In its heyday, Republic Pictures wasn’t taken seriously by the mainstream studios. It was a B-movie factory, and nothing more. (Erich von Stroheim referred to it as “Repulsive Pictures.”) In recent decades, enthusiasts have come to appreciate just how good Republic was at making those B movies, especially westerns and Saturday matinee serials. Their stunts and camerawork were exceptionally good, and many aficionados believe that their visual effects (created by the brothers Lydecker, Howard and Theodore) were even better than the work being done at that time by the “big boys” at MGM and Fox. Republic didn’t make movies to win awards or critical plaudits, but it certainly pleased its target audience—small-town moviegoers and kids.
On September 25th, the 75th anniversary of Republic’s founding by Herbert J. Yates (owner of Consolidated Film Industries, a film lab that “consolidated” several smaller production companies) was celebrated at its longtime home in Studio City. Originally built for comedy pioneer Mack Sennett, the facility was later home to television’s Revue, then MTM, and is now CBS Studio Center, where many series are shot, including Entertainment Tonight. The folks who run the studio are unusually generous about opening the lot for community activities, as on the 4th of July, and work in league with the Studio City Residents Association and other civic groups.
A number of actors who appeared in Republic Pictures were in attendance at the day-long event. I was happy to host a panel involving leading lady Adrian Booth, also remembered as the villainess Vultura in The Perils of Nyoka serial; beloved Western heroine Peggy Stewart, who’s still working (she played Dakota Fanning’s grandmother in The Runaways this year); 1950s studio stalwart Ben Cooper, former child actor Michael Chapin; the ever-lovely Anne Jeffreys, who started out working opposite Bill Elliott and Gabby Hayes; Donna Martell, who made her film debut in a Roy Rogers-Dale Evans vehicle; Dick Jones, who played John Wayne as a boy in the first official Republic production, Westward Ho, and often worked at the studio thereafter; Hugh O’Brian, who put in time at the studio in his early years in the acting business; and Joan Leslie, who wound up at Republic in the 1950s starring in films like Flight Nurse, and who has the distinction of playing leading lady to popular singer Vaughn Monroe in a short-lived attempt to transform him into a Western hero. With nine people and only 45 minutes there wasn’t time to hear more than a reminiscence or two from each panelist—and no time for me to pose followup questions—but everyone in the jam-packed CBS commissary seemed to enjoy the proceedings all the same.
Other panels included Jane Withers, Jimmy Lydon, Jane Kean, Theodore Bikel, Marjorie Lord, Robert Easton, plus a tribute to the Lydecker Brothers, a reading of John Mitchum’s poems organized by his daughter Cindy, who hosted with my pal Rob Word (and featuring an all-star lineup including Andrew Prine, Bo Hopkins, Herb Jeffries, Larry Maurice, Ty Hardin, and Cliff Emmich, along with Ben Cooper, Dick Jones, Peggy Stewart, and Donna Martell) and a “second generation” gathering with Diana Canova, Jamie Nudie, Julie Rogers, Julieta Canova, Aissa Wayne, Tracy Terhune, Jeff Connors, and Chris Nibley, son of screenwriter Sloan Nibley and leading lady Linda Stirling.
There were food vendors, live music and cowboy poetry, movie memorabilia for sale, screenings of vintage Republic movies and serial chapters (and an impressive clip reel featuring the day’s guests assembled by Les Perkins) and much more. My Stetson’s off to the many folks who worked to create this ambitious event, including Elizabeth Gulick of CBS Studio Center and Lisa Cahan Davis of Cahan Davis Marketing & Promotions. That it came off so well despite 100-degree heat is little short of a miracle.
If you’d like to read more, go to the event’s website at www.republicpictures75th.com.
Leonard Maltin is a respected film critic and historian, perhaps best known for his annual paperback reference Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which was first published in 1969. It was joined by Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide in 2005—newly revised in 2010. His latest book is Leonard Maltin’s 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. Since 1982 he has appeared on television’s Entertainment Tonight; he also hosts Maltin on Movies on ReelzChannel and introduces movies on DirecTV Cinema. His other books include Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia, The Great American Broadcast, The Great Movie Comedians, and The Disney Films. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles, where he publishes a newsletter for old-movie buffs, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy, and holds court at www.leonardmaltin.com.