Wild, Wild Westerns

In the early days of Hollywood, for studios like Universal Westerns were the easiest films to make. They required very few props and made use of the wide-open spaces available in the area. Even the smallest studio, sometimes an empty space between two buildings known as a lot, could easily film outside. It was a cheap and effective way to involve audiences in wild chase scenes involving pure heroes like the white clad Tom Mix going after dastardly villains. One time a theater was showing a Western, when the film suddenly broke right at the climatic scene. An emotional audience member yelled out," Hurry up and fix it before they get away!" The master of the Western was John Ford, who felt that the genre was the purest form of movie making. In 1956, he and John Wayne went to their regular spot the Monument Valley in Utah to make the powerful chase movie The Searchers. Location shooting allowed the two old friends to relax by camping out, playing cards and avoiding contact with the studio executives that Ford despised. The only problem was unpredictable Utah climate could delay filming. Ford turned to a local Navajo Medicine Man. "Sir I will pay one hundred dollars if you can accurately predict the weather." The Shaman shut his eyes went into a trance and said,"Rain!" Sure enough it did rain. The grateful director asked him to repeat his efforts the next day. "Mmm, cloudy!" Again success. But on the third day when asked the Medicine Man shook his head sadly and said,"Can not tell weather today" Ford's pipe fell out of his mouth." Really. Why is that?" The Medicine Man replied," Transistor radio broke!" Ford's relationship with the Navajo in Utah was usually cooperative. He would offer them parts in films and generally provide a welcome boon to a depressed economy. In 1948, while filming another Wayne Western called Fort Apache, he hired two locals to create smoke signals. It took several hours but then finally the technicians finished the task. As the smoke arose from the ground the assembled cast and crew watched in awe. The silence was broken when one of the Navajo Extra's stated,"Wow, I wish I'd said that!"