Looking for a good director….
Welcome back. I am frequently asked if Footprints in the Dew might be made into a movie and of course I am hoping this will happen. In the meantime, this week and next I’ll be bringing you the story of an early attempt to make a film about this famous murder which I learned about several years ago.
In 2006 I began interviewing a man named Dale Kurtz who had been the ranch manager on the Cross Bell Ranch at the time of the murder. He had been the first person on the scene after a shot and bleeding Chub Anderson came running to his house.
Dale now lived in Arkansas, about a three hour drive from my house, and he and I had been meeting a couple times a week for about a month. I had all of his work history and it was very impressive. Dale was a real cow man and had worked on several big outfits in his life. Now retired, he kept busy breeding and training border collies.
Much of our conversation over my previous three visits had focused on the details of the night of the murder. Things were going well and I anticipated that my fourth visit would be the same but it wasn’t. When I arrived at Dale’s house a large 2’x 2’ cardboard box was sitting on his kitchen table. The box was full of papers, some in file folders, some in spiral note books and others just loose. There were photos and receipt along with what Dale said were his personal notes. When I asked about what he was giving me and why he had saved these things for so many years he just replied “I knew someone would come along”. It was obvious that it would take some time to review all of these materials which included all Dale’s records of his work at the Cross Bell.
I took the box with me when I left that day and I soon discovered something in the papers I hadn’t expected, the manuscript of a film that had been planned about the murder. In a separate binder there was a contract between Dale and a company called Filmworks. Dated December 8, 1981, the contract specified that Dale would work on the project as a consultant and would advise on details such as locations. The contract was signed by a famous actor and producer named Don Hawks.
According to Hawks official bio, he had appeared in lots of big films including the Grapes of Wrath, Sands of Iwa Jima, Stagecoach, Red River and El Dorado. Among his co-stars were John Wayne, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. Hawks had also been in numerous television shows such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza and had appeared in commercials for Miller Beer and Marlboro cigarettes. Don Hawks was a big shot and a closer inspection of the contract revealed that the entire budget for the production was laid out down to the penny. There was also information about the investment company backing the film and a list of the actors who would potentially play the leading roles. The complete script was also in Dale’s box and these are some of the details I discovered.
The film was going to be called “The Cross Bell Incident” and the script was written by Dianne S. Conyers. Several big name actors had been chosen to play the principal characters in the drama. The role of patriarch Gene Mullendore was the first one mentioned and Rory Calhoun had been cast. Calhoun had appeared in movies with the biggest names in Hollywood of the time including Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Susan Hayward.
Calhoun was a very big star and at 6’4” he was known to be a tough guy off the set as well. A high school dropout at 13, Calhoun got caught stealing a gun and then was arrested for robbing several jewelry stores and stealing a car as a boy. He did time in a federal prison and was also jailed in San Quentin in California. After his release, an accidental meeting with a director got him into the movie business. Gene Mullendore was also known to be a tough man and to Don Hawks Calhoun must have seemed the perfect choice to play a man who had built a ranching empire with sheer determination.
Who did Don Hawks have in mind for Chub, E.C. and the other roles? Here’s a hint, for Linda it’s an actress who co-starred with John Wayne in Chisum and whose real life husband was the star of the TV series Rat Patrol. I’ll give you her name and all the others next week.
Till then I’ll see ya down the road…………