Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Legend of Randolph Scott
On a grassy hill overlooking the skyline of Charlotte’s center-city business district sits historic Elmwood Cemetery. A number of notable Charlotteans lie in rest here, including several Civil War veterans (two brigadier generals, no less), politicians, leading businessmen, and actor Randolph Scott.
Scott was actually born in Orange, Virginia—quite by accident—during a trip his parents had taken to visit relatives. Once Lucille Scott was well enough to travel, she and husband George, a prominent Charlotte businessman at the time, and little George Randolph returned to Charlotte, where the future actor would spend most of the next thirty years of his life.
Longtime Charlotteans might remember a restaurant that popped up on the Charlotte culinary landscape briefly in the 1970s bearing the name “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?” For many Americans and die-hard fans of cowboy Western films, the answer is captured in the lyrics from this Statler Brothers song released in 1973:
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott ridin' the range a-lone/Whatever happened to Gene and Tex And Roy and Rex, the Du-ran-go Kid/Whatever happened to Randolph Scott, his horse, plain as can be/Whatever happened to Randolph Scott/Has happened to the best of me.
The Statler Brothers themselves, and the lyrics to their song, are wholesome Americana at its most defined. Many people viewed Scott as such, too—an all-American boy from a good family who grew up to be a cowboy.
Fact is, Scott, from all reports, was quite the good soul. He did come from a wealthy, respectable, well-established family that made its home right here in Charlotte. And he did grow up to be a cowboy—on the motion-picture screen, that is.
Scott appeared in more than 100 movies during his career, beginning in 1928 with a bit part in Sharp Shooters at Twentieth Century Fox. He would go on to star in many memorable films, from comedy and film noir to Westerns and even musicals. Some of his most heralded Western roles were in films such as Colt .45, Tall Man Riding, The Stranger Wore a Gun, and Ride the High Country.
Although the cowboy genre made him a household name, he had several important non-Western roles, too. Among them were Pittsburgh with Marlene Dietrich, Supernatural with Carole Lombard, Go West, Young Man with Mae West, and My Favorite Wife with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant.
In his later years he would focus solely on the Western parts, a point of speculation for many motion-picture buffs.
“You know, I had no real abiding talent,” Scott told writer Boze Hadleigh in an interview from the early 1980s that was to have run in a Western-themed issue of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. The interview never ran, but Hadleigh published it in a collection of celebrity conversations printed in 1996.
“I suppose I was just good-looking. I liked Westerns. I liked comedy, too, but I didn’t think I was up to those ‘actor’s actor’ parts.”
Scott’s career in the entertainment industry spanned five decades. He bowed out of the business in 1963 after appearing in what became the most critically acclaimed role of his career, Ride the High Country, directed by legendary filmmaker Sam Peckinpah.
A wise investor throughout his life, mostly in oil mines and real estate, Scott was worth an estimated $100 million at the time of his retirement. He and wife Pat chose to live the country-club life in Beverly Hills.
Scott eventually passed away at eighty-nine on March 2, 1987, and was interred at Elmwood in Charlotte.
But let’s back up a bit.
Scott’s life began in Charlotte with his birth just prior to the onset of the twentieth century, on January 23, 1898. He came along during a particularly interesting time in history. Within a year or so the first automobiles began to appear on city streets. The first radio transmissions and powered air flights were less than five years away. Duke Power began supplying local residents with hydroelectric power. Belk Department Stores had recently opened its first store.
In the world at large, tensions were already beginning to rise between America and Spain over Cuba’s desire for independence from the European nation. Within three months the two countries would be at war, declared by President William McKinley (who would be murdered by a mentally ill anarchist less than four years later).
Scott’s son Chris, who lives on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, would write about his father’s life in his book, Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?
“From the time of my father’s birth the world has undergone tremendous changes,” Chris wrote. “He watched as the world and the nation evolved. It seems to me that his mind must have been reasonably flexible to cope with the vast and sometimes furious changes that occurred in his lifetime. Not all people are lucky enough to have been that adaptable.”
And not all people are lucky enough to have been born into a family of such affluence.
Scott’s father was a city alderman and the CEO of the accounting firm Scott, Charnley & Company with offices in Latta Arcade. A Mason and a member of the Charlotte Country Club, the senior Scott enjoyed a flourishing career with all of society’s best perks.
That clout allowed him to provide handsomely for his wife Lucy, son Randolph, and his five daughters. At the time of Randolph’s birth the family made its home in the fashionable Fourth Ward neighborhood at 312 West Tenth Street (the home has long since vanished from the city’s architectural landscape, although the family’s later residence, at 1132 Dilworth Road, still stands as a private home).
Scott and his five sisters were afforded all the benefits of upper-crust society: private educations of the highest caliber and opportunities for extensive travel.
“I first met Randy as a visiting swimmer at Wrightsville beach in the summer of 1914,” friend and schoolmate Andrew Harriss recalled in an article he wrote for Woodberry Forest Preparatory School’s newsletter in 1988. “I was a member of a Carolina Yacht Club sailing crew of three on a relatively small boat. I asked permission for Randy to [join us].
“He almost failed his acceptability test by standing up and shaking the boat, but the skipper let him sail with us on successive occasions until July, 1917 and our active call to military duty.”
The two had attended prestigious Woodberry Forest in Virginia together and would later serve in the military in France during World War I.
Upon returning from France, Scott enrolled at Georgia Tech in Atlanta with hopes of a football career. After injuring his back, Scott transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill and majored in textile engineering. For a time he went to work for his father at the accounting firm, but it became obvious Scott was bored with the business. In 1927 he and a close friend set their sights on Hollywood and the motion-picture business.
Accounts vary wildly as to exactly how Scott would later become acquainted with billionaire Howard Hughes, but it was Hughes who actually cast Scott in his first film role.
The bit part didn’t result in a contract with a studio. In fact, he would spend the next four years flitting about from one studio to another before he would finally land a contract at Paramount. It was during the making of Sky Bride that he met one of the most important people in his life: Cary Grant.
The relationship between Grant and Scott would be shrouded amidst the workings of Hollywood publicists throughout the lives of both men.
Charles Higham and Roy Moseley wrote about the connection between the two actors in a 1989 book called The Lonely Heart that explored the life of Cary Grant.
“Cary was making This Is the Night and Sinners in the Sun . . . Scott was appearing in Sky Bride on an adjoining soundstage.
“[They] were instantly drawn to each other and decided on the spot to live together.”
Initially the twosome were bold about their relationship, appearing as escorts for one another at celebrity functions and even insisting on sharing a trailer during the production of My Favorite Wife.
Were they a couple? Scott’s son insists they were not.
The late director George Cukor, a friend of Grant and Scott’s, insists they were. “Oh, Cary won't talk about it,” Cukor told writer Boze Hadleigh. “At most, he'll say they did some wonderful pictures together. But Randolph will admit it—to a friend.”
According to Cukor, Scott confessed in his final days to a nurse who was attending him. “He’s shown the nurse his scrapbook on Grant, and when the nurse asked him if it was true, Randolph just smiled and nodded.”
Higham and Moseley imply that the relationship between the two continued throughout their lives—even through their successive marriages. “Randolph Scott . . . had apparently preserved a sentimental feeling for Cary,” they wrote in The Lonely Heart.
“In the 1970s they would turn up at the Beverly Hillcrest Hotel late at night after the other diners had gone, and in the near darkness of their table at the back of the restaurant, the maitre d’ would see the two old men surreptitiously holding hands.”
One thing is clear: Scott left behind a legend that appealed to many people from all walks of life. Moreover, he was an equally passionate and compassionate man when it came to the people and places in his life that he cared about. He and wife Pat were married for forty-five years until his death.
He referred to Grant as his best friend throughout his life and, according to son Chris, was always the consummately caring and loving father.
Charlotte always held a special place in his heart, and he would return over the years many times to visit relatives.
Longtime friend Billy Graham officiated at his graveside service in 1989. “He was spiritually-minded, but he didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve,” Graham said at the time in The Charlotte Observer.
“We were playing golf one day when we stopped behind a slower foursome. I asked Randy, ‘Do you give much thought to religious things, to Christ, the church?’ He said, ‘A lot more than people think I do.’”
Scott’s son Chris summed up his life in the closing pages of Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?
“I know what happened to Randolph Scott. He is alive and well in the hearts of all whose lives he touched. Those of us who remember him are richer for having done so.”
Ten All-Time Scott Great Flics
(THESE ARE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER)
(1934) Early Scott western. Buffalo hunting, maidens held hostage and
Indians ready to attack all the white buffalo hunters. Also
“Doolins of Oklahoma”
(1949) Scott’s a good guy mistaken for a bad guy after he
accidentally kills an outlaw gang member. He tries to assume a new
identity – but the gang tracks him down.
“The Walking Hills”
(1949) Scott’s trailing a murder suspect in this one and follows the
suspect into a poker game. When one of the players reveals he knows
the location of a lost wagon train full of gold, everyone in the game
is suddenly bound up in an expedition into the desert to find the
treasure. Directed by John Sturges.
(1950) Scott’s a salesman for the Colt company who takes off after
a snarly villain (Zachary Scott) who’s stolen some guns from the Colt
company and gone on a murderous rampage. Ruth Roman makes a spunky
heroine as the wife of a miner who's in cahoots with the villain.
“Man in the Saddle”
(1951) A small farmer (Scott) is being harassed by his powerful
neighbor – who even hires gunmen to intimidate him. He has to defend
himself and his property by means of violence.
“The Stranger Wore A Gun”
(1953) A former spy (Scott) moves to Arizona to join a gold robbery,
but realizes he’s made a big mistake upon his arrival.
“The Bounty Hunter”
(1954) After a violent train robbery the Pinkerton detective agency
hires a bounty hunter (Scott) to find the killers. Unsure of their
identity, he tracks them to a small town in this tension-filled game
of cat and mouse.
“Tall Man Riding”
(1955) Revenge western with Scott as Larry Madden seeking seeking
revenge against an evil ranch owner for publicly whipping him years
earlier and breaking up his relationship with Ordway's daughter.
“Buchannon Rides Alone”
(1958) Tom Buchanan (Scott) rides into a California border town and
finds himself caught in the middle of a feud between several members
of the Agry family.
“Ride the High Country”
(1963) Interesting final role for Scott. This time he plays a good
guy gone bad as he and fellow western legend Joel McCrea go to battle
over gold and morality.