Paint Your Wagon: Baker's Rocky Horror Picture Show?

July 11, 2001 12:00 am
A model of No Name City is displayed at the Oregon Trail Regional Museum along with other items and photos. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
A model of No Name City is displayed at the Oregon Trail Regional Museum along with other items and photos. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

A few lucky people are born to be actors.

Others are lucky enough to have just built homes that actors wish to rent.

Even though its been 33 summers since the cast and crew from Paint Your Wagon did their filming here, stories about the impact the film had on local residents are still fresh in the minds of at least two families.

To honor that storied time in Baker Citys history, the film will enjoy a premiere of sorts. It will be shown downtown outdoors, on the facade above Marilyns Music beginning at dusk Friday, July 20, as part of the Miners Jubilee celebration.

The free event is sponsored by Historic Baker City, which purchased a 35-millimeter film version of Paint Your Wagon on the web site eBay, according to board president Beverly Calder. Calder and HBC executive director Diane Adams joined projectionist Mark Alderson one evening recently to test the film, which will be thrown across Main Street in drive-in fashion. A wide-angle lens on the projector will enhance the experience.

Residents are invited to bring lawn chairs and relive the tale of Ben (Lee Marvin) and Pardner (Clint Eastwood), who find themselves both married to Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) after Ben purchases her at auction.

Since Pardner and Ben are business partners in a mining operation, they decide sharing a wife is simply an extension of sharing a mining claim.

The film features several memorable moments, including Eastwood, who would three years later star as Dirty Harry, singing, tenderly, I Talk to the Trees. The film also sports a climax in which an entire town is enveloped into the earth in a sinkhole caused by the greed of the protagonists.

(The film) ties in with mining, and its been our long-term goal to bring this back to Baker City, Calder said the night she was checking the equipment.

She said shed like to see people show up in period (1850s) costumes, singing such songs as They Call the Wind Maria along with Harve Presnell and company.

This is our very own Rocky Horror Picture Show, Calder said with a smile.

Before that cult classic was ever dreamed of, Paint Your Wagon director Joshua Logan brought an all-star cast to Baker City and transformed East Eagle Meadow, 46 miles northeast of Baker City, into what passed for Californias gold rush country of 1849-50.

Babes in the wagon

But two actors he couldnt cast were two babies to play the newborn that Elizabeth rides into No Name City with. Elizabeth creates an understandable stir among the miners when she nurses the baby in the lobby of what passes as No Name Citys hotel.

Playing that baby earned former Baker City residents Susan and Richard Creighton their sole film credit and they got the part solely by virtue of being born in the right place at the right time, their mother said.

Born 20 minutes apart March 25, 1968, the two were discovered for the role when the casting director was scouring area hospital records to find twins the right age. Susan and Richard fit the bill exactly, said their mother, Judy Dubsky, who lives in Pasco, Wash.

Twins typically play one baby because labor law restricts the time they can spend on the set. In those days, Dubsky said, that limit was five minutes per day per baby. Because time was so short, the two scenes they were in took parts of 20 days to film.

They were very good to the babies, Dubsky remembers. They had a wardrobe mistress and babysitters both at home and on the set. It was really fun being on the set.

One of the reasons, she said, was that they typically took their lunches across the table from Eastwood, whom Dubsky met again at a golf tournament two years ago.

She started with the line, You probably don't remember me, but Eastwood did indeed remember her, her children, and his time in Baker City.

He gave me an autograph and said, Oh my gosh, Paint Your Wagon, she said, in a way that indicated he hadnt thought about the film in a long time. I was surprised he remembered. He was a good guy, and so was Lee Marvin.

One Sunday afternoon while the film was being shot, Dubsky took an older daughter to the Eltrym Theater to see a recently-released Marvin film called Sergeant Ryker. As she was purchasing her ticket, she heard a familiar deep voice behind her.

You have good taste in movies, the voice told her. Do you mind if I go with you?

The voice, of course, belonged to Marvin, and he sat with the pair as the story of the Korean War soldier accused of treason unfolded. Unfortunately for Dubsky, the film put her daughter to sleep.

There is one of my critics, Marvin noted sadly.

Dubsky said her only regret about the Paint Your Wagon experience is that she forgot to ask Paramount Studios for residuals for her children.

Im sure if we had asked, we would have gotten them, she said. But the job paid well, and they provided us with everything we needed in the Eagles (mountains), from cribs to warm and cold clothing. My children have both enjoyed knowing they were a part of it.

An offer he couldnt refuse

F.B. Clarke of Baker City would tell you the same thing. Eastwood made me an offer I couldnt refuse to lease the new house he had just built in Wingville Corner for his family of eight. The offer was made just as the family was about to move in, Clarke said, and to accommodate the star the family had to live in the adjacent caretakers cottage for four months.

But what a four months it was, Clarke said.

I flew a lot of brass around during World War II, Clarke said, and most of them were people just like you and me. (Eastwood) was like that, too.

The actor relished his privacy, Clarke said, and he put in long hours on the set. But still he managed to over-feed one of the childrens 4-H pigs, so much so that the pig had to be scratched from the county fair and slaughtered earlier than planned.

Clarke said he created a stir that summer during a 4-H auction when he bid a pig way up in Eastwoods name. The crowd naturally assumed the star was in attendance. He wasnt, but Clarke said he still got Eastwood to pay for the pig hed bid on.

Once Eastwood needed a pair of his pants hemmed in a hurry. He turned the project over to Clarkes then high school-aged daughter, Terri, who did the work and was paid $45 for her effort.

For a time during the summer, Clarke said, Eastwoods wife and infant child joined him in Baker City. The family, devotees of health food, searched area markets in vain for goats milk for their baby until veterinarian Dr. Bill Kuhl came to their rescue.

Most everyone in town was involved somehow with those people, Clarke said.

Clarke said that Eastwoods favorite stuntman, George Fargo, also lived in the actors rented house during the four months of shooting. It was the personable Fargo who spent many evenings playing with Clarkes three boys Tabor, Nelson and Mike.

The stuntman taught the boys to fall in a way that looks real but doesnt hurt. He even staged a fight scene starring Eastwood and the boys and had the scene filmed for the family. But the copy of the film that the crew left behind was lost when the ranch was sold, Clarke said.

Clarke said he watched much of the filming and, along with Dick Haynes, even had a part in the natural part of the set design. The two planted cans full of corn stalks in the ground on the set, but the scenes depicting the corn were lost on the cutting room floor. They got a crane to replant 60-foot pine trees on the set, and Haynes figured out a spray to keep the trees green when they started to turn yellow, Clarke said.

Clarke also had a hand in growing a beautiful field of grass, which he planted before filming at the urging of an assistant director.

But when Logan arrived, he said he couldnt site No Name City on such lush lawn.

So all our work got covered up, Clarke said, and the lawn was turned into a field of mud.