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Hail To Republic!

by Leonard Maltin
September 29, 2010 4:00 AM
8 Comments
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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.

Last weekend, 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.

An array of Republic stars: Joan Leslie (partly hidden), Ben Cooper, Adrian Booth (aka Lorna Gray), Michael Chapin, Peggy Stewart, Dick (formerly Dickie) Jones, Donna Martell, and Anne Jeffreys. I unintentionally cut off Hugh O’Brian, at right, I’m afraid!

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.

Jamie Nudie brought one of her father’s decked out cowboy cars and a few of his equally elaborate outfits. Nudie outfitted so many Western stars it’s impossible to keep track.

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.

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8 Comments

  • Kevin S.Butler | October 9, 2010 5:52 AMReply

    I wish that I had been there for this 75th anniversary tribute to one of the most prolific independent film studios.

    I'm glad that "Republic Pictures"is being remember.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful news Lenny!

    Kevin S.Butler

  • movieirv | October 9, 2010 1:16 AMReply

    This sound slike a great event! Wish I was there.

  • movieirv | October 9, 2010 1:16 AMReply

    This sound slike a great event! Wish I was there.

  • Christine From, Chair, Cultural Affairs Committee | October 4, 2010 8:43 AMReply

    Lizzie and Lisa get recognized, but so should all of those who worked so hard to put this event together. As Mary stated, it was a labor of love for the entire Cultural Affairs Committee of the Studio City Neighborhood Council. We thank you for your participation and praise for our efforts!

  • Alfred "Ed Moch" Cota | October 1, 2010 5:59 AMReply

    Yes... I agree that celebrating the 75th. Anniversary event Republic Pictures was a grand success. Being an actor-performer myself, it was nice to have attended and interact with as many as we could. Those truly were the days :)

  • Michael Henderson | September 30, 2010 11:15 AMReply

    They made some fun films & serials. Pity so much has remained unseen even on 'gray' area DVD-Rs. And so much was cut down for TV hour slots and increasing advert time. Be nice to see a good package of legal DVDs of some of their films like Ruth Terry films. One can hope.

  • RJ McHatton | September 29, 2010 9:35 AMReply

    I have been a life long fan of Republic Pictures films ever since I started watching John Wayne Theater every Saturday afternoon on the local TV channel in AZ. Republic Pictures made the kinds of films that I really liked, with lots of action, great stars, some very funny character actors, and a happy ending. Congratulations on 75 years of movie making!

  • Mary Mallory | September 29, 2010 3:02 AMReply

    Thank you so much for the praise and writeup! It was a long and difficult process in putting this together, but it was a labor of love for all of us on the planning committee. We appreciate your words.

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