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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 12, 2002 - Issue 53


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Tribal Actors Found it Hard to be Stern

by SHELLY INGRAM of the East Oregonian
credits:Staff photo by Shelly Ingram, Douglas Minthorn, left, Lawrence Patrick, seated, and Kenny Van Pelt take a closer look at some of the still photographs taken near Pendleton in 1952 during the filming of “The Great Sioux Uprising.”
Reservation members hired to play Sioux Indians in 1950s films recall lots of laughter

Examing Still PhotosMISSION — 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 Sioux Uprising."

"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 to them.

"They couldn't make me keep a straight face," remembers Lawrence Patrick.

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 men.

"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 the work.

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.

Mission, OR near
Mission, OR far

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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