Sheila Cone is a knowledgeable equestrian with a particular affinity to Cass Ole’ who played the Black in the 1979 film. We thought it was time to gift her writing to all the Stallion fans! You can write her and check out her extensive collection of interesting Black Stallion facts and photos on her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fansofcassole/?ref=share
Sheila R. Cone
Cass Ole. Photo courtesy Carol Darling.
As far back as I can remember I have always loved horses. I saw The Black Stallion for the first time in the early 90’s when my dad brought home a vhs copy. I remember watching that magnificent black horse on screen and was utterly mesmerized. I had to know who he was and what breed of horse. My search birthed a deep love of research and I have devoted the past thirty years to finding photos and info about Cass Ole, speaking to people who knew him or bred their mares to him, and I am just as ardent a fan of Cass Ole as when I first saw his iconic performance as The Black.
Cass Ole was bred by Gerald Donoghue of Donoghue Arabian Farm in Goliad, Texas. Born in 1969, he had a cute little star and four white socks and was the first black foal Gerald bred. Unfamiliar with the mousey coat color, he at first thought Cass Ole to be a liver chestnut. On the farm he was affectionately called ‘Mickey Mouse’. Three full siblings were born before Cass Ole, all were bay. He was sold as a two-year-old to the Cuello’s of San Antonio, Texas where he would forge a deep bond with Francesca that would later help her heal and recover from a devastating accident.
La Bahia with Cass Ole as a foal. Photo courtesy Carol Darling.
La Bahia with her filly Cassa Viva, full sister of Cass Ole.
Photo courtesy Charlotte Donoghue.
The Donoghue Farm was known for producing Arabian horses that were family horses first, show horses second. Cass Ole was no exception. He had such a clam disposition that his owner, Francesca Cuello, would have to really push him at times to get him to move beyond a walk. His quiet disposition allowed him to excel in western pleasure. In 1975 he won the U.S. National Championship in AOTR with Francesca. During his seven-year show career, Cass Ole had accumulated over 400 ribbons and trophies competing in English Pleasure, Side Saddle, Native Costume, Formal Driving, Halter, Most Classic as well as winning the AHSA Horse of the Year award in 1975 and 1976. He was also awarded the King Saud Cup trophy twice. Cass Ole’s fans would often shout “Ole! Ole! Ole!” from the stands, fulfilling a vision Gerald Donoghue had for the horse and the reason he named him Cass Ole.
After a nationwide search, Cass Ole was chosen to perform the main role of the Black. His presence in the show ring translated beautifully on film, captivating the hearts of many horse-crazy kids—and adults—across the nation (including mine!). His intelligence made him stand out on set as well. His trainer, Corky Randall, commented that the horse seemed to know he was acting and even enjoyed it.
Back home Cass Ole’s popularity escalated. A fan club was created for his faithful followers with special items of memorabilia such as pins, postcards, t-shirts, stickers, etc. His fame also extended to the breeding shed. Cass Ole sired 135 registered foals, fifty of which were black. The Cuello family put on many presentations at the farm where thousands gathered throughout the stallion’s life to see him with their own eyes.
Cass Ole at San Antonio Arabians in 1984. Photo courtesy Carol Darling.
In 1993 Cass Ole suffered from a severe case of colic and had to be euthanized. He was buried in the arena at San Antonio Arabians, but his memory is forever immortalized on film. And there are two stallions available to the public for breeding. A black grandson named Cass Ole’s Stahr lives with his owners in Arkansas and has four foals due for 2022. Bronze Starfire is a chestnut great grandson living with his owner in Nevada. These two are the last known stallions carrying Cass Ole’s line into the future.
Cass Ole as the Black
Be sure to join Sheila’s fan club and meet new friends!!
Don’t forget to watch the Kentucky Derby tomorrow 6:45 pm NBC sports.
Talking to an old friend, Kelli Thompson, who worked as a publicist on the Black Stallion film about some of our experiences I thought you might like to hear some more “behind the scenes” stories. Those days in the 70s – 80s had some great times, people and places! Thanks for putting together this stroll down memory lane Kelli!!
I helped work on publicity and marketing for the movie THE BLACK STALLION. Part of my job included working closely with actor Kelly Reno (Alec, in the film) and his parents, Bud and Ruth Reno. I escorted them all around Los Angeles as I took Kelly to different talk shows and interviews. It was also arranged for Cass Ole (credited as Cass-Olé in the movie), the magnificent Arabian horse that starred as The Black in the film, to come to California for various publicity events.
I had Kelly as a guest on The Mike Douglas Show and Cass Ole was brought out in front of the audience for a bit. His trainer had him rear up and do tricks and the audience was thrilled being so close to the horse. Mike Douglas was concerned at having such a large animal on his set with its slippery floor so Cass Ole’s performance was cut short. The actor George Kennedy was another talk show guest that day. Mr. Kennedy was so kind and decent to Kelly and proclaimed, on air, that Kelly deserved an Academy Award nomination for his acting in the movie.
Perhaps one of the bigger publicity events at the time was The Black Stallion Day at Hollywood Park Racetrack. The racetrack printed out 10,000 t-shirts that proclaimed “Hollywood Park Presents the Black Stallion”. The t-shirts were given to everyone in attendance at the racetrack that day. Kelly was scheduled to ride Cass Ole on a section of the track, parading in front of the crowd between races, while wearing his racing silks from the movie. Teri Garr, who portrayed Kelly’s mom in the movie, was also in attendance. Kelly and his parents flew out to California and when I met them Ruth was worried because the airline had lost the suitcase that had Kelly’s racing silks (the originals from the movie) in it. She was also concerned that Kelly had grown so much they might not even fit anymore. Fortunately, shortly before Kelly was due to appear at the racetrack, the racing silks showed up. He hurriedly changed into them and luckily they still fit and his appearance went off without a hitch.
I brought my camera with me that day which I generally never did. I took some photos with it and also handed it off to other people to take photographs of me with folks I’d been working with so much.
Kelly, his parents, and I spent time before and after his appearance in the racetrack’s private club house. I was standing there, chatting with people, when a man walked up behind me. I turned around and much to my surprise it was the actor Cary Grant. Grant smiled and gestured at Kelly, asking for an introduction. It was my immense honor to introduce them both. I turned to Kelly and said “Kelly, there is someone here who would like to meet you.” Now, Kelly was maybe 12 or 13 at the time so I’m still not sure if he really knew who Grant was. Kelly was immediately gracious and respectful. Grant was so genuine and complimentary to Kelly, telling him how much he admired his work in the film. I managed to grab my camera and take a photo of the two when they posed for journalists that were there. You can see in my photo that Grant is looking at the reporters but Kelly is looking at me (because he knew me). Behind them on the right you can partially see Ruth Reno beaming at them both.
It turns out that Mr. Grant was on the racetrack’s Board of Directors and spent many years at Hollywood Park. A casino at the racetrack was later named after him.
Considering this was Kelly’s first time doing movie publicity I was very impressed by his professionalism. He was still a kid but he was relaxed and natural in every appearance he made. Bud and Ruth Reno were good people all the way around and made my job easier. For a few years after the film came out I got Christmas cards from them. It was such a nice gesture and I’ve kept all the cards I received from them.
I am forever grateful that others there that day managed to get a couple of photos of me introducing Grant to Kelly. This was decades before cell phones so it’s kind of a miracle that I have any records of that day, outside of what I photographed. In the photo of Grant shaking hands with Kelly, Ruth and Kelly’s aunt (I believe that’s his aunt) can be seen at the table behind them while I am standing next to Grant.
It was a remarkable time and an even more remarkable movie. I still consider myself so fortunate to have been involved to the small degree that I was.
Kelli Thompson worked in film and television in publicity and production for many years. Her credits include publicity work on THE BLACK STALLION, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ALIEN, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and FLASH GORDON. Her other credits include work on STAR TREK, THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK-GENERATIONS, MURDER SHE WROTE, KNOTS LANDING, THE HOWLING, HARD RAIN, BUFFALO SOLDIERS, BLACK CAT RUN, and MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE. She is currently a photographer specializing in fine art photography and photojournalism. www.Kelli.photo
About The Festival
Held over four days in the heart of Hollywood, the TCM Classic Film Festival is a place where movie lovers from around the world can gather to experience classic movies as they were meant to be experienced: on the big screen, in some of the world’s most iconic venues, with the people who made them. Moreover, the TCM Classic Film Festival strives to be a place where a community of movie fans of all ages can share their love of classic movies with each other, make new friends and see films as they are seldom seen today.
THE PAGE ONSCREEN
Writing focuses visions, reflects our feelings and inspires great performances on both sides of the camera. Join us for the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival, celebrating the representation of the written word on the silver screen. From original screenplays to unique adaptations to portrayals of writers real and imagined, we will celebrate the foundation of great film: the written word.
Celebrating the 39th anniversary of the production start of “The Black Stallion”.
This is a fairly accurate description of the days, and weeks, and years that went into the making of the film. There are a few liberties he has taken and some things omitted to keep the story flowing, but all and all it takes me back to my younger days!
Thanks TMC and Roger Fristoe for this nice article on the making of the movie!
Behind the Camera On THE BLACK STALLION
Filming of The Black Stallion began in Toronto on July 4, 1977. The summer of 1977 in Canada was one of the wettest and hottest on record, and delays were caused by the torrents of rain that flooded the Woodbine Racetrack, creating a two-foot-deep layer of mud. At the end of August the film crew headed for the sunny Mediterranean, where they faced a new set of problems.
The first location in Sardinia was near the town of Marina di Arbus, where the horses were transported by a van containing portable stalls that were set up near the filming site, and the crew had to hand-carry the cameras and other equipment over the sand dunes. That situation was repeated at various other locations all over Sardinia, with exposure to sun, sand, sea and dysentery causing considerable discomfort for the crew. Other locations there included Capo Caccia, Capo Camino, Costa Paradiso, Cala Ganone and San Teodoro, which sported a mile-long stretch of fine white sand that was perfect for the boy’s first ride on the stallion. Temperatures in Sardinia could become quite cold, and Reno shivered through scenes where he wore little clothing and was often in the water.
A sequence that made everyone especially apprehensive in its filming was the one where the Black stomps and kills a cobra that is threatening Alec. A group of snakes was flown in from Milan with a handler, Carlo Guidi, who assured the filmmakers that his cobras had been milked of their deadly venom. Just in case, a special serum was kept on hand but, thankfully, did not have to be administered.
The last major segment to be filmed was the sinking of the ship at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, which features a huge outdoor water tank. Two portions of the ship, an actual-size deck and stern, were designed by art director Aurelio Crugnola and assembled in the tank, a process that took three months. These were the largest sets ever built in the tank. The stern was set on a platform in the tank, with cables attached to pull it into the water as it sinks. Filming of the shipwreck sequence lasted three weeks.
The movie, at a cost of $4.5 million, took two years to complete, with shooting also done at various locations in the U.S. Kelly Reno, whose only trips outside Colorado had been to North Dakota and California, was chaperoned by his parents while visiting the widespread locations. Despite their presence, he became homesick and later noted that, “In Rome, I’d have paid $10,000 for a McDonald’s hamburger. You never know how much you want that if after a week all you get is spaghetti. And I had me a little wine, but after a week, I started drinking cokes again.”
Early in the shooting, the untrained Reno spoiled some takes by looking at the camera. He recalled Ballard telling him, “‘This is the way it is…do it.’ If I didn’t get it done, we’d just have to do it all over again. Lines weren’t a problem. I had a lot of them, but they weren’t in whole, long scenes. And I could put it in other words if the meaning was the same – that was all right with Carroll.” Reno did most of his own stunts, riding bareback and with a racing saddle, falling from a galloping horse and swimming with it. A stunt double stepped in only for racing scenes, when his character was to ride a thoroughbred running at top speed: “I was too small to hold him back.”
Reno recalled that his most difficult scene was the shipwreck, which happens during a raging storm and was shot at night. “They had wind and rain and fire and smoke,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in the tank, not being able to touch bottom, while they made these waves that came very far over my head.” As the boy and horse thrashed in the foreground, the realistic model ship was burnt and sunk headfirst in the tank. For such scenes, great demands were made of the horse playing the Black. The owners of Cass Ole had stipulated that he was not to be used in swimming, fighting or racing sequences, so other horses doubled for him in these and other challenging situations.
The main double was Fae Jur, the spirited horse from California that Ballard had once considered for the role of the Black. He is the horse in the memorable scene where Alec tempts the stallion with seaweed on the beach. Fae Jur’s naturally independent nature made his approaches and retreats very believable. He loved fake-fighting and also was used in the sequences where the Black stamps on a cobra and where the high-strung stallion strikes out at another horse just before the big race.
Junior and Star, two stunt horses owned by the Randall family, stepped in for Cass Ole when scenes required strenuous fighting, running, jumping and swimming. Star enacted the scene where the Black gets tangled in rope and caught between two rocks. He was so unconcerned about being tied up and forced to sit that Corky Randall had to toss pebbles at him to get him to simulate any kind of agitation.
None of the equine doubles liked being in the water, so horses were brought in from the lagoons of Camargue in France for the underwater shots of the Black swimming in the sea. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel recalled in an interview that the swimming horses “had pot bellies and incredibly ugly faces.” But when they “came into the water and started swimming, they looked unbelievably graceful. They were the ugliest animals you’ve ever seen, but underwater…they were like Nijinsky.” The crew nicknamed these horses Pete and Repete because of the numerous takes required to get the appropriate underwater footage.
There is a scene in the water where the Black is swimming towards Alec and suddenly tips over in the waves, with his head underwater and his hooves pawing in the air. This was actually an accident captured on film, as too much force was applied to the guide bars attached to control the stunt horse’s movements. There was much alarm on the set as he sank below the surface, and great relief when he managed to right himself again and raise his head above the water. The crew of The Black Stallion was especially proud of the fact that, despite all the difficult stunts throughout filming, no horse was injured in any way.
Despite all the doubling, Cass Ole remained the star of the film and appears in about 80 per cent of the horse footage. He learned to express anger by putting his ears back, rearing on his hind legs and stomping the ground – and could also turn soft and loving on cue, nodding his head and giving pretend kisses to Reno. Even his facial expressions changed. “It was amazing,” said Corky Randall. “I never met a horse before who wanted to be an actor.” Only once did the stallion lose patience – during the bareback ride on the beach when Alec holds up his hands in triumph. Cass Ole suddenly bolted, giving Reno a much wilder ride than he expected. The crew was terrified for the boy, but he was a capable rider who lowered his hands to grab the horse’s mane and hang on for dear life.
Cass Ole was naturally black, although he had white markings on his pasterns and a white star on his forehead that had to be dyed before filming. During some scenes in the water the dye fades and one can glimpse suggestions of the white markings. Some of the horse doubles – including the swimming horses, which were white – had their entire bodies dyed black. Like many American horses Cass Ole had his mane trimmed into a “bridle path” that allows a bridle or halter to lie flat against the neck and head. Although he had the long mane typical of his breed, extensions were stitched into the hair of Cass Ole’s mane to hide the bridle path and create the luxurious, flowing mane that is seen on the screen.
Ballard credited Deschanel for many of the movie’s signature touches, especially during the first half of the film, when dialogue is minimal and the images are everything. “Caleb has a tremendous eye, and he can invent things right on the spot,” Ballard said. “Really, some of the neatest shots in the movie are things I didn’t even know he was shooting.” Neither director nor cinematographer had ever done any underwater work, and Deschanel improvised his equipment for those scenes. Ballard came to depend upon his associate to see him through tough times during filming. He recalled a particularly trying day when he was convinced the project “was a catastrophe. Caleb and I were walking together, trying to get back to the car, and we came across this river that just seemed to appear out of nowhere. We had to get across the river to get where we were going and Caleb said, ‘Come on, get on my back and I’ll carry you across.’ I’ll never forget it. He was kind of like that through the whole film.”
Concert composer William Russo was initially given the assignment of scoring The Black Stallion, but when he and Ballard couldn’t agree on what the music should be like, producer Francis Ford Coppola stepped in and hired his father, Carmine Coppola, who had scored his son’s Godfather movies. Carmine created an unobtrusive yet evocative score that was supplemented with music by Shirley Walker.
Author Farley had reservations about his signature story being filmed and feared that the novel might not translate successfully to a new medium. Happily, the movie exceeded his expectations in remaining true to the original and finding its own artistic identity. “They did a beautiful job,” he conceded. (A sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, filmed in Italy in 1983, failed to live up to the author’s standards. A new musical score by Georges Delerue is considered by some to be that film’s most impressive element.)
Once completed, The Black Stallion was shelved for two years by United Artists. Ballard recalled the studio “suits” complaining, “What is this, some kind of an art film for kids?” It took the full clout of Francis Ford Coppola to see that the film finally reached theaters. Many critics were ecstatic; Roger Ebert named the film the best of the year, and Pauline Kael described it as “proof that even children who have grown up with television and may never have been exposed to a good movie can respond to the real thing when they see it.” The movie quickly became a box-office hit and won two Oscar® nominations including one for Mickey Rooney, whose career resurgence at the time also included a Broadway triumph in Sugar Babies. New York magazine described him as “a figure out of a semi-mystical past,” and Rooney himself declared that “My cup runneth over.”
Among the innovations of sound editor Alan Splet, who won a special Oscar® for his work, was attaching microphones to the underside of the horse during the racing scenes to catch his actual hoof-beats and breathing. There was outrage in some quarters when Caleb Deschanel’s ravishing cinematography failed to even be nominated for an Academy Award. Deschanel, then 34, commented, “I’m disappointed. The fact that so many people told me I was sure to get the nomination has made it harder to take. On the other hand, who am I? I’m just a young punk making his name in this business…”
Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, whose enormously successful “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” became a landmark in film history, specialized in stories revolving around children. But, as she often said, she made a point of not condescending to them.
“I go to movies with my children and see fat kids burping, parents portrayed as total morons, and kids being mean and materialistic, and I feel it’s really slim pickin’s out there,” she told The Times in 1995. “There’s a little dribble of a moral tacked on, but the story is not about that.
“We’d get back in the car after seeing a movie and I’d say, ‘Now what did you think about this?,’ and they’d have nothing to say.”
Mathison, 65, who portrayed children as sensitively heroic, died Wednesday at UCLA Medical Center. The cause was neuroendocrine cancer, her brother Dirk Mathison said.
Mathison’s film credits also include “The Black Stallion” (1979), “The Escape Artist” (1982) and “The Indian in the Cupboard” (1995).
“Kundun” (1997), a movie about the Dalai Lama’s childhood and growth into a young man, reflected her decades-long interest in Tibet.
She received an Oscar nomination for her work on Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.,” which was released in 1982.
“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.,” the director said in a statement Wednesday.
“E.T.” was the story of a young boy in the suburbs and the alien he befriended. While Spielberg had wrestled with the idea of a film about a stranded alien for some time, he asked Mathison to develop the plot.
She described it years later as a “boy-meets-dog story.”
“It is a story of resurrection and redemption.”
When it opened, Times critic Sheila Benson said it was “so full of love and wonder, of pure invention, and the best kind of screen magic, that it’s not only the film of the summer, it may be the film of the decade and possible the double decade.”
Mathison, she said, “seems to know the newly separated young family, that sad American statistic, from its cracked heart out.”
Mathison spent eight weeks writing “E.T.” It made $793 million at the box office worldwide.
She had two children, Georgia and Malcolm, from her marriage to actor Harrison Ford. They divorced in 2004 after a 21-year marriage.
From 1983 to 1985, Mathison, Ford and their children lived on a 700-acre ranch outside Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the screenwriter put her career on hold.
“I have two little children,” she told Newsweek. “I didn’t want to be missing their childhood while I was away, busy writing about children.”
Born in Los Angeles on June 3, 1950, Mathison grew up in the Hollywood Hills, one of five children born to Richard Mathison, who was The Los Angeles Times’ religion editor in the 1950s before becoming Newsweek’s Los Angeles bureau chief, and his wife, Pegeen.
“We weren’t your mainstream ’50s family,” she said in a Times interview. “Both my parents had wonderful, eccentric, artistic friends who treated us as friends as well. How your mind worked was considered important.”
Even though Hollywood was essentially Mathison’s hometown, she still felt a certain thrill at being around show business.
“I remember not really caring that much about the Hollywood premieres because they were always so crowded,” she told the Toronto Globe and Mail in 1982. “But if something like a stagecoach drove by followed by a camera crew, I got really excited.”
She went to UC Berkeley, where she interrupted her studies in political science for a job in the movies with a family friend. The friend was Francis Ford Coppola, whose children she used to baby sit. Mathison became his assistant on the set of “The Godfather, Part II.”
She was soon hooked on film. After Coppola urged her to write, she came up with her script for “The Black Stallion.”
Over the years, Mathison became fascinated by Buddhism and Tibet. In college, she later said, she thought the story of the exiled Dalai Lama would make a great movie. She turned that story into “Kundun.”
“I am sort of famous for little-boy stories, and this was a fantastic little-boy story, a story of destiny and nurturing and tragedy, the idea of finding a 2-year-old child and then investing in him everything that is good about human beings, your people and your beliefs,” she told the New York Times in 1996.
With the help of actor Richard Gere, a supporter of Tibetan causes, she and Ford met with the Dalai Lama in Santa Barbara in 1990. At that meeting and subsequent visits in Santa Cruz and in India, she pitched the notion of a film based on his early years.
The Tibetan spiritual leader wanted “everything to be as correct as possible,” she said in a 1998 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Each time we met I would bring him new scenes.”
Mathison’s last film is due for release in 2016.
“The BFG,” which stands for “big friendly giant,” reunited her with Spielberg, who directed it. Based on a 1982 children’s story by Roald Dahl, the film stars Mark Rylance as the title character, with Bill Hader and Rebecca Hall.
In addition to her children and brother Dirk, Mathison’s survivors include her sisters Melinda Johnson and Stephanie Mathison; and brother Mark Mathison.