“It never made any sense to put me in Westerns, because I never lost my ‘dem doity boids!’”
Larry Tierney punched the end of his New Yorker-accented statement with a pull on his drink.
We were sitting in a bar in Hollywood, nursing tall scotches and mulling Badman’s Territory, which he’d made in 1946, costarring with Randolph Scott.
I knew Tierney for more than 20 years, and we had great times, and rough ones, before his passing in 2002. A true tough guy, he made his first headlines blazing through Monogram’s Dillinger. He kept showing up in the papers, for his movies or scrapes with the law, over the next 40 years, including in editorial raves over his last, great role in Reservoir Dogs. The old bull refused to do it the easy way: living or acting.
An incredibly loyal friend, who always told the truth, Tierney granted me access he allowed very few. That meant long talks about family, friends, enemies and the movies.
On Badman’s Territory, Tierney reflected, “Randolph Scott was a fine man, and I liked Tom Tyler [playing Frank James to Tierney’s Jesse], but who the hell was gonna buy Jesse James with a New York accent?”
Someone must have bought a New York Jesse, since RKO cast Tierney in Best of the Badmen, with Tyler again playing brother Frank. RKO churned out these “corral the outlaws” mini epics that had little to do with history, but were a good place to put contract stars between bigger assignments.
Badmen had a fun script, Robert Ryan (“A great guy,” Tierney said) and Claire Trevor, Tierney’s costar in his toughest film noir, Born to Kill. But Badmen always stuck in Tierney’s craw because, “Walter Brennan drove me half nuts.”
The actor hadn’t been on a horse for months when Badmen started, and his first day was nothing but riding in the Utah desert, leaving him saddle sore and with a severe case of chapped lips. All he wanted was to waddle into Kanab and buy some ChapStick. That’s when Brennan decided to tag along.
The problem started when the Oscar winner discovered that ChapStick cost 50 cents. “Walter could squeeze a quarter until the eagle screamed,” Tierney remembered, and the famously tight Brennan wasn’t “gonna let movie folk be cheated by town sharpies!”
Tierney’s Brennan impression was dead-on, and he nailed his drink like the saddle sores were still burning.
Chapped lips were a minor problem compared to Tierney’s chafing below the waist, but an outraged Brennan pulled Tierney into the street to begin a long hike across Kanab to the only other pharmacy, all the time railing about those who took advantage of poor movie stars.
Of course, the other pharmacy was a clip joint too—the cashier wanted 60 cents for ChapStick! Tierney tried to slip the cashier a buck, but Brennan caught him.
Tierney ordered another round for the two of us, remembering, “I was dyin’.”
Tierney then shared how he had limped back to the hotel, where Brennan had the kitchen fix up a tub of goose grease. Tierney hated the smell of the stuff, but for the rest of the shoot, Brennan made sure that Jesse James had coated his mouth with goose grease to prevent chapping.
Most important to Brennan, it didn’t cost a dime.
I saluted Jesse James, and he bought the next round.
Stuart Rosebrook grew up near the film studios in North Hollywood, California, and identified with Dobe Carey’s roles as the young cowboy always working to earn his spurs.