Saturday, May 28, 2016

Western Film Maker and Adventure Writer Oliver Drake [otd 05/28]

Prolific writer, producer, and director Clarence Oliver Drake was born May 28, 1903 in Boise. While not especially “wild” by that time, Idaho retained much of its Western character: Cowboys rode the range on horseback, and most packed a gun. Stagecoaches still linked outlying towns.
Stage headed for Boise, 1908. Elmore County Historical Research Team.

Oliver reportedly left “the city” at an early age to work on a ranch. However, by 1920, he was picking lemons near Chula Vista, California. Enthralled by silent film entertainment, he began working in the industry in the early Twenties. He apparently acted in several low-budget Westerns, but we know the name of only one: Red Blood and Blue, in 1925.

Drake eventually turned more to the production side: writing, producing, and directing silent films and then talkies. The earliest producer/director credit listed by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) was Texas Tornado, released in 1932. The IMDb lists a total of 55 films that he produced or directed (14 in which he did both).

Republic Pictures.
He was an even more prolific writer, contributing original stories, scripts, songs and soundtracks for over 130 movies. He is credited with the original story, screenplay, and songs for the 1936 movie Oh Susanna! starring Gene Autry. At that time, Autry was in the second year of what would be a long career as the prototypical “singing cowboy.”

Drake essentially perfected the “B-Western” approach to movies: formulaic – but action-filled – scripts, low-cost performers, and streamlined production. Often disparaged as low-brow “oaters,” such films nonetheless offered good entertainment value to the movie-going public right into the 1950s.

Not blessed with budgets that could afford stars who had “made it,” Drake worked with a number of stars on their way up. These included Sebastian Cabot, Denver Pyle, and John Paine, among others.

In 1949, he directed a film in which Emmy-winning actress/singer Polly Bergen played a cantina singer. Bergen was still active until 2012.  She played an on-going role in the TV series Desperate Housewives and acted in another film after that. She passed away in 2014. In 1956, Drake wrote a small part for Slim Pickens, later noted for cowboy-riding the dropped nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove.

Columbia Pictures.
However, the advent of television, with its “free” content, doomed the B-Western. Whereas Drake directed and/or produced 46 movies in 1941 through 1950, he did only 8 over the next twenty years. His last “standard” B-Western was The Parson and the Outlaw, released in 1957.

Ironically, but perhaps fittingly, the film was also the last movie role for Charles “Buddy” Rogers (who played the parson). A musician and band leader as well as an actor, Rogers had entered the movie business about the same time as Drake. Rogers was never a big star, and was perhaps better known as Mary Pickford’s husband for over forty years.

Drake continued to write, both for movies and for television. He wrote nearly thirty TV episodes, including spots for such popular shows as The Adventures of Superman, The Gene Autry Show and Lassie. He also produced or directed at least 16 TV episodes, including some for Sky King and Lassie. His last IMDb movie title appeared in 1970. He ended as he started … with credits as writer, producer, and director. Drake passed away in August 1991.
                                                                                 
References: [French]
"Oliver Drake," Internet Movie Database, imdb.com.

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