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Belle Starr

Belle Starr(1941)

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The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Belle Starr 'The Bandit Queen,'" followed by a listing of players Randolph Scott, Dana Andrews, John Shepperd, Louise Beavers, Chill Wills, Elizabeth Patterson, and a separate card listing "Gene Tierney as Miss Belle." Belle Starr was born Myra Maybelle Shirley on February 5, 1848 near Medoc, MO. Accounts of her exploits and association with outlaws such as the Younger Brothers and Jesse James vary widely, but little in these accounts resembles events depicted in the film. She was killed in early February 1889, allegedly by Edgar Watson, whom she had refused to accept as a tenant on some farm land that she owned. Sam Starr was three-quarters Cherokee and was born in 1857. Sam and Belle were married in the summer of 1880, but biographical sources disagree as to whether Sam was Belle's second or third husband. Belle's criminal career apparently did not begin until after her marriage to Sam, and was not politically motivated. Sam was killed in late 1887 during an argument with an old enemy, Frank West.
       According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the studio's Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, biographical material on Belle Starr was obtained from a chapter in Cameron Rogers' book Gallant Ladies (New York, 1928). This chapter was first published in Pictorial Review as "Gay and Gallant Ladies: Belle Starr, the Gadfly of the South" (Feb 1927). According to the studio records, Harvey F. Thew (in collaboration with Rogers), John L. Balderston and Sonya Levien worked on treatments or story outlines for the picture. The extent of their contributions to the completed film has not been confirmed, however. An June 11, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item asserted that there was a "hushed-up battle over the original screen credit" for the picture but that the problem had "just been settled with the Screen Writers' guild as intermediary." Rogers and Niven Busch received story credit in the final film.
       Studio records, material publicity and Hollywood Reporter news items provide the following information about the production: Roy Del Ruth was originally set as the picture's director. Alice Faye was first cast as "Belle Starr," but was reassigned to Twentieth Century-Fox's The Great American Broadcast (see below). At least "48 top feminine figures" were also tested by director Irving Cummings for the title role. Among those actresses who were considered for the part were Carole Landis, Ida Lupino, Arleen Whelan, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard and June Adams, "a completely unknown player." Henry Fonda was scheduled to play "Ed Shirley," and Tyrone Power was to make a brief, unbilled appearance as "Jesse James," recreating his title role from the 1939 Twentieth Century-Fox film. Actor Chill Wills was borrowed from M-G-M for the production. From approximately 17 April to May 5, 1941, Cummings had to shoot around actress Gene Tierney, who was afflicted by severe eye infections and allergies. An July 11, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Len Hammond, assistant to producer Kenneth Macgowan, took over post-production duties on the picture when Macgowan left the studio to work for the Latin-American Amity Committee. Studio publicity and legal records noted that backgrounds were shot on location near Joplin and Noel, MO, and in Sherwood Forest, the Santa Susana Mountains, and the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, all of which are located in Southern California. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the studio considered filming the entire picture in the Ozark Mountains or near Tucson, AZ.
       The legal records note that a trailer entitled "Three of a Kind," for the 1941 Twentieth Century-Fox picture Charley's Aunt (see below), also advertised this picture. In the trailer, Jack Benny, the star of Charley's Aunt, Tyrone Power, the star of A Yank in the R.A.F. (see below), and Randolph Scott meet to discuss "the merits of his individual picture." No actual scenes of the three films were shown. A similar trailer, featuring Gene Tierney, Don Ameche of Confirm or Deny and Anne Baxter of Swamp Water (see entires below), was planned but not made. Belle Starr was the first film in which actor Shepperd Strudwick was billed as John Shepperd. According to studio publicity, Twentieth Century-Fox executives changed his name because they felt it was "too long for a marquee and too hard to remember." The actor changed his name back to Strudwick when he began filming The Red Pony in 1947 (see below). The legal records contain letters from Flossie E. Hutton, Belle Starr's granddaughter, in which she alternately offers information and threatens legal suit if the studio did not compensate her and her sisters for the depiction of their grandmother's story. The legal records do not list any actions taken by the studio in respect to Hutton's claims.
       Other films based on the legend of Belle Starr include Twentieth Century-Fox's 1948 picture Belle Starr's Daughter (see below). In 1952 RKO released Montana Belle, which was directed by Allan Dwan and starred George Brent and Jane Russell as "Belle." According to studio records, in 1957, Twentieth Century-Fox considered producing a television series about Belle. Pamela Reed played "Belle" in the 1980 United Artists release The Long Riders, which was directed by Walter Hill.