Monday, September 14, 2009

Richard Boone, A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land

A review by Richard Moore (another member of the OWLHOOT amateur press association gang). Thanks Richard!

Richard Boone, A Knight without Armor in a Savage Land By David Rothel (Empire 2000)

I have read quite a few Hollywood biographies/appreciations lately of western actors and the two best were by David Rothel. In addition to this book, there was his Those Great Cowboy Sidekicks. Rothel starts with “Milestones and Minutiae in a Man’s Life” that presents the basic facts in detail but organized in a Q&A format. Chapter Two consists of interviews with Boone’s sister, his widow and his son. The questions are respectful but not fan-boyish. For example, he asks the son about his father’s drinking, which grew worse as he got older.

The next section consists of interviews with people who worked with Boone including the obvious (Johnny Western and Andrew McLaglen) to a host of actors who were in Boone’s acting classes or played supporting roles on Have Gun Will Travel. These included Peggy Stewart, Harry Carey Jr., Peggy Webber (who met him while both worked on radio’s Dragnet), Robert Fuller, Bruce Gordon, Peter Breck, John Mitchum, Bethel Leslie, Harry Morgan and others.

Carey, Stewart, Western and McLaglen are excellent interviews, but oddly enough, Morgan who may have known Boone best is disappointing. He did two HGWT episodes but couldn’t remember either nor a movie he did with Boone. There is a touching handwritten note Morgan sent Boone when he knew his old pal was desperately ill. Accompanying a photo taken of Morgan, Boone and Milburn Stone at a party in the 1970s, is says, in part: “I miss you Goddammit! I wish… we could work together again and have a few laughs. In my whole life the times working with you have been the most satisfying and the best and most fun in the deepest sense. Love Harry.”

On the drinking, Carey says it never interfered with the work on HGWT. He never saw Boone blow a line. Others say the same thing. I recently watched one of Boone’s last movies Winter Kills with John Huston, Jeff Bridges Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach and someone on the commentary track says that Boone was completely smashed every day on the set but when he was in a scene and the camera went on, he delivered the goods. Carey met Boone in 1953 when he played his son in the movie Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef with Gilbert Roland, Robert Wagner and Terry Moore and later did many HGWT episodes and the Wayne movie Big Jake. Carey summed Boone up well. “Dick had a powerful personality, overwhelming personality. He had probably the most - how can I put it - exquisite sense of humor I have ever seen. He just liked to laugh at things; he laughed at life, but he wasn’t a total renegade or anything. He just got a kick out of people and situations… I never met a guy like him before. He was a fascinating guy and physically very powerful. He’d been a boxer in the Navy and you wouldn’t want to tangle with him. He knew exactly where he wanted to go and what he was doing.” Carey attended some of Boone’s acting classes and wished he had gone more often. (Others attending included James Whitmore, Robert Fuller, Shelley Winters, and others).

The balance of the book is a detailed listing of all of Boone’s work and description of each of his films, roles on television anthology series, and each of his own series. There are several that I would love to view if the ever expanding world of DVDs catches up to them. There is a 1968 movie Kona Coast, filmed in Hawaii in the decade Boone lived there, that is based on a John D. Macdonald story and costars Vera Miles and Joan Blondell. Another is a United States Steel Hour episode called “Little Tin Drum” from 1959 that co-starred Fritz Weaver and Gene Hackman where Hackman and Boone played hospital patients. There is also a Playhouse 90 episode from 1960 called “Tomorrow” which is based on a William Faulkner story with a script by Horton Foote. It costarred Kim Stanley, Chill Wills, Beulah Bondi, Arthur Hunnicutt, Andrew Prine and Charles Bickford. Now that’s quite a cast and it’s hard to beat Horton Foote scripting from a William Faulkner story! Maybe one day we’ll get to see it on DVD.

It’s a fine book and I recommend it to anyone interested in Boone’s career or more broadly on acting (and especially series television) in the 1950s and 1960s.
--Richard Moore


Drake said...

Boone was one of the best actors in Film or TV. He moved here to St. Augustine in the 70's and taught acting at Flagler College. I used to ride my bike by his house but never got to see him.
I need to read this book.

Evan Lewis said...

I probably would have camped out in front of his house until the cops chased me away. I always thought him the best of the cowboy actors.

Anonymous said...

A campfire legend. Thanks, Richard.

Thanks Dave. Still soaking this stuff up.