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!"