Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Count Basie Orchestra in "Blazing Saddles"
Vasquez Rocks | Agua Dulce, California

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Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) comes across Count Basie and his orchestra in the Acton/Agua Dulce desert.

Nominated for three academy awards, director Mel Brooks' zany 1974 Western spoof "Blazing Saddles" was filmed on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank and at Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce.

Plot, from imdb.com: A town where everyone seems to be named Johnson is in the way of the railroad. In order to grab their land, Hedley Lamarr, a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable. After the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the governor. Hedley convinces him to send the town the first black sheriff in the West. Bart is a sophisticated urbanite who will have some difficulty winning over the townspeople.

Produced by Michael Hertzberg and written by Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg and Alan Uger from an original story by Bergman, "Blazing Saddles" was originally released toward the end of 1974 and it did even better at the box office when Warner Bros., lacking a summer blockbuster the following year, re-released it in mid-1975.

Brooks had wanted the raw stand-up comic Richard Pryor for the lead role of Sheriff Bart, but studio executives wouldn't allow it because of Pryor's reputed drug problems, according to Brooks' interview on the DVD version. So Brooks brought in Cleavon Little, a well-liked Broadway actor, whose theatrical skills are evident in skits and musical numbers like, "I get no kick from champagne." ("He had a sly, sweet way of delivering his lines," Brooks said.)

Brooks had also wanted an older actor to play the washed-out drunken ex-gunslinger, The Waco Kid. Old song-and-dance man Dan Dailey was Brooks' first choice, in part because Dailey could ride a horse, but Dailey turned it down because he was having health problems. John Wayne also declined, thinking the script too dirty. Brooks cast Gig Young, and the company started shooting — but after half a day's work, Young was rushed to the hospital when he went into convulsions from his real-life alcoholism. ("If you want an alcoholic, don't cast an alcoholic," Brooks later said. "Cast somebody who can play it, an actor who can play an alcoholic.") The talented genius Gene Wilder, a personal friend of Brooks, had read the script and wanted the part. He flew out from New York and stepped into the role without so much as a rehearsal. (Gig Young would die four years later, just shy of his 65th birthday, when he turned his gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide in which he allegedly killed his new, young bride.)

Also of note: 1930s-40s bombshell Hedy Lamarr sued Brooks and company for giving comedian Harvey Korman's evil bad-guy character the name of "Hedley Lamarr." According to Brooks, the real Lamarr was satisfied with an out-of-court settlement of only about $1,000.

Credited actors, in order, include Little as Sheriff Bart; Wilder as Jim, The Waco Kid; Slim Pickens as Taggart; Korman as Lamarr; Madeline Kahn — nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category for her portrayal of the Marlene Dietrich spinoff, Lili Von Shtupp; Brooks as Gov. William J. Le Petomane, the Yiddish-speaking Indian Chief and an Aviator; Burton Gilliam as Lyle; professional football player Alex Karras as the giant Mongo; David Huddleston as Olson Johnson; Liam Dunn as Rev. Johnson; John Hillerman as Howard Johnson; George Furth as Van Johnson; Claude Ennis Starrett Jr. as Gabby Johnson; Carol (Arthur) DeLuise as Harriett Van Johnson; Richard Collier as Dr. Sam Van Johnson; Charles McGregor as Charlie; Robyn Hilton as Miss Stein, the governor's secretary; Don Megowan as a Big Man; Dom DeLuise as the producer, Buddy Bizarre; and Count Basie, as Himself, actually performing with his band in the dirt in Agua Dulce (although a recording was dubbed in).


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