Part 1 of 3. An in-depth look at the movie “Flaming Star”
The film almost didn't happen. It was based on a novel written by Clair Huffaker that was published in 1958. Pre-publication, the publisher first announced the title as “The Brothers of Broken Lance.” They also announced that Fox had bought the movie rights to the novel, going so far as to say that Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra would play the Burton brothers. The title changed to “The Brothers of Flaming Arrow” and filming was to start in June of 1958. Negotiations with the actors broke down and the film, by then named “Flaming Lance,” was put on hold until June of 1960, when it was announced that Elvis Presley would play the lead role of Pacer Burton.
By August of 1960 another title change took the film from “Flaming Lance” to “Flaming Heart,” which became “Black Heart” and then “Black Star.” Elvis recorded the title song “Black Star” before the final title change to “Flaming Star” and then had to re-record the title song to fit the final change.
Clair Huffaker had written for the TV series “Lawman”, “Rawhide” and “Bonanza;” however, adapting his novel “Flaming Star” was his first attempt at a screenplay. The studio teamed him with seasoned veteran Nunnally Johnson to write for this film. Mr. Huffaker went on to write for the 1962 film “The Commancheros”, for which he received a Western Heritage Award. He also wrote for the films “The War Wagon” and “Flap” among others.
Nunnally Johnson received four Academy Award nominations for his writing skills in the films “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Pied Piper,” “The World of Henry Orient” and “Holy Matrimony.” He also produced and directed, with critical acclaim, such films as “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” “How To Marry a Millionaire,” and “The Three Faces of Eve.”
The producer was David Weisbart, who had also produced Elvis's first film “Love Me Tender.”. After “Flaming Star,” he produced the Elvis films “Follow That Dream” and “Kid Galahad.” Other films Mr. Weisbart produced were “Rebel Without a Cause,” “April Love,” “Goodbye Charlie” and “Valley of the Dolls.” He also worked as a film editor on such films as “The Glass Menagerie,” “Mildred Pierce” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He was nominated for an Academy Award for his editing work in the 1949 film “Johnny Belinda.”
Mr. Weisbart brought in Don Siegel as the director. Mr. Siegel was educated at Cambridge and trained at the London Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as an actor. He didn't do well as a performer and turned to directing in the 1930s. He first worked on montage sequences for Warner Brothers. He then worked on films such as “Riot In Cell Block 11,” “Baby Face Nelson,” and the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Later, he teamed with Clint Eastwood on the films “Two Mules For Sister Sara,” “Dirty Harry,” “The Beguiled” and “Escape From Alcatraz.”
Flaming Star, Part 2 of 3. An in-depth look at the movie “Flaming Star”
Elvis's sixth movie was “Flaming Star.” He reported for pre-production work on August 1, 1960 and began two weeks of riding lessons to increase his riding skills. He was thrown once while practicing, but wasn't hurt. Elvis would own and enjoy riding horses for the rest of his life.
On August 4, 1960 blue-eyed Elvis was fitted for brown contact lenses for his role as Pacer Burton, a character who was Caucasion, half Native American. Ultimately, he not the use them in the role.
On August 16, 1960 principle photography began. Interior scenes were shot on the Fox stage while exteriors were shot at locations in the San Fernando Valley, including the Conejo Movie Ranch near Thousand Oaks. Elvis's friend and entourage member Red West had a small uncredited role as an Native American. Red injured his arm in a fight scene.
Actor Steve Forrest played Clint Burton, half brother to Elvis's character Pacer. Steve Forrest was born William Forrest Andrews and his brother is actor Dana Andrews. In 1954, Mr. Forrest shared a Golden Globe Award as Most Promising Newcomer Male with actors Hugh O'Brien and Richard Egan, (Egan co-starred with Elvis in “Love Me Tender” in 1956.) Steve Forrest worked in such films as “The Longest Day,” “The Deerslayer,” “North Dallas Forty” and “Mommie Dearest.” He also has had a number of roles in TV series including “Dallas” and his starring role in the TV series “S.W.A.T.”
Barbara Eden played the role of Clint's girlfriend Roslyn Pierce. When Ms. Eden was first approached for the role, she was busy with other commitments. British actress Barbara Steele was hired instead. Ms. Steele's heavy accent proved to be too problematic and she was let go. By that time, Barbara Eden was available and she played the part. Ms. Eden was a cheerleader and a pop singer as a teenager. She made her film debut in the movie “Back From Eternity” followed by roles in “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,” “Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea,” and “Harper Valley P.T.A.” The latter inspired a TV series in which she starred. She is best known for her long-running role as the Jeannie, the genie in a bottle, in the “I Dream of Jeannie” television series. That role garnered her Golden Globe Award nominations in 1967 and 1970. In recent years, the one-time wife of actor Michael Ansara who worked with Elvis in his film “Harum Scarum,” has had a number of roles in made-for-TV movies.
Dolores del Rio played Pacer's Kiowa mother Neddy Burton. Ms. del Rio was born and raised as an aristocrat in her native Mexico and she became known as the “First Lady of Mexican Cinema.” She emigrated to Hollywood in the early 1920s and, with her exotic beauty, she was often referred to as “the female Rudolph Valentino.” She played sultry Latin women as well as Polynesian and French ladies. It was her role as Longfellow's heroine Evangeline that inspired a statue of her likeness as Evangeline to be made and placed beside St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in St. Martinville, Louisiana. It is on the spot marking the alleged burial place of Emmeline Labiche, who is said to have been Longfellow's inspiration. In 1942 Ms. del Rio moved back to Mexico and continued her career there and was nominated for the Silver Ariel, Mexico's version of the Academy Award. She was nominated five times, winning three. She only periodically returned to Hollywood to play supporting roles such as the one she played in “Flaming Star.”
Crusty character actor John McIntire played Pacer's father Sam Burton. McIntire grew up in Montana where he learned to ride and raise horses. He attended USC and started his long career as a radio announcer. It was his rugged features and deep voice that helped propel him into his many roles in Western films and TV series. He and his wife of 56 years, actress Jeanette Nolan, often acted together. He might be best remembered for his starring role as Christopher Hale in the TV series “Wagon Train” and his role as Clay Grainger in the series “The Virginian.”
Rodolfo Acosta played the role of Buffalo Horn. He, like Ms. del Rio, was born in Mexico and had roles in a number of Mexican films. He received a nomination in 1950 for a Silver Ariel Award as Best Supporting Actor. He moved to the U. S. where he was very successful in playing Mexicans and Native Americans and most often the Western villain. He had roles in such films as “One-Eyed Jacks,” “How the West Was Won,” “The Sons of Katie Elder” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” He had a recurring role as Vaquero in the the TV series “High Chaparral” as well as making numerous guest appearances on other TV series.
Karl Swenson played Dred Pierce. His long career as a character actor also included a number of TV series. Most notable might be his long time role as Lars Henson on the TV show “Little House on the Prairie”. He also had roles in such films as “North To Alaska”, “How The West Was Won” and “The Sons of Katie Elder.”
Ford Rainey played Doc Phillips. A native of Idaho, Mr. Rainey studied acting in New York where he pursued work on stage. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II then moved to California and began his film career in 1949. He has had hundreds of roles in both film and TV. His most recent role at the age of 94 was in the 2002 movie “Purgatory Flats.”
Virginia Christine played Mrs. Phillips. This veteran character actress was also a concert pianist and trained soprano. She studied dancing and acting and spoke several languages. She had roles in such films as “High Noon,” “Judgment At Nuremberg” and “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.” However, she is best known for her twenty-one years playing Mrs. Olson on the TV commercials for Folgers Coffee. In her hometown of Stanton, Iowa, the city water tower was made into the shape of a coffee pot in her honour.
Flaming Star, Part 3 of 3. An in-depth look at the movie “Flaming Star”
Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, scheduled a number of visitors to the set of Elvis's sixth film, “Flaming Star”. Included in the visitors was photographer Don Cravens who photographed Elvis on the set as well as at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for an article in “Life” magazine. Mr. Cravens was also commissioned to photograph Elvis for future record covers including the sleeve for the single “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and the gospel album “His Hand In Mine.”
Other bits of trivia from while Elvis was making this movie: On September 9, 1960, after Elvis and his rowdy entourage wore out their welcome at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Elvis then leased a home in Bel Air at 525 Perugia Way. On September 12, 1960, Elvis and Juliet Prowse, his co-star from the movie “G.I. Blues,” attended a special showing “G.I. Blues” for theater owners. Also attending was gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and the film's choreographer Charlie O'Curran and his wife, singer Patti Page. On Septenber 27, 1960 Elvis was visited on set by his father Vernon and Vernon's friends from Memphis, Mr. and Mrs. Nichols, who had been to Hollywood in 1957 with Elvis's parents and visited him on the set of “Loving You.” Also on this trip to visit was Elvis's Memphis fan club president Gary Pepper.
Richard Jaeckel played Angus Pierce. He began his career after working in the mailroom at Fox. He would go on to have roles in many Western films and war films such as “3:10 To Yuma,” “Come Back Little Sheba,” “Chisum,” “The Dirty Dozen,” and “Sands of Iwo Jima.”. For his performance in “Sometimes A Great Notion” he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor of 1972. He also had a role in the TV series “Baywatch” as Lt. Ben Edwards. He was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.
L. Q. Jones played Tom Howard. You might also recognize him from his roles in the Elvis films “Love Me Tender” and “Stay Away Joe.” Mr. Jones began life in Texas a Justus McQueen. He took on the name of his character L.Q. Jones in his first film, the 1955 movie “Battle Cry” and used throughout his long career in movies and TV. He has had roles in such movies as “The Young Lions,” “Ride The High Country,” “Major Dundee” and “The Wild Bunch”. His most recent parts were in the films “The Patriot,” “The Mask of Zorro” and “Route 666”.
Douglas Dick played Will Howard. He began his movie and TV career in 1946. “Flaming Star” was his last movie role. His last TV role was in 1967 on the show “Mannix.” Mr. Dick retired from acting and became a psychologist.
Larry Chance played an uncredited Indian Chief and would later play Captain Herat in the Elvis movie “Harum Scarum.”
Roy Jenson played Matt Holcom. He had a long career in film and TV as a character actor. He had played football for UCLA and then played professional ball for teams in Canada.
Native American actor Rodd Redwing played an Indian brave. Years later, he had a role in the Elvis film “Charro!” Redwing was a renowned fast-draw artist and he taught gun handling to many actors, including Elvis. He also made the gun holster that Elvis used in the film “Charro!”
Charles Horvath, one of the top stunt men in the industry, played the man who attempted to molest Pacer's mother. Mr. Horvath was a judo and karate instructor for both the FBI and the U.S. Marines.
Loren Janes was another who performed stunts in this film. Janes was an Olympic pentathlete and co-founder of the Stuntmen's Association. He worked with Elvis once before in the film “Jailhouse Rock.”
Roy Jenson was another of the stunt men. He had been a pro football player and winner of a Western Heritage Award.
Thomas A. Sweet was also a stuntman in this film. He worked with Elvis again years later in the film “Stay Away Joe.”
The cinematographer for “Flaming Star” was the five-time Academy Award nominee Charles G. Clarke. Mr. Clarke won a Technical Achievement Academy Award in 1944 for the development and application of a device that composed artificial clouds into motion picture scenes during production photography. In 1980 he received a Medal of Commendation from the Academy “in appreciation for outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”
The film editor was Hugh S. Fowler. He received an Academy Award in 1971 for his work in the movie “Patton,” which was a film that happened to become one of Elvis's personal favorites to watch.
One of the set decorators was twenty-one-time Academy Award nominee Walter M. Scott. Mr. Scott's six Academy Award wins were for the films “Hello Dolly,” “Fantastic Voyage,” “Cleopatra”,“The Diary of Anne Frank,” “The King And I” and “The Robe.”
Makeup was done by Ben Nye, Sr., whose 329 movie credits also include the two Elvis films “Love Me Tender” and “Wild In The Country.”
Hair stylist Helen Turpin also worked on “Love Me Tender” and “Wild In The Country.”
Shooting for “Flaming Star” wrapped up by October 4th and Elvis went into the recording studio on the 7th to re-record the title song, using the final title name “Flaming Star”. On November 23 and 25, 1960 polls taken at advance screenings of the film showed that the audiences preferred that two of the songs originally recorded for the film be left out of the final print. As a result, the songs “Britches” and “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears” were cut from the movie.
The movie opened nationwide on December 22, 1960. It was #12 on the National Box Office Survey for that week. The movie which focused on the complications of a bi-racial family was banned in South Africa due to the strict laws of racial separation there. Elvis was honoured by a tribal council for his positive portrayal of a Native American.