Monday, September 10, 2007

Saddlebums Interview: Stephen Lodge

Stephen Lodge is an old hand in Hollywood. He was introduced to “B” Westerns as a young boy, and he has loved the genre ever since. He began acting professionally at the age of twelve, and when he was sixteen he performed at the Corrigan Western Movie Ranch. His first writing credit came on the James Coburn film The Honkers, and since then he has written or directed three major film productions including the Kenny Rogers television film Rio Diablo.

Mr. Lodge has also written several Western novels, including
Shadows of Eagles, Nickel-Plated Dream and Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit. The Midwest Book Review has described his writing “like dripping pigments on a canvas, Mr. Lodge’s descriptive phrases bring the characters to full-size dimension.”

You have had an impressive career in Hollywood, as an actor, writer, director, and even stuntman. What are a few of your most memorable moments working in film and television?

First was finding out I sold my first script. Number two was getting the call telling me that I’d sold number two. And since I’ve only had three produced, you should already know the answer to the third.

Also, when I walked onto the CBS Studio Center lot for the very first time, knowing full well it had been Republic Pictures in years past; then walking the back lot and seeing all the old Western sets I had been in love with since childhood.

Doing the same thing at the Columbia Ranch; MGM Lot #2; The Warner Bros. back lot; Universal Back Lot; walking around the Hal Roach studio right before it was demolished; visiting Iverson’s Ranch for the first time; Melody Ranch; same with Corriganville, etc. etc. etc. You can see I was almost as impressed by the sets and locations as I was the actors.

You wrote the Kenny Rogers television movie Rio Diablo. It had a large and impressive cast including Stacy Keach, and musicians Travis Tritt and Naomi Judd. What was your experience working on this film? Would you do it again?

I was recovering from a serious illness when Rio Diablo was shot. I didn’t work on the show; but my wife and I flew to location in Brackettville, Texas, and spent time on the Alamo Village set with my writing partners, Frank Q. Dobbs, and David S. Cass, Sr. I took a lot of photos which are available on my Behind the Scenes web site; you can get there through:

Most writers are voracious readers, and I’m wondering what you read for pleasure?

I read mostly non-fiction politically oriented books; but when I read fiction it’s usually Western based.

“I learned to write by reading every script my aunt and uncle brought me. My aunt worked for Columbia Pictures, so I had access to every script Columbia produced and released.”

I have read that you were enthralled with film and theater as a boy. Are there any films or plays that had a particular impact on your development as a writer?

I learned to write by reading every script my aunt and uncle brought me. My aunt worked for Columbia Pictures, so I had access to every script Columbia produced and released. My uncle worked in TV, so I got to read a lot of television scripts, too. The one script I have used as my bible over the years is Carl Foreman’s The Guns of Navarone.

Now I want to turn to the western genre specifically. What first led you to the genre?

Without a doubt it was getting our first television set when I was five years old. Because early television needed to fill all those empty hours, they showed old B-Westerns from dawn to dusk. I fell in love with Westerns (the western genre) the very first time I saw one.

What are a few of the western writers who have most influenced your work?

First and foremost, Clair Huffaker (The War Wagon, Rio Conchos, Flaming Star); a friend introduced me to him when I was writing my first novel 25 years ago, and he was kind enough to walk me through the basics; second is Burt Kennedy, who wrote some really great Western movies. Today I like reading Elmer Kelton novels.

If you could bring back the work of one western writer who would it be? Is there a specific title?

Burt Kennedy–the stories he wrote for those Bud Boetticher-Randolph Scott Westerns are unbeatable. My favorite of Burt’s is The Name is Buchanan; plus The Tall T, his screen adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel.

“Western novelists are still turning out some really good stories. But I can’t say that much for Hollywood. The Westerns I’ve watched recently are all too touchy-feely for me.”

What do you think about the western genre today, and what do you think the future holds for the western story?

Western novelists are still turning out some really good stories. But I can’t say that much for Hollywood. The Westerns I’ve watched recently are all too touchy-feely for me. As for the future of Westerns, I hope they become popular once again; but who knows–our nation’s youth just doesn’t seem to be interested in reading Westerns today like they did in the past. Plus, there is a certain element in this country who continue to put Westerns down; in particular the Cowboy. Until something really big Western comes along to convince this country that Western novels and movies aren’t so bad after all, I’ll just have to keep plugging along.

Okay, now I want to get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?

The current title is Whiskey Tears. Two young and boastful Texas racecar drivers are hired by a fading country star’s new manager to retrieve the intoxicated thrush from a low-life cantina in a Mexican border-town where she has ended up after one of her booze-filled tangents. Whiskey Tears is looking for a publisher.

Can you tell us about the novel—or any other projects—you are working on now?

Besides Whiskey Tears, I have several other novels in the works; that way I can switch from one to another whenever I go blank.

At present, I’m putting together a book that will include all of my Hollywood Western essays, plus behind the scenes photos I’ve taken on various movie sets throughout my life.

Is there a particular novel of yours you would recommend to a reader who is unfamiliar with your work?

Nickel-plated Dream is based on a period in my life that I still hold dearly–when I worked as a stuntman-gunfighter for Ray “Crash” Corrigan, at his movie ranch, Corriganville. Though the story is fiction, it is based loosely on my personal experiences.

Charley Sunday's Texas Outfit is about a sensible, sober-minded Texas grandfather who imparts the American Cowboy legacy to his only grandchild as he and several of his grizzled cronies concoct a 1,000-mile longhorn cattle drive across 21st Century America.

Both should give anyone a nice introduction into my writing.

I have one last question, and I must warn it is a little vague. If you could choose any project to work on, what would it be?

I would love to work in some way on the movie version of my very first novel, Shadows of Eagles, which is presently out of publication. It’s a 1944-era Western that pits escaped Nazi prisoners against a posse of determined Texas Rangers. It’s historically correct in the fact that the United States had POW camps on US soil during World War II. And it's set in the Texas Big Bend, one of my favorite places to be.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an interesting life and interview! I look forward to finding some of the novels listed here, they sound like they'd be really great reads. I am really impressed by the variety of things Mr. Lodge has been involved with- from being a stunt man and acting, to writing and directing projects for the big screen, to writing novels. Very inspiring, thanks for the wonderful interview.


Anonymous said...

Keep telling these wonderful stories about your life - they are very soothing and makes one think of the good times in life. We always need hereos!! We love reading your material - it's fascinating - you are our hero!!

L & E. H

Mike Bifulco said...

Great interview, Stephen. Hope to see you again in Lone Pine.

Anonymous said...


Iwas wondering if you still had any of those old westerns we made as kids?

If so how would I get copies? My children and Grand Children would love to see them.


Your old neighbor

Steven Enloe

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Byers Christmas Carolers said...

Really what a wonderful story about someone's life. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Byers Christmas Carolers