powered by AFI
If anyone out there is curious as to the definition of the word nepotism, it's unlikely that there is a better place to start than the story of the Hall family and Fairway International Pictures. In 1962, a man named Arch Hall, Sr., a former B-western cowboy who had once worked with the likes of John Wayne and Gene Autry, wanted to make a film that would propel his only son, Arch Hall, Jr., into instant fame and fortune. Hall Sr. had been working odd jobs for most of his life and decided to invest all of his money into his very own film company so he could make the movies he wanted with his own son as the leading man. He called his company Fairway International Pictures and set up offices in Los Angeles, California.
Arch Hall, Jr. had been playing music since he was a child, and even had a single released by the time he was fifteen. Plus, he already had a band and was performing at various rock and roll clubs in Los Angeles. But his father was aiming higher: he wanted to make his son into a movie star. As a way to capitalize on the drive-in scene and the growing trend of teen stars such as Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson, Wild Guitar (1962) became the vehicle for Hall Jr. to showcase his talents as an actor and singer. The movie was bankrolled and produced by Arch Hall, Sr. and his small Fairway International staff in order to turn Arch Jr. into the latest teenybopper sensation.
In fact, the story of Wild Guitar could be Hall Sr.'s own fantasy of his son's success. A fair haired rock and roller named Bud Eagle (played by Hall Jr.), armed with nothing but his trusty six string, rides his motorcycle to Hollywood to make it big in the music industry. After he arrives he stops into a diner and produces what little money he has for a meal. He starts talking to a restaurant patron named Vickie (Nancy Czar) and she is immediately taken by Bud and his story. She then tries to get him a spot on a rock and roll television show on which she performs as a go-go dancer.
As luck would have it, one of the performers on that evening's show drops out and Bud takes his place. Shortly after Bud's performance, he is approached almost immediately by a record producer who says he can make him a star. Mike McCauley (Hall Sr.) and his young assistant Steak (Cash Flagg) agree to show him the ropes while at the same time bilking the naive Bud out of his fair share of the profits. Through a series of events the two men exploit the clueless musician until he gets wise to their scheme. After their plans are foiled, Vickie helps Bud in getting a fair record contract and it's only then he becomes the star he wanted to be.
Although the plot seems to mirror the typical hard luck story experienced by countless wannabe stars and musicians, Wild Guitar is not without its own unique take on the subject. For example, it's hard to tell if Ray Dennis Steckler (a.k.a. Cash Flagg, who also served as the director of Wild Guitar) was actually acting as Hall Sr.'s young sleaze ball assistant. His icky swagger and pathetic mustache is almost too convincing. Bud Eagle's hair alone threatens the institution of feathered bangs and endless hairspray most notably championed by 1980's synthesized pop gurus A Flock of Seagulls. (It's insanely enormous.) And although Arch Hall, Jr. wrote and performed all the songs in the film, you can't help but notice that he is phoning it in at every moment. You can't blame him since the music is not "wild" rock 'n roll at all but lame pop music imitations of stuff Bobby Vee or Frankie Avalon would put out.
Even though it's arguable whether or not Arch Hall, Jr. ever reached the stardom that his character achieves by the closing credits, the spirit of independent cinema should be enough of a reason to celebrate a movie such as Wild Guitar. The film is a true do-it-yourself undertaking, a labor of love from a father to his son whose desire to keep it in the family produced a memorable piece of cult movie history.
Producer: Arch Hall, Sr.
Director: Ray Dennis Steckler
Screenplay: Arch Hall, Sr., Joe Thomas, Bob Wehling
Cinematography: Joseph Mascelli
Film Editing: Anthony Lanza
Art Direction: Patrick S. Kirkwood
Cast: Arch Hall, Jr. (Bud Eagle), Nancy Czar (Vickie Wills), Arch Hall, Sr. (Mike McCauley), Ray Dennis Steckler (Steak, as Cash Flagg), Marie Denn (Marge), Robert Crumb (Don Proctor).
by Millie de Chirico
Wild Guitar (1962)
"It tries to be Jailhouse Rock, a shocking look at the sleazy underworld of pop stardom with a brash mix of music, moxie and melodrama. It's off the mark by about the width of Colonel Parker's goiter. The static cinematic scent of Z-grade director Ray Dennis Steckler is all over this go-go gag fest. And yet, Wild Guitar is incredibly entertaining. Aside from a weird triumvirate of failed comics who look and act like adult Dead End Kids crossed with syphilitic mental patients, the film is a quasi-professional, fascinating faux factoid about the latter days of the teenybopper rock and roll craze. Still, it does laughingly deteriorate into Hackabaloo every time Junior opens his flycatcher to chortle a crusty chantey. You wanted Elvis, you'd settle for a barking quail, but instead, you're stuck with the human peach pit."
- Judge Bill Gibron, DVD Verdict
"Wild Guitar was meant as a star vehicle for Junior to sing his silly songs, comb his hair, and woo the girl. But the film does have more going on than just that. Hall Sr. is great as the sleazy, manipulative mogul, and Steckler's turn as the droll, twitchy henchman is likewise memorable. The film also has a rather acidic bite to it, as it uncovers the subtle and not-so-subtle compromises one must deal with if you want to be a star. The film also boasts some deliriously strange musical numbers by Junior, including a stage-bound show stopper with a dancing Carolyn Brandt (Steckler's real-life wife) whirling around the crooning singer."
- Derek Hill, Images Journal
"Very funny super-cheapie wild youth movie"
- Joe Bob Briggs
"Clocking in at a scant 88 minutes, WILD GUITAR seems harmless enough until you realize that that's 88 minutes of your life spent with Arch Hall Jr. in full crooner mode. When Arch sings his plaintive love ballad "Vickie," time actually stops proving Einstein's little known theory of the relativity of Arch Hall Jr. Now, on a three-dollar budget it seems pretty cruel to stoop to complain about acting skills, but I'm a jerk."
- Andrew Hershberger, Cinescape
"Since I know a guy whose step-brother once substituted for Color Me Badd's drummer, I think I'm uniquely qualified to comment on the veracity of what this film portrays the record business like. It's all true! Crooked promoters, dumb and earnest hicks, ugly henchmen, homely girlfriends that read their lines like it's the first time they've encountered the English language. That's just how it is!"
- MonsterHunter, http://monsterhunter.coldfusionvideo.com/WildGuitar.html
Compiled by Jeff Stafford
Wild Guitar (1962)
South Dakota cowboy, B-western stunt man, army pilot - Arch Hall, Sr.'s biography reads like the plot of a movie. In fact, part of his life was the basis for a movie, The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961), from a novel by Hall's army buddy William Bowers, and starring Robert Mitchum as the roguish Archie. But Hall's movie cult status came not from his own life, but from the series of low-budget schlock films he produced between 1961 and 1965 under the banner of his production company, Fairway Productions. Aimed at a drive-in audience and starring his teenage son, Arch Hall, Jr., the films cost as little as $15,000 to $35,000 to make and were each shot in just a few weeks. Rather than specializing in any one genre, Hall's films sampled the exploitation spectrum, and several others as well: The Choppers (1961) was a juvenile delinquent drama; Eegah! (1962) was a monster movie, and featured Richard Kiel (who would later play "Jaws" in two James Bond films) as the title's hulking caveman; The Sadist (1963) was a suspense thriller (inspired by serial killer Charles Starkweather); The Nasty Rabbit (1964) was a spy spoof; and Deadwood '76 (1965) was a western.
Wild Guitar (1962) was the teen-idol/beach party movie, with original songs written by star Arch Hall, Jr., and performed by him and his band, the Archers. The younger Hall plays a South Dakotan named Bud Eagle who heads for Hollywood looking for stardom, and becomes an instant sensation. Signed by an unscrupulous, Colonel Parker-esque promoter (played by Arch Hall, Sr., using the stage name William Watters), Bud is exploited, cheated, abducted and brainwashed, before he emerges triumphant in the musical beach-party ending. In a recent article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, John Beifuss described Hall's low-rent Elvis appearance in the film: "Hall - his escarpment of hair dyed almost platinum blond - resembles an adult Jonny Quest as played by Michael J. Pollard after a growth spurt." To help promote Wild Guitar, Hall and his band toured drive-ins where the film was playing, with co-star Nancy Czar along to go-go dance with the fans.
Ray Dennis Steckler made his directorial debut with Wild Guitar, as well as playing the weaselly henchman Steak, under the stage name Cash Flagg. Steckler would go on to direct such exploitation classics as The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963) and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966), as well as various horror and softcore adult films. When last heard from, Steckler was running a video store in Las Vegas.
Steckler wasn't the only aspiring filmmaker who got his first break from Arch Hall, Sr. "What he lacked in finances and everything, he sort of made up for by finding interesting and talented people to contribute," Hall's son recalled. Renowned cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977) and Laszlo Kovacs (Easy Rider, 1969) began their American careers at Fairway Productions. Zsigmond's first credit was as a second unit cinematographer on Wild Guitar, and he was the cinematographer on three other Hall productions. Kovacs was an assistant cameraman on The Nasty Rabbit. Crew members, family members and acquaintances often played bit parts in the films. Marilyn Manning, the leading lady of Eegah!, was a secretary in the office of a chiropractor who was a tenant in the Fairway complex. Helen Hovey, who had a role in The Sadist, was Hall's niece.
Hall was so good at making films with minimal budgets that, according to his son, "At one point, Warner Bros. offered my dad a position as a producer because they saw that this guy was working with nothing, and he was coming up with something." But in spite of Hall's talent for economy, what ultimately defeated him was that he did not control his own distribution. According to Hall Jr., "There was just no affordable way for an independent producer to audit or refute the reports that were submitted by distributors." He claims that his father was cheated by distributors, and by the late 1960s, Hall was broke and Fairway Productions was history. Unwilling to be an employee, Hall refused the job at Warner Bros., and never made another film. However, a few years before his death, Hall appeared, billed as William Watters, in Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us (1974).
Hall Jr. left films behind for a career as a pilot with the famous Flying Tigers air cargo company, flying all over the world. After he retired, he wrote a novel, Apsara Jet, about a Vietnam war veteran involved in illegal drug trade. As an homage to his father, Hall used a variation of his father's producer pseudonym, Nicholas Merriwether, for his own pen name. As the Fairway films gained cult status, Arch Hall, Jr. enjoyed a mini-revival, thanks to the 2005 release of a CD, Wild Guitar!, a compilation of songs from his movies. He even picked up the guitar again, after more than 30 years, and Arch Hall, Jr. and the Archers played at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in 2005, and in Memphis in 2006.
Director: Ray Dennis Steckler
Producer: Nicholas Merriwether (Arch Hall, Sr.)
Screenplay: Nicholas Merriwether (Arch Hall, Sr.), Bob Wehling
Cinematography: Joseph Mascelli
Editor: Anthony M. Lanza
Music: Arch Hall, Jr., Alan O'Day
Principal Cast: Arch Hall, Jr. (Bud Eagle), Nancy Czar (Vickie), Arch Hall, Sr. (as William Watters) (Mike McCauley), Ray Dennis Steckler (as Cash Flagg) (Steak), Marie Denn (Marge), Robert Crumb (Don Proctor), Virginia Broderick (Daisy), Al Scott (Ted Eagle).
by Margarita Landazuri
Wild Guitar (1962)
-Arch Hall, Sr. was raised in South Dakota and met his wife while they were both radio announcers there. Arch Sr. was fascinated with Native American culture and beliefs and was accepted by the Oglala Sioux, even learning to speak their language. "Watogola Oaskshilla Wild Boy" was his adopted Sioux name.
-Arch Sr.'s army life as a pilot during World War II was the basis of the 1961 comedy The Last Time I Saw Archie, directed by Jack Webb (of Dragnet fame) and starring Robert Mitchum as Hall. Eventually Hall Sr. sued the filmmakers.
-Arch Hall, Sr. appeared in early b-movie westerns during the 1930's and 1940's alongside John Wayne (most notably in 1938's Overland Stage Raiders), "Crash" Corrigan, and Gene Autry.
-After the war, Arch Sr. dabbled in many professions before he became a film producer: he worked in the radio business in Los Angeles, he built houses in the San Fernando Valley calling his company Cozy Homes, and was the owner of a small trucking business called "Hall and Company".
-Arch Sr. created Fairway International as a way to make movies and music. Soundtracks were recorded in offices and in one instance, the Men's restroom.
-Arch Sr. was reportedly offered a studio position at Warner Brothers, but he turned it down in favor of being his own boss. -After Hall Sr. passed away from a heart attack in 1978, his body was buried in South Dakota with full cooperation with the Sioux Nation.
-Arch Hall, Sr. went by the pseudonyms "Nicholas Merriwether" and "William Watters" for the making of Wild Guitar. He decided to use pen names for himself in his movies because he claimed it made him look like "a one man band" in the credits, like "there was more to the production company than one or two guys staying up late at night".
-The soundstage at Fairway International was a former drugstore that was owned by Arch Hall, Sr. According to legend, a young Natalie Wood visited the store frequently to buy candy.
-Arch Jr. claimed to have become obsessed with blues when he was 11 or 12 and quickly began to write songs and sing. In 1959, he recorded two songs: "Konga Joe" and "Monkey in My Hatband", and they were both issued as a single on Steve Allen's Signature record label.
-Arch Hall, Sr. felt that he was being cheated out of money by the drive in owners during the exhibition of his films. According to legend, Father Hall made a surprise visit to a Deep South drive in and took a Colt .45 pistol with him. The distributor apparently wined and dined him so much that he forgot the original purpose of his visit. However, right before he left he told the distributor that "he should consider himself a lucky man, as [he] had brought a gun with [him] in [his] briefcase and had been in a mindset to do whatever had to be done" and that he "better clean up his act when dealing with Fairway Films".
-Hall Jr. once said, "I was 15 years old and I had friends in Southern California, including Bobby Diamond, who was the boy in the TV series Fury, and I asked him, 'What is this acting thing about? Is it real hard?' and he said, 'F**k, no! It's easy.'"
-In his youth, Arch Jr. reportedly dated Susan Sherman, the young daughter of famed Hollywood director George Sherman.
-Arch Jr. was the front man of Arch Hall Jr. and the Archers. The band had played such notable rock clubs as the Whiskey A Go-Go and Pandora's Box. The Archers also backed soul singer Dobie Gray (who had a hit with the song "The In Crowd"). Archers drummer Alan O'Day went on later to write hits for the Righteous Brothers, Three Dog Night, The Fifth Dimension, Helen Reddy, and Cher, and contributed music to Jim Henson's Muppet Babies. O'Day had his own hit, "Undercover Angel" which went to Number 1 in the spring/summer of 1977.
-Hall Jr. reportedly "gave most [of his] great old guitars away" after he left show business, a decision he apparently now regrets.
-Arch Hall, Jr. became fascinated with flying during his Fairway International years and left the showbiz world to become a pilot in the late 1960's. He worked for Flying Tiger Airlines, the industry's top cargo-only carrier for many years. FedEx purchased the company in 1989 and Arch Jr. remained a pilot for them until his retirement in 2003. He continues to fly for private companies and now resides in Florida.
-Hall, Jr. published the book Apsara Jet, written under the pen name "Nicolas Merriweather", the pseudonym his father used for Wild Guitar.
-John Travolta was one of the more famous people to have read Hall Jr.'s book, Apsara Jet and thought about turning it into a movie, but declined at the last minute.
-Another Fairway International production entitled Eegah! (1962) was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993.
Steckler's photography credits include ABC's Wild World of Sports, Warner Brothers television show The Professionals, The World's Greatest Sinner and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
-Steckler was fired from Alfred Hitchcock Presents for nearly hitting Hitch with an A-frame.
-Other low budget film credits to his name are The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964), Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966) and Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965). He also directed the video for Jefferson Airplane's song "White Rabbit."
Steckler acted under the name "Cash Flagg", a name he came up with because he would frequently write checks out to "cash". Other pseudonyms used by Steckler included "Wolfgang Schmidt", "Cindy Lou Sutters", and "Sven Christian".
-One famous story about Steckler revealed that he left a pile of his clearly labeled film prints on the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, just to see if anyone would want his masterpieces. An hour later he returned and found that nobody had touched them.
-Steckler ran a video store in Las Vegas, Nevada called Mascot Video.
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
Compiled by Millie de Chirico
Wild Guitar (1962)
- Emcee Hal Kenton: "Our kids don't even rehearse - they just audition and go on!"
- Bud: "A steak? For breakfast?"
Steak: "What else is there?"
- Bud Eagle Fan club girl: "What about tearing off his clothes?"
Fan club boy: "That's for squares!"
Fan girl: "I think it's effective..."
- Vickie: (listening to Bud's song on the jukebox) "Marge, I think he's the most!"
Marge: "And he hasn't been around town long enough to get a haircut!"
Compiled by Millie de Chirico