Here’s an interview by my friend Elizabeth McCall at the Turner Classic Movie festival this summer. A wonderful screening of the Black Stallion film at the landmark Egyptian theater in Hollywood.
The movie was introduced by gifted screenwriter and equestrian wonder woman Jeanne Rosenberg and the renowned TCM film critic and historian writer Leonard Maltin.
Take a listen and drift away … back to riding alone on the beach!!
11 Things You Never Knew About the Making of “The Black Stallion”
Nina Fedrizzi | July 23, 2015
It’s been more than 35 years since The Black Stallion film first captivated audiences around the world by bringing to life Walter Farley’s timeless story of Alec, the young boy shipwrecked on a deserted island alongside a wild Arabian stallion. This month, The Criterion Collection has released a new, Blu-ray edition of the movie, complete with interviews with director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, bringing the tale to life once again for a new generation of horse lovers.
But no matter how many times you’ve seen this beloved flick, we’ve tracked down some fun facts that may surprise you. Here are 11 things you never knew about the making of The Black Stallion.
1. The film’s 12-year-old star, Kelly Reno, originally accepted the role of Alec in part because he wanted to learn how to swim.
(via youtube/The Criterion Collection)
Reno took lessons so he could film the movie’s underwater scenes.
2. The riding scenes, however, were a piece of cake.
Reno grew up on a ranch in southern Colorado. After injuries sustained from a serious car accident cut his acting career short, he returned to work as a cattle rancher for 20 years.
3. The Black Stallion was filmed at several locations around the world, including Toronto, Sardinia, and Rome’s Cinecittà Studios.
The movie’s shipwreck sequence took place in Cinecittà Studios’ huge outdoor water tank. Filming it took three weeks.
4. Four main horses were used to portray the Black throughout the film. The two most prominent were the Texas-bred Arabian stallion, Cass Ole, and his double, Fae Jur.
Cass Ole (via allbreedpedigree.com)
Cass Ole appears in 80 percent of the film’s shots, though he had white legs and a star that had to be painted black for filming.
5. Ironically, though, it’s Fae Jur that stars in two of the film’s most memorable scenes.
His independent streak and love of fake-fighting made him the first choice for the scenes where Alec befriends the Black on the beach, and also when the stallion protects him from a cobra.
6. Producers originally wanted the Egyptian racehorse El Mokhtar for the title role, but his owners wouldn’t negotiate.
They eventually relented, and El Mokhtar stars alongside Cass Ole in 1983’s The Black Stallion Returns.
7. For the swimming scenes, none of the actor horses were comfortable in the water, so the crew brought over horses from France’s Camargue region, which contains Western Europe’s largest river delta.
Camargue Horses (flickr.com/Philip Haslett)
Reportedly, the white horses were not much to look at and had to be painted entirely black before filming, but in the water, they were incredibly graceful.
8. The Black Stallion proved to be a cash cow for production company American Zoetrope.
Produced for about $4 million, it grossed roughly $38 million at the box office.
9. The film was produced by none other than Francis Ford Coppola, who used his Godfather clout to get The Black Stallion made.
Coppola may have needed the film to succeed more than he let on, however, after a typhoon wrecked his Apocalypse Now set the same year, leaving him severely behind schedule and over budget.
10. Francis’s father, Carmine Coppola, is responsible for the film’s beautiful score.
Carmine was nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Original Score in 1980, both for The Black Stallion and Apocalypse Now. Alas, the Vietnam War flick won the day.
11. Mickey Rooney was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Henry Dailey, a retired jockey who helps Alec train the Black for the movie’s final race.
Rooney also played the washed-up jockey, “Mi”, alongside Elizabeth Taylor in 1944’s National Velvet.
You can watch The Criterion Collection’s interview with The Black Stallion’s cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, here:
Sunday November, 30 2014 at 08:00 PM Saturday December, 27 2014 at 08:00 PM
by Emily L. Rice
One of the most critically acclaimed films from 1979, The Black Stallion, was based on the classic children’s tale written by Walter Farley in 1941. Despite the book’s popularity and that of its sixteen sequels, it was never adapted for the screen until Francis Ford Coppola purchased the rights. He planned to release the film as the first film in a series of classical children’s films. The second film in the series, The Secret Garden, was released in 1993. Coppola called on his former UCLA classmate, Carroll Ballard to direct the first installment, making The Black Stallion Ballard’s feature film debut. His first movie was a documentary entitled Harvest (1967) which was nominated for an Academy Award ®.
The Black Stallion is an exotic and often magical tale of a young boy and his horse. When the film opens, the boy and his father are traveling by ship when a disaster occurs. A fire breaks out and the boy finds himself adrift in the rough seas with an Arabian horse he saw on board. Both the boy and the stallion are washed ashore a deserted island where they overcome an initial mistrust to form a strong bond. Soon the two are rescued and return to the U.S. But the horse runs away and the boy eventually traces the animal to a farm owned by an ex-jockey. In time, the boy learns from the former pro how to be a first rate rider and trains the stallion for a championship race.
In his film debut, Kelly Reno plays the young, aspiring jockey; he had never acted before in any medium, and he was not even a fan of film or television. “Oh, if there’s a good movie, the family’ll take a bag of popcorn and go.” When asked what he considered a “good movie,” he responded, “I guess Star Wars (1977) — I’ve seen it twice. As for TV, I don’t watch it much, except for Soap,” he explained in the September 30, 1979 issue of The New York Times. But when Reno heard from a friend that a movie company was coming to Colorado to look for boys who could ride horses, he persuaded his parents to drive him to Denver for an audition. According to producer Tom Sternberg, “We’d considered all sorts of professional child actors. Then we began to search for boys who may not have acted, but who might be right for the role. We eventually interviewed several hundred from around the country and tested 100.” And the saddle-trained Reno was one of the lucky ones who earned a screen test in L.A..
The $4.5 million film took two years to make and involved five months of shooting in Canada, Rome, and Sardinia. For Reno, whose only trips outside Colorado were to North Dakota and L.A. for the screen test, the film became quite an adventure. His parents chaperoned him while on location, but he still admitted he got homesick. “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.”
During the first week of shooting, Reno enjoyed the work, but he kept glancing at the camera in the middle of scenes. He recalled that the director, Carroll Ballard, “would tell me, ‘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 the whole, long scenes. And I could put in other words if the meaning was the same – that was all right with Carroll.” Reno also did all his own stunt work. He had to ride bareback and on a racing saddle, take falls from a galloping horse, and swim. The only time a stunt double was used was for racetrack sequences, which required his character to race a thoroughbred at top speed. “I was too small to hold him back,” says Reno.
The most demanding scene Reno recalled was the shipwreck sequence during a turbulent storm. For this scene, Ballard used the huge water tank at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. “It was all done at night,” says Reno. “And they had wind and rain and fire and smoke. I spent a lot of time in the tank, not being able to touch the bottom, while they made these waves that came far over my head.” Ballard also used a completely realistic model ship to burn and sink headfirst while the boy and the horse struggled in the foreground.
With scenes such as the shipwreck, the horse in this film, Cass-Ole, had to perform as few other horses ever have. Cass-Ole’s trainer was one of Hollywood’s greatest animal trainers, Corky Randall. He trained “Trigger” for Roy Rogers, “Silver” for the Lone Ranger, and all the horses in the chariot-race scene in Ben-Hur (1959).
Mickey Rooney plays the horse trainer in the film, a nostalgic reminder to audiences of his role as a former jockey in National Velvet (1944). Rooney also played a jockey in both Down the Stretch (1936) and Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937). He went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film. Rooney recalls how he first heard about the film, “Francis Ford Coppola got on the horn to tell me he’d purchased the rights to a children’s classic called The Black Stallion. He had a part in it for me, a former jockey called out of retirement by a little boy with a beautiful black Arabian horse and a dream about winning a race. Did I think I could play a former jockey? ‘Gee,’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I never played a jockey before.’
The Black Stallion became a hit at the box-office and received great critical praise. In addition to Rooney’s nomination, the film also received an Academy nomination for Best Editing and the Oscar for Best Film Editing. A sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, was later released in 1983.
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos, Tom Sternberg
Director: Carroll Ballard
Screenplay: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, Walter Farley (novel)
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
Film Editing: Robert Dalva
Art Direction: Aurelio Crugnola, Earl G. Preston
Music: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Kelly Reno (Alec Ramsey), Mickey Rooney (Henry Dailey), Teri Garr (Alec’s Mother), Clarence Muse (Snoe), Hoyt Axton (Alec’s Father), Michael Higgins (Neville).
C-118m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
The story of Reckless is not only remarkable – it is unusual. And once you learn about her, you will see why the Marine Corps not only fell in love with her – but honored her and promoted her every chance they got. And it wasn’t just the Marines that served with her in the trenches that honored her – her last promotion to Staff Sergeant was by Gen. Randolph McC Pate – the Commandant of the entire Marine Corps. You can’t get higher than that in the Marines.
Reckless joined the Marines to carry ammunition to the front lines for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines – and she quickly earned the love and respect of all of the Marines that served with her. Lt. Eric Pedersen paid $250 of his own money to a young Korean boy, Kim Huk Moon, for her. The only reason Kim sold his beloved horse was so he could buy an artificial leg for his older sister, Chung Soon, who lost her leg in a land mine accident.
Kim’s loss was the Marines’ gain.
It was not only Reckless’ heroics that endeared the Marines to her – it was her incredible antics off of the battlefield. You will not believe her antics when she was being ignored, or if she was hungry – let’s just say you never wanted to leave your food unattended. As legendary as she was for her heroics – her appetite became even more legendary. This horse had a mind of her own – not to mention, being very determined.
Reckless had a voracious appetite. She would eat anything and everything – but especially scrambled eggs and pancakes in the morning with her morning cup of coffee. She also loved cake, Hershey bars, candy from the C rations, and Coca Cola – even poker chips, blankets and hats when she was being ignored – or if she was trying to just prove a point.
One of Reckless’ finest hours came during the Battle of Outpost Vegas in March of 1953. At the time of this battle it was written that, “The savagery of the battle for the so-called Nevada Complex has never been equaled in Marine Corps history.” This particular battle “was to bring a cannonading and bombing seldom experienced in warfare … twenty-eight tons of bombs and hundreds of the largest shells turned the crest of Vegas into a smoking, death-pocked rubble.” And Reckless was in the middle of all of it.
Enemy soldiers could see her as she made her way across the deadly “no man’s land” rice paddies and up the steep 45-degree mountain trails that led to the firing sites. “It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain,” Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt recalled.
During this five-day battle, on one day alone she made 51 trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites, 95% of the time by herself. She carried 386 rounds of ammunition (over 9,000 pounds – almost FIVE TONS! — of ammunition), walked over 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. And as she so often did, she would carry wounded soldiers down the mountain to safety, unload them, get reloaded with ammo, and off she would go back up to the guns. She also provided a shield for several Marines who were trapped trying to make their way up to the front line. Wounded twice, she didn’t let that stop or slow her down.
What she did in this battle not only earned her the respect of all that served with her, but it got her promoted to Sergeant. Her heroics defined the word “Marine.” She was BELOVED by the Marines. They took care of her better than they took care of themselves – throwing their flak jackets over her to protect her when incoming was heavy, risking their own safety.
Her Military Decorations include two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, all of which she wore proudly on her red and gold blanket, along with a French Fourragere that the 5th Marines earned in WW1.
There has never been a horse like Reckless, and her story deserves every honor and recognition she can receive.
Too hot to be busy but what choice do we have?? Someone has to get them fed and watered! Let’s head to the river …or better yet, the beach!
Did you see the video of the Arabian Nights sales last weekend?
The end of an era, kinda sad, but the horses are all going to great new homes!!!
Take a look and drop us a line on the forum when you get a second (or facebook, too)