Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928)

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Rodney

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Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928)

PostWed Mar 05, 2014 3:57 pm

Hugh M. Neeley has been doing historical research on Ramona (1928) before its premiere at the end of the month. He's discovered that one of the extras who worked on the village set is still alive. He gave me permission to post this...

Hi folks,

IMDB.com is an amazing resource. Of course with so much data available, it often contains errors. For example, for Ramona (1928), in addition to star Roland Drew ("Felipe Moreno") the web site also lists the mysterious additional cast member "Roland Dreu," whose only credit, according to imdb, is Ramona. Go figure.

Going through the Ramona cast list on imdb, I wanted to see if perhaps one or more of the younger cast members might yet survive. I had previously noted that the "baby" that Dolores del Rio cradles is listed as having been played by Rita Carewe. This doesn't make a lot of sense, either, since according to imdb Rita was 18 years old, going on 19 at the time the film was made. I've seen a picture of Dolores del Rio and Rita Carewe together, during the making of Ramona. Even while standing next to Dolores del Rio, Rita is very pretty...but she doesn't look like a baby!!

Anyway, imdb lists three "uncredited" cast members. I don't know where they get this information. The files of the Screen Extras Guild? It would be interesting to find out. In any event, one of the uncredited cast members was Shep Houghton, who is listed as having played a "Mexican boy." Imdb lists a birthdate of June 4, 1914, so Shep would have been 13 years old at the time the film was made. Shep evidently worked as an extra and as a dancer for most of his life. His imdb page lists more than 50 film credits, plus some in television. 5 years after Ramona, he is listed as a "dancer" in the cast of Flying Down to Rio. His last credit is for Robert Wise's 1975 film The Hindenburg. The fascinating thing that I noted, though, was that while his career is well represented, along with his birth date, on imdb; no death date is listed there.

I decided to go online to whitepages.com. "Shep Houghton" seemed to me like a name that not too many people would have, especially today. I searched for a Shep Houghton in California. No luck, but the whitepages did find a Shep Houghton, reported age 99, in Oregon. Naturally in order to get actual information on him, I was shunted over to peoplefinders.com, where for $1 I was able to do a second refined search which came up with the same information, plus a phone number and address.

Before going any further, I popped off an email to James D'Arc, since he had mentioned to me that he had once interviewed a couple of folk who observed the film being made in Utah. Jim responded, however, that the 2 people he had spoken with had not been in the cast...just locals who were able to observe the filmmakers.

So this morning I finally got around to calling the phone number for Shep that I had found through peoplefinders. Lo and behold, a lady answered and I told her who I was and that I was looking for Mr. Shep Houghton, if he might still be alive! "Oh, sure," she said, "he's right here. What did you say you wanted him for?" I told her I was researching the 1928 film of Ramona. "Oh, he'd know all about that," she said, "you boys can talk about it all you want. Shep, are you on the other line already?" He was.

I then had about a 10 minute phone conversation with Mr. Houghton. Though he remembered his participation in the film well, it turned out to be so brief that I cannot say it will add anything to scholarship on the film....but it was still very exciting to speak with someone today who was (for all of about 30 minutes) on the film set in 1928!

Here's a rough version of what he told me:

Shep and his parents moved to Los Angeles from Oregon when he was 12 or 13. Their LA home was right across the street from Paramount Studios. The neighborhood they had moved to didn't turn out to have any other children his age living there, so Shep could organize a game of sand lot baseball or do anything else with kids his age on the weekends. He was busy at school during the week, but the studios worked on Saturdays, too, so on the weekend Shep started signing up to do extra work. (Shep's imdb page lists two credits for him in 1927-28, before Ramona.)

One day, Shep says, he was walking by the "Edwin Carewe studio" when someone popped out of the gate and hailed him. The man asked what he was doing, and did he have time to help out with a scene. Shep was up for that, so the man took him into the studio, got him signed up and costumed, and he was placed in the background of a street scene, walking (he might have said "running") with a dog at his side. The whole thing took about half an hour, and Shep earned $5. Shep never met Edwin Carewe...he was given his task by an assistant director who was directing the background actors. He doesn't remember seeing Warner Baxter, and is rather sad about that. There is one thing, though, that stands out in Shep's memory of the event to this day: HE SAW DOLORES DEL RIO IN THE FLESH, AND SHE WAS STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL!

Shep never saw the finished movie in a theater, and never understood just what the story was, or what was supposed to be happening in the scene in which he participated. He just knew they needed one more body to fill out the background. He remembered hearing, though, that Ramona was a pretty successful film.

Shep went on to a long career in the movies, but always as an extra or a dancer. He says he didn't like the idea of being tied down to a long shoot, or a 9-5 full time job. Working a few days at a time as an extra on such films as "42nd Street," "Cleopatra" (1934), "Gold Diggers of 1935," "Gone with the Wind," "Ziegfeld Girl," "Lady in the Dark," "Show Boat" (1951), "Around the World in 80 Days," "Imitation of Life," "Kitten with a Whip" (!!), and "Hello, Dolly!," suited Shep just fine. With this flexible schedule he found he could live comfortably, travel, and work when he wanted to. At one point he served as president of the Screen Extras Guild.

Now he is 30+ years retired, happy, sharp as a tack, and reasonably spry, living back where his family started: in Oregon. And when he thinks back to his earliest days in the movie industry, one thing comes back to mind, clear as the tone of a perfectly cast, well-struck bell: THAT DOLORES DEL RIO SURE WAS GORGEOUS!!

That's the story.

Cheers and best wishes to you all,
Hugh

(I'll add that from Shep's description, this is probably an "establishing shot" of the village, not from the action sequence where the village is attacked. There are three such shots, one of which clearly has a dog, but the details are fuzzy on my working video when you get to the distant background....)
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"
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Donald Binks

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Re: Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928

PostWed Mar 05, 2014 6:00 pm

That's a really charming story. Thanks for posting. It's wonderful to have a few around when the silents were in full swing.
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Jeff Crouse

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Re: Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928

PostWed Mar 05, 2014 9:09 pm

Thanks for posting this, Rodney! Very cool! I can't wait until the film comes to Springdale.
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Gagman 66

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Re: Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928

PostThu Mar 06, 2014 1:42 am

:D What a fabulous story! Can I post this on some of the Facebook Silent film groups?

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David Alp

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Re: Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928

PostFri Mar 07, 2014 7:27 am

What an amazing story! And you were only on the phone for 10 minutes!! God I would have been on the phone for ten hours!!! I would have wanted to ask him about his dancing in "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941), and then later in "Easter Parade" (1948). Both are Judy Garland musicals. I wonder if he ever met Judy? If you speak to him again will you ask him? Here is the "Minnie From Trinidad" number from "Ziegfeld Girl" - I wonder if you can spot him?

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Rodney

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Re: Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928

PostFri Mar 07, 2014 7:51 am

Gagman 66 wrote::D What a fabulous story! Can I post this on some of the Facebook Silent film groups?


I'm sure that would be fine. Do give credit to Hugh Neeley (not me), he's the one who did all the work!
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"
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Brooksie

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Re: Still-living cast member (well, extra) from Ramona (1928

PostFri Mar 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Full points to Hugh for taking the initiative. I'd love to know if Mr Houghton is a neighbour of mine. :)

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