“Just the Facts Ma’am”
Bill Cassara’s previous profession, along with its “curse,” is a blessing for those who enjoy reading biographies that reveal heretofore unknown information.
Before retiring, Bill was an Internal Affairs Sargeant for the Monterey County (California) Sheriff’s Department. He was, and is, a film buff. Laurel and Hardy were at the top of his list, and The Three Stooges weren’t far behind. Bill is a naturally curious person, and wondered why nothing substantive had been written about two beloved character actors, Edgar Kennedy and Vernon Dent; and A-list entertainer, Ted Healy.
Professional investigator–movie buff–naturally curious person…a trifecta of attributes needed to pen three biographical gems: “Edgar Kennedy – Master of the Slow Burn” (2005) and “Vernon Dent – Stooge Heavy” (2010,) and now “Nobody’s Stooge – Ted Healey” (2014,) all published by BearManor Media. I’ve read them all; he’s a good writer and knows how to hold a reader’s attention.
Bill and I became friends many years ago through our mutual love and admiration for Laurel and Hardy. I first became aware of his attention to detail when I rode with him in his sheriff’s vehicle as he spent his day protecting and serving. At a stoplight, he “lit up” a driver and pulled him over for tossing a lit cigarette out the window. The offense had occurred so far back down the road that I still can’t figure out how he saw it. Subsequent ride-a-longs yielded similar surprises, while we discussed how he unraveled crimes starting from square one. It was no surprise to me when he became an Internal Affairs sergeant.
After Bill retired, he told me that a career in law enforcement can be a curse because it is a challenge to be out in public and not ignore people and events that don’t seem quite right. By the way, he only gave the butt-tosser a warning.
It disappointed me when several fellow Three Stooges fans gave his book, “Nobody’s Stooge – Ted Healy,” tepid reviews because it contradicted several long held “facts” about Healy being a bad guy. You know the saying, “If you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth.” In this case, a legend.
That being said, I thought Bill needed a platform to discuss his research methods that uncovered new truths about Healy.
The following is our interview of March 25, 2015…and be sure to check out http://www.billcassara.com.
Kit: Why did you get into the profession of law enforcement?
Bill: I wanted to make a difference; I was an idealist and put myself through college while working in jobs that dealt with the public. I was a local history buff, so I had pride in where I lived. Another motivator; I was a victim of burglary; someone stole my coin collection that I cultivated over the years. I channeled my outrage into something constructive, a career peace officer. I consider myself a victim’s advocate.
Kit: Are there parallels between criminal investigation and conducting research for a book?
Bill: There are some, I suppose it depends on what kind of book. The three books I wrote all pertain to biographies of old film clowns: Edgar Kennedy, Vernon Dent, and Ted Healy. Projects like these demand that I research from scratch, remain objective, sift the facts from the legend and corroborate with existing evidence i.e. public records and reliable newspaper accounts of the day.
Kit: Do you consider yourself a “just the facts, ma’am” author?
Bill: Hollywood bios demand a writing style that is part historical, factual and engaging. Gone are the days when bios were written by glorified press agents. Today’s readers want a true picture. My career depended on my credibility as an investigator, writer of reports and expert witness testimony.
Now that I’m retired, I can write for fun. Imagine the joy I had in describing Edgar Kennedy’s “Slow-Burn” as a metaphor to a volcano eruption or relating the aroma of over-ripe fruits prominent in Vernon Dent’s time? I could convey that sense because I grew up in the same neighborhood Vernon did. The Healy book is more clinical and closer to how I used to write professionally.
Kit: How did you come to be a Three Stooges fan?
Bill: I think it was 1959 when all the Columbia Three Stooges films were released on television. They were a sensation and all the kids at school talked about them. Later that year, the Stooges made a promotional appearance at our local TV. affiliate and I fixated on Moe who did all the talking on the program. He communicated to the kids in a grandfatherly concerned way. The Stooges were accessible, unlike my other older film comedian heroes: Laurel & Hardy, Little Rascals, Abbott & Costello, and just about everyone in Robert Youngson’s film compilations.
Kit: Why did you select Ted Healy as the subject of a biography?
Bill: I wanted a challenge. As a historian I have always been interested in “what came first?” and “how did they get there?” I appreciate those who make me laugh; take the case of the Stooges’ success story. In his autobiography: “Moe Howard and the Three Stooges,” he thankfully included details about the genesis of the act which started with vaudeville and Broadway star, Ted Healy. I was struck by the fact Healy died at age forty-one under mysterious circumstances with rumors that he was murdered. With my background as an Internal Investigations Sergeant, I thought I could clarify all the details. My secondary reason was Healy died four days after his only child was born, so Ted Healy Jr. grew up never knowing about his dad. When I found out that his son had recently died, I knew a book about Ted Healy would never happen unless I took on the responsibility. I dived into the murky depths of vaudeville. It was here, as documented by old newspapers and trade publications, that I compiled data and venues pertaining to Ted Healy’s slow rise to stardom.
Kit: Was Joan Howard Maurer receptive to your writing a book on Healy?
Bill: Moe Howard’s daughter was very supportive, she invited my wife and I over to her home to discuss it. She said it was interesting that a retired “detective” was researching Ted Healy.
Kit: What sorts of things did she share?
Bill: The thing that stood out most to me was her comment, “Ted Healy was very generous to our family.” For Joan to emphasize that point is revealing, it is the opposite of what most people think about the Healy/Howard association. Joan no doubt was repeating what her father told her. After all, it was Healy who ”discovered” and mentored the Howard brothers and Larry Fine.
Joan had pulled a file labeled “Healy,” from her father’s personal archives. There were rare photos of Moe with Healy and many ads from their various engagements. I included several images for the book with Joan’s kind permission.
Kit: How did Healy come to be known as such a villain?
Bill: Healy died in 1937, almost eighty years ago and there is still quite a bit of emotion tied into it from “Stooge” fans. This was one of my interests in writing a book; why is Healy portrayed as a “Simon Legree” character in books published after Moe’s death? Mel Gibson made a biopic about the lives of the Three Stooges and naturally included a Ted Healy character who was depicted viciously. The visuals made a permanent impression on the general television audience. Fans, authors and bloggers have been dog piling on him ever since.
Kit: What are your thoughts about Moe’s autobiography?
Bill: Moe’s book is considered the “bible” towards anything relating to Stooge history. Thank goodness his daughter took an active role in completing the project. Understandably, Moe cobbled together most of his recollections without aid of a diary or other documents.
Kit: What were the inconsistencies between Moe’s recollections and the facts?
Bill: When I first read Moe’s book, I was elated. Precious details were revealed for the first time in writing. It became the cornerstone for seemingly hundreds of books. Moe remembered first coming across Healy on July 4, 1909 while strumming his ukulele and singing with Ted, “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”
It should be noted that Moe was first an entertainer and a beginning story for meeting Healy was essential for his book. One has to expect these kinds of things; many celebrities rely on great stories. Ted Healy sure did.
Most other writers simply repeated Moe’s tales, I started from scratch. It’s where any investigation should start. It may seem inconsequential to point out, but “ukes” were not known on the east coast until they were introduced by Hawaiians for the 1915 San Francisco Panama Exhibition. And the song Moe remembered wasn’t copyrighted until 1912 as a “Ragtime” piano piece.
There is a sequence in Moe’s book where he recounted when he and Ted joined with some local girls for a diving stage act in 1913. Since Healy was part of this act, it seemed important to retell the circumstances to the readers. The story goes that Moe and Ted began in show business as part of the “Annette Kellerman Diving Act” of 1913. History tells us that Kellerman was an international superstar by this time and had appeared in four movies with her aquatic acts. Her diving events were heavily documented by newspapers. Kellerman did not need 16 year-olds disguised as girls to help with her high diving act. Fortunately, Moe remembered an accident associated with his act that claimed the life of Gladys Kelly, there was a mishap on the diving board where she fell to her death. This accident was written up as a small article in the New York Times in an off-Broadway stage. This wasn’t the “Annette Kellerman Diving Act,” So the question remains, “Did Moe intend for the version of what was printed in his book?” I’m sure he meant the act was a “knock-off” of the more established star. Still, this raises a red flag for whom was doing the editing.
Another stumbling block was to corroborate Moe’s recollection detailing when he joined Healy’s act in “1922.” Moe said he answered an ad that Healy needed a replacement for an acrobatic act that walked out on him. It was written that Healy was playing at the Prospect Theatre in New York at the time. Later day researchers have never been able to find this “ad” in the trade papers. Furthermore, Healy did not play at the Prospect in 1922.
An existing program (May 27, 1923) shows Moe (As Moses Harry Horwitz) directing a play in his Brooklyn neighborhood. So Moe couldn’t have joined Healy until after this date. Moe described this act in his autobiography, “Ted was already in an act with his wife and dog by then.” This hit revue was called “Syncopated Toes,” and started on Sept. 3, 1923. Ted and Betty were the stars and producers.
Kit: What about Larry’s biography, written by his brother?
Bill: That book, “Larry-Stooge in the Middle” was allegedly written by Morris Feinberg in 1984. It was one of the first books about the Stooges by one who was close to the action…except he wasn’t. There are so many falsehoods in this book starting with the author; it was confirmed to me by Gary Lassin and Steven Cox (who were close to the project at the time), that Larry’s brother was in his eighties with a heart condition and had no access to research. This book was published by the appropriately named “Last Gasp” in San Francisco which is now defunct.
The ghostwriter apparently thought it needed “punching up” by making Healy a very imposing villain who was an archenemy with our favorite innocents. To make him more evil, the “author” described scenes in which Healy was so revengeful of the boys leaving his act that he would phone theatres where they were playing, introduced him-self and threatened to firebomb the place if their act went on. Think about this seriously; a threat like that would impact everyone in the theatre including the paying customers. The press would have written it up if such a stunt happened as described.
Perhaps even worse, the author had the audacity to print a date (September 30, 1930) in which Healy allegedly brought suit against “Howards & Fine” in Los Angeles, Ca. This was a calculated intent to invoke emotion into the prose for contrast. Even more absurd; after his day in court the author claimed, “Healy lost the case.” Invented dialogue ensues with Shemp’s quote to Larry, “I don’t think we’ve heard the last from Ted Healy.” None of this ever happened. I couldn’t find any mention in the Los Angeles papers of that time and they would have been all over that. I made it a point to search out the court files and there was nothing. Never mind that Moe, Larry and Shemp returned to Healy on August 7, 1932, the question is; why would they return if Healy was so dangerous? The truth is: Moe, Larry and Shemp, (later replaced by Curly) rode Healy’s coattails during this era. In 1933 it got them to Hollywood. This takes nothing away from the Stooges later success, but coming back to Healy was the break they needed professionally.
The damage has been done-for over thirty years people have been conditioned to believe Healy was a monster.
Kit: Did your research turn up any tidbits about the Stooges that you didn’t include because they had nothing to do with Healy?
Bill: There are other examples that Moe said that weren’t quite accurate; Moe said Shemp quit Healy’s act to join Vitaphone as “Knobby Walsh.” That role didn’t occur until years later. Moe described his brother Curly cutting it up as a member of Orville Knapp’s Band in 1929. Knapp didn’t have his own band until 1934 (Knapp was a musician for another band in 1929). I can pass all that off as entertainment. My main concern in credibility was in one particular sequence in Moe’s book; it was after the filming of “Soup to Nuts” in 1930 when Moe, Larry and Shemp split from Healy after their contract expired. According to Moe’s book, the reason for the separation was because he heard a third person rumor that Fox was going to offer Moe, Larry and Shemp a seven-year deal. The story goes that Healy squashed it by appealing to a company executive. This is curious because Fox wasn’t making short comedies at this time and they certainly wouldn’t have started up a whole new unit during this stage of the depression. I have a hard time grasping that Fox would offer the boys (sans big name Healy) a seven-year feature deal (even back-loaded) on the strength of their performance in “Soup to Nuts.” They weren’t even known as “Stooges” yet. Moe allegedly claimed Healy “begged us to come back to him,” and “I don’t have an act without you.” In truth, Ted Healy could throw his hat on the stage and be well received. He put together other comic foils and continued in big-time vaudeville. He really struck gold when he performed on Broadway with Fanny Brice and Phil Baker in “Crazy Quilt.” The act toured America’s biggest cities throughout 1931 based on advanced ticket sales.
This may be considered sacrilegious, but when Moe discussed the Healy era, were his writings embellished? Or did his publisher (like the Larry book), fill in details to make things more dramatic? It should be emphasized that Moe died before his book was published and tampering with the material could explain some of the inconsistencies and drama.
Kit: Any thoughts, even little ones, about writing another biography?
Bill: The reason I wrote books about Kennedy, Dent, and Healy is because I had so much interest in them from seeing their films. They deserved a study. I have many more favorites that I hope someday other authors pursue. I would love to read a book about: Leon Errol, Andy Clyde, Bud Jamison, Mae Busch, Lloyd Bacon, and even the tragic stories of F. Richard Jones and Clyde Bruckman…the list goes on. Is there a market there?
Bill Cassara about the time of the “butt-tossing” incident.
OK, finally got enough requests to convince VCI release these two on DVD!
During the 1940’s – early 1950s before television killed “B” movies, army comedies, musicals (MGM or Monogram…didn’t matter,) themes about Tinsel town, and of course westerns, were guaranteed hits in small town and rural America.
Producer/distributor/exhibitor, Robert L. Lippert, decided to combine the genres for sure-fire hits. He did, and they were.
“G.I. JANE”, is a musical-comedy taking place at an army camp starring Jean Porter (sorry, not Demi Moore,) Tom Neal (Hollywood’s real-life bad-boy), Iris Adrian, Jimmie Dodd (“Jimmie” from the “Mickey Mouse Club,) and Jeanne Mahoney, with direction by B-movie stalwart Reginald LeBorg.
At a remote Army training camp in the desert, our boys in uniform want to do more than wave at the WAC’s, and a new recruit bets them $500 he can make this happen. A stern female lieutenant makes things tough but eventually it’s Mission Accomplished, the barracks filled with beauties and ballads.
“I Love Girls,” “Line-up and Sign-up in the Army Corps,” and “Nervous in the Service,” are a sampling of the musical numbers.
“GRAND CANYON,” a comedy with two songs (“Love Time in Grand Canyon” and “Serenade to a Mule”!) about Hollywood producers filming a western, staring Richard Arlen, Mary Beth Hughes, Reed Hadley, James Millican, Olin Howlin, Grady Sutton, and Joyce Compton, with Paul Landres in the director’s seat.
There’s grand fun, grand feudin’ and grand fightin’ in this spoof on low-budget Hollywood moviemaking. Assigned by Robert L. Lippert (who appears as himself in a pre-title sequence) to make a Western on indoor sets, Reed Hadley farcically tries and fails, and finally convinces the front office to allow him to shoot on “location.” Rural audiences howled when an Arizona cowboy showed them Hollywood types a thing or two about acting, and ends up with the starring role!
Here’s where the filmflimflam comes in:
The advertising claims the movie was filmed at the Grand Canyon, and a prologue to the movie even thanks the Department of the Interior for its cooperation. Sure, the exteriors are, but the scenes with actors, most of the movie, are filmed on sets, against process shots, or in a familiar location spot near L.A.…but who’d go see a movie called “Bronson Canyon?” There are a couple of scenes with “actors” filmed on location, but are in reality stand-ins, shot in such a way that the audience couldn’t tell.
The fight scene featured in “Mike’s” dream was taken from “The Return of Wildfire,” another Arlen/Lippert film. Arlen’s opponent in the fight is Reed Hadley, his “director” in “Grand Canyon.”*
Viewed today, these movies are fun to watch, but remember they were made for the Princess Theatre in Meredosia, Illinois, not the Radio City Music Hall.
*Thank you Bob Dickson for this tidbit.
The subject was “hazing,” and no studio would touch it…
Paul Henreid (“Casablanca”,) wanted a hard-hitting exposé of a problem he felt needed to be addressed…hazing. He pitched it to the studios, and each time was met with an emphatic “No.” So he financed, produced, directed, and starred in it. When he screened the completed picture for the studios, it was the same story…none would touch it. With his options and money running out, he sold the movie outright to producer/distributor, Robert L. Lippert, known for small-town, family-friendly B movies, the exact opposite of “The Tall Lie.” Lippert also released it under the more familiar title “For Men Only.” Although the small towns were shocked by it, business was brisk in college towns.
“Tod” (Robert Sherman,) a gentle pledge is forced to swim in freezing water until he almost drowns…and that’s before the main titles even start! In his screen debut, Russell Johnson, beloved captain of “Gilligan’s Island,” plays “Ky,” the sadistic president of the fraternity. Vera Miles (“Psycho”,) also in her first film, appears as Tod’s girlfriend. Tod’s grades plummet because of the unrelenting abuse. His professor, played by Henreid, takes notice and ponders whether hazing and the forthcoming “Hell Night” might have something to do with it. Nonetheless, he recommends that Tod’s mother sign a release to let her son take part in the final initiation. Big mistake.
“Hell Night,” the fraternity initiation of all initiations, starts off with the relatively tame ripping of the pledges’ clothes and painting their faces. Then comes the final initiation…shoot a puppy; this is 1952! (His friend “Beanie” (James Dobson) wants to be inducted into the fraternity so bad he stoops to drinks blood drawn from a live puppy.) Although Tod refuses, he is subsequently ostracized, hounded to his death as a coward. This prompts Henreid to push for an investigation and reforms, but is met with resistance and organized destruction of evidence, supported by college administrators and past pledges, bent on saving the good name of the college.
Censorship was an issue. Various state censor boards objected, but the distributors emphasized that it was an “exposé” and “educational,” an argument that generally had positive results. Then there was the UK where animal cruelty, real or implied, was strictly prohibited. Exclusive (Hammer) Films, the distributor throughout England, managed to get the picture passed without cuts by adding a lengthy written prologue (included in the DVD) revealing the evils of hazing.
Available on DVD from VCI Entertainment: http://www.vcient.com
“I was born to ride…”
In 1953 Robert L. Lippert commissioned a feature film to be directed by noted film editor, Elmo Williams (Academy Award winner for “High Noon”), who is still alive at 102. It was to star Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb, Marie Windsor and Luther Adler. Lippert, always interested in getting talent to work cheap, got three of the stars at a bargain rate because they were HUAC-tainted, and needed work.
Production commenced in Deming, New Mexico, and local real-deal cowboys were retained as wranglers. Among them, L.B. “Beau” Johnson, Robert Johnson, Ross May and Darrell Hawkins.
Both Williams and his wife, Lorraine, were fascinated by the cowboys who worked on the picture, and she envisioned a full-length documentary about cowboy life featuring the same cowboys who worked in “The Tall Texan.” The estimated budget was around $50,000 (under $500,000 in 2014 dollars), low because there was no need to pay for stars, sets or sync sound. The meager budget, even by Lippert standards, may account for why the penurious producer sprung for filming in color.
Both movies turned out very well, and made money. “The Cowboy” was particularly successful in the Southwest. Later, when it was released in 16mm, it became a perennial favorite at Indian reservations.
In 2004 I purchased the Lippert film library, and envisioned a DVD release of “The Cowboy” with the usual special features VCI Entertainment and I specialize in. But, what special features could I come up with?
Later on I got a phone call from Bridget Kelly who worked with filmmakers in New Mexico, asking if the movie could be shown to an audience in Deming. Of course I said yes, and inquired if she knew what became of the cowboys. She replied that four of them were coming to the screening!
A commentary track featuring the actual cowboys looking at the movie a half-century later…yessss!
It was arranged to get them together for a recording session. My wife, Donna, and I went to Deming and awaited the cowboys. The first one, Beau Johnson, arrived with his wife in an old car that didn’t look as if it had been through a car wash in 15 years; papers all over the dash, license plate hanging on for dear life. There he was, complete with faded Wrangler’s, old boots, sweat-stained hat, and a big silver buckle, speaking authentic “cowboy,” of course. Was he ever a warm and wonderful character. His passion was race horses, and he owned them…why bother with a new car when you own championship horses? Next came Beau’s brother, Robert, Ross May and finally Darrell Hawkins, great guys all. Hawkins even gave me a lesson on trick roping.
I had prepared for the recording session with lots of notes and questions to toss out to keep the guys talking throughout, hoping they’d make comments about what was occurring on the screen without much prompting from me. We rolled tape and Ross May, who had retired as a school teacher, took the lead as moderator…he was a natural…knew just how to keep everyone going as if he’d done it a thousand times. Tossed my notes in the garbage…didn’t need ‘em.
The result was great…a group of engaging old-timers reminiscing, often humorously, and with cowboy jargon, about an era that has, for all intents and purposes, long since passed.
Donna and I recently got a call out of the blue from Beau Johnson. Hadn’t spoken with him for many years although I had thought about him. He had been in the hospital, and I guess had survived a couple of brushes with death. His brother, Robert, is fine, but Ross and Hawkins are gone. Beau, still his jovial self, told us how much our friendship meant to him, which was totally unexpected, and touched us very much. He said he even kept a ribbon from a bottle of wine Donna gave him. Beau had another reason to call…a favor…asked if we’d call Elmo Williams and wish him a happy 103rd birthday. (It isn’t until next year, but we’ll be sure to call).
When we signed off, Beau told me he was born to ride a horse, and I told him “The Cowboy” commentary was the most fun I’ve ever had producing a special feature.
Additional DVD bonus features:
“The Making of The Cowboy” by Elmo Williams
“Ghost Towns of the Old West – the Deserts” narrated by Rip Torn
Top: Beau and Robert Johnson from “The Cowboy”
DVD cover: Beau Johnson
Other DVD’s from Kit Parker Films:
Feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following movies were eventually released on good quality DVD’s:
APACHE RIFLES (Admiral-Fox/1964)
Picture and sound track were a jumbled mess. Technician at VCI eventually matched everything up. (I still owe someone a steak dinner!)
THE COWBOY (Lippert/1954)
35mm color negative ruined by mold. Used 16mm color “EK” (print from the original color negative) for the DVD. Black and white duplicate negative and color “separation negatives” survive. BTW, I had a blast producing the commentary track with the authentic old cowboys who were the stars of the film.
THE GLASS TOMB (Hammer-Lippert/1955)
Original 35mm material missing. Used 35mm release print borrowed from the British Film Archive
THE GREAT JESSE JAMES RAID (Lippert/1954)
35mm color material missing. Used a 16mm color “EK.” 35mm black and white negative survives.
LIKE IT IS (Psychedelic Fever) (Lima/1968)
Missing sound track. Used audio from a bootleg VHS bought on eBay. Sometimes pirates serve a useful purpose!
MAN BEAST (API/1956)
Master 35mm material was cut for release in the UK and the excised scenes scrapped. Used missing footage found in a 35mm US release print. Scenes that were deleted prior to its US theatrical release were found in a Spanish dubbed print and are included as a Special Feature on the DVD.
Color camera negative survived – without titles. Used titles off a like-new 1956 16mm color print I bought from a collector on eBay. Not the first time a film collector has saved the day.
MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR (Palo Alto-Lippert/1954)
35mm sound track decomposed. Used track from 16mm Armed Forces negative, which was longer than the theatrical release version. Extra scenes are part of the DVD special features.
MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (Republic/1941)
Nitrate picture and track negative decomposed. Used a “fine grain” master print borrowed from the British Film Institute
OUTLAW WOMEN (Howco/1952)
Original 35mm Cinecolor material decomposed. Used mint 35mm Cinecolor print
SEA DEVILS (Coronado-RKO/1953)
Combined 3-strip Technicolor negatives located at Technicolour in London and restored by Canal+, owner of Eastern Hemisphere distribution rights.
SHOTGUN (Champion-Allied Artists/1955)
Badly faded camera negative was all that survived. VCI technician was able to bring the color back to life in a tedious process of correcting the color scene by scene. (Another steak dinner, this one due Doug at Film and Video Transfers)
SINS OF JEZEBEL (Lippert/1954)
Original 35mm color negative missing. Used mint 35mm AnscoColor print labeled “Roadshow Version”. Could find no difference between the Roadshow and Regular release; not surprising given its penurious producer, Robert L. Lippert. Note: Fortunately AnscoColor, unlike widely used Eastman Color, does not tend to fade.
STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (Goldstein-UA/1955)
No color film elements known to exist. Used 35mm AnscoColor release print borrowed from the British Film Institute. 16mm black and white negative survives.
THUNDER IN CAROLINA (Howco/1962)
As with “Apache Rifles,” picture and sound track were a jumbled mess. Technician at VCI eventually matched everything up. (Guess I owe three steak dinners.)
AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM
There are movies which Kit Parker Films owns rights but cannot find suitable elements. Maybe you can help!
“The Black Pirates” (Salvador-Lippert/1954) Original AnscoColor negative missing. Duplicate negative with Spanish main and end titles survives, but was damaged by improper storage.
“God’s Country” (Lippert/1946)
Original Cinecolor nitrate negative decomposed in the 1960s. 35mm and 16mm black and white duplicate negative and sound track survive.
“Highway 13” (Lippert/1948)
Not really missing, but we had to use the 16mm negative which was less than optimal. I was told not to bother because the whole movie took less than 3 days to produce but, hey, it’s a mini-masterpiece!
“Rawhide Trail” (Terry and Lyon-Allied Artists/1958)
Nothing at all. The Allied Artists library was split between Warner Bros. and Paramount years ago, but this independent production was not among them.
“Mr. District Attorney in the Carter Case” (Republic/1941)
Nitrate negative decomposed. Not released to television so no duplicate negatives produced.
“The Incredible Face of Dr. B”
and “House of Frights”
Mexican films from 1963 that were also released in English language versions. Although the Spanish negatives survive, the English versions apparently do not.
“Let’s Live Again” (Seltzer-Fox/1948)
Only a mediocre 16mm negative and print survive.
You see it every day on television. Scratches, splices, specs, and hairs added by computer to reenacted scenes in order to make them appear “old.” They do it to vintage film, and pre-HD video tape as well. I watched a story about NASA on network TV that used video tape from the “ancient” 1980s, and they even “antiqued” it.
I’ve spent over 40 years trying to take away scratches. Whatever happened to adding “archive footage” in small letters at the bottom of the screen instead of defacing the image?
Enough grousing. In my business it is a constant chore finding suitable film material to make our DVD’s look good.
Here is a brief primer on what we look for in film materials to make our DVD’s look good.
The basic principal of film is positives are made from negatives, and negatives from positives.
1st choice for producing digital masters –
35mm Camera Negative (“EK”) – The film that actually went through the camera. Best and sharpest element to work with.
2nd choice –
35mm Fine Grain: A positive copy made from the camera negative. Grain and contrast are kept low because each successive generation (the duplicate negative and subsequent prints as described below) add both grain and contrast.
3rd choice –
35mm Duplicate Negative: A “dupe negative” is the source of manufacturing release prints.
4th choice –
35mm Print: A release print as shown in theatres.
5th choice –
16mm Duplicate Negative: Before digital, this element was used to manufacture prints for television stations, and non-theatrical exhibitors such as colleges and libraries.
6th and last choice –
16mm print. Although on rare occasions I’ve found 16mm prints struck off the 35mm camera negative, or dupe negative, normally 16mm prints are at least 4 generations from the camera negative, with expected result…loss of clarity. I use 16mm material only after we’ve searched the world for good 35mm elements.
There are many thousands of cans of films in my collection going back to 1923 stored at the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Academy Film Archive (part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Both institutions offer state of the art facilities with carefully monitored cold temperature and low humidity vaults. Both institutions are dedicated to preserving our motion picture heritage, and are a pleasure to work with.
Once the best film material is selected, it is retrieved from the vault and let stand for a day or two to be brought up to room temperature. Then it is sent to the lab for digitization. The subsequent digital master is sent to VCI Entertainment where imperfections are minimized as best as possible using special computer programs…or sometimes frame by frame (by a very patient technician.) If the final output is to be a DVD, special features (the fun part) and menus are added.
BTW, while distributing the Warner Bros. classics library on film, I discovered some prints of Clint Eastwood movies struck from the original camera negatives. Clint came to my office to discuss using some of my footage for his documentary about Carmel, California, “Don’t Pave Main Street,” and during our conversation (he made it clear he was not interested in reminiscing about his work before “Rawhide”!), and I mentioned the EK’s, which were subsequently turned over to him.
(Photo of actual decomposed film courtesy NFSA)