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Taken between August 22 and September 21, 1956, a rare color still finds 21-year-old Elvis Presley self-assuredly filming “Love Me Tender” on location at the 20th Century Fox Ranch in Malibu Creek State Park, Calabasas, California. The 90-minute black and white sagebrush oater was originally known as “The Reno Brothers.” The title cut, an unadorned performance excepting Vito Mumolo’s acoustic guitar and light harmonies by the Ken Darby Trio, would become Presley’s fifth number one pop single. Image Credit: For Elvis CD Collectors Forum user “Mike from Holland” / Walt Disney Studios

Elvis Presley’s film debut was the modestly budgeted 1956 Civil War-set western Love Me Tender, forgotten except for its theme song repurposed as an eternal wedding ballad. A previously unpublished interview with costar James Drury, later earning TV immortality as The Virginian, takes stock of his friendship with the rock superstar and Mother Dolores Hart, who abandoned a promising six-year Hollywood career [e.g. Presley’s Loving You and King Creole] for a Connecticut monastery. Head back to part three, entitled “Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country According to Dirty Rat James Drury,” in case you’re just joining the rodeo.

The James Drury Interview, Part Four

Let’s talk about your sole movie with Elvis Presley.


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“Magnificent Seven” second-in-command gunslinger Steve McQueen [1930–1980] presciently once acknowledged, “I’ll never be as good an actor as I want to be. But I’ll be good.” Meanwhile, the King of Cool is depicted on his Bud Ekins custom-built Triumph Desert Sled motorcycle dressed in the same navy blue T-shirt as seen in the World War II Eastern Front epic “The Great Escape” filmed in 1962. Image Credit: Photofest

“I’ve always been a perfectionist and that’s a pain in the ass.” Steve McQueen: In His Own Words is a five-pound coffee table tome encompassing 450 vintage quotes and 547 black and white and color photographs. Compiled by Portrait of an American Rebel biographer Marshall Terrill, In His Own Words was disseminated on the 40th anniversary of the King of Cool’s mesothelioma-triggered death. Sip some hot chocolate as Terrill handily assembles the nuts and bolts of McQueen’s surly moods, romantic rendezvous, politics, death bed confessions, and encounters with paparazzi, Ronald Reagan, Natalie Wood, Ali MacGraw, and fantastical cast-iron coffins.

The Marshall Terrill Interview

I was blindsided to discover that the typically suspicious, reticent Steve McQueen tasked business manager Bill Maher with reaching out to Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin about collaborating on an autobiography.


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“The Office:” Hilariously endearing Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager Michael Scott [Steve Carell] and disciplined, albeit gullible Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight K. Schrute [Rainn Wilson] greet customers entering the paper company’s top-selling Scranton branch. Illustration by Erikas Chesonis / INPRNT

Pen-pusher Andy Greene holds court on debut tome ‘The Office:’ The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s — An Oral History, issued in 2020 by Dutton. A senior writer at Rolling Stone by trade, Greene’s voluminous interview examines the oddball paper company whose resurgence on Netflix shows no signs of abating and the parent whose “tenaciousness was my guiding light during the many setbacks I faced while researching the book.”

The Andy Greene Interview

How did you emerge as a senior writer at Rolling Stone?

I’m from Cleveland, and I worked at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for my senior project in high school in 2000 and then got hired that summer as a human resources assistant. In subsequent college breaks, I worked all over the museum, but mainly in curatorial. I became very close to curator Howard Kramer. It was head curator James “Jim” Henke, who used to work at Rolling Stone, who got me a six-month internship with the magazine straight out of college in 2004. …


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Nefarious gold miner Billy Hammond [James Drury] and guileless bride-to-be Elsa Knudsen [Mariette Hartley] on location in the Santa Monica Mountains for “Ride the High Country,” Sam Peckinpah’s second film behind the camera following the little-seen “Deadly Companions.” Shot on a tight 26-day budget where soap suds were substituted for snow, the elegiac western served as Randolph Scott’s swansong and Joel McCrea’s last great role. Earning the top honor at Cannes, “Ride the High Country” was regrettably treated apathetically in the USA and lost money upon its May 9, 1962, issue. The matter was belatedly rectified with its 1992 preservation in the National Film Registry housed within the Library of Congress, although Peckinpah, Scott, and McCrea had sadly already passed away. Image Credit: screengrab / Cinematographer Lucien Ballard / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / IMDB

Cowboy James Drury, a mainstay of 1960s television as the titular hero of NBC’s The Virginian, participated in another legendary project — albeit as the villain in the 1962 western Ride the High Country. A previously unexcavated interview finds Drury reminiscing on nonconformist director Sam Peckinpah, charming scene stealer Warren Oates, the principled Joel McCrea, and avoiding Sunday punches.

The James Drury Interview, Part Three

What is your most critically acclaimed film?

I was freelancing and got the major role of Billy Hammond in MGM’s Ride the High Country [1962], directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. It became a classic western that has always remained in circulation. People think the world of it. Right after that I started The Virginian and got to be the hero [television’s debut 90-minute western was transmitted for an awe-inspiring 249 episodes between 1962 and 1971]. I had no time for any other projects until the late ’60s when I did an occasional movie for television and several theatrical releases, but nothing ever of the caliber of Ride the High Country. …


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Irresistible man about town Rick Nelson in Los Angeles circa 1983. Image Credit: The Estate of Rick Nelson

Rick Nelson was at loose ends in 1983. A one-off album for Capitol two years earlier, Playing to Win, became the future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alum’s final LP of original material issued during his lifetime. Three singles for the major label were further commercial disappointments, including the last — a November 1982 pairing of the non-LP “Give ’Em My Number” b/w “No Fair Falling in Love.” Since his costly, drawn out divorce from actress-painter Kris Harmon, Nelson was forced to hit the road for a dizzying array of one-nighters that emphasized his legendary 1957–1963 rockabilly and ballad material in lieu of his later trend-setting country rock catalog with the Stone Canyon Band, aside from the autobiographical “Garden Party.” As 1985 wrapped up Nelson was on the cusp of a comeback with a Curb Records contact that just needed his final signature and also intended to reduce his tour dates by committing to another television series. …


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Image Credit: AF Archive / Alamy / ABC Photo Archives

“Know your lines and show up on time.” In spite of a dreadful audition for director Arnold Laven on the set of the Sam Peckinpah scripted Glory Guys, Linda Evans persisted and won her breakout role as Audra Barkley on ABC’s The Big Valley. Greenlit in the wake of Bonanza’s ratings domination on a rival network, the 1965–1969 family western costarred future Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors, four-time Oscar nominee Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, and Peter Breck. The INSP TV channel screens episodes daily. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Evans, who made a comeback as voice of reason Krystle Carrington on the ’80s soap staple Dynasty, permits an exclusive reminiscence coinciding with the 55th anniversary of Big Valley’s debut. …


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“Wedding Bells in Mayberry — Andy Takes a Bride:” Sheriff Andy Taylor [Andy Griffith] finally ties the knot with fiery elementary school teacher Helen Crump [Aneta Corsaut], albeit with a sidesplitting monkey wrench as a best man — former deputy Barney Fife [Don Knotts]. The shot was used for the cover of the July 28, 1968, “All Florida TV” special Sunday issue of The Pensacola News-Journal and likely many other newspapers plugging the fall debut of CBS’s “Mayberry R.F.D.” starring Ken Berry and former “Andy Griffith Show” regulars Frances Bavier, George Lindsey, Jack Dodson, and Paul Hartman in Griffith’s old time slot. “Andy and Helen Get Married” became one of the highest rated TV episodes of the 1960s. Image Credit: Mayberry Mania Memorabilia! / Flickr / CBS Photo Archive

“Fans stream tens of billions of minutes of Andy Griffith Show episodes every year,” asserts Daniel de Visé. “What other black-and-white TV show has that kind of draw?” A panoramic interview with the Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show biographer coincides with the 60th anniversary of the beloved never-never land Southern comedy. The former Washington Post journalist uncovers Griffith and Knotts’ fame, insecurities, obsessions, regrets, widows Cindi Knight and Francey Yarborough, Aneta Corsaut, manager Dick Linke’s dismissal, temporary Barney Fife replacement Warren Ferguson [Jack Burns], Jim Nabors, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., George Lindsey’s prickly relationship with Griffith, Mayberry R.F.D., …


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Sweatband-sporting, acoustic guitar-wielding Lew DeWitt and wife Judy Wells survey their scenic 50-acre farm in Waynesboro, Virginia, in an outtake from the 1984 cover shoot for the earthy singer-songwriter’s debut solo album “Here to Stay.” Named after Barney Fife’s steady girl, a friend gave Thelma Lou the part-Doberman dog to the couple when she was a couple of months old. Thelma Lou survived the founding Statler Brother’s 1990 death from Crohn’s disease by four years. Photo courtesy of Judy Wells DeWitt

“Lew DeWitt was a very humble man who made it big and never understood how or why.” At last the original Statler Brother’s widow Judy Wells breaks her silence to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Famer’s passing from the tortuous Crohn’s disease at age 52 on August 15, 1990. The haunting high tenor-voiced guitarist wrote “Flowers on the Wall,” whose combined YouTube views exceed 12 million. He shared a stage with Johnny Cash for eight years, was covered by Waylon Jennings [“I Tremble for You”],” and loved B-westerns wholeheartedly. Wells is a former newspaper columnist and school superintendent’s secretary whose resilience and sense of humor kept DeWitt contented for the final 11 years of his existence. An undemanding country girl from Virginia, Wells was not enamored with music. …


Inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the original Statler Brother’s quartet distributed 32 of his compositions between 1965 and 1982 including the unintended COVID-19 isolation anthem “Flowers on the Wall”

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Lew DeWitt, Hofner guitar pickin’ man, circa March 1968. Five of the songwriter’s tunes — “Flowers on the Wall,” “So This Is Love,” “Pictures,” “Thank You World,” and “The Movies” — were Top 40 C&W hits. “Flowers on the Wall,” one of the all-time jauntiest songs about depression, launched the Statler Brothers’ five-decade career in 1965. Selected by Johnny Cash to join his stage show did not hurt, either. DeWitt and the Man in Black actually collaborated on “I Tremble for You,” first distributed on Waylon Jennings’ RCA Victor LP “Love of the Common People” in August 1967. Cash also performed “The Ten Commandments” on 1969’s gospel concept LP “The Holy Land” and “The Junkie’s Prayer” on his popular ABC variety series in 1971. Photography by Bill Alwood / Lew DeWitt’s MySpace page
  1. Flowers on the Wall” [No. 4 POP, No. 2 C&W, No. 38 UK June 1965, Flowers on the Wall, re-recorded for the July 1975 Mercury compilation The Best of the Statler Brothers]
  2. I’m Not Quite Through Crying” [Flowers on the Wall, March 1966]
  3. Quite a Long, Long Time” [Flowers on the Wall, March 1966; a new version is on Short Stories, July 1977]
  4. Is That What You’d Have Me Do?” [B-side of “The Right One,” May 1966, on 1973’s Do You Love Me Tonight and Other Favorites, issued by Columbia’s budget label Harmony Records]
  5. “Leaves” [Lew DeWitt / Kent Westberry, no details known except copyright registered July 28…


The “East Bound and Down” wild man penned 323 confirmed compositions never compiled until now

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Jerry Reed guested on “The Marty Robbins Spotlight,” a syndicated, 24-episode TV show hosted by the “El Paso” troubadour in Nashville, during the summer of 1977 as Reed’s third film “Smokey and the Bandit” challenged “Star Wars” as the most unexpected blockbuster of the year. Disney illustrator Pete Emslie based his amusing, dead-on caricature on that Robbins appearance. Image Credit: Caricature by Pete Emslie / Jerry Reed Fanclub [Facebook]

Untamed, funky Nashville guitarist Jerry Reed is renowned for “Amos Moses,” “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “Lord, Mr. Ford,” “She Got the Goldmine [I Got the Shaft],” and “The Bird.” For the first time, 323 confirmed Reed compositions spanning his ill-fated 1955 debut on Capitol until his 2008 passing from emphysema are documented chronologically. RCA Victor albums, singles, Billboard chart positions, and YouTube streaming links provide enhancement. Reed patiently waited his turn at being a star — roughly 15 years — as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Brenda Lee, Gene Vincent, and Porter Wagoner gave him precious exposure until humor-laced singles distributed under his own name crashed deejay playlists. Rarely collaborating — excepting Atkins instrumentals and “East Bound and Down’s” Dick Feller — 23 of the posthumous Country Music Hall of Famer’s self-penned tunes were Top 30 hits on either the country or pop charts. …

About

Jeremy Roberts

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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