THE ORMONDS

Into the Strange Unknown: The Untamed Story of Nashville's First Family of Film
By David D. Duncan and Jim Ridley

Ron Ormond has never received the notoriety of contemporaries like Russ Meyer or Herschell Gordon Lewis, primarily because his films have been hard to find in the past decade. Even so, Ormond and his family production company, the Ormond Organization, have achieved a modest renown that continues to spread. Their distinctive movies are sought after by video collectors, and last fall Nashville's Sinking Creek Film/Video Festival, one of the country's oldest and most prestigious showcases for independent film, honored the Ormonds with a tribute.

It's safe to say that the movies that bear the Ormond name are unlike anything else you've ever seen. They are a fascinating mixture of the sacred and sleazy, the prosaic and the surreal. They belong to a time before VCRs and cable when maverick independent moviemakers gambled their fortunes to piece together financing for picture after picture. On the fringes of the filmmaking industry, only one criterion applied: Could it sell? Ormond pictures could sell, and they sold big. They scored with beasts, beatings, and buxom babes. In their adopted hometown of Nashville, where Ron ultimately relocated his films, his financing, and his family, they filmed country when country wasn't cool. Their artistic credo was spelled out in blazing letters atop their mid-1960s pressbooks: "It's Exploitable!" Then, when the Ormonds were at the peak of their craft, their career suddenly took its most unusual and fascinating turn of all.

June Carr was born into a New York show business family and hit the boards running at age 14. Her father Cliff ran a famous Broadway nightspot called Coffee Cliff's, where Legs Diamond and other touts would congregate after hours. Cliff had been a burlesque comic himself, often appearing with a young second banana named Bert Lahr. June's mother, Norma, was an ingenue type who also performed specialty acts in vaudeville. By the time she reached 25, June had appeared on stage alongside most of the remaining great vaudevillians, including Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Edgar Bergen. She also appeared with Hope and Bergen in several shorts for MGM, which occasionally turn up on American Movie Classics. Her travels carried her to London, where she danced the Lambeth Walk in the arms of the Duke of Windsor. June led an exciting life by anyone's standards, but her world changed forever during an engagement at Capitol Theater in Portland, Oregon, in 1938.



A charismatic master of ceremonies and magician by the name of "Rahn" Ormond happened to be on the same bill, and June was immediately smitten by him.

She predicted on the spot that although she had never met the mystery man before, he was the one she would marry. Three short weeks later, after one all-night conversation and some fast negotiations, her premonition came true. They spent $6 on a marriage license and paid a judge $2 to perform the ceremony. After the wedding ceremony, June left immediately for her next show. Ron went to San Francisco to tell his mother. His mother demanded, "So where's your wife?" "In Chicago," Ron answered. "You just got married and your wife's in Chicago!" his mother exclaimed. Ron shrugged. "Things are different in show business."

From that day forward, Ron and June forged what would be a lasting personal and professional partnership. She helped Ron polish his act, and together they assembled package variety shows to take on the road. The Ormonds travelled extensively in the Southern states and spent their time between engagements with their families, who had relocated to Southern California. Despite their busy schedules, in 1950 the Ormonds were blessed with a child, Tim, who would round out the family business. As Tim's godfather, the Ormonds chose Ron's friend Bela Lugosi.

A chance meeting with Lash LaRue led to a promotional road tour, which in turn resulted in Ron crossing paths with the owners of Howco, Joy Houck, Sr. and Francis White. Howco was a flourishing film company which counted the Consolidated Theatre chain among its holdings in the South. Ron boldly offered a script tailored for Lash LaRue titled DEAD MAN'S GOLD and Howco approved it for production. Ron's film career had officially started, and he utilized every opportunity to learn the technique and business of film. It didn't take long for Ron to work his way behind the camera as director. From 48 to 56, he directed and/or produced and wrote over 30 feature for Howco, then Screen
Guild/Lippert.

 

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