WHEN MOVIE MAVENS MEET – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Movie Trivia, once a parlor game among friends, has grown into a worldwide, billion-dollar industry including databases, online fan clubs, and television stations like Turner Classic Movies, The Movie Channel, and American Classic Movies.

Gene Freese

People, like me, fancied themselves as experts on classic movies. Over the decades, I’ve devoured dozens of books on films, the stars, the old studios, the Hollywood power brokers, and, yes, the juicy gossip about legendary actors, actresses, and directors.

During my TV News career, as many of you know, I had the good fortune of meeting many of the old Hollywood legends who shared stories with me. Inside stories. Stuff that prompted me to proclaim myself as the movie maven. My knowledge has often been tested over the years by prominent public figures. movie stars and friends.  The queries sometimes included dead of night phone calls for trivia that had stumped someone.

The Superstitions

Social media and online fan clubs have recently dimmed the luster of my maven title.  Lots of folks know their movie trivia and are quick to share. A little humility — this know-it-all doesn’t go down easily.

Gene’s dad Marty Freese in Old Tuscon

One of the traits of a genuine movie maven is knowledge of character actors, the names way below the title in a movie. You’ve seen them often but can’t remember their names. I always could, dating back to the first movie I saw as a 4-year-old in a first-run theater.  It was “The Best Years Of Our Lives” from 1946.  I quickly picked up names like Steve Cochran, Ray Teal, Gladys George, and Roman Bohman. They played small but vital roles and I looked for them in future films.

Sedona from Schnebly Hill

Three years ago, I wrote a piece about Richard Jaeckel, a character actor whose face you probably recall if not his name. Jaeckel played “the kid” in numerous war and western films, he was perpetually young for almost four decades in films like “Sands Of Iwo Jima”, The Gunfighter” and “Comeback Little Sheba” which was an “against typecasting” role.

I met Jaeckel in Boston in the early ’70s during a film promotion tour. The interview turned into a long afternoon of social chit chat which was the basis of my piece.

One of the online responses came from a gentleman very familiar with Richard Jaeckel. It turns out Mr. Freese was writing a book about Jaeckel.  I easily shared anecdotes about Jaeckel with Gene who, in turn, shared some of his stories.  It turned out Gene, an Arizona native is a prolific author with a keen knowledge of many of the character and stunt actors whose faces are familiar — if not their names.

Many of you, of a certain age, recall TV series like “Yancey Derringer” and “Laredo”. The former starred Jack (Jock) Mahoney as a gambler and upholder of the law. The Latter,  William Smith as one of a quartet of happy go lucky Texas Rangers.

I was thrilled to be the recipient of numerous anecdotes from Gene Freese about the likes of Mahoney, Smith, L.Q. Jones, Leo Gordon (remember the bad guy in the mudslide fight with Duke Wayne in “McLintock”?  Leo V. Gordon was the dean of bad guys in many films over four decades. He was a scary dude.

As was the previously mentioned William Smith who often played vicious psychopaths — you may recall him as the sailor thug in “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Gene Freese floored me with tales of the real William Smith, a gentle poet, and a folk singer.

If you love old westerns, you’ll find Gene’s books take you to the locations of films like “Winchester 73,” “Pat Garrett And Billy the Kid,” and “The Last Hard Men,” as well as TV series like “The High Chaparral” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.”  Gene has walked the desert trails and climbed the mountains of films like “3 Godfathers,” “3:10 To Yuma,” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.”

Gene Freese is an avid outdoorsman. He and his family share a love of hiking and mountain climbing.  Gene is an “always there Dad” for his children’s sports and social activities. His dad set the tone for movie stunt and character work. They are familiar figures at Arizona’s old west venues that draw many fans.  Freese has the sensitivity to give fan besieged western actors space and garners many wonderful anecdotes from movie people who are normally reticent. Stunt actors are especially wary of “Pilgrims.”

I just finished “The Western Films of Robert Mitchum,” Freese’s latest book.  It gives you a fresh look at “Mitch,” an actor with whom I spent time and whose professional legend is too often reduced to tawdry gossip and an over-hyped drug arrest early in his career.  You’ll appreciate Mitchum’s work ethic as well as his varied talents which included writing poetry and composing music.

Gene Freese got to the heart and soul of Robert Mitchum as no else has.  It’s a tribute to Gene’s ability. Yes, there will be a review of the Mitch book — coming soon at this address.

Thanks, Gene. I look forward to our next share.



Categories: Author, film, Garry Armstrong, Hollywood, Movies

Tags: , , , ,

28 replies

  1. “What ever happened to Randolph Scott?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s difficult to imagine Robert Mitchum writing poetry and composing music. I always thought of him as the ultimate tough guy. You have so much already to go Garry. Get cooking on that book.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on natshouseblog and commented:
    INj Sands of Iwo Jima did he play twins or have a twin?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, but he didn’t play himself twice. A different actor played a non-identical twin. I had to look it up. Garry would have known off the top of his exploding head.

      Liked by 1 person

    • William Murphy — Nat, Marilyn looked up name of actor who played “Jake’s” twin in “Sands of Iwo Jima”.
      Murphy gets a few mentions, I believe, in Gene Freese’s “The Westerns Films of Robert Mitchum”. Nat, you gotta read the Mitch book.

      Like

      • Hey Gary, No problem reading about the stars… I read about them all the time… Read one Mitchum bio… author seemed fixated on how big he was. Last month read Harry Carey, Jr.;s book about working with John Wayne (tsk,tsk) and the other stars… Cary Grant bio, Bette Davis, three John Wayne, and Jimmie steward war years one on Kindle. My brother hung out with Charles Bronson and Jill ireland. He was a homicide LT in Hermosa Beachnd his wife is still friends with a bunch of stars. I’ll tell ya on email. She is a retired homicide LT in the Hollywood Div.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Those character actors that we saw in film after film, always working, were the backbone of films. Walter Brennan, a tall, handsome man in real life, made a fortune playing geezy old toothless guys. I once read a whole script to him, and when I was through, he said, “I never could have done that.” Other actors were never out of work. Harry Morgan went from one tv show to the next. I did publicity for “December Bride” when he was a member of the cast and Spring Byington, another trouper, was the star. There are many character actors, their names not as well known, but their faces easily recognizable, that we see time and again….R.J. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, etc. It’s touch and go in this industry. My family on my mother’s side were stage actors, and getting a gig on Broadway was the ultimate goal. My uncle made it many times before being called to Hollywood to do a film and then stayed here for the rest of his life. He was fortunate in being a character actor and also a comedian to be able to keep working. Please share more stories, Garry. It’s always a pleasure to read your memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You should be in touch with Gene. I’m going to mention it to Garry. He would LOVE talking with you!

      Like

    • Patricia, it’s mutual. I love YOUR old Hollywood stories. Your up close and personal view, beginning with your youth stories. They are priceless to outsiders like me. I hope you connect with Gene Freese. I think you have stories to share.

      BTW: Can you share the name of your Uncle who “made it” as a character actor in Hollywood?

      As always, thank you for sharing.

      I hope all’s well in these crazy times.

      Like

      • My uncle’s name was Eddie Marr. He made movies, and later was on television ,but he did his comedy bit as the huckster “Tell ya what I’m gonna do” character on the Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope shows. Later on, he had his own show for awhile. Eventually, he became a travel agent and loved it, especially taking cruises. He said, “I don’t sell tickets, I sell dreams.” He and his wife had this house built in l939, and it is still going strong (knock on wood, more like a forest). He thoroughly enjoyed his life until his wife died. He lived about three years afterward and then went into a decline, leading to his death by heart attack.
        I don’t know if I ever told you that my closest woman friend is the former Peggy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters. We have been friends for forty years and go to church together. Of course, we have been grounded for the last two months or so, but we attend The Little Brown Church a mile away from me, a charming tiny church where industry people have been attending for almost 89 years. The Reagans got married there.
        Take care. You and Marilyn be well.

        Like

  5. yes, remembering the character actors’ names, is a very elite level of knowledge. i’m impressed

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth, it’s come easy to me like knowing the names of Assistant Director, Director of Photography, Dialogue Director, Casting Director. Many of these jobs are stepping stones to the top – becoming a director. I love seeing credits in early 30’s films. If you watch carefully, you’ll see something like
      “montages by Don Siegel” as a credit in “Casablanca”. Siegel, of course, went on to become a highly respected director and mentor to Clint Eastwood.
      Walter Brennan was mentioned earlier in a comment. We all have this image of “old, gimpy, toothless Walter Brennan”. In the ’36 early noir classic, “Fury” — Brennan is a young guy, part of a frenzied lynch mob bent on hanging Spencer Tracy. He looks young and dangerously crazy. The formula, again, for becoming a movie maven. Watch the film credits closely. These days, it’s a chore. The opening credits are a bore. All you get are the names of a zillion producers and the movie title. At the end, they often give you (rapid fire speed) a gazillion credits, including whoever washed the star’s car. it’s hard to absorb detail. On some movie channels, they squeeze the closing credits to promote something else. So, you really cannot see credits. I hate this.

      Liked by 1 person

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