Monday, May 30, 2011

Music On Monday quickie: grab yourself some Maddox Brothers & Rose!

Maddox Brothers and Rose deserve (and will get) a whole post of their own one of these days as they are tops on the playlists around here (last year Rose Maddox toppled Wanda Jackson as the Little Cowgirl's #1 singer after a reign of 3-4 years!). But right now I just wanted to let you all now that there are some great Maddox posts going up at Uncle Gil's Rockin' Archives. One is here, another is here. Go check them out, you won't be sorry you did!

Music On Monday: Rank And File

I grew up listening to my mom's folk records* (which included a lot of "cowboy" songs) -- I mean, we really sang stuff around the house like "Comin' Round the Mountain" and "Streets of Laredo", yes pretty square but I'm glad for it now. But the first Western music I bought that was my own was probably the album Sundown by Rank and File. My favorite track off it is "Coyote" but "The Conductor Wore Black", is a close second:

Being a kid, and having no real way to find out about bands then (no internet omg can you believe it) until I actually got my own copy of the LP I totally thought it was a male/female duet, like X. But it was actually harmonizing from two brothers, Tony and Chip Kinman (of Dils fame) as you can see in this live clip of them from the era:

I think I had all 3 albums on vinyl, but Sundown is the only one that has survived into my digital playlists. Maybe it really is their best (it's the only album they recorded with Alejandro Escovedo), maybe it's just because it recalls a certain time in my life. For whatever reason, I love them to this day.

*my father and uncles listened to psychedelic rock and prog rock. It was an interesting mix, to say the least. At least both of my parents listened to classical music, otherwise they'd have probably split up even sooner!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sew Western! McCall 1332 -- spotted in the wild!

I've been collecting (and occasionally sewing) vintage patterns since I was about 15, and with an overly large collection I've got some really cute Western patterns I'd like to share here -- but today I want to show you a pattern I do not actually own. It's McCall 1332, from 1947. This image of it is from the Commercial Patterns Archive:

view B shows the clear Rogers influence with squinty eyes and all --  
although really he'd be wearing one of the flashier versions, I think!

It's one of my favorites, but I've never seen it at an affordable price (especially since I doubt I'd ever actually make it up) -- and yesterday I saw the actual product of this pattern! Taking a break to rest my eyes while working, I turned to ebay and stumbled across this vintage gabardine shirt, which looked familiar to me.....

It's view A from the pattern above, copied down to the piping color!

It took me a few minutes but then I realized, it's actually a handmade shirt, made from McCall's 1332, probably not long after it came out. (The seller dates it to the 1940s.) I was flabbergasted -- while I've come across plenty of hand-made vintage clothing over the years, I've never been able to actually match anything up to its original pattern myself -- and to see something this spectacular in real life? Amazing.

The embroidery is seriously impressive. I can't imagine how long it took -- 
but I can understand why the maker quit before embroidering the collar!

I've never done embroidery like this on clothing, but now I want to!

 That cuff is just....splendiferous.

My personal guess is that this shirt was either for square dancing or for a musician who performed locally and wanted to emulate the flashy "Hollywood Hillbilly" style of musicians like the Maddox Brothers and Rose. I don't think anyone would put this much work into something worn once a year at a dude ranch. But who knows? Maybe someone just loved dressing up this way. McCall started putting out patterns like this in 1946, adding this one in 1947, and they put out quite a few over the years, so they have to have been popular enough.

Wouldn't you love to know this shirt's backstory?

Big thanks to Mark of  Dead 'n Gone Vintage (Firefly Vintage on ebay) for letting me use his images! You can see the shirt in more detail here until it sells.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cowgirl Book Club: Cowgirls, Stories of Trick Riders, Sharp Shooters, and Untamed Women

This book contains a series of biographical essays by a group of writers, with no real context overall -- the women profiled are all just women who lived in the West, pretty much. The book has very few illustrations -- and when there are any, they're random and usually unrelated to either the chapter they're in or the caption next to them! And only a handful are even identified -- the book doesn't even tell you that the cover photo (above) is of Bonnie McCarroll getting thrown at a rodeo several years before she died during a contest -- an event that changed the direction of rodeo competition forever, so I'd say pretty significant and maybe worth a tiny caption? The chapters themselves are pretty dry and reads like an earnest juvenile non-fiction book until you hit descriptions of prostitutes and venereal disease (oops, stop peeking over my shoulder, little girl!) You can take a total pass on this book, there's not anything in here that isn't presented better in other books.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gene Autry: Melody Trail (1935)

Another modern setting, and another movie we really enjoyed. Singing star Gene wins a bronco-riding contest at a rodeo and $1,000 -- but that night, while he and Smiley are asleep (and Gene is dreaming about marrying a girl he saw in the stands at the rodeo), bad "gypsy" Black Frantz sneaks in and steals all the dough. And even though Gene is a nationally famous singing star who performed at the rodeo....somehow they are flat broke and don't know what to do next.

He doesn't stay bummed out for long though, because the next morning they meet Gene's dream girl! She's local ranch owner daughter Millicent, who's in town with her dad and her kleptomaniac dog Souvenir (who is played by Buck the Wonder Dog). Gene is mad for her, so he and Frog go and apply for jobs as cook and bull cook at her ranch, even though they of course cannot cook at all. Meanwhile, the ranch's cowboys have all been suspended on suspicion of rustling the ranch's cows, and Millicent has hired herself a full complement of cowgirls! And to complicate things further...Souvenir has actually stolen a baby from the gypsy camp! Holy smokes!

 Even broke Gene is a sharp dresser. I love this simple piped gingham shirt. 
Also, how handsome is he here?

When Gene discovers the baby at the ranch, Millicent lets him think she is the mother (she thinks this is funny) so he's put off a bit since he can't figure out if she's a widow, divorced or.....what. He and Frog need the money, so they ask for the job anyway. Millicent's dad says no, but after Gene catches a pony going bonkers he relents. Probably a mistake, because when Souvenir steals their only cookbook, they improvise and nearly kill all the cowgirls. But they warm up to him eventually when they find him singing a lullaby to the baby.

A little role reversal as the cowboys dish up dinner for the cowgirls....
 ooh, don't ever let Gene and Frog cook for you....

Black Frantz tracks down the baby and tries to take him (her?) home, but Gene thinks Frantz is kidnapping Millicent's baby and goes after the ensuing confusion Black Frantz wrecks his car, thinks Gene's after the money and returns almost all of it to Gene (who seems suprised, as if he's completely forgotten losing a thousand dollars, which is something like $16,000 in today's money!) who then takes the baby back to the ranch.

 A rare look at the gentle side of Smiley Burnette.

But oh wait! There are cattle rustlers, remember? They steal the cowgirls' clothes to keep them busy while they get down to some more cattle rustling. But, they're bad so they're not going to win -- Gene chases the ringleader (a neighboring rancher who wants their land, I think....) in a car (?!?) and the cowboys are vindicated, because of course they were unjustly accused. When everyone gets back to the ranch, Black Frantz is there to collect his baby and everyone's relieved -- Millicent's happy to return the baby, Frantz and his wife are happy to have their baby back, and Gene's relieved to find out that Millicent is not a mother after all.

Millicent's dad is still cranky though, and he fires Gene and Frog, then fires the cowgirls because they still haven't come back. They then turn up, wearing boxes and barrels (really! the Post Toasties box was my favorite). Millicent's dad hires the cowboys back, but Millicent wants the cowgirls to agree first. Finally, everything is settled by a giant mass wedding of all the cowboys and cowgirls, including Gene and Frog!

 Amazingly, the comedy relief sidekick does not get the comedy relief girl!

Most of the rodeo sequence is shot on location at an actual rodeo (with some weird matched clips from the announcer's booth -- notice the random bottle of milk that seems the be there only because someone noticed that in the location footage there is a bottle of milk sitting on that rail) so there's a lot of rodeo action in the beginning. And the cowgirls are a lot of fun to see, I loved their outfits. And their forewoman, Nell, is a riot. The gypsies are ridiculous, of course, but they are such over-the-top Hollywood creations they don't seem like they have any connection to real people and it didn't raise any questions.

Ann Rutherford plays Millicent and is pretty cool, running around in jodphurs and bossing the ranch. She's in a few more Autry films, but this is her best appearance as far as I'm concerned. This movie also introduces Smiley's fully formed "Frog Millhouse" character, who he will continue to play throughout his  Republic career. And Buck the Wonder Dog is actually a great dog actor - when he stole the cookbook it just about killed me! I was surprised to see that this film is not out on DVD yet, I think it's much more enjoyable than some of the films that have been released.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crafty Cowgirls: Rodeo Pegdoll how-to!

How cute is this little rodeo darling? Well-known felt-crafter Elizabeth from Creative Breathing made this a year or so ago and posted photos - I thought it was unbelievably cute but wouldn't have the slightest idea how to make something like this. But last week she posted a detailed tutorial! I printed the whole thing out right away -- although who knows when I'll find the time to even go buy some pipe cleaners.

She's got some other cute cowgirl crafts in her Rodeo Girls category, but there are a few related posts that missed being tagged, like these cute rodeo bluebirds and best of all....the story of how her mother met Roy Rogers! Don't miss that one, it's a fantastic tale, but she has the proof that it happened!

If you make a rodeo doll, let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gene Autry: Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935)

Gene Autry Collection: Tumbling Tumbleweeds

Gene's first starring role, and his first film under the newly formed Republic banner. From the opening titles and montage of stock footage (cows! and shooting! and cows! and -- wait, is that a cannon?), we learn that there is a range war going on between the original cattlemen in the West and the recently arrived Nesters (or homesteaders). Gene's dad is one of the cattlemen, but when all-out war is declared Gene doesn't want to fight. He just wants to live in peace, play the guitar and sing, and....well, seems he's in love with a Nester gal. But Gene does show up during the fight, saving his father's life and preventing anyone from being hurt by a runaway load of explosives. Unfortunately, no-one can be bothered to tell Gene's dad that Gene did any of this, and his dad kicks him out of town and disowns him for being a weak sister. He rides out of town and we dissolve to...

...Five Years Later, as Gene returns a radio and recording star, and part of Dr Parker's medicine show (Purveyors of Phun Phrolic and Painless Panacea!) -- along with Dr Parker (played by Gabby Hayes in a rare non-Gabby performance), Smiley, Frankie Marvin, and Eugene Jackson. On their way into town, they find Gene's old pal Harry -- wearing an odd shirt with little horseshoes all over it and the strangest drawn-on mustache I've ever seen -- who's badly injured and wanted for murder...the murder of Gene's father!! And....he married Gene's girl!! They head on into town, give a great show (lots of numbers, including Gene's first hit "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine" and a swell tap-dance number from Eugene Jackson) and try and sell some of Dr Parker's Panacea while Gene tries to solve the mystery of his father's murder (because of course he doesn't believe Harry did it).

There's some extremely complicated business about a land sale or transfer and a stolen receipt that meant that Gene's Silver-Haired Daddy was finally making peace with the Nesters, which the bad guys tried to stop and cover up by killing him and stealing some papers -- a plan which the bad guys couldn't possibly have actually gotten away with -- but really it doesn't matter since the good guys save the day, Harry is reunited with his wife and Gene realizes that his former crush's little sister has grown up to be quite a cutie as well.

 Sorry Gene, I married Harry while you were gone....

...but it's okay! Remember me, the little sister? I grew up cute!

This movie confused us a bit - the opening crawl mentions the "Old West" and how the range wars broke out  when settlers (the Nesters) showed up. Historically, this should set the movie in the 1880s or so (see some background here)....but once we got past the stock footage it looked like everyone was wearing modern clothes. But I thought, well, men's clothes don't change so much, so they're just being sloppy. And Gene joins a medicine show, which seemed to place it in the 1800s. But then, he has a record out! And the women in town are all wearing 1930s clothes! Did this range war last 50 years? 

Much to my surprise, it turned out that while this movie definitely takes place in the never-never-land West of Autry's and Republic's imaginations, there were still disputes going on over grazing rights and land management in the 1930s, enough so that the Taylor Grazing Act was passed in 1934 to help regulate the use of public lands. (And technically, range wars still go on today in disputes over grazing rights and land management -- although with less shooting and guitar playing, I think.) Another surprise? Medicine shows were still around in the 1930s -- in fact, they were common until WWII and the last well-known travelling show ran up until 1951. So the world of Tumbling Tumbleweeds is sort of, slightly, probable.

Definitely a good one to start with -- everyone's still a little unformed but the basic pattern and characters for the whole series is set, there's lots of action and music, and because it's a low-budget modern setting, you get to see lots of real-life 1930s dresses and hairstyles on the women.

Nice mustache, Harry. You draw that yourself?

Note: Yes, the Phantom Empire comes before this, but the Little Cowgirl refuses to watch it. I think because of the science-fiction parts - and maybe the weird robots. So we're going through it on the side. I'll post about it when we finally finish it up!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Little Cowgirl Book Club: Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa

This is a series of books (6 so far, I think?) for younger readers that we found at our library. Kate is a working cowgirl on her family's ranch -- which I thought was pretty cool. Her pony, Cocoa, is a bit difficult -- he basically doesn't want to work and likes to eat a lot. But she always convinces him to get back to the job of being a cowpony (he talks to her). Very cute books, but much too young for my little cowgirl. She enjoyed looking through them but was done in a few minutes. I would say they're great picture books for reading aloud, or for early readers to tackle, and for kids at those level she and I definitely recommend them.

Check it out at Amazon; or find it at your local library!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

skipped: Gene Autry in Mystery Mountain (1934)

Mystery Mountain

Gene Autry's second film appearance is as a wagon train driver (with Smiley) in this Ken Maynard serial from 1934. Looks like they are briefly in chapter six, no singing, just a shootout. If it was online somewhere, I'd have looked for his scene, but I couldn't find it. The library might have it but...I really didn't care. Onward!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gene Autry: In Old Santa Fe (1934)

In Old Santa Fe

Gene makes his film debut in this Ken Maynard film as a musician in a dude ranch party scene. (At least I think it's a dude ranch, I can't actually watch Ken Maynard long enough to be sure what's going on). Smiley Burnette is here as well, and I think I see series regular Frankie Marvin in the band as well.

Scoot ahead to 29:30 and you'll see Gene call a square dance, then sing "Someday In Wyoming", followed by Smiley doing his hit "Mama Don't Allow No Music", and then both of them sing "Down in Santa Fe" (with audience participation!). As a bonus, you get to see Ken Maynard glowering and emoting, and Gabby Hayes doing....I have no idea what he's doing. Also, lots of very pretty 1930 evening gowns on the guests (although, shouldn't they be in western getups at a dude ranch?) Look! Gene is so young he almost sparkles! And I love his little tie.

We didn't watch this whole film, the Little Cowgirl has no interest in Ken -- neither did I. So no clue what else happened in this one. Just zip ahead and enjoy the music!

about my movie write-ups

The movies we are watching are from the 30s and 40s, so you can assume they will be of their time -- both in a good way and in a bad way. Villains are villainous, ladies need saving, there's gunplay and fisticuffs. The world is pretty white, and if there is someone of color they're likely to be a cook or a porter (although not always!). If you are watching old films (not just westerns) with a kid, you are probably aware of this sort of thing, and how you choose to discuss it and/or mitigate it is your business. I'm not going to bother pointing out the general issues that arise on old films.

Generally, I don't see much that makes me cringe in Autry films, but there are moments here and there and sometimes serious I-want-to-cover-my-kid's-eyes-and-ears moments. The sort of thing where you don't necessarily need to skip the movie, but you might want to be prepared before your 6-year-old makes WTF? face at you. That's the stuff I wish there was a guide for, and that's the stuff I will be mentioning. Because no-one needs to be caught unawares by unexpected blackface.

About me, and this blog

Welcome to my little blog of the West - I regularly blog elsewhere about sewing, cooking, and other d.i.y. topics, but between being sick of my blog software, going through a lot of changes in my life, and having little/no free time anymore (due to some of those changes and other factors - I work at home while homeschooling our daughter and running the household) I found myself never, ever blogging. I would want to write something, but I'd never get past uploading the photos to my computer. Everything just seemed to be too time consuming, and too much trouble, and, dare I say, too pointless. 

What I found that I did want to write about was our love of retro Western culture, which started in this house with music (although my own interest goes back to my childhood) and then got magnified through Our Little Cowgirl's obsession with everything western, and our household's newly discovered love of Gene Autry. (We are currently working our way through his entire filmography!) I wanted to take notes for myself (and any other interested parent/fan) but it seemed like it would be bizarre to suddenly change the whole course of my DIY blog. You know, years of making yogurt and sewing clothes and then suddenly - yodeling and cowboy movies? I thought it would make more sense to just start fresh like an 1800s homesteader. On this blog I'll be writing up all the Autry movies as we watch them (plus any side trips we take), as well as music, clothes, books and whatever catches my fancy.

So here I am: goin' West with my little cowgirl, hopefully into the sunset and not off a cliff.
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