Part of reviving the Historic Skyline Theatre is to celebrate Sublette Counties history, heritage and culture as well as continue to reinforce and celebrate Sublette Counties current identity through films and performances.
It is well known among long time residents that 2 westerns were made in Sublette County back in the 1970’s. The Legend of Earl Durand in 1974 and the Sweet Creek County War in 1979. These films starred Slim Pickens, among others and many locals were involved. The world premier of each film launched at the Skyline Theatre. The last film showed by the Skyline Theatre before shutting it’s doors was The Sweet Creek County War on Wednesday April 30, 1980.
Below is an excerpt written by Ann Chambers Noble from the
Pinedale, Wyoming: A Centennial History 1904 – 2004 Book.
The Making of “The Legend of Earl Durand”
Movie producer John D. Patterson of Patterson Studios, Florida, came to Wyoming in 1968 to make featurettes for Paramount Studios. When he left, he knew he wanted to come back. Two years later he returned, looking for a feature film idea and a place to make a film in Wyoming. On this trip he stopped for gasoline at the Phillips 66 in Pinedale and met the owner, Vernon Delgado. When discussing the prospects for making a movie, Mr. Delgado suggested the Earl Durand story. Mr. Patterson liked the story and hired J. Frank James to write the screenplay.
The real Earl Durand was from Powell, Wyoming and had lived in the Park County mountains. According to the movie, as a young boy, Earl’s parents feared he had a contagious and deadly disease and therefore locked him away in a shed. When the confinement was too much for him, the young boy ran away. An old mountain man took the young boy in and cared for him like a son and taught him the ways of the wilderness. Earl became a great hunter, a skill he used to poach elk from government land to feed the area’s depression-stricken poor people. The town sheriff, needing to make a name for himself, decided to go after Earl for poaching. Earl gave himself up and he was tried, convicted, and sent to prison for six months with his poaching partner. Unable to handle the confinement, Earl broke out of jail and returned to his parent’s home to gather supplies to return to the mountains. While at their home the undersheriff came and two people were killed in a shoot-out. Earl ran back to the mountains, and a giant manhunt for him began.
Much of the movie takes place in 1939, and is about the hunt for Earl Durand in the mountains. Locals were deputized and the posse rode with the sheriff to find Durand. Automobiles, horses, climbers on foot, World War I artillery, even an airplane were used in the search for the outlaw, guilty of poaching for the poor. When two more men were killed in the course of the manhunt, Earl felt terrible because he “never wanted any trouble,” as he said many times in the movie. He hitched a ride to town with one of his unsuspecting pursuers, where yet another gun battle took place and another man was killed before Earl was shot. The bullet that eventually took his life, however, was his own.
The movie, originally named “The Window,” was ultimately called “The Legend of Earl Durand.” Michael Parks was hired to play Earl, though after three weeks, director and producer John D. Patterson let him go. Peter Haskell replaced Parks as the lead, and many thought he looked like the real Durand. Martin Sheen, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens played additional leads and supporting roles.
The entire movie was filmed in Sublette County. The early shots in the film were taken in the Green River Lakes area, but most of the mountain scenes were in the area around Boulder Lake and nearby Soda Lake. The town scenes were all Pinedale.
Sublette County residents were very involved with this movie. Mr. Patterson hired Fred Petersen and Mike Nystrom, Sr. to assist with the filming, and ultimately they were Associate Producers with Fred’s brother, Jim. These men owned and operated an outfitting business at the Boulder Lake Lodge and White Pine Ski area. Petersen and Nystrom, with help from their employees, spent the summer assisting with the filming crews. This work included packing camera equipment, day after day, to shooting locations, which sometimes meant the top of a mountain. The outfitters also provided food and lodging for the crew, no matter where it was working. While filming in town, the crew stayed at White Pine.
Patterson made few changes to make Pinedale look like 1939. Years later, he recalled they had to take down a few television antennas and remove the modern cars and replace them with vintage models. Many of the parked cars along the streets in the film were inoperable, but worked fine for the setting. The Clark home was used as the Durand home. The Courthouse, Allen Agency, Corral Bar, Cowboy Bar, and Cowboy Shop appeared in the film unchanged, but two buildings were “made over” to be the “Wyoming Bank and Trust” and the “Sublette County Library.” The Forest Service log building on south Franklin Avenue became the “Sublette County Hospital.”
Sublette County residents turned out in large numbers to participate as “extras” in the film. The posse was made up of local cowboys on their own horses and dressed in “costumes” that had come from home. Many heeded the advice in the newspaper: “A raid on the attic for any 1930s clothing, or other period articles, is recommended and would be appreciated.”[i] The town scenes consisted of area residents behind the Hollywood actors. <The Pinedale Roundup> estimated in late July 1971 that “about 100 local people are in this week’s scenes.” Oscar Albert and his wife, Bobby Bing, Gary Reach, brothers Mike and Tony Olsen, Clem Skinner, Bud Steele, and Hank Ruland were a few captured on the film. Two of the scenes, one of Earl Durand’s trial in the courthouse and another shot at the cemetery, were later cut from the final film, much to the disappointment for those who had been cast in these scenes.
John D. Patterson filmed seven days a week for 13 straight weeks, but was unable to complete the film shooting in one summer. When he returned to finish the following year, three additional weeks were needed, but it took another six weeks to match the scenes from the year before. Mr. Patterson then spent a few months editing the film, and it was sent to another company for distribution. Unfortunately, the distribution was done poorly and the film failed to do well on the national market.
The film did very well at its premier—in Pinedale. Decades later, many local people continue to have good memories of participating as extras in the film, even if their part ended up “on the cutting room floor.” There were also good memories of working with the Hollywood stars who participated. Hank Ruland, who was working at Boulder Lake Lodge when the film was being made, remembered Slim Pickens and Albert Salmi helping him saddle and pack horses in the mornings. Bud Steele remembered pitching horseshoes with Peter Haskell.
“The Legend of Earl Durand” may not have made national film history, but it made history in Pinedale. Locals treasured their involvement in a “real Hollywood” movie. The movie also made a lasting impact on those who came here to make it. Many of the film’s stars returned to the area to visit. Slim Pickens chose to move to the Boulder Lake area soon after making the film and called Sublette County his home, where he was a registered voter. He participated in the Chamber of Commerce shootout skit during Rendezvous weekends and the Green River Rendezvous Pageant. His cremated remains were buried in Sublette County. Producer John D. Patterson also returned to the area and built a retirement home at Boulder Lake Lodge. The film is still occasionally shown, usually at the library. It is a reminder of the good times the locals had when Hollywood came to Pinedale.
Earl Durand Peter Haskell
Phil Chumley Slim Pickens
Col. Nightingale Keenan Wynn
Luther Sykes Martin Sheen
Sheriff Trask Anthony Caruso
Jack McQueen Albert Salmi
Old Man Phil Lopp
Cal Johnson Hal Bokar
Mrs. Durand Ivy Bethune
Mr. Durand Carl Kennerson
Hank Greenway J. H. Richardson
Angela Luana Jackman
Jimmy Johnny Patterson
Young Earl Gregory Patterson
Mr. Clark Howard Wright
Mrs. Clark Joan Howard
Bank Teller Robert Drake
Luke Fred Petersen
Coogan Gibb Stepp
Emma Sis Pilcher
Sam Harry Woolman
Billy Billy Rowe
Dog Handler Kelly Wilson
Cameraman John D. Patterson
Associate Director J. Frank James
Assistant Producer Claire M. Parks
Associate Producers Jim Petersen, Mike Nystrom, Fred Petersen
Pre-Production Anthony J. Corso, John Corso
Post-Production Rocco A. Moriana
“Ballad of Earl Durand” Lyrics by Phil Lopp
Prop Men Kent Snidecor, Clark Perry, Randy Klatt,
Aerial Pilot Dave Low
Set Construction Fred Patterson
Grips Mike Olsen, Tony Olsen, Larry Vance, Brad Fuller
Technical Adviosry Vernon Delgado
Make-up Louis Lane
Sweet Creek County War 1979
A classic western with the bad guys fighting the homesteaders, with the good guys coming to the rescue. S