The following interview with Rory Patricia Calhoun took place in July 2004. It was conducted via email by Tony, webmaster of Hollywood Cult Movies. This Interview page made its debut at Hollywood Cult Movies on July 30th 2004.
Tony: For the benefit of visitors to the website can we establish that you are Rory Patricia Calhoun, Rory's youngest daughter & only child to Rory's second wife Sue Rhodes?
Rory: Yes. I have 3 sisters on my dad's side: Cindy, Tami, and Lorri.
Tony: As I understand it, you were born in the early 1970's & were not around to experience your Dad's early career, but I am sure he had lots of stories to tell, do you have a favorite you would like to share with us?
Rory: I was born in 1971, and even my older sisters were very little or not yet born when some of the interesting stuff happened. My dad lived an unusual life and was full of stories to share, if you only knew the right questions to ask. Sometimes I'd hear him mention something fascinating, like that he played polo in Argentina for Juan Peron, and I'd say, "You never told me that!" He'd say, "You never asked." Of course, one could not be absolutely sure the story was entirely accurate, since my father's favorite expression was, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
Tony: I believe your Dad had an interesting nickname, what was it & how did it come about ?
Rory: He was usually called "Smoke" (vs. Smoky) by friends and family, though not sure why. Either because of the blue-gray colour of his eyes, or because he tended to disappear like a puff of smoke when you turned your back. Take your pick, even my dad couldn't tell me which one it was.
Tony: According to some internet sources, Rory was discovered by actor Alan Ladd while riding a horse in a Los Angeles park. How much truth is there in this tale? Did your Dad & Alan become good friends?
Rory: My mom had to help me out with this one. She said, "Smoke had a great deal of respect for Alan Ladd, his wife Sue Carol Ladd, and their family, and was a guest at their home on occasion. He was handled by Alma Shedd, who was an agent at the Sue Carol Agency, but he went along with the discovery story because that was what you did in those days. He actually started out hanging around outside the studio gates and waiting for work as an extra. At some point they'd be doing a crowd scene and someone would come outside the gates, look at the throng, say, 'You! You! and You!' and the chosen ones would go inside for a day's work. Among the crowd of hopeful actors there were always talent scouts. Smoke got to know one of them who put him under contract and then, as Smoke got more and more of this daywork, took the contract to Sue Carol. Sue bought the contract, turned him over to Alma Shedd and she, in turn, got him a contract with Fox. A lot of those early walk-ons and crowd scenes were at MGM."
Tony: In his early career (during the 1940's) Rory made a number of uncredited film appearances.Which film would go down as being his first starring role?
Rory: He was first visible (and credited) in "Sunday Dinner For a Soldier", "The Great John L", and "The Bullfighter" with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. "With A Song In My Heart" (with Susan Hayward) was an early starring role. "The Red House" with Edward G. Robinson was another early role, a good supporting part but not actually a starring one. He always said that Eddie was a terrific help to him on that set, coaching him, giving him tips.
Tony: Rory worked with some of Hollywood's greatest actors, which actors became his close friends?
Rory: Guy Madison, Richard Egan (my godfather), Robert Wagner, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Robert Mitchum, Jimmy Durante, Caesar Romero, John Russell, James Philbrook, Bob Wilkie, Johnny Sands, Lucille Ball, Virginia Grey, Desi Arnaz.
Tony:Your Dad worked with Hollywood Icon Marilyn Monroe on 2 occasions, "How To Marry A Millionaire" (1953) & "River Of No Return" (1954). Did he ever talk about what it was like working with Marilyn?
Rory: They were both contract players at Fox. Their first movie together was "Ticket To Tomahawk". Somebody on the picture was giving her a hard time (coming on to her) and she came to my dad for help. He was very fond of Marilyn, and said she was sweet, generous, and down-to-earth. On the set of "River of No Return" he caught pneumonia and she was the only person who would come near him. She'd sit in his cabin and tend him through the fever. He maintained that they were good friends but never lovers. For a long time she dated a close friend of his, Johnny Sands.
Tony: Rory's male co-star on "River Of No Return" (1954) was Robert Mitchum. Did your Dad develop a close friendship with Mitchum during filming? And did he have any interesting stories to tell about the making of the film?
Rory: Yes, they were friends, and they got up to some mischief during filming. There are a few vaguely sordid tales ...
I remember hearing that Mitchum was about as tough as they came, and my dad had a pretty good sparring record of his own, and they were both big guys. My dad said that they went into a bar for a drink, and some locals wanted to pick a fight to see if the actors were really as tough as they pretended to be onscreen. A fight erupted and, as my Dad told it, they had a great time knocking heads together.
There was another story about Mitch and Smoke sitting out on an island in the middle of a river on a Saturday night getting drunk. It was legal to drink on the island but not on the shore, apparently!
And then there was another story, even less highbrow, about Mitch staging a party for Tommy Rettig's birthday (he was the kid in the picture), complete with a very nice-looking young prostitute from a local whorehouse as a birthday present.
Tony: Sadly, many of your Dad's early westerns are unavailable on VHS or DVD, however, only recently I was fortunate enough to catch "The Hired Gun" (1957) on television. His co-stars were Anne Francis, Vince Edwards & Chuck Connors, what a line-up of stars. I found the film to be quite enjoyable & wondered how many of these early westerns you have been able to see?
Rory: When I was younger I think that there were more films unearthed from studio vaults and aired, but I really wasn't too interested in watching my dad's day job on TV. I only recently saw "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain" with Susan Hayward. I've seen most of the ones that are currently available on video, but I wish the studios would release more of their old films to the public. I'd especially like to see "Ain't Misbehavin'" with Piper Laurie and Mamie Van Doren, because I've seen a lot of stills from the movie that look fun.
Tony: What was the first film you saw that your father starred in?
Rory: I don't remember. I'd always seen him on TV growing up, whether on TV shows or in movies. The first time I remember seeing him in a movie theatre was the premiere of "Motel Hell."
Tony: Have you seen all of your father's films & do you have a favorite?
Rory: My dad did about 80 films, and I've only seen a handful. I don't know if I have a favorite movie, but I do recall some favorite moments. There was a wonderful shot in "Way of a Gaucho" where he was standing on the back of a horse, looking out over the Pampas. I also really enjoyed seeing him in "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain", since it was a different character than the type he often played.
Tony: What would be regarded as Rory's most famous western & most famous non-western & why?
Rory: For western, I guess "The Texan" for TV and "River of No Return" for cinema. For non-western, it seems that "Motel Hell" is a cult favorite. "How To Marry a Millionaire". In Europe "Capitol" was also very popular. Why? Who knows. Probably because they aired the most.
Tony: From 1958-1960 Rory starred as Bill Longley in the TV western series "The Texan". Would this TV series be regarded as his signature role? How did the series come about & is there any interesting trivia related to the series that you can think of?
Rory: My dad and his partner, Vic Orsatti, produced the series in conjunction with Desilu, which was owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. It ran for three years on CBS. I've only seen a couple of episodes, but what I remember most was "Domino", the gorgeous black and white stallion my dad rode. He had the most incredible markings -- like lightning bolts -- and clear blue eyes.
"The Texan" was filmed in black and white and was considered one of the best examples of that medium for its wonderful cinematography. The DP on the show was a man called Paul Ivano (who had been Rudolph Valentino's favorite cameraman) and the series was noted for the crispness of its black and white images. Apparently Paul was the one to suggest using a black and white horse and having my dad's costume be black and white to enhance the effect.
"The Texan" was an anthology, just as "Gunsmoke" was after it. My dad wrote and directed several of the 79 episodes and sometimes appeared only at the beginning and end, handing the spotlight over to a guest star. He had all the scripts bound in black leather with gold lettering, but when I was a kid our cat sharpened her claws on them and quite a few are badly damaged. I thought my dad was going to kill that cat -- and now that I'm an adult and realize the trouble he went to, I can't believe he didn't!
Tony: Rory was famous for wearing that trademark black cowboy hat, is the hat still out there somewhere, who has it now?
Rory: I don't think there was one hat, but my mom has one of his black ones, and it looks like the one he wore in "The Texan".
Tony: Your father joined the Italian film craze of the 1960's when he starred in "The Colossus Of Rhodes" (1961), arguably one of the best sword & sandal spectacles ever. How did this Italian venture come about? And did he ever talk about working with the great Italian Director Sergio Leone?
Rory: Again, had to get my mom's input on this one. She told me, "He wasn't all that fond of Sergio Leone. He apparently had trouble collecting his paycheck. Indeed, he turned down another picture with Leone because of the aggravation. I think that was 'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly', or one of those other spaghetti westerns that made Clint Eastwood famous." All I remember hearing about the movie was that the costumes (which I loved to tease him about) required the make-up people to cover up his two arm tattoos!
Tony: During your youth who were some of the famous celebrities that came to visit the Calhoun household?
Rory: The friends that I mentioned above, and often whomever he was working with at the time. Hollywood is really a pretty small circle (or was back then) so at some point you run into just about everyone.
Tony: Did you get a chance to visit any of your Dad's film sets? If so which one's & what was the experience like?
Rory: I went to most of the sets, and got plopped in the background scenery here and there. It's not terribly exciting to hang out on a set, unless you're interested in the technical aspects of setting up and filming a shot. There's a lot of sitting around, refilming the scene from various angles, etc. But I liked watching it for a few takes, and then I'd just go hang out in the dressing room or trailer. People might be surprised at the technical skills required of film actors. You have to know how to hit your "mark", meaning that if you walk into a scene you have to stop at exactly the right spot so that you're in focus, without looking down at the floor to see where the tape is. And you have to be able to stop and start in the middle of emotional scenes. It's tougher than it looks!
And, in my totally unbiased opinion, my dad was a much better actor than he sometimes got credit for. He could always do it exactly the same in the close-ups -- expressions, lines, movements -- as he did it in the master. And then he could do it exactly the same for the reaction shots and the other guys' close-ups and so on. My mom told me film crews often would applaud him after a close-up because he always got it right the first time. He rarely blew a line and he wasn't amused by people who did. He wanted to get it done, get it done right, and get home.
Tony: In the 1980 cult horror comedy "Motel Hell", Rory played a small-town farmer who kidnaps unsuspecting travelers. You would have been quite young at the time but did you get to visit this set or where you kept away due to the nature of the film?
Rory: I visited the set quite often since it was made near LA (Moorpark mostly), but not during gruesome scenes. I was actually in a church scene with Wolfman Jack, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. When we went to the premiere and my dad got cut with the chainsaw I had to leave the theatre -- I remember getting a drink at the water fountain. I knew it wasn't real, of course, but it's still hard to see your dad "get hurt" when you're little.
Tony: Nancy Parson's who later went on to star as the hard-as-nails gym teacher in the teen comedy "Porky's" played your Dad's sister in "Motel Hell". Did your Dad ever talk about what it was like working with her & did you ever get to meet her?
Rory: Yes, I met Nancy, and she was delightful. My recollection of their working together was that she was very funny, talented, and professional. Motel Hell was a very friendly, happy company, and we had a lot of the people who worked on it over to our house.
Tony: Rory played Judge Judson Tyler in the popular TV series "Capitol" (1982 - 1987), how did this come about? And did your Dad appear in the entire run of the series?
Rory: Yes, he appeared in the entire run of the series. He had many good friends on that show -- Connie Towers and Richard Egan were already friends from before the show -- and he was close to several of the younger actors like Tonja Walker, Kimberly Hilton and Bradley Lockerman. But he wasn't fond of the soap opera genre. Years before he had turned down a role in "Dallas" because it was a soap ... then of course it became a big hit and we never let him forget it. He agreed to do "Capitol" because we nagged him into it and he needed the money. But "Capitol" was the closest experience I had with having a dad with a regular day job. He'd leave in the early morning and be home in late afternoon, with weekends off, instead of being home for months and then gone for months, or filming nights as he did for movies like "Angel."
Tony: During the 1980's Rory played modern-day cowboy Kit Carson in the cult action films "Angel" (1984) & the sequel "Avenging Angel" (1985). Did your Dad have any interesting stories to tell about his involvement in these films? Did you get the chance to meet the "Angel" girls, Donna Wilkes or Betsy Russell?
Rory: They did a lot of filming late at night, on the streets of Hollywood. I was there some, since they filmed during summer. Hollywood at 3am is an interesting place to be. I met both of the actresses, who were very sweet to me, and I remember being extremely impressed that Donna Wilkes could run at top-speed down the sidewalk in 4" stilettos!
Again, those were films my dad did to keep food on the table and all that. I think he enjoyed working on the original movie more than the sequel. He was less than thrilled with the script for "Avenging Angel" (especially the part where, at age 60, he had to pick up Betsy Russell and run up a flight of stairs with her!) and annoyed that the producer let Donna Wilkes go because she wanted (and deserved) more money.
Tony: In 1987 Rory appeared in the futuristic action flick, "Hell Comes To Frogtown" with rock n roll wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper & "Conan" star Sandahl Bergman. How did your Dad find it working with wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper & dancer Sandahl Bergman?
Rory: Rowdy Roddy was nothing like his wrestling persona. He was outgoing and smiled a lot.
Tony: Your Dad's final film was the country & western musical "Pure Country" (1992) with singer George Strait. How did this film come about? Did your Dad have a love for country & western music & who were some of his favorite singers?
Rory: He was offered the role, and accepted it. The film was devised as a showcase for George Strait and his music. Dad's part in it was quite small, which was actually a plus for him because by then his health was declining.
His favorite c&w singers were Sons of the Pioneers, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson. (I used to play guitar, and my dad got me a guitar pick from Willie when he visited his ranch for Willie's birthday party one year.) He also liked big band stuff, like Tommy Dorsey, and Elvis. I don't know how familiar he was with George Strait's work at the time, but I remember him bringing home a cassette tape and enjoying "All My Ex's Live in Texas."
Tony: Did Rory have a favorite film that he starred in? Or a favorite film that he didn't star in?
Rory: Of the films he was in I think "The Red House", "Way of a Gaucho", and "Gun Hawk" were his favorites. I know he liked the movie "Patton" with George C. Scott ..."The Godfather" ... "Casablanca". My mom says he loved "Gone With the Wind" and that he had been a friend of Clark Gable's (they used to ride motor bikes together). He liked war movies and westerns in general.
Tony: What film did Rory enjoy working on the most & what film did he enjoy working on the least?
Rory: I'm sorry to say I don't know what film my dad most enjoyed working on, and I wish I did. I'd love to be able to ask him, as I'm sure there would be interesting stories from the 50s when he sometimes made up to six films a year. From my own era, I can say that he actually enjoyed working on "Motel Hell" quite a bit because it was a goofy script with a fun cast and crew.
As far as least enjoyed, my dad wasn't much of a complainer. He subscribed to the Spencer Tracy adage, "Learn your lines and don't trip over the furniture." But I do remember that he didn't enjoy working on the soap. He particularly disliked the writing: the way he had to say the same lines --slightly different -- day after day, and the way they'd change the lines in the morning after he'd spent the previous night learning them. He felt the writers didn't seem to know how to write lines that gave actors their cue, which made them especially hard to memorize.
Tony: Like many visitors to this website, I am a fan of old westerns, so whenever I get an opportunity to watch one of Rory's movies, I do so & I enjoy them every time. Thanks for your time & effort in answering these questions. I am sure fans from around the world will enjoy reading your responses. Is there any final comment that you would like to share with us about your Dad & his movies?
Rory: Thanks for your thoughtful questions, and for letting me set the record straight on a few things. Thanks also for not asking me stuff like, "What's it like to be an actor's daughter?" I've never known how to answer that -- what else do I have to compare it to? What's it like being an electrician's daughter?? It's your dad's job -- albeit with occasional weird moments like when strangers think it's ok to take pictures of your house, go through your trash, or ask you intimate questions -- but mostly it's just what he does for a living, and that's all you know so it's normal to you.
In conclusion, Hollywood Cult Movies would like to thank Rory Patricia Calhoun for taking the time to answer our questions & provide vistors to website with some wonderful insight into her father’s Film & TV career.