Laughter fills the room where former cast members of two
Hollywood films made in the 1950s gather to remember their brief
acting careers and take a look at some still photographs taken
during the filming.
Both films, "The Great Sioux Uprising"and "Pillars
of the Sky,"were shown as part of a double feature Friday
afternoon at the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.
But laughter was almost the undoing of the many members of
the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation who
were hired to play Sioux Indians in the 1952 film "The Great
"They kept getting after the Indians because they were
laughing,"remembers Doug Minthorn.
"Yes, that was their biggest complaint too much
laughing,"adds Caroline Davis.
Even when they were supposed to be taking the heroine of the
story as a hostage, the funny side of the whole situation got
"They couldn't make me keep a straight face," remembers
As part of the story, Patrick was supposed to grab the heroine
and pull her into a teepee.
"The only problem was I didn't really know where to start
grabbing her," Patrick laughs.
Consequently, she kept escaping when she wasn't supposed to.
After several takes, Patrick decided he was going to keep his
hold no matter what, only to be told by a director "Hey,
you, Patrick, that woman is worth $1 million, take it easy."
Davis recalls the days of fall filming as being a lot of fun,
filled with lots of good food, but it also had a down side. It
was a chance of a lifetime for most of the young Indians, who
were earning $50 to $60 a day for their work, but not everyone
saw it that way.
"I flunked English that quarter because of the movie,"said
Davis " I passed all the daily work and the tests but the
teacher flunked me on attendance."
All those playing Indians in the film were asked to wear a
dark heavy pancake makeup as well as long braided wigs for the
"I remember how cold the makeup was and how ugly the
dresses were,"said Davis. "They were a heavy brown buckskin,
not the pretty white dresses we have here."
"I used to have a hard time with my darn wig," Patrick
said "My sister would try and straighten it up ."
On the whole the young extras found the cast and crew to be
friendly. Jeff Chandler, the male star of the film, was remembered
with particular fondness.
"Jeff was a comical guy," recalled Minthorn.
Davis remembers him as being very tall. She said she also
recalls one occasion when a young Indian boy was hiding in a teepee
behind Chandler as he uttered the line "I come in peace."
The boy repeatedly broke up the scene when he would whisper "And
how many pieces will you be leaving in?"
For most it was a one-time experience but Gordon Waters, who
appeared in "Pillars of the Sky" with his cousins and
an uncle, well remembers his uncle being cast as one of the chiefs.
Additional scenes had to be shot and Waters' uncle was flown to
California and spent three weeks in Hollywood in order to complete
What do they see when they watch the movies now?
"It is what you don't see. I watched a lot of scenes
(being filmed) and only two of them are actually in the movie,"
said Kenny Van Pelt.
Van Pelt did most of the ground work for the film, including
creating all the infrastructure needed for the crews and equipment.
"I remember the good riding," said Minthorn "I
walk over that ground now and think we must have been crazy."
The actors were often asked to ride full tilt on horseback
in pursuit of someone or while being pursued, Minthorn said. Frequently
they would get out of order or take a wrong turn, resulting in
the inevitable "Cut!" from the director.
"They always were saying, 'All you Indians stay behind
your chief, stay behind your chief,'" laughs Patrick.