From Sam Fuller’s autobiography:
[Writer/producer Myles Connolly] and I started throwing around ideas for his picture. It was supposed to be about a character based on Tom Mix, the cowboy star of silent films who’d made scores of Westerns. Then came the talkies, and Mix didn’t make the transition successfully. Myles and I came up with a story about a silent cowboy star who doesn’t want to play a gangster role in a talkie because he wants to be loyal to his fans. He doesn’t want to disappoint the kids who are crazy about his Westerns. We called it Once a Hero, but after the movie went into production, they gave it the more commercial title of It Happened in Hollywood.
Harry Lachman, who’d been a successful painter in Paris, directed the picture. Lachman is forgotten today, but he made over thirty movies before he stopped directing in the early forties. Fay Wray played the female lead. This was after King Kong distinguished her from all the pretty blondes of the day as the one who could scream the best. the Tom Mix character, Tim Bart, was played by Richard Dix. It Happened in Hollywood was my first real credit on a picture.
Fay Wray, the one who could scream the best:
The name wasn’t changed soon enough – the Once a Hero title card made it onto the film. Celeb cowboy actor Bart is introduced screening his latest movie to sick kids, a real white-hat good-guy honest friendly lunkhead. He and his leading lady Gloria are called back to Hollywood for sound tests – she makes it but Bart, dressed in a silly period suit and made to speak out-of-character flowery dialogue, gets cut. Gloria later gets him a bit part as a gangster but he walks when the script is changed to make him a cop killer.
“The day of Westerns is over. We have to make the pictures indoors from now on.” Recalls The Naked City, which we watched the same week, finally making the pictures outdoors again.
Bart in gangster getup with his director:
Out of work and unpopular when a young fan comes to visit, Bart throws a party and invites all the stars’ doubles and stand-ins to delight the kid – the highlight of the picture. Some stand-ins do the voices better than others – Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s have no problem since they don’t speak.
This is not W.C. Fields:
The improbabilities pile up… a realtor, after Bart to repossess his mansion while the party is being held, is kidnapped. Bart and Gloria tearfully confess to each other that they’re broke. The boy falls ill and the doctor says he can’t be moved. Tim hits his low point, about to reenact the bank robbery for real, ends up foiling a more serious bank robbery and shooting the criminals. Now a hero in the papers, he’s hired back by the studio, Westerns make a comeback and Tim opens a ranch for sick kids. That’s a better ending than Tom Mix got, touring with a circus after leaving the movies, marrying for the fifth time then dying when his car plunged into a ravine.
Did anybody realize that Blake Edwards made a movie in which Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) teams up with Wyatt Earp to solve a murder at the Academy Awards? It came out three months before Die Hard.
A boy in trouble:
Decent movie. I liked Richard Dix (who’d really been a silent film star, and not exclusively in Westerns) but Fay Wray made more of an impression. It all confused Katy, who knows Sam Fuller is some kind of badass and didn’t follow his connection with this movie. I didn’t either, honestly – assuming Power of the Press and Scandal Sheet will show off more of his style (I already know that Shockproof does).