography. The book is available from most book sellers, but sadly, is not in an ebook format.
4 September 2013
- Top cowboys set to cap Ellensburg Rodeo (yakimaherald.com)
- New Ranch Bronc event puts real cowboys in the rodeo arena (wenatcheeworld.com)