Put­ting a great tale of Texas on film

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Local & Texas - BY BUD KENNEDY bud@star-tele­gram.com

When a banker from Fort Worth’s prom­i­nent Van Zandt fam­ily wrote a tell-all story of West Texas oil­men in 1966, he used a fake name so no­body would know.

Half a cen­tury later, Ed­mund P. Van Zandt’s “The Iron Or­chard” is a rare Texas novel sell­ing for $500 and more on­line, and a son, “Mar­vel’s Dare­devil” ac­tor Ned Van Zandt, brings the long-over­due movie ver­sion here this week.

“He was afraid of the coun­try-club crowd ,” Ned Van Zandt said from New York. So his fa­ther, a grand­son of city pi­o­neer K.M. Van Zandt, wrote un­der the pen name Tom Pendle­ton.

“But they loved it.” In­stead of tak­ing of­fense at the de­pic­tion of Texas’ grandiose, free­wheel­ing oil fam­i­lies, Fort Worth em­braced it. So­ci­ety par­ties used “The Iron Or­chard” as a theme.

The new in­de­pen­dent film — shot in West Texas with Austin as a stand-in for Fort Worth — will show Fri­day at 7 p.m. at the AMC Palace the­ater in Sun­dance Square at the an­nual Lone Star Film Fes­ti­val.

Ned Van Zandt and di­rec­tor

Ty Roberts, from a Mid­land oil fam­ily, de­scribe the book and movie as a clas­sic Fort Worth and Texas story of a big state, big money and big per­son­al­i­ties.

Young wildcatter Jim McNeely (ac­tor Lane Gar­ri­son of “Prison Break”) can’t marry the Fort Worth girl he wants, so he strikes out to make a for­tune in the West Texas oil patch.

“He came from the wrong side of the tracks, and my dad didn’t, but in a lot of ways this is my dad’s story,” Ned Van Zandt said.

“It’s a lost clas­sic.” Roberts said he wanted to make a true-to-life movie about the 1930s and ‘40s Texas oil busi­ness, when flat-broke wild­cat­ters drilled holes in the ground and pro­duced the for­tunes that now pay for to­day’s Texas uni­ver­si­ties, arts and mu­se­ums.

“It was a gold-rush fever,” Roberts said.

“We still have one of the lead­ing oil-pro­duc­ing re­gions. But I think the mythic wildcatter is fad­ing. It’s all about hedge funds, pri­vate-eq­uity cap­i­tal — it’s a dif­fer­ent game now.”

“The Iron Or­chard” pre­miered at the Dal­las In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val and showed last month at the Austin Film Fes­ti­val, where one re­view de­scribed it as “a film so steeped in the Lone Star State that au­di­ences from all over will leave the the­ater say­ing ‘Howdy’ and hanker­ing for brisket.”

Ned Van Zandt hasn’t been home to Fort Worth in more than 25 years, since an Ar­ling­ton Heights High School class re­u­nion.

Once a Casa Manana Mu­si­cals child ac­tor, he’s on video now as New


York crime boss Everett Starr in “Dare­devil.”

(Most pro­files in­evitably men­tion that he is a sec­ond cousin to late singer Townes Van Zandt and also re­lated to late ac­tor Van Wil­liams, all from the same ex­tended Fort Worth and Sag­i­naw-area Van Zandt fam­ily.)

In the movie, Ned Van Zandt plays McNeely’s fa­ther-in-law, re­named “Thomas Van Zandt,” and de­liv­ers clas­sic lines about how the oil busi­ness is a “dis­ease that drives men crazy — or crooked — and re­wards a few lucky ones with wealth and power be­yond their de­serv­ing.”

“This story was al­most a Paul New­man movie,” he said.

The late Star-Tele­gram movie critic, El­ston Brooks, wrote of­ten about how this or that star was lined up.

“They talked about Elvis Pres­ley,” Van Zandt said.

“Ge­orge Pep­pard and Saman­tha Eg­gar came to the house. Then it would all fall apart over some­thing, and then Dad died.”

Ed­mund P. Van Zandt, a Ma­rine in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in World War II, lawyer , oil­man and banker, died in 1972 at age 56. He and his wife, for­mer New York big­band vo­cal­ist Durelle Alexan­der, lived on Western Av­enue near River Crest Coun­try Club and then on Bryce Ave- nue.

Not un­til his Star-Tele­gram obituary did he pub­licly re­veal that he wrote “The Iron Or­chard.”

But his good friend, late FortWorth au­thor John Graves, knew and de­liv­ered him the 1966 prize for the best Texas novel of the year. “Tom Pendle­ton” shared the prize with Archer City nov­el­ist Larry McMurtry for “The Last Pic­ture Show.”

Some of the new movie’s char­ac­ters have great West Texas names like Dent Pax­ton or Ort Coo­ley.

“I never ex­pected any­thing to hap­pen with the book,” Ned Van Zandt said.

“Then along came this great chance. This movie has all the great West Texas scenery and the sweep­ing view of the oil fields. It looks like a $30 mil­lion movie, but it’s not.”

Roberts said Ed­mund Van Zandt “was a bril­liant guy.”

“The re­search in the book, the ge­ol­ogy, the en­gi­neer­ing — ev­ery­thing is true-to-life. You can tell this guy re­ally knew the oil busi­ness, and it’s such a great story.”

It’s worth telling all over again for West Texas and Fort Worth.

S-T COL­LEC­TION UT Ar­ling­ton Spe­cial Col­lec­tions

Ed­mund Van Zandt with his wife, Durelle, a for­mer big-band vo­cal­ist, and daugh­ter, Eden, later a Star-Tele­gram colum­nist. He wrote “The Iron Or­chard” in 1966 un­der the name Tom Pendle­ton.


“The Iron Or­chard”— shot in West Texas with Austin as a stand-in for Fort Worth — will show in Sun­dance Square at the an­nual Lone Star Film Fes­ti­val.


“I never ex­pected any­thing to hap­pen with the book,” ac­tor Ned Van Zandt said, re­fer­ring to his fa­ther’s novel. “Then along came this great chance.”

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