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'Hollywood Hoofbeats' Chronicles The Horses That Captured Moviegoers' Hearts

Author Petrine Day Mitchum tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that show business horses have been known to develop an actor's affection for the camera, often coming to life when the director says "action."

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Other segments from the episode on March 21, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 21, 2016: Interview with Regina King; Interview with Petrine Day Mitchum; Poetry reading by Lloyd Schwartz.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Two TV series, ABC's "American Crime" and HBO's "The Leftovers," have proven what a great actress my guest Regina King is by giving her the opportunity to play three different complex characters.

She's been acting professionally since she was a teenager when she played the daughter in the 1980s sitcom "227." Then she co-starred in the 1991 film "Boyz N The Hood." In "Jerry Maguire," she played Cuba Gooding's assertive, protective wife. In the Ray Charles biopic, she played Margie Hendricks, one of his backup singers and lovers. She starred in the series "Southland" as an LAPD detective. She's recently started directing, including an episode of "Scandal" that will be shown Thursday night.

Let's start with "American Crime," which just ended its second season. It's an anthology series which, in the first two seasons, featured the same leading actors, but in different stories and different roles. In season one, Regina King played a convert to Islam whose brother is addicted to drugs and is accused of murder.

In season 2, King played a successful corporate executive who lives in an affluent community. Her son is the captain of the basketball team at a private school. But when he's implicated in the bullying and possibly rape of a high school boy, the lives of all the families affected start to unravel as the parents try to defend their children. In the process, a hacker leaks private emails, including those of Regina King's character. After her emails become public, she's called into her boss's office.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME")

JOE NEMMERS: (As Anderson) This isn't a comfortable conversation. We've known each other a long time. I want you to know what's happening now, it's a business decision. Your family's gone through a lot, but there are things that have come out online...

REGINA KING: (As Terri LaCroix) OK. Let me stop you. My son has been exonerated in connection with this assault.

NEMMERS: (As Anderson) Terri...

KING: (As Terri LaCroix) Hold on. Kevin has been cleared. And as far as we know, those medical records - they came from the Leland School. So anything anybody's saying about Michael...

NEMMERS: (As Anderson) This isn't about your son - or your husband. There are any number of emails out there where you say some pretty - there are ugly things about people, particularly - particularly whites.

KING: (As Terri LaCroix) My family has been through an ordeal, and you want to talk to me about personal emails? OK. There are - for people of color, there's a world that we live in that's different than yours, one you'll never, ever experience.

NEMMERS: (As Anderson) Terri...

KING: (As Terri LaCroix) And the way we express those experiences - out of context - can be taken to mean something that they don't.

NEMMERS: (As Anderson) I wouldn't want anybody going through my emails. But you talk about white trash. You talk about white entitlement.

KING: (As Terri LaCroix) That's nothing compared to what my family and families like ours deal with daily. Money or not - status or not, we deal. And it may not sound correct, but I have a right to my privacy.

NEMMERS: (As Anderson) You do, but this is a publicly held company.

KING: (As Terri LaCroix) We told the truth. You're going to punish us for that?

GROSS: Regina King, welcome to FRESH AIR. As we heard in that scene, "American Crime" has really tried to take on issues that are difficult to talk about like race, class, gender, sexual orientation and the kinds of disagreements, misunderstanding and violence that erupts. And I'm wondering if you've had to, in character, say things that ever made you uncomfortable saying, or that people responded to in ways that really surprised you because they didn't quite get the point that you or the script was trying to make.

KING: No. But I will say that there are things that Terri and her family discuss that are things that are discussed in real life in my family, in families across the country who aren't white. And race is a very sensitive subject.

And what happens a lot of times when - let's just speak specifically white and black - when white or black people feel misunderstood when it comes to talking about race, they immediately get defensive. And just because someone doesn't understand doesn't mean they don't want to. It's an honest place to be if you don't understand someone else's experience, but there's no way for the other to understand if a conversation or an explanation isn't made.

GROSS: You got an Emmy for season one of "American Crime." I'm interested in your reactions to protests that surrounded the absence of African-American Oscar nominees this year. Where is the problem, do you think, in terms of there not being more movies with African-American characters, African-American directors and writers? Do you think films like that don't get greenlighted because of preconceptions that there won't be a big enough audience or it won't do well internationally? Or - you have to step back and say that there need to be more films.

KING: Right.

GROSS: So there's a lot of talent out there. How come there aren't more films, do you think?

KING: Well, I think it's a combination of not being enough films that are telling stories that deal with other cultures and other races. And there's also not enough films that are more of a imitation of what real life looks like. Like, for example, when you look at "American Crime" and you have the character Terri LaCroix is a pharmaceutical executive - why does that character always have to be white? So it's looking at things like that as well.

The good news for me is that I have an amazing team behind me, and they've been with me for 20 years now - almost 20 years. And they have seen me as an actress, not necessarily just a black actress. So I have been lucky enough for them to see me that way.

And they have pursued things that were written white, and I ended up getting them. "Southland" was not written for a black woman. "Legally Blonde 2" wasn't written specifically for a black woman. "Year Of The Dog" was not written for a black woman, but they read those scripts and they approached those writers and those producers and, cut to, I was doing those films. I think I've been lucky in the regard to have a team that sees me as an artist.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is actress, and now director, Regina King. And she got her start on the sitcom "227" in the '80s. She went on to co-star in "Boyz N The Hood," "Jerry Maguire, "Ray." And more recently, she stars in the anthology series "American Crime" and in the HBO series "The Leftovers."

So you got your start - how old were you when you got cast in "227"?

KING: I think we shot the pilot of "227" when I was 13.

GROSS: So "227" was a family sitcom - you're the daughter.

KING: (Laughter).

GROSS: You're the teenage daughter. And so it's about the family and the other people who live in the building. Were you kind of mentored by the adults on there? And specifically, like Marla Gibbs had - she had been on "The Jeffersons." Had you watched that? Were you kind of in awe of her because of that?

KING: Oh, my, gosh - absolutely. I mean, "The Jeffersons" - that was, like, the greatest TV, you know. For me growing up, I loved "The Jeffersons." I thought that Florence was so hilarious. I loved the banter between her and George Jefferson. But the reality was that if "The Jeffersons" was picked up for one more season - the season that we shot the pilot of "227" - then "227" would not have gone. So because "The Jeffersons" didn't get picked up was the reason why "227" was able to be picked up. So it was kind of bittersweet because I loved watch...

GROSS: You mean because there was an opening in the schedule or because Marla Gibbs was available?

KING: Because Marla Gibbs would be available. And by then, you know, I was aware of all of the things that she was doing in the community. My mother was part of the whole - Marla used to have a - kind of like a jazz club in LA called Marla's Memory Lane. So that was, like, a place where a lot of people would meet. When entertainers came to town, they would perform at her club. So Marla was kind of like a pillar in the black community and as a trailblazer in Hollywood, doing things that a lot of other celebrities, especially female celebrities, weren't doing. It was pretty amazing.

GROSS: So you think that she gave your mother a sense of security that you'd be in good hands?

KING: Oh, absolutely - absolutely. Yeah because my mom - she was a teacher. And she was not the type of mother that was going to quit her job to be a set mom. She found someone that would be a guardian on the set with me that was a close friend of the family, that she could trust.

And then her conversation with Marla, you know, sitting down with Marla - and my mom just saying that, look, I don't want Regina to go to one of these small schools that NBC wants her to go to for kids that are on TV. I want Regina to stay in a regular public school because I don't want her to get out of touch. And Marla supported it. And so my mom felt, like, OK. This is a good space for her.

GROSS: So you went to public school. You continued there.

KING: I went to public - I graduated from publics - Westchester High. I'm a product of LA Unified.

GROSS: So once you started to become famous from being on "227," how did that change your stature in school?

KING: You know, it's interesting. It changed it somewhat, but not much. I had been going on auditions and things like that since I was probably 10 - 11 years old. So I felt pretty regular, I have to say. I felt pretty normal, and I'm really grateful for that because I still get my own dry cleaning to this day (laughter).

GROSS: Seriously? I know that shouldn't sound like a big deal, but it actually does.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So what's it like to be 10 and feel like you have a calling - that you want to work professionally, that you know what you want to do?

KING: Well, you know, it's interesting. I did not know until I decided to drop out of college (laughter) that this is what I wanted to do as a career. At that time, probably from the age of 10 to 16, I still wanted to be a dentist.

GROSS: Really? OK.

KING: Yeah. And once I was in college, about - maybe the end of my first semester of my sophomore year, I realized that college just was not my jam and that I felt like I was learning more when is actually on set. And I think a lot of that had to do with - I was working while I was in college. I was on "227," so I didn't get a chance to really be immersed in the culture of my school.

GROSS: In 1991, you were in "Boyz N The Hood," which was directed by John Singleton, set in South Central, LA. And, you know, it's about young people who are in gangs, who drink a lot - and the kind of intentional and accidental feuds and fighting and problems that happen between them. And, I mean, what a cast. It was, like, Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, you. You played Shalika. Describe your character.

KING: She was a girl in the 'hood who probably did not have as much parental support as maybe a couple of the other kids in that movie. She was like, I think, a lot of young people - finds that sense of family in the streets. That's who she was. She was the fun girl.

GROSS: So this was not your background. You were known in the entertainment industry as Brenda, the daughter on "227." Did the people who were doing the casting think it would really be a stretch for you to be credible in "Boyz N The Hood"?

KING: Absolutely, 100 percent. I mean, prior to "Boyz N The Hood," I was in such a box as Brenda that I couldn't get auditions for anything. So that was a really frustrating, like, year. And then Jaki Karman - I think was her name - was the casting director on - for "Boyz N The Hood." Maybe it might have been Jaki's growing up having seen "227" and was just a fan, so just curious enough to see what I could do. She allowed me to come in to read for Shalika. And I read, like, the first three lines, and she was like, oh, OK. Great. OK, I'm bringing you back for the producer and director.

GROSS: So how did you get the voice that you needed for this, which wasn't your voice. It wasn't your character Brenda's voice. And I'm not sure what kind of neighborhood you grew up in, whether people talk this way in your neighborhood.

KING: Right. Not far from my neighborhood, yes. And when I say not far, meaning, like, just on the other side of a very popular street called Slauson in Los Angeles. But, once again, when I said I'm so grateful for my mom just being adamant about me staying in public school - that is what allowed me to be exposed to so many different types of people. I went to a high school that was by the beach. I elected to do bussing my junior high school years. And my first year of high school, I would take the bus from my neighborhood to the beach schools. And at those schools, you had such a mix of so many types of kids. So there were a lot of girls that I was around that was Shalika.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear my guest Regina King in a scene from "Boyz N The Hood"?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYZ N THE HOOD")

KING: (As Shalika) Girl, he is fine. I's like to rush that. He go to Washington?

ALYSIA ROGERS: (As Shanice) Uh-uh. He go to Crenshaw.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Jamaica) Girl, I seen him before. He work at the Fox Hills Mall.

KING: (As Shalika) Do he got a girlfriend?

NIA LONG: (As Brandi) Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: (As Shalika) Jamaica, girl, I was scoping on this [expletive] man. He fine anyway. You better watch his ass. Somebody might steal him.

GROSS: That's Regina King, my guest, in "Boyz N The Hood." She's one of the stars of the anthology series "American Crime," and she also is one of the stars of the HBO series "The Leftovers."

Let's take a short break then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with actress Regina King. She co-stars in the TV series "American Crime" and "The Leftovers." Her movies include "Boys N The Hood" and "Jerry Maguire," which I asked her about.

You played Cuba's Gooding's wife - his character's wife. And he's a football player whose agent is Jerry Maguire. You're his, like, loving, but also forceful wife who is pushing for the best contract for him. And you don't think that Jerry Maguire, his sports agent, is doing the best job for him. So in this scene, you're waiting for Jerry Maguire, played by Tom Cruise, in Jerry Maguire's office. Your young son is with you, and he's playing with all the sports memorabilia in the office and he's starting to, like, throw it around...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: ...And make a lot of noise. So finally, Jerry Maguire walks in, and here's the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JERRY MAGUIRE")

KING: (As Marcee Tidwell) Jerry, I'm glad to see you finally made it. Rod is very, very upset.

JEREMY SUAREZ: (As Tyson Tidwell, yelling).

KING: (As Marcee Tidwell) Tyson, no.

SUAREZ: (As Tyson Tidwell) OK, Mommy.

TOM CRUISE: (As Jerry Maguire) Tyson, hello.

SUAREZ: (As Tyson Tidwell) Hello, Jerry. Long time no...

(OBJECTS FALLING)

SUAREZ: (As Tyson Tidwell) ...See.

CRUISE: (As Tyson Tidwell) How can I make your life better?

KING: (As Marcee Tidwell) Jerry, this is humiliating, and I'm pregnant. And I'm incapable of bull (beep). Where is our offer from Arizona?

JAY MOHR: (As Bob Sugar) Cronin's OK for lunch?

CRUISE: (As Jerry Maguire) Marcee, this is one of agents. This is Bob Sugar, who needs to learn to knock.

MOHR: (As Bob Sugar) Pleasure.

KING: (As Marcee Tidwell) You've called our house, right?

MOHR: (As Bob Sugar) I'm sorry to interrupt you guys.

KING: (As Marcee Tidwell) Now, I don't know what you do for your 4 percent, but this man - my husband - has a whole plan, an image. And when you put him in a Waterbed Warehouse commercial, excuse me, you're making him common when you know he deserves the big four - shoe, car, clothing line, soft drink. I know about the four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar.

CRUISE: (As Jerry Maguire) Wow.

KING: (As Marcee Tidwell) I majored in marketing, baby and so did my husband. We came to play.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You're going to show him.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What did you do to get in character for that?

KING: Oh, wow. Well, when I was auditioning for that, I was actually pregnant. I was about to get married, so I was definitely in the space of understanding how important the family you create is. It was kind of a natural space I was moving into.

GROSS: So you had your baby (laughter) and raised him for many years as a single mother. Did you ever feel like that you needed to give her son the talks about being a young black man in America and how to deal with police if you're stopped and, you know, all that stuff?

KING: Absolutely. I mean, it's - if you're not having that conversation as a black parent, you're doing your child a disservice.

GROSS: What kinds of things did you feel that you should tell your son?

KING: One of the things is that, you know, when Ian was coming up, he was going to a school that, you know, were a lot of affluent kids. Where my experience was more mixed, probably middle-class to lower middle-class, his experience was more upper middle-class to upper class (laughter). And just kind of had to let him know that this environment that you're in is not how things are everywhere.

And, for example, like, when you're having the conversation with your child about getting their driver's license. Well, a white family - their biggest fear is just that you're driving safely and that they're minding the rules of the road, whereas a black family - their biggest fear is that their child is going to get pulled over and treated unfairly for a reason that they won't understand.

It's my responsibility and Ian's father's responsibility to try to help him understand that just because it does not make sense to you doesn't mean that it's not possible that it would happen. And most of us have had that happen. And almost every black man or young black man has had that happen - at least I can speak for LA.

GROSS: Well, Regina King, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

KING: Thank you.

GROSS: Regina King co-stars in "American Crime" and "The Leftovers." She directed the episode of "Scandal" that airs this Thursday.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. In the days when westerns were big box office and TV attractions, cowboys and their horses often shared equal billing. Champion, wonder horse of the West, was Gene Autry's mount. John Wayne rode Duke, his devil horse, and, of course, there was Roy Rogers and Trigger billed as the smartest horse in the movies.

Our guest Petrine Day Mitchum has written a book about horses in movies and television called, "Hollywood Hoofbeats." She says some horses were specially trained stunt horses, others bonded with actors who rode with them for years. And many, she says, developed an actor's affection for the camera, coming to life when the director said action. Petrine Day Mitchum is a former Hollywood story editor and script analyst who's also worked as a photojournalist and essayist, and she's the daughter of Robert Mitchum. She spoke to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. She said that back in the silent era, some horses were the box office attraction.

DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Petrine Day Mitchum, welcome to FRESH AIR. Fascinating stories in here about horses in Hollywood. Let's talk about one of the big stars of the silent era, a horse named Rex. You would see Rex's name on a marquee?

PETRINE DAY MITCHUM: Absolutely.

DAVIES: What made him special? I mean, he could perform well - I mean, seemed to take training well. Was there something about his look, something in his eyes? I mean, what makes...

MITCHUM: Yes, absolutely. There was a wildness to him that, you know, many people who worked with him described, and he just had this incredible presence, really. He had star power (laughter). He had a gorgeous conformation, a beautiful arched neck, very, very pretty face, but he just had a wildness about him that never left. And he was not that easy to work with on the set. Sometimes he would run off, and he was sort of a diva. But he was worth it because he was such a box office attraction. Hank Potts who was a movie horse handler at the time said that he had an unusual and arresting gleam in his eye like the unattainable stare of an eagle. So he really did have a charisma that was very unusual.

DAVIES: There's a famous trainer named Yakima Canutt - do I have that - the name right?

MITCHUM: Yakima Canutt. Yakima was more of a stuntman than a trainer...

DAVIES: OK.

MITCHUM: ...He's quite a famous stuntman and horseman. And, yes, he had to work with Rex, and Rex actually attacked him.

DAVIES: You tell a story of where they were on the set. They were taking repeated take after take of a particular scene. And...

MITCHUM: Yes.

DAVIES: ...Canutt warned Rex is getting a little edgy here. What happened?

MITCHUM: Yes. Yakima Canutt co-starred with Rex in a movie called "The Devil Horse," in which Rex was playing - guess what? - the devil horse. And in one scene, Rex had to run to Canutt's character during an Indian battle, and that's the kind of liberty work that he excelled at, running from point A to point B completely at liberty, just watching the trainer off-camera give him a cue. And he had done it many, many times and was getting tired as horses do. And Canutt told the director, you know, I don't think we should press him for another take, but the director wanted another take.

And Rex just completely snapped and charged at Canutt with his teeth bared and really went after him, and he bit him, got him on the neck and knocked him to the ground, reared up and was striking at Canutt. And Canutt managed to roll away, and he kicked Rex on the nose. And Rex just kept coming after him even when the trainer, Swede Lindell, tried to call him off. And Canutt finally just was able to roll over a bank and escape and run away, so he was not completely tame. I've seen the film, and it is pretty frightening.

DAVIES: As you researched these horses and their trainers and what they were like on movie sets, do you - were horses aware of when the camera was on? Did they behave differently in rehearsal than they did when it was a real take?

MITCHUM: I've heard many stories of horses that absolutely came alive when they saw the little red camera light blinking. And jumping ahead in time, Jimmy Stewart's mountain, 17-westerns Pie was one of those horses who Stewart said he just felt him come alive underneath him the minute the camera started rolling. So, yes, the answer is some horses actually - they know when they're on camera.

DAVIES: It's interesting that you mention that pair. I don't know that people think of James Stewart as necessarily a Western star, but he did a lot of westerns. And this horse named Pie was his horse in 17 films, right?

MITCHUM: Yes, James Stewart rode this horse called Pie in 17 westerns, and he tried very, very hard to buy him from his owner, a woman named Stevie Meyers. And she wouldn't sell him, but she did let Stewart ride him in 17 films. And they just became so attuned to each other that in one film, "The Far Country," Stewart had developed such a rapport with him that he was able to get the horse to do something at liberty all by himself when the trainer was not around. They were on this location. The trainer wasn't on the set. And the horse needed to walk from one end of a street to another with no ropes on him or anything, and Stewart just went up to him, he said he whispered in his ear and told him what he needed him to do. And the horse did it. And everyone on the set was absolutely amazed, and Stewart just said, that was Pie. That's what he did. So he absolutely had an incredible bond with the horse.

DAVIES: Let's talk about one of the most famous cowboy and horse pairs, Roy Rogers and Trigger. How did they get together?

MITCHUM: Well, Roy Rogers was looking for a horse to be his movie horse, and he went to the Hudkin Brothers Stables. The Hudkin Brothers were an outfit that supplied movie horses to many of the studios, mainly Warner Bros. And Roy got on that horse, and he said, I got on the horse that was to become Trigger and rode him down the street and back and never looked at the rest of them. I said this is it. This is the color I want. He feels like the horse I want, and he's got a good rein on him. So I took Trigger, and I started my first picture. And they really became the most iconic pair, Trigger, being a gorgeous golden palomino horse with a white mane and tail, very, very flashy. And he was trained by a gentleman named Glenn Randall, who is considered to be one of the finest movie horse trainers in the business. And one of the things that Glenn Randall taught his horses - the ones that had the physical ability to do it - was to do a beautiful rear, standing up on the hind legs almost vertically and that Trigger could do just beautifully. So that was one of his trademarks, but he also had a number of tricks on him.

DAVIES: Does a particular stunt or trick come to mind?

MITCHUM: Yes, there was a film where Rogers and Trigger were jumping over a series of 50-gallon drums that were rolling off the back of a truck. And it was a completely unrehearsed scene, and Trigger just did it all perfectly in one take. He just was a great horse in terms of being confident. He and Roy had confidence in each other, which was so important, and just - and took this crazy stunt in stride. I mean, it's really quite astonishing, I would imagine, for a horse to see a bunch of barrels running straight at him and then just to have the presence of mind to just jump them and not flinch and not try and shy away from them. So it was a really spectacular scene.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Petrine Day Mitchum. Her new book is "Hollywood Hoofbeats." We'll continue our conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Petrine Day Mitchum. She has a new book with Audrey Pavia about Hollywood horses. It's called "Hollywood Hoofbeats."

You see horses fall a lot in film. And I gather that there were ways that this was done years ago that was kind of harmful to horses. Explain that for us.

MITCHUM: In the early days of filmmaking, falling horses were often trip-wired. And that means that they had wires attached to the front of their feet. And those wires were run up under their girth and attached either to a stationary pole or, in some cases, the rider would actually hold the wires and pull the horse's legs out from under him at a gallop. This was really an incredibly brutal, inhumane way of doing it.

Broncho Billy Anderson, the very first cowboy actor, employed this method. He didn't know anything about horses. You know, he didn't have any sentimental feelings towards them. He just wanted to get his movies made. Another way of tripping horses was to dig holes in the ground, and they would just gallop into the holes. And the most egregious and famous example of that is in "Charge Of The Light Brigade," Cecil B. DeMille's film.

DAVIES: That film was particularly tough on a lot of horses, right?

MITCHUM: Yes. That film - that 1936 movie "Charge Of The Light Brigade" is just stunning in the amount of carnage of horses and injuries to stunt riders as well. Errol Flynn, the star of the film, was really unaware of what was going to happen to all these horses when the charge began. And he was completely sickened to see horses go down. And, you know, they shot it over and over again, so there were - just - it was appalling.

Interestingly enough, as a sidebar, there was one trained falling horse in the film. But that's one out of many. Anyway, Flynn was so outraged and so despondent about this that he actually went public and talked about the misuse of horses. And this was the beginning of the American Humane Association's oversight of animal actors in film, which endures to today, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And when you go see a film and you see their little imprint and the no-animals-were-harmed-in-the-making-of-this-film, you'd better believe that no animals were harmed in the making of the film. So we have Mr. Flynn to thank for that wonderful advocacy for equine actors.

DAVIES: And in that film, "The Charge Of The Light Brigade," were horses actually killed?

MITCHUM: Yes, they were. If they weren't killed on the spot, their legs were broken so badly they had to be destroyed.

DAVIES: So what was the more humane way of making a horse fall?

MITCHUM: Well, the humane way of making a horse fall is actually centuries old. It's an old battlefield technique of teaching a horse to fall so that - I mean, it's not for a very good reason on the battlefield - so that you can fall a horse and use him as a shield.

But as it has evolved as really an art in the film business, it's a process by where the horse is trained very, very slowly, starting at a standstill. The trainer will pick up the horse's - one of the horse's front legs, maybe tie it up and slowly push him over - always onto soft ground - very, very carefully done so that the horse lands on his shoulder and he's not hurt. And once the horse is confident doing that - that he's not going to get hurt - then they'll start doing it at a walk and then at a trot and then finally, at a gallop.

This can take months to teach a horse, and not every horse is going to go for it. I mean, it's a very strange thing to do. But some horses just trust their trainer enough and have the athletic ability to do it. And from what I heard from talking to stunt men who trained their own falling horses, which is usually the case, they had horses who actually came to love it and anticipate it and were real star athletes.

DAVIES: Yeah. So you have the horse galloping along, and there's an appointed spot, which - where the ground is softer and there's a bit of padding - and then they give the horse the signal, and the horse rolls in a way that's safe.

MITCHUM: Yes. And you can tell a trained fall when you're watching a film by looking for the horse's head - looking at the horse's head. And as the horse is galloping along, the trainer will pull the horse's head, usually to the left, and he will fall on the opposite shoulder. So he's taking the weight off of the outside by pulling the horse's head to the inside and then cueing him to fall over onto the other side. And of course, the stunt man is wearing a saddle that has rubber stirrups on that side so when the horse is falling, he's not falling on anything hard. And of course, the rider has to get his leg out of the way, if possible. So it's a very, very carefully orchestrated - almost dance move, if you will.

DAVIES: Horses did funny things, too, right? I mean, are - do you have some favorite, I don't know, examples of horses being funny in the movies?

MITCHUM: Oh, absolutely. Well, certainly, going to television, there's Mister Ed...

DAVIES: Sure.

MITCHUM: ...With his clever talking.

MITCHUM: But in film, I would say one of the funniest horses was a horse called Dice, who was a black-and-white pinto horse. And he made some movies in the 1940s. They made a series of Dagwood and Blondie movies. And Dice appeared in a Dagwood and Blondie movie called "It's A Great Life" in which Dagwood is sent to buy a house and instead he buys a horse by mistake. Now he has to hide the horse, and it's just this whole silly setup.

And Dice is fabulous. He does things like he hides behind a sofa. And he walks into Dagwood's office building and takes the elevator upstairs and just performs a number of really clever tricks. And he just had a very - a very sort of cute look to him. He was a black-and-white pinto, and he was just kind of a - really, a natural clown. He also appeared with Gregory Peck in "Duel In The Sun" where he has a very flashy little cameo scene where he does some tricks to impress Jennifer Jones - picking up a hat and whinnying and counting and making faces, so he was quite the comedian.

DAVIES: A lot of movie stars, particularly in Westerns, you know, rode with the same horse for years and really developed, really, a close, affectionate relationship that extended after the horse retired. You want to just, I don't know, pick one or two and tell us about those emotional bonds?

MITCHUM: Well, one of the best examples I can think of is James Stewart and his wonderful mount Pie who he rode in 17 westerns. And when Pie passed away, Stewart had him buried in a secret grave in the San Fernando Valley. He would never tell anyone where he was. But he just - he wanted to make sure that the horse was buried and, you know, not sent off to be slaughtered or anything like that. So he made sure that he had a dignified death and had a good resting place.

William S. Hart, the very first movie cowboy - he had his horse Fritz buried on his ranch out in Newhall, Calif., which is now wonderful museum. And he just absolutely loved his horses and, you know, treated them like members of his family. So, yeah, those are two good examples.

DAVIES: As you researched this subject, was there something that really surprised you?

MITCHUM: One of the most surprising things for me to learn was that stunt horses really love doing their work. You know, you would think it would be hard on them and that they might sort of sour after time. But the really good ones apparently really loved to do it. Whether it was falling or jumping through candy glass or doing some other outrageous behavior, they really seemed to take pride in their work and loved their work and that they lived really long times despite the fact that what they were doing was dangerous and difficult.

DAVIES: Well, Petrine Day Mitchum, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MITCHUM: Thank you, Dave. It's so wonderful to speak to you. I'm really thrilled to have been part of FRESH AIR.

GROSS: Petrine Day Mitchum is the author of "Hollywood Hoofbeats." She spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies, who is also WHYY's senior reporter. Here's Jimmy Stewart telling the story we heard about earlier when he was working with the horse Pie on the 1954 Western "The Far Country."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMMY STEWART: It was almost a human thing between us. I think we liked each other. And I got so - I really talked to this horse. I know he understood. (LAUGHTER)

I know. I know one night - boy, I'm coming into a town, and I have a little bell on the horn of the saddle. And this sort of identifies me. And the bad guys are in the saloon. They're going to get me. And they hear the bell, and they say here he comes. Now, what Pie had to do - the camera goes on Pie's legs and then cut to the bad guys and goes on as Pie's walking. And then it goes up and there's nobody on Pie, and he's walking.

And they say - now, how long is it going to take you to get Pie to walk? And it was 3 o'clock at night, and there were lights and everything. How long is it going to get you - take you to get Pie to walk down this long street all by himself? And I said, well, I'll talk to him.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: And I went back and I really - I said, Pie...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Now, this is tough because you're horse.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: But you have to walk straight down there, and I'm not going to be on you, you see. But you have to walk right straight down and clear to the other end of the set. And the fellow says - how long is it going to take? You're going to talk all night?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I said no. I think he'll do it. So they - it was a dolly shot. you know. So they rolled the cameras, and Pie did it the first time. It was amazing, amazing.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I loved him. I loved the horse.

GROSS: That was Jimmy Stewart.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our classical music critic, Lloyd Schwartz, is also a poet. And among our favorite poems of his are the ones he wrote about his mother as her memory was beginning to fail. Over the years, Lloyd has read several of these on our show. Now three of these poems have been set to music and recorded. We asked Lloyd to read one of these poems and to play the musical setting.

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: When my mother was turning 90, her short-term memory began to disappear. But her old memories and fantasies remained extremely real. I didn't want to forget what she was telling me. So I started to write down what she was saying. I think that among my own poems, these are the ones most dear to me because they help bring my mother back. I was delighted when the young composer Mohammed Fairouz wanted to set three of these poems to music. They're now on a new recording called "No Orpheus." Like Orpheus, I was trying to bring someone I loved back from the land of the dead. The last poem in this series is in my mother's voice as she tells me about a remarkable dream.

"Her Waltz" - this is my dream. I'm dancing. Do you know how to dance? Do you like to dance? Waltzing - it's like electricity. It hurts when I walk. So I pick up a chair, and I start to waltz. I look in the mirror, and there I am dancing with a chair. I say to the mirror, I'm not so old. But the mirror says, yes, you are. You're old. You're nearly 90 years old. What are you doing waltzing around with a chair? Now, isn't that silly? An old lady... This is my dream. I see myself in the mirror waltzing with a chair. And that's the end of my dream. I once knew how to dance. I once knew how to waltz. And now I shall bid you good night.

On this new recording, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey brings to life what, to my ears, the music so vividly captures - my mother's imagination, her playfulness, her sense of loss and finally, her innate dignity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HER WALTZ")

KATE LINDSEY: (Singing) This is my dream. I'm dancing. Do you know how to dance? Do you like to dance? Waltzing is like electricity. It hurts when I walk. So I pick up a chair, and I start to waltz. I look in the mirror, and there I am dancing with a chair. I say to the mirror, I'm not so old. But the mirror says, yes, you are. You're old. You're nearly 90 years old. What are you doing waltzing around with a chair? Now, isn't that silly? An old lady... This is my dream. I see myself in the mirror waltzing with a chair. And that's the end of my dream. I once knew how to dance. I once knew how to waltz. And now I shall bid you good night.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the Creative Writing, MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He read his poem "Her Waltz," which was set to music by composer Mohammed Fairouz and sung by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey on a new recording on the Naxos label called "No Orpheus."

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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