Producer Alex Gordon in Person!
Buck Jones Serial Episode, Riders of the Purple Sage, and Bar 20 Rides Again
Alex Gordon produced such “B” Westerns as The Bounty Killer, Requiem for a Gunfighter and Flesh and the Spur. He provides the following comments as a preface to tonight's presentation on the history of the “B” Western:
“From the days of The Great Train Robbery in 1903, western movies were virtually the backbone of the motion picture industry, and producers could figure the profits from their ‘B's in advance based on the number of theaters that would book these films at flat rentals as opposed to the percentage terms involved in the big releases. This uniquely American and profitable staple of the industry died with the advent of television in the early Fifties. Unable to compete not only with the hundreds of old westerns released to the new medium at the time but with the production of new TV shows like Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Bonanza, theatrical release stopped in 1952.
“Italian, Spanish and German producers stepped into the void, creating the spaghetti westerns that shot Clint Eastwood to fame, and filming the novels of Karl May, who had never seen the West, with Lex Barker, Stewart Granger and Rod Cameron portraying his heroes, ‘Old Shatterhand,' ‘Old Surehand' and ‘Old Firehand.'
“The success of these efforts caused Hollywood to resume production of westerns, but on a larger scale, and the stars of these epics like John Wayne, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea and Henry Fonda did not confine their appearances exclusively to the genre. In previous years, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Gregory Peck, Alan Ladd, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn had made an occasional foray into the field, but the stars of the ‘B' westerns, turned out in series of six or eight a year by every studio except MGM and Fox, toplined cowboy actors who worked in these films exclusively, and there was a separate industry tradepaper poll listing the order of their draw and popularity at the box office.
“Whereas the big budget western could emphasize the challenging character development found in the books of Owen Wister, Bret Harte, Ernest Haycox and Rex Beach or the screenplays of Borden Chase and W.R. Burnett, the brief running time of the ‘B' - usually 57 minutes to 65 minutes - required loose adaptations that often bore little resemblance to the original and pin-pointed the action, fights and chases demanded by its loyal audience every week. The many Zane Grey, Clarence E. Mulford and Peter B. Kyne stories are prime examples of this, with William Boyd's successful portrayal of movie ‘father figure' Hopalong Cassidy (pre-dating Lorne Greene in Bonanza) a far cry from Mulford's hard drinking hard swearing limping creation!”