Awhile ago plus, when I was riding Warner Bros.’ strange range, I visited the office of the head of the story department, chuck-full of idees for Sweet Toes sagas: Sugarfoot’s on the lam from the bad guys. He joins a rodeo and gets Slim Pickens to show him the ropes of rodeo clowning and how to lay-on the make-up real thick-like, so as not to be spotted should the baddies show up. (Stole that idee from Jimmy Stewart in “The Greatest Show on Earth”.)
Here are some more jim-crack wrinkles I tossed at him: Sugarfoot meets the Sundance Kid (not to be confused with Sugarfoot’s nemesis, The Canary Kid). Sugarfoot meets Jeremiah ‘Liver-Eating’ Johnson. (“No thanks, Jerry,” says Sugar. “I’m a vegetarian.”) Sugarfoot meets Levi Strauss. (Good part for Gene Hackman.) Dogies, I was all atwitter, idees and sweat pouring out in equal measure. “Hutch,” said the story feller, “We’re ‘excited’ by your novel notions, and we can see you’re ‘excited’ as well. Now, settle down. Coffee? Good. Sugar? Of course. Cream? Good. That’ll be 25¢. Now, Hutch, we appreciate your input, but here’s what we have in mind for your next episode.” And he rattled off a storyline. “Great!” I said. “And we thought it was great when we saw it on TV’s oater theatre—Buck Jones, 1936! Our meeting hit an impasse. He looked at his watch. “Hutch. I have a 3 o’clock appointment with my shrink. Just leave your cup and saucer with my secretary.” Hmmmm! Sugarfoot meets Levi Strauss? Why not? We’ll phone David Letterman’s company, Worldwide Pants.
I was once invited to make an appearance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. ‘Twas cult flick director Monte Hellman week. He couldn’t make it for a screening of his ‘65 western “The Shooting”. A mint print was projected onto a mammoth screen. Cameraman Greg Sandor perfectly captured the mysterious beauty of prehistoric rock formations and the gorgeous gorges of Kanab, UT, territory. He made our 60 grand budget look like a million bucks. Our only set was the remnants of a western street built for “Sergeants Three”, a rather feeble “remake” of my favorite flick, “Gunga Din”. The End.
I made it down the aisle for Q and A. I realized I was a-mid a gathering of serious film buffs. Lots of long hair and beards. I broke the ice. “Howdy, all you cine-easts. I’m Hutch. I’m a cine-west.” A young guy raised his hand, asked me to explain the weird ending. “Life is a journey from A to B—‘The Shooting’ folks have reached B. Sun beating down out in the middle of nowhere, no food, no water, no horses. Everybody dies. They stagger off toward the mountains, swallowed by the dust. Surreal, as they say. Reminds me of ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ Mary Astor shoots Jerome Cowan. He crashes backwards thru a fence and down a hill, disappearing into the shroud of eternity.” I coulda gone on and on, but the audience was disappearing up the aisles.
A gent at TVLand sent me a copy of their book, TVLAND LEGENDS, with two TV legends, Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney, on the cover of this megatome. I wrote a thankee to said gent. Told him Babs is a child of TV. Loves whiling away the hours leafing down memory lane. Told him it makes a terrific coffee table book. Fact, it’s so big that all it needs are four legs and it’d be a coffee table.
I’m in the book. Who ain’t? Lookee here! A two-page tin type photo spread. “The Westerners”. 25 ornery TV cowpokes assembled in the now defunct Warner Bros. “Lawman” saloon, site of dust-ups and split-lip decisions. This gaggle of gunslingers was lensed by genius-ish Annie Leibovitz in ‘95 for VANITY FAIR. Annie and crew shot away at us most of a balmy afternoon to get the picture. Ol’ Jack ‘Time is Money’ Warner couldn’t have imagined that in his wildest nightmare—R.I.P. Colonel. By daze end we were feeling no pain, fortified by catered chow, ceegars and hair of the dog. Happy hours! Yukon King makes an unbilled cameo appearance, lying faithfully beside his master, Dick “Sgt. Preston” Simmons. David “Kung Fu” Carradine, sporting a nifty concho belt, is silhouetted, casually holding the swinging doors open with spreading arms, lending a spiritual feel to the proceedings. Every hombre follows Annie’s directions. Every buckaroo looks dead center into her camera’s eye. Except! Two horn-swogglers—Johnny “Rifleman” Crawford and Sugarfoot, shuckin’ and jivin’, laffin’ and scratchin’ next to Carradine. We’re talkin’ music. Johnny has the best dad-burned dance band in the land. Great for Sugarfoot stompin’.
Babs was utterly pissed. “Why? Why!” “Aw, Snookums, long day, Johnny and I were plum posed out.” “Hah! The others weren’t. Yukon King wasn’t. He’s smarter than you galoots!” “Yeah, honey, but we showed that life goes on—or something…” Our good pard Besty Palmer came to our rescue. “Babs, simmer down, sister—listen up: Down front, men’s 8x10’s in the lens—way back, two guys playin’—Wonder what they’re sayin’—Hmmmm!”