- Historic Sites
High Eagle The Many Lives Of Colonel Tim Mccoy
June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
Yes, I had the live prologue. This was at Graumann’s Theater. Not the Chinese one. This was before the Chinese was opened. This was the Egyptian. Sid Graumann had just built it. And the first picture that went in there was Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood. The Covered Wagon followed Doug in there, and Jesse Lasky asked me if I could come down and bring some Indians and come onto the stage and talk to the audience, tell them about making the picture.
I brought fifty Indians down and we camped them—teepees and all—right in Cahuenga Pass where the freeway goes through now. There was nothing but a dirt road and a streetcar line that ran over to Universal City and a kind of a park, a hollow up there in the timbers. We had all the Indians camped there. Sid threw a whole fence around that thing and made it look like a Washington fort and it was a great gimmick. So, I stayed there at Hollywood for eight or nine months, and then Lasky sent for me. He said, we’re going to open The Covered Wagon in London, and we don’t know how it will go there, how the British will take it, but if you’ll go over there with the Indians I think it would be a great sales point and we might be able to put the picture over. Fine. So I rounded up a fresh bunch of Indians and headed for London. We stayed over there for almost a year. By the time I came back I had a world of publicity, of course, and that’s when Metro-Goldwyn signed me up as their only Western star.
What were the working conditions then in Hollywood?
Well, you can understand Garbo saying, “I thank I go home now.” Five o’clock, my eye. You worked. We’d probably work out at Chatsworth during the day and come in and work until midnight in the studio. There was no such thing as eight hours. You just worked until they shot everything they could shoot for that day. Oh, they could give you more damned arguments, and here you were dying on your feet, but you’d go in there and work, work, work. It was nothing to work until two o’clock in the morning and then they’d give you a call for eight.
That was six days a week, fifty-two weeks ay ear, wasn ‘t it?
Fifty-two weeks a year. Six days a week. Sometimes you’d get a breather between pictures.
Most cowboy heroes ofthat day developed a particular character and played that character in each picture. What was yours like and how did it evolve?
Well, where everybody else was chewing up all the scenery, I played it down. Someone said that I was the master of the offstage entrance, and that was done with a gimmick that I thought of. A fellow was picking on someone in a saloon and you could just hear my voice coming over—they kid me so much about it today—“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” And the camera pans over, and there I am in my black outfit standing looking over with that steely look that they talk about. When I think of that “steely look” I have to laugh, because when I first came to MGM they didn’t know what to do with me because of these blue eyes. For a closeup they used to hold up black velvet in front of me so that the darkness would reflect in my eyes. IfI looked sideways they said I showed too much of the white of the eye. Well, it became my trademark without knowing it. I said, “Heavens, let me play this. Don’t bother me. You fellows get in my way with all this stuff. Let me do the scene and then you can see how it looks on the screen.” And then I would suddenly turn and look at someone like that and they called it that steely eye.
You mentioned your costume. There has been a lot written about the Western costume and the significance of each costume. Yours was completely black, wasn’t it?
Yeah, I never went in for all the flamboyant clothes. I finally went to a beige Stetson, the type of hat that I wore in Wyoming. One of the reasons they wanted me to go to the light hat was they were shooting night scenes and thought they wouldn’t see me so well with a black hat on. But I thought the black hat was more effective. Eventually, it was picked up by Hopalong Cassidy. But I originated that black stuff.
Also, the cowboy heroes used to be closely associated with their horses. I don’t remember your horse.
I had a palomino horse that the publicity department used to use. Called him Pal. But I never went for that idea of the horse coming and untying the knots that bound me up, and that sort of thing. I tried to play pretty legitimately. Let’s put it this way. I used to have a funny feeling and I mentioned it often to the people on the set. I said, “Remember, I got to go back to Wyoming when I finish this picture. I got a ranch up there and I don’t want any of that phony business ‘cause they’re gonna laugh at me when I go home.”
Well, what was the real cowboy ‘s relationship to his horse?
That was the thing you got on and rode.
You didn’t have to like him, in other words?