(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from L-to-R are Clark/Clarke Stevens, John Carpenter, the short man in the doorway is Bill Chaney, behind him is Troy Tarrell, and the man on the far right is unidentified.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above, Carpenter wearing a left-handed, cross-draw holster and gunbelt in BADMAN'S GOLD (Jack Schwarz Productions, 1951).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above clip from a pressbook with Carpenter billed as 'John Forbes'.
|Special thanks to guest commentator Boyd Magers for authoring the biography on John Carpenter.|
Johnny Carpenter, the last of the shoestring B-western independent combination producer/stars, didn't make top drawer B-westerns, but through all the budget pinching and corner cutting, his love of western films shows through on the screen in much the same way his friend Ed Wood's did in low echelon horror films. Johnny tried. And tried hard to make decent, exciting B-westerns. His best was BADMAN'S GOLD (1951). Johnny didn't get started til it was nearly all over. If he'd come along ten years earlier --- who knows. But at least we must give him A for effort when every other producer was fleeing for the TV range.
What Johnny accomplished off screen, out of his own pocket, for hundreds of thousands of handicapped children who visited his "Heaven on Earth" ranch for 47 years far surpasses what he did on screen. Johnny's motto, emblazoned on a sign at the ramshackle ranch, read, "The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth. Dedicated free forever to the handicapped."
Johnny Carpenter --- a true western hero, on or off screen!
Born June 25, 1914, in the small Ozark mountain town of Debinsville, AR (just south of Russellville on Hwy 40), Johnny learned to horseback on his Dad's farm. His father also operated a butcher shop. Little else is known about his childhood, but as a member of the University of Arkansas varsity team at 18, he moved up to the Southern League and was set for a first team berth in 1936 with the Chicago White Sox when, during spring practice, he was run over by a car in a hit and run accident, breaking his left leg in seven places, breaking his back and causing internal injuries. In a body cast for 119 days, he lost his chance at a baseball career. During an eight year recuperation, he went back to riding and shooting on his Dad's farm, interests he had prior to baseball.
Johnny (and his brother, Frank 'Red' Carpenter) came west to Hollywood in the early '40s, finding work at a stable where he put his riding skills to use.
His first part in a film is apparently a bit in THUNDERING TRAILS ('43) with the 3 Mesquiteers at Republic. Working as a stuntman, he was the only stuntman to ride the entire prestigious Grand National horse race on film for Mickey Rooney's NATIONAL VELVET in '44. Johnny's also seen in NAVAJO TRAIL ('45) with Johnny Mack Brown, NORTHWEST TRAIL ('45) with Bob Steele, SANTA FE SADDLEMATES ('45) and EL PASO KID ('46) with Sunset Carson, SONG OF OLD WYOMING ('45) and COLORADO SERENADE ('46) with Eddie Dean, TRAIL OF KIT CARSON ('45) with Allan Lane, SONG OF THE WASTELAND ('47) with Jimmy Wakely, STRANGER FROM PONCA CITY ('47) with Charles Starrett, RELENTLESS ('48) with Robert Young, RED CANYON ('49) with Howard Duff, KID FROM TEXAS ('50) with Audie Murphy and COMANCHE TERRITORY ('50) with Macdonald Carey.
In 1950, Johnny hooked up with producer Jack Schwarz (releasing through Eagle-Lion) who gave Johnny bigger and better parts each time in I KILLED GERONIMO ('50) with Jimmy Ellison, BORDER OUTLAWS ('50) with Spade Cooley and Bill Edwards, FIGHTING STALLION ('50) with Bill Edwards, and Johnny's breakthrough film as the Tucson Kid in CATTLE QUEEN ('51) with Maria Hart. Directed by prolific Bob Tansey, this was a remake of Tansey's Trail Blazers title, BLAZING GUNS. Tansey then produced and directed Johnny in what is regarded as Carpenter's best B-western, BADMAN'S GOLD ('51) released again by Eagle-Lion. Tansey's death within the year put an end to any other starring films for Johnny for a couple of years. Meantime, he was riding and stunting at Universal-International in CAVE OF OUTLAWS ('51) with Macdonald Carey, DUEL AT SILVER CREEK ('52) with Audie Murphy, IRON MAN ('51) with Jeff Chandler and LAW AND ORDER ('53) with Ronald Reagan.
Johnny also found work in the early '50s on several episodes of TV's WILD BILL HICKOK starring Guy Madison.
But Carpenter's main claim to fame were the four B-westerns he self promoted in the '50s --- SON OF THE RENEGADE ('53) distributed by Schwarz again through United Artists; LAWLESS RIDER ('54) directed by stunt great Yakima Canutt and produced by longtime Gene Autry associate Alex Gordon --- again released by U.A.; OUTLAW TREASURE ('55) directed by B-vet Oliver Drake and distributed independently by Amco; and finally, I KILLED WILD BILL HICKOK ('56) directed by another stunt legend, Richard Talmadge. This one was even shot in Eastman Color.
Jack Schwarz was again involved in distribution through his own Equity Studios. For unknown reasons, on the last two Carpenter listed himself as writer/producer but billed himself while acting as John Forbes. Besides the name directors Johnny associated himself with, he'd also hire two or three name actors --- Douglass Dumbrille, Frankie Darro, Noel Neill (LAWLESS RIDER); Jack Ingram, Henry Wills (SON OF THE RENEGADE); Adele Jergens, Glenn Langan, Michael Whalen (OUTLAW TREASURE) and Tom Brown, Helen Westcott, Denver Pyle (I KILLED WILD BILL HICKOK).
To round out the casts in his films, Johnny fell back on friends and a stock company of regulars --- his brother Frank, Kenne Duncan, Whitey Hughes, Bill Coontz (aka Bill Foster), Verne Teters, Lou Roberson (brother of John Wayne stunt double Chuck Roberson), Bill Chaney, Roy Canada, Alyn Lockwood and Bill Ward. Bob Burns, who'd starred in a few silent 2-reelers at Universal and had played character roles all through the '30s and '40s, wound up his career with a part in LAWLESS RIDER. Carpenter went back to stunt work and roles as a heavy after I KILLED WILD BILL HICKOK.
In 1956, he appeared on eight episodes of the Russell Hayden produced JUDGE ROY BEAN with Edgar Buchanan, filmed on Hayden's ranch in Pioneertown, CA. Johnny's also seen in RED SUNDOWN ('56) with Rory Calhoun, WILD HERITAGE ('58) with Will Rogers Jr., NO PLACE TO LAND ('58), TOMBOY AND THE CHAMP ('61) and 7TH COMMANDMENT ('61). Johnny never gave up hope on producing another B-western. Leading lady Beatrice Gray, who'd worked opposite Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Kirby Grant and Johnny Mack Brown in the '40s, was Carpenter's 'wife' for a small scene in WILD HERITAGE. For our book Westerns Women (McFarland 1999) she told us:
"He talked me into investing $10,000 up front to finance a western script he called 'Johnny Ringo', which he'd direct. Everyone would get paid when it sold. It was shot in Jacksboro, a small town in Texas. One day, the leading lady's (Elaine Walker) husband misunderstandably told them (the cast) that I had money to pay their salaries. He organized a work stoppage only halfway into the film. So, it had to be shut down. I returned to L.A. minus my 10 grand. Johnny kept the film. I'd sure like to see it! What there is of it!"
It's very likely this was some of the footage Johnny showed me, my wife and stuntlady Evelyn Finley one 98 degree day in 1984 in his barn at his "Heaven on Earth" ranch in Lake View Terrace.
Johnny's first Heaven On Earth ranch, devoted to handicapped children, was in Glendale. Located there since the mid '40s, he moved the mock western town to Foothill Boulevard in Lake View Terrace (20 miles northwest of Los Angeles) in 1970 where he stayed til he was evicted in January 1994 to make way for a housing development. It was Johnny's empathy with handicapped kids stemming from his hit and run accident when he was 18 that led him to first open the ranch. He made a pact: If God would let him walk again, he would spend his life helping the handicapped. He kept his pact. Over the years, thousands of children from the L.A. school system and from such groups as the United Cerebral Palsy/Spastic Children's Foundation were greeted at the gates by Johnny as they spent the day for free touring the western town set and riding horseback, with Carpenter's help if need be. Johnny's many supporters pitched in to pay the $700 a month it cost to rent the five acres of land. These included former President Ronald Reagan, L.A. mayor Tom Bradley and the Variety Clubs of America.
Johnny told Readers Digest in 1982: "The Bible says, 'As you sow, so shall ye reap.' Well, I've reaped two-hundredfold. I've gotten more satisfaction out of this ranch than anything else I've ever done. Everything I own is on my back. Yet because of the ranch, I can get up every morning and walk down the street like a king. If I get to heaven, it'll be on the coattails of these kids."
Indeed, Johnny Carpenter entered Heaven on February 27, 2003, after a battle with cancer for a year or so at a Burbank nursing home. He was 88. He is survived by a sister, Corinne Bostian, of New Mexico. Johnny is buried at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
|Above from L-to-R are Al LaRue (before his days as 'Lash'), Sarah Padden, Jennifer Holt, Lee Bennett, unknown player (possibly Ray Elder), Eddie Dean, and Emmett 'Pappy' Lynn at the desk in a scene from the Cinecolor SONG OF OLD WYOMING (PRC, 1945), Eddie Dean's first starring oater. Carpenter, as ranchhand 'Buck', is in the upper right corner and was about 30 years old when this film was made.|
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Centered between two unidentified players are brothers Frank 'Red' Carpenter (light colored shirt) and John Carpenter in a scene from OUTLAW TREASURE (American Releasing Corp., 1955).