Article from Commercial Appeal:


Wayne, Mitchum, Carradine: Sons of legends among the stars at the Memphis Film Festival


Wayne.  Mitchum.  Carradine.

Those names inspire affection, admiration and awe, in film fan and film scholar alike.

For decades, John Wayne was not just a top actor but among the most admired men in the country — a larger-than-life ideal of American masculinity and independence.

Robert Mitchum, meanwhile, was an icon of cool, both sleepy-eyed and two-fisted.

And then there was tireless John Carradine, a versatile supporting character actor and lead villain whose Shakespearean sonority elevated even the most meager “B” picture.

The actors’ legacy is not limited to their movies. Frequent co-stars, all three men have sons who also have worked together, in Westerns, action pictures and horror movies, and established their own successful careers as second-generation stars and heirs to Hollywood legend.

Three of these sons — Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum and Robert Carradine — will be among the celebrity guests at the 46th Memphis Film Festival, which runs June 7-9 at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Tunica.

Now in its fifth decade, the Memphis Film Festival — not to be confused with the much younger Indie Memphis Film Festival, which mostly screens new work — is a celebration of classic cinema and vintage television that brings actors and actresses to the Mid-South for public panel discussions and to meet and greet festivalgoers. Among this year's celebrity guests are Dawn Wells, forever known as "Mary Ann" on "Gilligan's Island"; chiseled "Wagon Train" stalwart Robert Fuller; Fuller's "Emergency!" co-star, Randolph Mantooth; Bernie Kopell, who was “Doc” on “The Love Boat”; and Darby Hinton, aka young Israel Boone, son of Fess Parker’s "Daniel Boone".

In addition to sharing Hollywood backgrounds, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum and Robert Carradine each appeared early in their careers in John Wayne pictures (Patrick more so than the others, for obvious reasons), working in the twilight of the studio era with such directors as Howard Hawks and John Ford (Patrick Wayne's godfather).

Still a Hollywood resident, Carradine made his acting debut in "The Cowboys" (1972), opposite Wayne.

"In the very first scene we shot together, I had a suggestion about how I thought he should say his lines," Carradine, 64, said. "I don't know what made a 17-year-old think he could give advice to John Wayne. He gave it back to me in no uncertain terms and in very colorful language.  He said actors should act, not think."

Although it seems inevitable the three men would turn to acting, none of them longed to be a star. Young Carradine dreamed of being a race car driver, while Mitchum yearned to work in production, until his blond California good looks — he was twice a Seventeen magazine cover model — demanded he move in front of the camera. His first starring role was in the 1970 bikers-vs.-Sasquatch melee, "Bigfoot", opposite — who else? — John Carradine.

"I took acting jobs because I had a family to support, and acting paid more than production" said Mitchum, 74, who lives in Santa Barbara, California. "I wish I’d stayed in production, I could still be working.  There’s not much call for old action stars."

The square-jawed and handsome Wayne, meanwhile, moved into acting because being on-set was a sure way to get his very busy father's attention, without competition from his two brothers and sisters.

Patrick Wayne appeared in 10 of his father's pictures but attracted a fantasy/science-fiction fan base with dual 1977 starring hero roles in "The People That Time Forgot", adapted from an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel about a lost land of prehistoric creatures, and "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger", in which the title Arabian Nights adventurer battles such fabulous Ray Harryhausen stop-motion monsters as a saber-toothed tiger and a horned troglodyte.

At about the same time, Mitchum was carving — and shooting, exploding and stabbing — a career as a mostly overseas action star in such epics as "Eyes of the Dragon", "The Executioner, Part II"and the high-body-count, low-budget "American Commandos", a "Death Wish"-meets-"Rambo" fantasy in which a band of reunited Vietnam vets defeat the "private armies" of the "worldwide syndicate" controlling the Golden Triangle opium trade with, essentially, a truck.

Mitchum's favorite of these films is 1972's "Summertime Killer", an Iberian mob-vengeance thriller with Karl Malden and Olivia Hussey that he says "made me a star" in Spain, where he moved for three years. In recent years, however, he's traded acting for writing — he describes a new novel, "Victoria Falls," as an Agatha Christie-style mystery — and politics: Calling himself "passionate about my love for my country" and the Constitution, Mitchum has run as a Republican candidate for Congress and the California State Assembly. (By the way, Mitchum has a Memphis connection: His daughter, Carrie Mitchum, was the original chef and owner of Fuel Café in Midtown. She now runs the food service at Santa Barbara City College.)

As for acting, "Thing have totally changed," Mitchum said. "I fired my agent long ago. I came from an era where I was interviewed by Howard Hawks then screen-tested for him.  Today, you send a video clip to casting and you don’t even meet the casting agent."

Mitchum's older brother, James Mitchum, is an actor, as are two of Patrick Wayne's siblings, Michael Wayne and Ethan Wayne. But only Robert Carradine — a character actor, like his father — belongs to a true acting dynasty: His late half-brother, David Carradine, starred in TV's "Kung Fu" and the Best Picture-nominated Woody Guthrie biopic, "Bound for Glory", while brother Keith Carradine is an Oscar-winner for Best Song: "I'm Easy," from the movie "Nashville", in which he also acted. (All three Carradine boys played outlaw brothers in Walter Hill's 1980 Western, "The Long Riders.")

"I think secretly he liked the idea of creating a dynasty, so we were not discouraged from acting," said Carradine, speaking of his father. But among that dynasty, "In reality, I'm the only one with a big hit movie," he said, referring to the three-sequel-spawning "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984), in which he played hee-haw-laughing, pocket-protecting college freshman Lewis Skolnick, leader of a band of misfits and rejects that makes the brothers of "Animal House" look like members of the Social Register. 

"I think the more distance I get from that film, the more I realize that it works on a number of levels more than comedy," said Carradine. (Incidentally, "We pronounce it Carra-deen," he said of his famous last name.) "We all at some point in our lives feel like outsiders, and we want to be insiders," he said of Nerds. "It's a mirror in a way of society: Can't we all just get along?"

Carradine is the only one of the three who still makes a living acting. Wayne, 78, who lives in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, devotes much of his time to his work as board chair of the John Wayne Cancer Institute, affiliated with the Providence-St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica. 

 Said Wayne: "My brothers and sisters and I thought that we would use my dad's celebrity to raise money and awareness to defeat cancer. Well, it's been 39 years since he passed away and if you had told me when we started this journey that my dad's celebrity would resonate as strongly today as it did then, I wouldn't have believed it. Yet here we are. I can't explain it other than to say ... he wasn't just a movie star. He portrayed someone on the screen and maybe in life that people respected, emulated, whether you agreed with him or not. Whatever the answer, his celebrity continues to support the amazing work being done at the John Wayne Cancer Institute."

Newspaper articles, interviews with our guests, and any other interesting articles about our Festival.

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