My brush with actors in a western movie, in six easy interviews

Gray Eagle movie

This publicity photo from the movie shows Alex Cord as Gray Eagle and Lana Wood as Beth Colter. The movie was filmed near Helena, Montana.

By Kevin S. Giles

It was a big deal, interviewing those movie actors in person for the newspaper. Natalie Wood’s sister Lana? Wow. And Ben Johnson, winner of an Academy Award? Yes.

I was a young writer at the Helena Independent Record when American International filmed “Gray Eagle” east of the city. Sensing an opportunity, I volunteered to write profiles of the top actors. Then the fun began.

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Renting in Alberton, Montana, autumn 1973

Alberton Montana

This photo of Alberton, Montana, was supplied by the Evergreen Railroad Club.

By Kevin S. Giles

That dog looked obedient enough, staring at us with shining eyes and nary a whimper until the old retired teacher told us Tippy was dead and stuffed and nailed to a board. A black poodle she couldn’t bear to part with when the parting time came. Dead dog on a board decorating the living room in the dead old house.

It sat on a hillside beneath an umbrella of trees, pretty enough at a glance. Just out the back door, half a dozen steps north, the mountain began its steep climb to somewhere a thousand feet above us. Watch for bears when you hang your clothes outside to dry, she warned us. They come around, right down that mountain, wandering into the yard just as they please. They like it best after dusk.

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About writing, selling books, and the solitude behind making it all work out

Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

From the summit in Glacier National Park, mountain vistas and cumulus clouds stretch as far as the imagination. (Photo by Kevin S. Giles)

You’re taking a break now that you have three books on the market?

¶ A break from writing, yes. From selling, no. I don’t know which is tougher, the writing or the selling. It’s perfectly satisfying to publish a book, ending years of research and writing and editing. For a while that accomplishment alone is a sustaining comfort. I’ve held my first book when it arrives from the printer and look it over with some dismay that I distilled all that work into two pounds of paper. Once the early fascination wears off, I start working to enlist readers. What’s the point of leaving a book unread?

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Fifty years later, rumors linger over the hit and run death of a 63-year-old woman

Scene of hit and run: Fifth Street and Texas Avenue, Deer Lodge, Montana

This is the intersection in Deer Lodge, Mont., where Montana Martinz was hit. Her house was down the street ahead and just around the corner. She was walking home from the grocery store.

The following story was compiled from public court records, newspaper coverage and interviews with public officials and residents. Thanks to Gary Newlon for his research assistance.

By Kevin S. Giles

Half an hour past twilight, with only a sliver of a moon rising, Montana Martinz began her fateful walk home.

Cradling a sack of groceries, the 63-year-old woman left the IGA supermarket on the main street of Deer Lodge, Montana. It was Oct. 15, 1966. The wind off the mountains felt cold. She stepped briskly through pools of light under the streetlamps.

Four blocks later, she entered the intersection of Fifth Street and Texas Avenue. She was three minutes from her house at 524 Conley Avenue. Mrs. Martinz lived alone. A year earlier, her husband Peter had died at St. Joseph Hospital of coronary thrombosis. Their only child, a son, was grown and gone.

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We can’t go home again to Montana? With those mountains, are we sure about that?

St. Mary's Lake in Glacier National Park.

Unspoken beauty: This is how St. Mary’s Lake, in Glacier National Park, looks from the air. Pilot David R. Hunt, a Deer Lodge native, took this photo from his plane.

By Kevin S. Giles

From my aisle seat aboard the sardine can of an airplane, I manage a glimpse through the window before the sleepy woman in front of me, blinded in a purple sleep mask, fumbles the shade down to block any evidence of the outside world. Imagine flying over some of the best mountains on earth and she doesn’t want to look.

Mountains look small from several miles up. We see them blotched over the landscape like paint globs on a canvas, snow gracing their highest peaks. We see their beginnings and endings and the context of their existence in the wide and wild place we know as Montana.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot


It’s always a bit unsettling returning to my native state. The mountains point the way to a long-ago place, a yearning deep in the spirit. Random glimpses through tiny plane windows show me little of what I already know is down there. Those mountains are intensely familiar to me but a sudden turnabout from the crowds and traffic noise that surround me in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area, now 3 million people and growing. It takes time to hear Montana’s wind-born silence. Montanans know what I mean.

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Reflections on Jeannette Rankin as a native Montanan who made her mark in life

Mount Brown, Glacier National Park

Mount Brown catches the first high-school snow in Glacier National Park in October 2016. The park, atop Montana, speaks to romance in nature. Photo by Kevin S. Giles

By Kevin S. Giles

Montana, the fabled state of mind, is also a place for dreamers. What would we know of the world if we couldn’t see romance in the land and adventure in the sky? If Montana wasn’t far enough away to hold those people who take themselves too seriously at arm’s length, and wonder why?

Just why fate claimed a spot for any Montanan in the vast land that unfolds from the Rocky Mountain Front, we’ll never know. Or do we care. For native Montanans, and everyone else who came and stayed, it’s there, a place to dream, a murmur of the heart, a story to write.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot


At the beginning, Jeannette Rankin was nothing more than the rest of us. She awakened to Montana when it was no more than a territory, before the railroad and paved highways and unneighborly notions began carving the great land into sections. Like many Americans who rise to national fame, her dreaming came later in life, founded without debate in the rugged individualism of a fresh new western state.

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Interview with the Montana native who wrote three books about his home state

Kevin S. Giles, Author

Kevin S. Giles: “A career in journalism is equivalent to a PhD in life. I can’t think of another profession where so much insight is amassed about the world around us.”

You’ve published a biography of Jeannette Rankin. Who was she?

¶ History knows her as the first woman elected to Congress. She went to the US House of Representatives in 1916. She was a fierce suffragist, led Montana to approving suffrage in 1914, and rode that momentum to Congress. At that time only 10 states had given women the right to vote. Once Montanans elected Rankin, national suffragists saw her as the voice in Congress who would achieve a federal suffrage amendment.

Did that work out?

¶ Unfortunately for the suffragists, no. World War I got in the way. But even as Congress preoccupied itself with war legislation, Rankin led a push for the federal amendment. The House approved it but the Senate didn’t, by a narrow margin, and it wasn’t until the next Congress that the amendment got enough votes and went to the states for ratification. Some people fault Rankin for failing to secure suffrage by federal amendment in those two years she served in the House. I think the opposite.There’s substantial proof that Rankin’s success at being elected astonished many Americans, the first woman ever, and she achieved more in that term than anybody expected. During that war, Congress didn’t spend much time considering the needs of women and children. That was Rankin’s principal platform, so you can see her challenges beyond the obvious one of being the only woman in the entire male Congress.

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A saved Rialto Theater: A championship team trophy for Deer Lodge, Montana

Steve Owens in the Rialto Theater.

Steve Owens, president of Rialto Community Theater, Inc., in the reconstructed hallway leading to the balcony. Photos by Kevin Giles

By Kevin S. Giles

The fire was so horrific that it lit the night sky for miles. It consumed the priceless 1921 theater with frightening urgency. In the end, most of the ornate movie palace was gone.

Three days later, after dozens of volunteer firefighters poured three million gallons of water on the inferno’s sad work, the people of Deer Lodge, Montana, took stock of their Rialto Theater.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot


The terra cotta Beaux-Arts façade stood, a near-miracle. Most of the stage remained, as did five original painted canvas backdrops. A fire curtain fell when the heat rose, saving the back portion of the Rialto.

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Extra! Gangs of newsboys once ruled street corners in uptown Butte, Montana

Newsboys smoking.

Newsboys ruled uptown Butte, Montana, and other cities where news was a hot commodity.

By Kevin S. Giles

Newsboys once commanded the streets of uptown Butte, Montana, fighting each other for turf but uniting against newspaper publishers.

Hundreds of newsboys competed for prime selling spots: bars, the miners’ pay office, sections of the extensive red light district, card rooms and mine gates, streetcar stops, ballparks, churches and theaters, and anywhere else where large crowds might gather.

They bought newspapers at a wholesale price, sometimes two copies for a nickel, and then sold them for a nickel apiece to make a 100 percent profit.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot


In Butte’s early years, newspaper offices dotted the extensive business district. Cries of, “Paper, mister?” could be heard on every street corner. They sold the Standard, the Butte Miner, the Inter-Mountain, the Daily Bulletin, the Butte Daily Post, the Appeal to Reason, the Montana Socialist and others.

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About that pacifist, Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin from Montana …

Jeanmarie Bishop

Jeanmarie Bishop has performed dozens of roles in regional theatre and stock in the US and Canada and began directing while still in her teens. Jeanmarie is founding artistic director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, from which she retired in 2008. She lives in Arizona, where she continues to write.

(I wrote this as the foreword for Jeanmarie Bishop‘s new published play about Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress. “Tens of thousands have seen the play in theatres, meeting halls and living rooms throughout the world,” Bishop writes.)

By Kevin S. Giles

It’s been said that to truly understand Jeannette Rankin requires practicing what drove her through a lifelong pursuit of pacifism. Otherwise we stare at her through a looking glass from afar, seeing eventful mileposts but never breathing the rarefied air of her innermost thoughts. Yes, Rankin was the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She was the only American to vote against two world wars. She was widely vilified for doing that, but why?

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